Christian Fundamentalism Views Revelation as a Mean Joke

According to the majority of Christian fundamentalists, the Book of Revelation is about the future (perhaps distant, perhaps near and already begun). Our future, that is, and not merely the future from the perspective of the time in which it was written.

Yet they appear not to have thought through the implications of treating the book in this way, or have ignored substantial parts of the Book of Revelation itself.

If the fundamentalist approach (typically what is in technical terms known as “premillenialism” and often “premillenial dispensationalism”) is correct, then we’d have to imagine the following as a plausible exchange between the book’s author and its original readers:

Reader: “Hey John, remember that book you sent us a while back?”

John: “The Book of Revelation? What about it?”

Reader: “Well, you said that if we are wise (and of course, we all seek to be) we should calculate the number of the beast, because it is a human being’s number.”

John (apprehensively): “Yeah, I know. I wrote that in chapter 13 verse 18” (wink).

Reader: “Well I’m a bit confused. One manuscript I read has 666 which I figured out is Caesar Nero. But a friend of mine said he knows someone who read a version that has 616, and that could fit emperor Gaius “Caligula” as well as Nero. Which is it?”

John: “You’re both wrong. It refers to Barack Obama.”

Reader: “Who?!”

John: “He’s going to be a presidential candidate in almost 2,000 years’ time in a country that doesn’t exist yet, on a continent no one on this continent knows exists at the moment”.

Reader: “What?! How did you expect us to figure that out?”

John (rolling on the floor laughing): “Just because I told you wisdom was to figure it out, you thought I meant you actually could? Ha! Suckers!”

What is most irritating is that fundamentalists are happy to make God, the authors of Scripture, and anyone else be mean, immoral and dishonest in order for the Bible (or more accurately their interpretation of it) somehow in spite of this be perfectly inerrant.

Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Is it plausible to view the Book of Revelation as a mean practical joke played by a genuine prophet on his unsuspecting Christian victims?

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  • Cobalt

    I have so many places I need to link this, I can’t even tell ya. People still continue to find my blog by searching for confirmation that Obama is the anti-Christ. I must add this to my arsenal.

  • Oliver

    No, James, you’re not the only one to perceive the irony of this Not living in the US, I might have trouble imagining there being Christians who take prophetic writing to concern only the future, and not also the time of the respective author. Of course, it’s completely ludicrous that any Bible passage should be meaningless (and be meant to be that way) for the original addressees. However, once we grant the applicability of Scripture to more than just one time or situation (and if I remember correctly, in Jewish thought, every Bible verse has at least 70 applications / interpretations), then we should cut those who are looking for a Bible passage’s application to their own times some slack. Obviously, some people go over the top with certain applications – and I’m certainly against any “witch hunt” which is instigated by the fervour of any religion, so please don’t get me wrong. All I’m trying to say is that it might be appropriate to study the character of “the Anti-Christ”, not necessarily as applying to a single person but as an attitude, maybe an attitude of duplicity, of having ulterior motives, of pretending to have the good of mankind at heart while actually mainly working for one’s own profit or advantage. To some extent, any leader is tempted in that direction and may succumb to it in one way or another, regardless of whether they call themselves Christian or not.So, to cut a long story short: Would you approve of scrutinizing leaders or those applying for an office, with regard to “traces of the Anti-Christ” in their demeanour or attitude?[And finally, by way of explanation: As a European, I’m more or less oblivious to those pre-millenial, post-millenial and amillenial distinctions, even though I’ve studied them probably even in the same class with you – but again, I cannot imagine that this eschatological dimension is the only one which certain American Christians are able to see in Revelation. Feel free to prove me wrong on that!]

  • Anonymous

    James, this is perfect but it shouldn’t stop at Revelation. If you use this principal to think about just about any book of the Bible, the same thing happens.Why did God talk directly to characters in the Hebrew Bible but never tell them that was One God and not triune? Why did he lead them to believe that the Hebrews would be his chosen people when in reality he meant to substitute gentiles? Why 4,000 years ago was God so worked up about diet and clothing and sex during a woman’s menstrual cycle, but now nothing offends him? Why did Jesus tell people they would be the last generation to live before the end when he was really talking about people 2,000+ years in advance? Why did he tell people that the meek will inherit the earth when what he really meant was that the warmongers will inherit heaven? Most critically, why did Jesus tell people that God will forgive those who forgive others when in fact Christians believe that He won’t forgive people unless they believe in atonement for death?I could go on, but I hope you get the

  • scott gray

    james–i just came across these two semi-related tidbits:”journalists…assume that sf writerts are in the business of fortelling the future. the truth is that the bst sf gets its effects by using future technologies to cast a new light on the present day and on timeless things like human nature.” [david langford, “hogwarts proctology class,’ new york review of science fiction, october 2007, p. 9.]and:”futurism and sf are quite different endeavors. a rude person might say that futurism is about feeding inspirational received truths to businessmen and telling them it will help them make more money. sf is about unruly artistic visions.” [rudy rucker, “to be or not to be: mundane science fiction,” new york review of science fiction, oct 2007, p. 18.]i would add my take on scriptural futurism, to riff on rudy: ‘scriptural futurism can also be about feeding inspiration received truths to people who are afraid, and telling them it will help them be safe.’ i do like the idea of scripture as ‘unruly artistic visions.’peace–scott

  • James F. McGrath

    Oliver, I think that at least some of us Americans are far wackier than you give us credit for. I was once completely persuaded by the futurist (and at times sci-fi/fantasy) type of interpretation. When one knows no better and hears no alternatives, it can be remarkably easy…

  • TheoPoet

    Yeah I think that that’s one of the abominations of Fundamentalism– incorrect eschatological or end-times theology—namely the heresy of dispensationationalism ala Scofield, Darby and Left Behind. The Rapture is pure nonsense and utter bunk and is born out of vain imagination, fantasy and only amounts to what I call “spiritual masturbation” —stroking off to ones own ego, spiritual arrogance and pride—as if God would take some off on a ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ while our spiritual forebearers had to suffer through their trials and tribulations.Nay, the Rapture is unscriptural(not to mention it’s Gnostic implications) and is from a misinterpretation of a passage of scripture that clearly refers to the Second Coming. Some other warped views within the false doctrine of dispensationalism is God having different dispensations of Grace, at different times—so that ‘Christ is only come to the Lost Sheep of Israel,’ so that the morally sound Sermon On The Mount is just applicable to the Jews of Christ’s time and not for today as well. Also, Zionism—Israel being a physical Promise Land instead of a spiritual one. (I’m Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, by the way as the Bible clearly doesn’t support Zionism—because Paul says that the ‘Gentiles are engrafted into Israel,which is a spiritual one in Christ.’) So clearly amillenialism is the correct eschatological view as it’s always been the Orthodox view.

  • TheoPoet

    “Is it plausible to view the Book of Revelation as a mean practical joke played by a genuine prophet on his unsuspecting Christian victims?” I think so…it’s alot like Nostradamus.