The Apocalyptic Literature
The name ‘apocalyptic‘ literature comes from the Greek ‘apokalypto‘ meaning ‘to reveal.’ It was a well-known literary genre among the Jews and Christians from about 200 B.C.E. to 200 A.D., a period leading up and including the New testament era. Apocalypse as a literary genre was a response to persecution and oppression, it flourished during the most difficult time in Jewish history.
Authors of apocalypses claim to be passing on heavenly mysteries or revelation made through an angel or heavenly messenger or some other spiritual being from the past, such as Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, or Ezra. Apocalypse are typically pseudonymous, authors use extensive symbolism presented in the form of visions and dreams, and its language cryptic (having hidden meanings). Thus, the images of apocalypse usually are in the form of fantasy rather than reality, such as ‘a beast with seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 13:1). Unlike the nonapocalyptic prophets and teachers including Jesus who regularly used symbolic language, but often involved real images such as, ‘salt’ (Matt.5:13), ‘vultures and carcasses’ (Luke 17:37), ‘senseless doves’ (Hos. 7:11). ‘half-baked cakes’ (Hos. 7:8), et al.
The authors of apocalyptic literature are concerned with the time when God would bring a violent, radical end that would mean the triumph of good and the final judgement of evil. They were looking forward with the breaking in of God’s kingdom, expected in the near future. In the Old Testament, God was always seen as working in this world. The apocalypse writers on the other hand, made a radical distinction between this world and the heavenly world; the present world, and the world to come.This world with its sin rebellion against God, and persecution of God’s people was seen as heading for disaster and ruin. The heavenly world or the world to come would replace it when God intervenes to establish his kingdom.
Apocalyptic literature is contrasted with “prophecy,” which it is argued, looms at God’s salvation to be manifested through the processes of this world rather then through a breaking in of a new world. The prophets were basically spokespersons for Yahweh, whose spoken oracles were later committed to writing and collected a book. They are told to speak what they were told or seen while the apocalyptists were told to “write therefore what you have seen” (Rev. 1:9).
When Israel was released from captivity in 539 B.C.E. and was re-established in its homeland, many Jews expected that the messianic age was about to commence. Their hopes, however, were disappointed, and one powerful nation after another continued to rule over Israel. By this time, the ministry of the prophets, which had never been as prominent after the captivity as before, had almost disappeared entirely. Apocalyptic writers replaced prophetic preachers as interpreters of Israel’s history.
Apocalyptic literature therefore, assures the readers that God was always in control of events. It was an encouragement to God’s people to endure their sufferings, in the assurance that God would overthrow evil and bring in the golden age.
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