Apocalypse definition: “one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 BC to AD 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.”
That’s a secular description of Revelation, but how do Christians define the apocalypse? In the Greek, “apokalupsis” means “uncovering (unveiling)” or “revelation.” So, the book of Revelation could be called “Apocalypse.”
Beginning of the End?
Chapters 1-3 of Revelation “describes the details of the setting as [John] received [...] an apocalyptic vision from an angel.” In the next section, “chapters 4-20, John depicts what he sees in his vision about the spiritual realm.
He describes Jesus Christ as the “Slain Lamb” who is the only one able to open the book with seven seals, thereby bringing “judgment upon the populace of the Earth.” The rest of Revelation “describes the New Heaven and the New Earth. In it is the holy city of the New Jerusalem.”
Many Christians and many unbelievers see the apocalypse as the end, rather than the process of ending. They tend to think of the apocalypse as global cataclysm — world war, global disaster, pandemic: the time when Satan reveals his true self to those who were deceived by the smooth-talking Antichrist. But the apocalypse does more than forecast earthly destruction.
Specifics of the Apocalypse
The power holding back the Antichrist will be taken away (2 Thessalonians 2:7). “The Antichrist signs a covenant for seven years with the nation of Israel. This is the event that inaugurates the Tribulation period.” From Daniel, we learn that “he will confirm a covenant with many for one week” which is actually seven years; one year for every day.
In the middle of that period of time, “on the wing of abominations will come one who destroys, until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys” (Daniel 9:27). Seven years will begin with three and a half years of relative peace under a single ruler, perhaps one who will bring stability out of a global crisis and will be worshiped by all except those with the indwelling Holy Spirit who discern his true nature.
Next, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” The Antichrist will be unveiled by the appearance of the true Christ. “The dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Christians, living at this time, will join with those who died in Christ. For those still on earth, there will be seven trumpet blasts, signaling torments such as “five months of locust who sting like scorpions. Men beg to die but can’t.”
The next trumpet unleashes “an army of two hundred million horsemen” who “kill a third of mankind.” We learn that “the rest of mankind not killed by these plagues did not repent.” An earthquake “destroys a tenth of Jerusalem” killing “seven thousand people.” The remnant “are terrified and give glory to the God of heaven.”
This is followed by “the bowl judgments,” which will be “hideous and swift” leaving behind an unrepentant population, which suffers a final great earthquake where “islands vanish and mountains disappear. Hailstones weighing one hundred pounds each fall from heaven, but men still blasphemed God.”
Finally, “heaven opens and King Jesus, accompanied by His armies of angels [...] strikes the nations with the sword from His mouth” during a brief battle. God’s judgment will be brutal, devastating, terrifying.
What Will Happen to Christians During the Apocalypse?
Some controversy remains as to whether Christians will experience three and a half years of torment (tribulation) or be called home before that starts. Dr. J. Rodman Williams leads us to 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 for more information.
Timothy was sent “to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.” According to Dr. Williams, Paul is warning the church at Thessalonica to expect to suffer before Christ returns.
Revelation itself and eschatological literature indicate that the Antichrist will force everyone to receive his mark in order to obtain basic necessities such as medical care and food. Those who refuse the mark will be “beheaded” (Revelation 20:4). Even if Christians aren’t beheaded, they will be tortured or murdered somehow.
In His goodness, God will call His children home, but they will have to face a period of persecution. There is much uncertainty as to whether God will give unbelievers more time to repent and be saved before the bitter end. But, “the emphasis in the Bible is [...] on believing in Jesus now” which implies urgency. That urgency suggests there will be no second chances. Time will run out. Everyone who refuses to give allegiance to Christ will go to Hell with Satan for eternity.
Meanwhile, God will restore the earth “into a broad plain with Jerusalem as its center. There is no sea, but a clear river flows from the temple where Jesus will rule and reign for 1,000 years to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants.” For the faithful in Christ, however, pain and suffering will end forever.
Interpretations of the Apocalypse
Although “Christ is clearly the central figure of Revelation,” the apocalypse was foretold in the Old Testament, hundreds, and even thousands of years before John’s writing. God planned the end from the beginning. “The text [of Revelation] presupposes familiarity with Old Testament language and concepts, especially those taken from the books of Daniel and Ezekiel.”
The final book of the Bible is taken literally by some, figuratively by many. Authorship is debated — did John write the entire book? And if so, which John? Is this the Apostle John? Does the book speak of a real apocalypse or a symbolic one? The end of sin for individual Christians and in the world, or a dramatic event spanning several years?
Will everyone be judged at this time? Perhaps all people will go to Heaven because Satan will be defeated. Maybe the apocalypse has already taken place and Revelation is about Christians being persecuted in Rome.
Gospel-believing theologians generally believe that the Apostle John wrote the Bible’s final book as a legitimate prophecy from God, but that much of the language is symbolic. They believe that the apocalypse has yet to take place and will involve cataclysmic events worldwide in which people will be judged.
There will not be universal salvation but only believers will be taken up with Christ. Christians will suffer, but the Holy Spirit will equip them to withstand torture and yet proclaim the name of Jesus. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
Implications for the Christian
These events are coming, but we don’t know when. We hope that our spirits will discern the rise of this Antichrist so we can rebuke and reject him. We live in an age where lies are easily and quickly disseminated over the internet and social media; we must put on the Full Armor of God and pray for discernment.
In the meantime, one pastor likens unbelievers to zombies. “If the normal constraints of society are pulled away, how will human beings act?” he asks. They will be “horribly selfish and monstrous to each other” because, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, they are “dead in trespasses and sins.”
People who don’t know Jesus are empty and constantly hungry, “dead inside.” They “move around and [they] eat” but they are “not alive.” We must behave as though the apocalypse is starting tomorrow and spread the good news with some urgency.
The apocalypse is a grim certainty, but we can also find peace, embrace hope, and take courage from the fact that Jesus is going “to finish what he started” as Jared Wilson puts it. He reminds us: “Some day, Jesus the Redeemer will return to redeem everything. [...] This life will be redeemed, this earth will be redeemed, these very bodies will be redeemed, and so our hopes and dreams and fears and failings will all be redeemed as well.”
Revelation of Hope
Whatever trials we have faced, are facing today, or will face in the future, we can “trust that the God who loves you will sustain you as you seek to live redemptively with and toward others,” that He is “crafting beauty out of your darkness, that he's telling a great story in your life, an epic one that places you in a vital role in the story of the body of Christ. Your heart, soul, mind, and strength yearn for their redemption.” Amen.
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Candice Lucey loves Christ and writing about His promises brings her much pleasure. She lives in the mountains of BC, Canada with her family.