Apocalypse Sunday

Editor’s note: In a departure from the usual type of Go Tell It post, this one simply illustrates how creative writing can teach. My friend, Cherice Ullrich, and her colleague, Chris Jones, teach Bible at Rockford (Ill.) Christian High School. They were looking for a creative way to help their students study the Book of Revelation. I think they found it.

“I was transported to another reality. I saw the 55th bowl coming down from the sky in the Sunshine State. And there was great shouting as the final battle began. Out of the southern sea came one like a goat, branded with the number 12, who had six rings on one hand and his other hand appeared deflated. He led an army of men from the sea against warriors wielding a large arrow. These were clothed in red, the color of blood, with golden hands and feet, and a head that sat on top of their other head. Their leader had only one ring on his hand. 

“And I saw sitting around the warriors many holding up posters of two snakes around a staff with wings. They wore white masks and held out needles to inject the world with a life-saving potion. The battle lasted for one hour but also three hours. There were pauses in the battle, during which the multitudes were tempted to spend their money on the idols of the Bald Eagle. Many times I saw those like zebras that held out a great yellow cloth and the battle would stop. 

“There were shouts for victory filling the air, when suddenly the sky went dark. Fire shot up into the clouds. Time stopped, and I was surprised that suddenly the weekend began. Out of the darkness rose a man clothed in red robes. In his hand he held an instrument that made his message heard around the world. Out of the shadows came another army. Each wore the same red robe as he, but on each of their faces was a horrendous mask. Each held a star in his hand and encircled him as he moved. While I was still pondering these things, I was blinded by the light and could not feel my face in his presence. He continued to preach to the roaring multitudes until his allotted time came to an end.

“And I looked and I saw the sea rising over the warriors, and though they shot their arrows again and again, they could not stop the rising flood. The warriors of the land were engulfed and overtaken. The goat had conquered by taking the skin of a pig near a structure made of gold four times. At the end of the battle, shards of all the colors of the rainbow in the vault above rained down from the sky. Those in league with the goat of the sea rejoiced, and he was given a seventh ring with many jewels on it to signify his reign.”

Now the explanation from Cherice:

This really happened. Sort of. A version of this story really took place Sunday night during Super Bowl LV. Obviously it didn’t look quite like we described it here. My colleague Chris Jones and I wrote this together for our high school classes on Revelation. Full disclosure: It may have been the main motivation for me actually watching the Super Bowl this year. 

Welcome to the genre of apocalyptic literature. If you don’t know what an apocalypse is, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. 

No, really. It’s not about the end of the world. 

The word apocalypse means “to reveal.” That’s why in the Bible, the book of Revelation is called an “apocalypse.” It’s literally a “revealing”—like God pulling back the curtain on what’s really going on in human history, from his perspective. It’s about real events. It was written to real people. It teaches real truths about who God is.

But Revelation was written to first-century Christians in an apocalyptic prophetic style. The nature of apocalyptic literature is communication through image and symbol. Symbolism isn’t literal, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real

Tom Brady is not literally a goat, but some say he really is the G.O.A.T. — the greatest of all time. Time didn’t literally stop and turn into the weekend, but there really was a halftime show with a musical artist called the Weeknd. I could go on, but you get the picture. (See what I did there?)

Once we stop trying to read Revelation literally, we can actually appreciate its message more fully. The Christians John wrote to in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) would have been totally tracking with this book, because apocalyptic literature was a popular style of writing then. They would have picked up on the symbols John used. These Christians were feeling pressured to live by the values of their culture rather than the values of the cross, God’s upside-down kingdom. From their earthly perspective, everything was working against them and an evil man was in charge of it all. The book of Revelation is a powerful message about God ruling on his throne no matter who seems to have control of any earthly empire. 

It’s not about the end of the world. It’s actually more like God’s saying, “When it feels like it’s the end of the world, remember who I am, what I’ve done for you, and what’s coming for those who follow me.” 

One of my favorite quotes comes from Old Testament scholar and Wheaton College professor John Walton: “The Bible is not written to us. But it is written for us.” 

When we do the work of studying this style of literature, this book becomes exciting, challenging, encouraging, and full of hope. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, after all, the one who embodies all hope and who truly reigns forever … long after the G.O.A.T. is forgotten.

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