Scoop Column: Reflections On Revelations
Revelations, the final book in the Bible, which is believed to have been written by the Apostle John, is increasingly on people's minds in these final pre-millennial days. Scoop's Alastair Thompson feels inclined - as ever - to provide a new perspective on John's promises of the Second Coming and to comment on their significance as we approach the new millennium.
If Scoop had a motto (it hasn't) then Dylan Thomas's "Rage, rage, against the dying of the light", might be appropriate. Scoop is neither left nor right in its political view-point - it is optimistic.
That said as we approach the millennium ending celebrations maintaining an optimistic outlook is an increasingly difficult task.
Peace on earth and goodwill to all is said to be the promise of Christmas. Yet it is abundantly clear that for so many these aims remain merely lofty ideals. In Chechnya and Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Burma, Kashmir, Tibet and countless more places, peace especially, is a rare commodity.
Yet as we approach the millennium there is a feeling that maybe the 21st Century will be different.
How? One may well ask. And the answer perhaps comes from a growing global belief that over the last year the world has somehow learned from the recent mistakes - and successes - it has had. At least we can hope so.
In East Timor in September all appeared hopeless. The UN was at the edge of a precipice and came close to playing a part in a humanitarian disaster that might have denuded what little respect and authority the good offices of the Secretary General had left.
In the end the looming disaster was narrowly averted and a month later the White House crowed that the outcome politically in Jakarta in the aftermath of the "crisis" was far better than even the most optimistic had hoped for.
This was possibly the high point in a year of international conflict of huge proportions, the bulk of which has achieved nothing more than hardening the hatred and anger of many of the world's oppressed peoples. The problems of what happened in Kosovo are becoming now too clear as Kosovo is used as an explanation for Russian atrocities in Chechnya.
Which brings me to the Book of Revelations, the final book in the Bible, and the source at present of an intense religious debate and cultural explosion. Does this text hold any answers? Many of those gathering at present in the holy land seem to think so.
Revelations has always held particular importance in the New Testament of the Christian Bible not only because it is the final book - as it were summing it all up - but also because it is markedly out of character with the rest of the New Testament, which is almost exclusively about love.
Revelations is about war and the battle between good and evil. Evil does not just blow away to be replaced by all-conquering love in Revelations. Rather, an intense battle is joined between the opposing forces of Satan and God.
It has angels, multi-headed beasts, fallen women, poisoned vials, sounding trumpets and lots and lots of drama. It is monumental. And in the end we are expected to take comfort in the fact that good wins.
Commentating on the book over the centuries many theologians have remarked on the importance of the lesson that this battle teaches. That is, that in order to win over evil, effort is required. Good must fight for justice and righteousness if love to prevail.
As we approach the millennium the significance of the text is enhanced for a number of reasons not least the ongoing nature of the passion play between good and evil that takes place continuously it seems in diplomatic halls and corridors.
Principle among these are the words from Chapter 20 where St John talks of a great victory over injustice and idolatory, and 1000 years peace. This is something that even the most hardened anti-Billy Graham atheist ought to be able to warm to.
The victory comes (in what appears to be a nod towards Hollywood tradition) with the arrival of the saviour of mankind on a White Horse. The rider vanquishes all nations of the earth with an army of angels using a sharp sword which comes out of his mouth.
Various versions of the text have different accounts of the critical passage - the end of Chapter 19 and the beginning of Chapter 20 - and the following extracts are taken from the Good News version of the New Testament.
"Then I saw heaven open and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True; it is with justice that he judges and fights his battles. …he had a name written on him but no one except himself knows what it is….Out of his mouth came a sharp sword, with which he will defeat the nations…. And he will trample out the wine in the wine press of the furious anger of the Almighty God…. And then I saw the beast and the kinds of the earth and their armies gathered to fight against the one who was riding the horse and against his army….Their armies were killed by the sword that comes out of the mouth of the one who was riding the horse; and all the birds ate all they could of their flesh. "
"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the devil - Satan - and chained him up for 1000 years. The angel threw him into the abyss, locked it and sealed it, so that he could not deceive the nations any more until the 1000 years were over. After that he must be let loose for a little while. "
Chapter 20 then talks about the raising of the dead Saints and Martyrs - whom it says will then rule in peace with Christ for 1000 years. John then moves on to describe what happens at the end of the 1000 years - Judgment Day and the final reckoning.
Fortunately as we haven't had the 1000 years of peace yet it is probably safe to assume that Judgment Day is at least a millennium away - wherein lies the fun side to the Book of Revelations.
The aim of the game is to try to match the allegorical descriptions - prophesies - with recent political and news events and see if you can find matches. Thereby figuring out where we are now in the book.
While Revelations is not a particularly long book it is very dense and there is quite a lot to go through before we get to the 1000 years of peace.
This game can be played endlessly, has been, and probably always will be.
Right now however the game is particularly easy to play as recent current events appear to match the prophesies in the book quite closely.
It is this and the numerical significance of the Millennium - and the 1000 years of peace which in conjurs up - which probably account for the heightened levels of mail drops citing references from the book, and the congregations of faithful gathering at present in the Holy Land.
Add in the growing pre-millennial tension and there is probably no better time than now to read revelations.
The following are a series of hints to bear in mind as you are reading the book - if you choose to do so.
Babylon = The great whore = Godless
America and money worship
The Prostitute = Monica Lewinsky
Bowls Of Gods Anger = Seven Signs = Natural disasters, global warming
The Seventh Sign = Earthquakes = Plague of recent big quakes in South America, Taiwan and Turkey.
The White Horse = The Internet
Sword Coming Out Of Mouth = The power of a free press.
The Mark of the Beast = Bar-codes -( which door knockers are liable to tell you all contain the digits 666 as separation markers - and yes it is true!)
Of course it should be kept in mind while playing this game that the same exercise has probably been played out on innumerable occasions in the past - with different circumstances - and yet always pointing to the same result, the imminent arrival of the White Horseman.
That said, there is also more than a little reason to take the story more seriously at present. In particular several recent miracles of prophecy observed in the Catholic Church over the past Century, tend to coincide with a millennium cusp theory concerning the fulfillment of the prophesies of St John's dream.
In the Miracle of Fatima early this Century several girls in Spain experienced visions of an Archangel who warned them that because the world was turning away from God, God would bring a spate of natural disasters. Several other miraculous prophecies recognised by the Vatican - Padre Pio among them - have also foretold a similar spate of quakes and storms.
On its face the earthquakes in Taiwan and Turkey the floods in Vietnam, India and Venezeula and the storms lashing Europe recently all flesh out this message.
And then there is the remarkably under-discussed - but apparently very high rating - miracle of Katya Rivas televised by Fox News in July.
Like the girls from Fatima, Rivas also delivered a message but this time allegedly from Jesus Christ himself. The fact that Jesus appeared to Katya may well be the reason the Catholic orthodoxy are so quiet about Katya as in their lexicon the Christ always allows others, and particularly archangel's Michael and Gabriel and mother of god Mary to intercede on his behalf.
Rivas's message from Christ is a very encouraging antidote to much of the aforementioned hysteria which pervades the Revelations debate, and is included at this point for the sake of completeness.
"Dear men of the 20th Century.
You have forgotten me.
I will be coming back again to take you away from the darkness and show you the true faith.
I come to hug you.
I want to put my heart next to your heart.
To transmit my love to all humanity.
Do you want to hug me?
Your souls are as delicate as a rose petal.
Let me impress in it my love."
And so it would appear that while God may have been angry with us all for being so godless and wicked - and that he has therefore brought us a rash of natural disasters to wake us up - soon the winepresses of his wrath may be exhausted and we will instead all get a big hug.
This is of course the optimistic interpretation of events and is therefore the one Scoop is naturally inclined to adopt. In addition it is probably a self-evident truth that if we were to follow Christ's teachings for a change - and love each other - then the world would quickly become a much better place for us all to live.