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The Book Of Revelation

he Book of Revelation describes a God who is very different from the God that Jesus describes in the Synoptic Gospels. It forces us to choose what kind of God we want to worship—a vengeful God, angry, sadistic, and bloodthirsty, or a loving God who is a gentle shepherd. These two portrayals of God are like night and day and are quite incompatible.  We must choose.

Many scholars today believe that the Book of Revelation was not divinely inspired. Both Luther and Calvin, who wrote commentaries on every other book of the Bible, were troubled by the work. Luther stated that he considered “ to be neither apostolic nor prophetic... My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book” (Martin Luther, Geneva Bible: Preface to Revelation, 1522).  Also, it has no ethical instruction, a key indicator of heterodoxy. 

Yet countless sermons, Bible studies, books, and articles have been “inspired” by the Book of Revelation. But to what end? Besides lost time and energy, too many believers have been frozen by its apparent determinism while others have been paralyzed by the graphic prophecies contained within it. For these reasons and others, the Book of Revelation should be deleted from the Biblical canon.

In Part 1 we will examine some of the internal contradictions and heresies contained in Revelation. In Part 2, we will speculate as to what encouraged a very angry John of Patmos to write it.

Memling: The Last Judgment, Heaven

Memling: The Last Judgment, Heaven

Memling: The Last Judgment, Descent into Hell

Part 1:  Problems of Theology
The God portrayed in the Book of Revelation is characterized as follows: 

1.    God approves of forced conversions.

In Revelation, people are tortured and terrorized into professing a belief in God and in repenting their sins. If they fail to do so, they spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. Here is an example: “During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them” (9:6). This statement is an iconic nightmare: one is tortured day after day, for eternity. The victims long to die, but are not allowed to do so.

Something like this happened during the Inquisition. Spanish Jews were tortured into converting and often burned at the stake if they were unwilling to do so. Today, we are horrified by these examples of coerced conversions.

The Book of Revelation thus offers only two choices: repent or be tortured. Is this the   God we believe in? Or do we believe that God wants a conversion made from free will?  When the rich young man departed from Jesus because he could not do what Jesus required, did Jesus run after him and wrestle with him until he changed his mind?  Does God want a voluntary following, or does he want to force us to repent?

2.    Jesus is an arrogant warrior-king.

There is no middle ground; the gentle prophet does not appear in Revelation. In the Synoptic Gospels, a self-effacing Jesus does not even confirm for his disciples that he is the Messiah, yet he is able in Revelation to write on his robe and on his thigh, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (19:16). Is Jesus humble and self-effacing, or a braggart?  We must decide.

3.    It is necessary to destroy the whole earth and the heavens in order to remove those whose names are not written in the Book of Life.

Is it believable or desirable that God would destroy everything simply to rid the world of the existence of certain people? If He wishes to remove people, He could simply have them fall over dead or prevent them from being born in the first place. How theatrically sadistic is God? Does he show such tendencies anywhere else in the New Testament?

4.    In the Book of Revelation, the path to salvation is unclear. Are we saved by faith, or by repentance, or by works?

Revelation seems to stress works, but not consistently. Throughout the book we find that some people are written in the Book of Life and there are suggestions that they got there due to repentance or works. But we also find that this book was “written…from the creation of the world” (17:8).  This goes back to the old predestination-election doctrine which seems to obviate all actions or even faith, whatever locutions theologians have offered to the contrary.

Certainly, “election” to salvation is a false doctrine. God can and does elect some to be prophets and everyone to do something special, a “calling.” But election to salvation and damnation by non-election cannot be supported by belief in a loving or just God.

5.    Revelation tells us that Jesus is coming soon.

When is “soon” (1:1, 2:16)?  We’re still waiting after almost two millennia.

6.    God prefers men over women, and chaste men at that.

The requirement that qualified 144,000 people – all men, evidently – to stand on Mount Zion with Jesus was that they had not “defiled” themselves with women, having kept themselves “pure” (14:4).  Apparently there is something dirty and defiling about women and something dirty and defiling about sex. Is this consonant with modern understanding? Are women evil temptresses, and is salvation reserved for asexual men only? Of course not.

7.    God and Jesus are sadists who enjoy inflicting pain on people.

In Revelation, God is often represented as sadistic. Grasshoppers and scorpions torture people (9:5) and anyone who carries the devil’s mark on the forehead or hand “will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb” (14:10), who apparently will be entertained by their suffering. Evildoers are crushed to death in a winepress until their blood gushes forth (14:20). Even the fish in the ocean are not spared death; they die when the waters are turned into clotted blood (16:3). These are but a few of the gruesome events that occur in the Book of Revelation. Such sadistic acts are simply not compatible with a loving and just god.

8.    In the new earth, Jesus rules “with an iron scepter” (12:5).

Or will He write his law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) so that coercion will not be needed?  We see here the result of forced coercion – rule “with an iron scepter,” and it’s called “heaven.”

9.    False prophets can perform miracles (13:13; 19:20).

The rest of the Bible seems to teach that all miracles come from God’s Holy Spirit and that that spirit cannot be used for evil purposes.  Jesus reminds us that “…a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:18).

10.    God will bind the Devil for 1,000 years of Jesus’ rule on earth, only to let him go again for one final fiery end.

How would the Devil recruit people for a final rebellion? After all, these “elect” had stood against apostasy and were persecuted until death and had been honored as “priests of God and of Christ” (20:4-6) and had come through the Tribulation. For a millennium they all still had the Bible to read, including the Book of Revelation. They would know what was going to happen. Who of them would engage in a rebellion that would be doomed to fail?

11.    God enjoys blood sport.

John of Patmos seems unable to conclude the Book of Revelation with the extinction of evil; instead, torture abounds. 

After the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse bring destruction that cleanses the 144,000 chosen Jews and “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation,” we might think that the New Jerusalem would follow. But no. There are apparently more evil humans who it is necessary to torture. Seven trumpets call forth more abominations. Chapter 12 describes a war in heaven that expels the Devil to earth to inflict more horrors upon humankind. 

The New Jerusalem, G. Dore, ca. 1855

The Devil gives power to a Beast that many evil people worship, and after an angel warns that these people “will be tormented with burning sulfur…and the smoke of their torment {will rise] for ever and ever” (14:10-11), they are gathered up by another angel wielding a sickle and crushed in a winepress. Has wickedness on earth been banished forever?

12.    God’s angel encourages sinners to continue sinning!

The purpose of all the gruesome tortures and awful destruction is to encourage the earth’s peoples to repent, or to do good works, or to discover if they are the elected ones (the message is mixed).

Yet the angel accompanying John in his vision sends him back to earth with this final instruction:  “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile…” (22:11).

This is peculiar!  The presumed purpose of the End Times is to save “whoever will” be saved.  Why is the angel so callous as to encourage sinners to continue to sin so that they may be sent into the Lake of Fire?

Is this bloodthirsty God one we choose to worship? It is not the God envisioned by many scholars and believers. Although God punishes every unrepentant sin in some way, He does it as a loving Father. The punishment fits the crime and is used to instruct and reform. He does not pay back double (18:6). How can we reconcile John of Patmos’ depiction of God with Jesus’ words: “[He] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36)?

Clearly, the Book of Revelation is the work of a very angry human, John of Patmos. He raged at the Roman Empire, and he composed his screed without divine inspiration. The Book of Revelation should be deleted from the Biblical canon.

Part 2:  Who Was John of Patmos?  Why Did He Write the Book of Revelation?

Most traditional Christians believe that John the Apostle/Evangelist wrote the Gospel of John, the three letters of John, and the Book of Revelation.  Modern textual criticism shows that he very probably wrote none of them.

There are at least four Johns in the New Testament: John the Apostle/Evangelist, someone else who wrote the Gospel of John (and possibly 1 John), John the Presbyter who wrote 2 John and 3 John, and John of Patmos, who wrote the Book of Revelation.

John the Apostle/Evangelist almost certainly didn’t write a thing.  For John to have been the author of any of these works, he would have been in his 90s and equipped with a very sharp mind, as both these works are highly colorful and articulate. That would be an improbable occurrence in those days.  In addition, John was a humble Aramaic-speaking “unlettered fisherman” (Acts 4:13) so writing in Greek does not fit with his background or level of education. These works also diverge from what Jesus seems to have taught, and do not match what John, as a devoted disciple, would have written. 

The argument over the issue of authorship of these five works is ongoing and difficult. Why do many scholars believe that the Gospel and the Revelation were written by different authors? Because the Greek language found in the Gospel of John is polished, and the author is acquainted with Greek philosophy, so it is likely that that author was a native Greek speaker. 

However, the Greek found in the Book of Revelation is rough and infused with “Hebraisms.”  “Hebraisms” are Hebrew expressions that are not used in standard Greek.  An example in English might be this:  in a written story in English, a man says to another man, “Well, I’ve got to go now.  To God!” and he departs.  The reader will understand that the writer is a Spanish speaker who is unfamiliar enough with English to not understand that native English speakers do not say “To God” (“Adios”) in English upon departing.  Revelation contains many such non-Greek usages, so it is almost certain that the author spoke Hebrew as his native language and a rougher Greek as a secondary language. 

In further support of this contention the Book of Revelation shows a deep familiarity with Old Testament prophecy which the Gospel of John does not. Although they are not copied verbatim, many of the visions and pronouncements in Revelation mimic scenes from the Old Testament. The noted scholar H.B. Swete found that 278 of the 404 verses in the book are related to the Old Testament. Here are examples:

In Isaiah 44:6 we read:  “This is what the Lord says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God.’” See also Is. 48:12.

John echoes, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God…” (1:8). See also Rev 1:17.

Isaiah 63:3:  

“I have trodden the winepress …I trampled them in my anger…their blood spattered my garments…For the day of vengeance was in my heart.” See also Joel 3:13.

Revelation agrees: “The angel …gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath” (14:19).

Or in Isaiah 22:22:  

“I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut; and what he shuts, no one can open.”

In the Book of Revelation John of Patmos declares, “These are the words of him…who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut; and what he shuts, no one can open” (3:7).

In Isaiah 60:14 we read:  

“The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet…”

John echoes, “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan … come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you” (3:9).

In Ezekiel 1:10 we find:  

“Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.”

John reports, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures….The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle” (4: 6, 7).

Isaiah 6:2-3 professes:

“Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

John agrees that, “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come’ ” (4:8).

Zechariah introduces us to the Four Horsemen in 6:1-3:  

“I looked up again – and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains….The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled – all of them powerful.”

John expands this to:  “I looked and there before me was a white horse! … Then another horse came out, a fiery red one…. I looked, and there before me was a black horse! I looked, and there before me was a pale horse!” (6:1-8). 


You get the idea. John of Patmos had studied Scripture extensively, especially Old Testament prophecy, which gave him many of the images he subsequently used to colorfully embroider his “revelation.” 

This confirms the high probability that John of Patmos was born and raised as a Jew. Of course, he became a Christian in later life, although always maintaining a significant attachment to Judaism.

Part 3.  Next, let us consider how John is found on the island of Patmos. 

There were Roman mines there, worked for metals by prisoners, the product to be sold within the Roman Empire. It is probable that John endured forced labor there due to a sentence against him by Roman officials. While real dissenters against Rome might be sentenced to death, lesser troublemakers were often exiled to labor somewhere in the empire for a set number of years.  Some scholars believe that this was the case for John. His anger against Rome lights almost every page of the Revelation and it probably stemmed from his treatment at the hands of Roman officials. 

The island of Patmos today

The island of Patmos today

Of course, if he had mentioned Rome outright in his writing, his troubles might quickly have multiplied. He had tasted and seen quite enough of Roman “justice,” so he was clever. In Revelation, Egypt and Babylon become surrogates for Rome. Why? Because both of them had been prior persecutors of the Jewish people – Egypt for the slavery that was ended by Moses, and Babylon for the destruction of the First Temple and subsequent Babylonian Captivity. To first century Jews, the actions of these two powers could easily stand as metaphors for the power of Rome which destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE.

It is possible that as a youth John witnessed or heard about that terrible destruction from a distance (few survived according to legend), and that he was one of the dispersed, in his case to western Asia Minor (today’s western Turkey). There he converted to the new religion of Christianity and became an itinerant preacher-prophet to seven churches. This style of itinerate leadership was well known in those days (think John the Baptist and Jesus). The Book of Revelation was written about 95 CE, making this scenario quite possible.

It is reasonable to assume that his animus towards Rome was of such strength that he tripped up against the authorities there and was exiled to Patmos for a period of forced labor. There he vented his anger by writing an attack on his oppressors. He knew Roman justice well enough to advise his readers to never use outright force against Rome, but to wait for God’s justice; hence he repeatedly admonishes his reader to “patiently endure” until God acts. Christians are wisely urged not to take up the sword.

Part 4.  Now let us examine the text to find confirmations of his mindset and especially of his identity.

John was very probably an itinerant preacher who ministered to the seven cities featured in Revelation 1 to 3, an assertion based on his familiarity with them. Note the specificity with which he describes these churches:

•  The Church in Ephesus: John “knows[s] your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not….You have persevered and have endured hardships….and have not grown weary.” Most pointedly, he “hate[s] the practices of the Nicolaitans….” whoever they were.


•  The Church in Smyrna: He condemns there “a synagogue of Satan” which is filled with “slander of those who say they are Jews and are not…” Apparently Smyrna was experiencing the all-too-common conflict between congregations.


•  The Church in Pergamum:  Here we connect with history. St. Antipas was martyred there by being placed in a bronze caldron which was heated until he burned to death. Thus we read, “You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.” Satan here could mean Rome, or a particular Roman official. But note the specificity of “You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” There are those odious Nicolaitans again! We will never know who “Balaam” was, but the reference seems to be to someone specific.

•  The Church in Thyatira: Here he acknowledges someone or a group: “…your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance…” But he admonishes: “…you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” Jezebel sounds like a real person. The name, of course, again links John to his Old Testament roots.

•  The Church in Sardis: He generally disapproves of their “deadness.” He compliments “a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.”

•  The Church in Philadelphia: This city also contains “…the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars…”

•  The Church of Laodicea:   John knows that the church has “acquired wealth and [does] not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are [spiritually] wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Here John criticizes the accumulation of wealth, which is also alluded to in his references to the other churches. Trade was active and these cities lay on routes taken from the interior of Asia Minor to ports that made them available to points all over the Roman world. John disapproves of wealth, and of Rome, the power that made it all possible. Wealth, to John, is a corrupting influence.

Following these descriptions, the Tribulation begins. Again, John’s descriptions illustrate his animus towards Rome and his partiality towards Jews and Jerusalem. Note in Chapter 7 that 144,000 Jews are the first fruits of salvation and have passed successfully through the Tribulation. At the time of the composition of Revelation, you may recall that Christians and Jews were not generally friendly to one another. As a Christian, John’s favorable bias towards Jews was remarkable, probably revealing his heritage and early upbringing.

After the 144,000 Jews, “a great multitude that no one could count,” apparently gentile Christians, are identified as being cleansed in the Tribulation. They have been afforded salvation as indicated by their white robes.

The Seventh Seal (Chapter 8) sends forth seven angelic trumpeters who bring more tortures. There is no direct report that these tortures and many worse ones to come elicit a declaration of repentance from anyone, an improbable outcome. (If you were tortured wouldn’t you utter something favorable to end it? Most of us would.)

John isn’t much interested in repentance, however; instead, he dwells on revenge. And when he returns to the 144,000 later in Chapter 14, the multitude of gentiles who previously were said to be saved has somehow disappeared, perhaps unconsciously showing John of Patmos’ preference for Jews and Judaism, the presumed faith of his youth.

Meanwhile, Jesus is born in heaven and whisked immediately into protective custody as civil war rages in heaven (Chapter 12). Satan, also called the Dragon, is defeated and expelled to the earth below. This seems like a bit of Greek paganism that John could have picked up while living in Greek-influenced Asia Minor. According to Greek myth, events on the earth reflect activities in heaven. In Christian terms, all earth’s troubles have been caused by Satan’s rebellion and subsequent expulsion from heaven. As the End of the World nears and Satan is expelled from heaven, he is free to cause problems on earth.

A great mystery is now introduced in Chapter 13. A seven-headed beast emerges from the sea with power given to him by the Devil.

St. John at Patmos

St. John at Patmos, Tobias Verhaecht, 1598.
Note: Red monster rising from the sea.

Inexplicably, he has a fatal wound on one of his heads, indicating that he had previously died. But now the wound has healed and he has returned, alive, to the horror of all. What a strange situation! The standard explanation is that this beast refers to the hated Roman emperor Nero. Nero had persecuted Christians when he burned down part of Rome to make way for a new palace. He had also ordered his legions to march on Jerusalem when the rebellion began in 66 CE, marking his name for a special opprobrium among Jews. His cruelty also was remembered by Christians who developed a legend that he would return again, appearing in the East with an army (the Nero Redivivus Legend). John takes this legend and weaves it into his revelations. Nero returns as The Beast armed with supernatural powers. (Returning to the question: Are there evil supernatural powers apart from God’s Holy Spirit? Certainly not.)

The Beast, often identified as the Antichrist, orders all earthly inhabitants to receive a mark on their right hand or forehead that allows them to continue to engage in commerce. Since all Roman coins at this time bore the likeness of the emperor and the use of those coins might denote agreement that the emperor should be worshipped as a god, it might be posited that even everyday trade was seen as an act of apostasy. This could well be John’s meaning and another cause of his deep hatred of the Roman Empire. Buying a loaf of bread might be the equivalent of worshipping an idol! Remember, John was not a reasonable, balanced person. He was a religious fanatic.

Then we come to the famous identification of the Beast. Its number is declared to be 666. If we take Nero’s Greek name, Neron Caesar, translate it into Hebrew, and apply numbers to each Hebrew letter, we get 666, again anchoring this Revelation in actual, first-century history.

We read that the Beast has a kingdom (16:10) which is tortured (of course) and plunged into darkness by the fifth angel’s pouring out God’s next bowl of wrath. The sixth angel’s bowl dries up the Euphrates River, allowing “the kings from the East” and the Beast to invade, settling at the place called Armageddon where they will ultimately be destroyed. These bowls of destruction and pain are reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt, another influence from the Old Testament.

After the seventh bowl, “the great city” (Rome) is shattered by the largest earthquake in history and all the cities of the world collapse. Then in Chapter 17 an angel shows John “the great prostitute who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries…” (17:2). We are also told that “The woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony of Jesus” (17:6), perhaps referring to Nero’s persecution of Christians. She sits on a beast that has seven heads and ten horns. She is “Babylon the Great…the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth” (17:5). Clearly, this is an especially odious being in John’s bestiary. Who is this beast?

We are soon told. “The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits” (17:9).  This can only mean Rome, the city of seven hills. John cannot say so, fearing real-world reprisals, so he hides the identification in as much mumbo-jumbo as he can. But for those who read carefully, he identifies “Babylon, mother of prostitutes” as Rome. At the conclusion of the chapter we are told, “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18). Undoubtedly, it is Rome, whose empire was the largest of any at that time.

John also reminds his readers about Nero. Twice he mentions “the beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction” (17:11). Surely a shiver ran through both Christians and Jews at the mention of the legendary return of this personification of cruelty and persecution.

Then suddenly John brings up something new: seven kings (17:9-10). This reference is meant to set readers calculating the passage of Roman emperors and timing of “The End.” It has triggered endless speculation, but surely Nero is one of the seven kings referred to here.

Next, we are told about the ten horns of the beast. They represent ten kings who will turn on Rome, who “will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (17:16). Apparently the great earthquake of the previous seventh bowl (16:19) that broke the city up as well as the giant hailstones that landed on her at the same time were insufficient to reduce her to the end John felt she deserved.

John devotes the entirety of Chapter 18 to exultation over the destruction of Rome. “Fallen is Babylon the Great!” (18:2). Fire is now the source of her destruction, as though the previously mentioned catastrophes were not able to bring about Rome’s demise. He gloats:

The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men (18:11-13). 

Note the specificity. How many of these products did John see in western Asia Minor making their way to Rome?

And then, perhaps speaking personally, John exclaims, “Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you” (18:20).

His exultation continues in Chapter 19 and concludes with the Battle of Armageddon which is really no battle at all. The Beast and False Prophet are thrown alive into the lake of burning sulfur and all the others “who had received the mark of the Beast” are “killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse…”(19:20, 21). And lest he miss an opportunity for more gore, we read that “all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh” (19:21).  This could represent a warped Apostolic Banquet.

It is instructive to discover who the people were who were thus struck down. We learn who in 19:18: “….kings, generals, and mighty men, … horses and their riders, and …all people, free and slave, small and great.” Did John hate everyone? In real life, was he an outcast himself or perhaps a sociopath? The possibility should not be ignored.

Now we are treated to one of Revelation’s most signal peculiarities. Instead of being killed, the Devil is bound and thrown into the Abyss for 1000 years. He will later emerge for one more indulgence in blood-lust. Why? Apparently to assuage John’s as-yet unsatisfied desire to avenge the evil that was Rome.

In another peculiar development, only those witnesses who had been beheaded for their faith are allowed to “come to life” (20:4) in this First Resurrection and rule with God and Jesus for the thousand year millennium.

After the thousand years, the Devil wiggles out of his chains and buzzes around the earth, deceiving “the nations” into making another challenge against God’s people. The inhabitants of the earth presumably have the Bible at their disposal which clearly tells them what is going to happen in this last caper by the Devil; but many or most enlist in his army nevertheless and surround God’s people, who are camped in “the city [God] loves” (Jerusalem) (20:9). Again, there is no actual battle. Fire from heaven burns them up. Then the Devil is thrown into the Lake of Burning Sulfur where he sizzles “forever and ever” (20:10). We may well ask what the point of all this thousand-year paradise and final deception and carnage is. We are not told.

Finally, we are treated to the Final Judgment. All those who have been resting in their graves are arraigned before the throne and judged “according to what they had done” (20:12). This suggests a judgment according to one’s acts. But scarcely three verses later we find a contradiction that we have noted previously –a reference to something like predestination: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:15). No matter how the judgment works, this is “the second death” (20:14).

Infernal Torments of the Damned

Anon., The Infernal Torments of the Damned
From an illuminated manuscript of Augustine's City of God, 15th C.

The doomed will not suffer alone, however, as John reports that Death and Hades are thrown in with them. This suggests that the “good” survivors will not die again, and that sin will no longer exist. Finally, sin is banished from Earth and Earth becomes the garden it had been in Eden long ago. Or so we hope.

Jerusalem is restored as a heavenly city on earth. According to the Jewish prophets whose writings John had absorbed, it is God’s promise fulfilled. It is marvelous. Never lacking light due to the presence of God Himself, and watered by the river which nourishes the Tree of Life, paradise returns to an earth from which it had long before been exiled.

But wait. There is still bad news. We are advised, inexplicably, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile, let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” Would Jesus ever advise anyone vile to continue acting in a vile manner? It is unthinkable.

And John still has some unexpressed venom to spew forth. Although  we have seen many evildoers tossed into the Lake of Fire, we find that outside the city, “are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (22:15). Somehow they had been missed during all the previous catastrophes. Why? Because an angry John of Patmos can’t be satisfied by a vision of “earth as it is in heaven.” He believes that sin is ever and eternally present. 

John of Patmos was, perhaps, psychologically ill. We should entertain the possibility that he was a misanthrope or even a sociopath. The vision expressed in Revelation is an absurdity and an insult to belief in a God of mercy.

Part 5:  Conclusion

It seems clear that John of Patmos was a first century Jew-turned-Christian. The destruction of Jerusalem by Roman legions and the possible martyrdom of his friends and relations in Jerusalem filled him with fury. He came to live in western Asia and was an itinerant preacher to the seven cities found in the beginning of the book. The luxurious trade goods he saw being carried to the great city of Rome repulsed this ascetic man. Roman coins with idolatrous images of emperors who he saw as murderers of his fellow Jews and Christians and his own experience working as forced labor in the Roman mines of Patmos drained him of any moderation or goodwill. Rome was an enemy that he could not pray for, one whom he could not forgive for his tribulations, one for which he could not control his hatred. His misanthropic mind dances with the expectation that an angry and sadistic God will end the horrible world he lived in.

His vision is one of human anger, not of divine justice. The actions of his God are exactly the opposite of those of the God described by Jesus. That is why Christians must ignore this noxious period-piece of revenge and violence. As a complete mischaracterization of God, and with its incompatibility with the message of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, the Book of Revelation should be deleted from the canon.

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