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Book of Revelation
|Light iron-age reading|
|Gabbin' with God|
The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and describes the tribulations visited upon mankind at the end of the world, the ultimate battle between good and evil, and finally the second coming of Christ. Authorship of the book has been questioned over the centuries, but the prevailing view is that it was written by a man named John of Patmos, a.k.a. John the Theologian, who was neither John the Apostle nor John the Evangelist. Another mystery is what exactly John had ingested before he wrote this stuff. Even by Biblical standards, it's a strange book.
Spoiler alert: God wins.
The book begins with a highly symbolic vision of Jesus Christ had by John while on the island of Patmos, complete with seven candlesticks, seven stars, and a flaming-eyed Jesus holding a sword in his mouth. Jesus instructs John to write a letter to each of the seven principal churches of the Roman province of Asia — Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. The letters various commend and rebuke the churches, while referring back to the symbolism of the vision, and contain various prophecies of coming persecutions and of the end times.
Christians have different approaches to interpreting the seven churches. Some focus on them as literal, historic churches, and see the letters as referring to particular problems they were experiencing at the time that Revelation was written. Others adopt a less literal reading, either as different types of churches, or else as different historic ages through which the church will pass.
The Seven Seals
Revelation begins with a view of Heaven where all manner of beasts and men worship God. In thanks for their worship, Jesus opens the seals on seven scrolls which release the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a group of martyrs begging for Judgment Day (awesome movie), and penultimately an earthquake. Finally, on the opening of the Seventh Seal (lesser-known, but still awesome movie), Heaven is quiet for about a half hour, whereupon God gives seven trumpets to the angels and the angels begin praying. One of the angels takes a censer filled with fire and hurls it at the earth resulting in earthquakes, thunder, and lightning. Yeah, thanks for that.
Next, the trumpet section gets its chance for a solo. The trumpets result in a hail of fire and blood destroying one third the Earth's surface, the collapse of a fiery mountain into the sea, one third the seas turning to blood killing one third of the sea creatures, the darkening of one third of the Sun, Moon, and stars for 1 day, the falling of a star from Heaven opening the Abyss (another awesome movie) releasing a swarm of scorpion-locusts (urgh). In reality, a collision with even a small star would destroy the Earth. On second thoughts we can relax. Perhaps the author only meant a meteor or comet. Also, a woman is crowned with stars - or meteors? Comets? No, clearly, the author did not know what a star really is. Or maybe it was a metaphor! Yes, a metaphor! Let's have some carrot cake or healthy lentils.
Return to the trumpets. The sixth trumpet releases angels from the Euphrates (class song by Pixies) to take 200 million Horsemen to slay one third of mankind. The seventh angel holds off a bit with his trumpet so he can release the really good stuff when we least expect it.
Now things get really interesting as we get into hallucinogenic territory. Two witnesses preaching the word of God use supernatural powers to issue forth plagues on mankind, and are attacked by the Beast. They lie dead for three and a half days and then ascend into Heaven. Then a woman crowned with stars is pursued all over Heaven and Earth by a dragon, leading to a battle in heaven between the dragon's forces and the righteous angels led by Michael (God would help out, but he's off tinkering with some other, better Universe). The dragon is thrown down to Earth and drowns the woman with water from its mouth, but the woman grows eagle wings and flies away (Mighty Eagle!). Then, beasts rise from the sea and Earth to convince man to follow the Beast. Finally, the seventh angel, having had all this time to get his jaw loose, goes all Dizzy Gillespie on us.
Upon the sounding of the seventh trumpet, angels pour out the contents of seven bowls (at least six of which John must have been smoking). The pouring of the bowls results in sores appearing on mankind, the death of all things in the sea, the seas turning to blood, the sun turning red and scorching the earth, the earth being covered in darkness, the drying up of the Euphrates and the gathering of the armies of the Antichrist, an earthquake, and hail falling on Earth.
After that fun-fest, the Whore of Babylon rises up to take power over the Earth, sitting on a Beast with seven heads and ten horns (this'd make a good movie) with Other contenders and helpers. Eventually, the countries controlled by the Kings that worship the Beast make war on her. Finally, having seen enough, Jesus shows up and kicks some Beast ass. The Beast, the Antichrist of the number 666, and their followers are thrown into a lake of fire, but only for a thousand years (because Jesus doesn't want us getting too complacent). After the thousand years, Satan makes his appearance, but God (having finally finished that other universe full of reasonable individuals) shows up and devours Satan with a pillar of flame from Heaven. A new Jerusalem descends from heaven, and we all live happily ever after (although extended therapy sessions may be required).
It is a common misconception that the rapture (an iconic Blondie number), an event where God takes all the Christians both dead and living off the Earth, comes from the book of Revelation. In actuality the rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. Revelation only mentions that 144,000 of the Twelve Tribes of Israel will be saved from the tribulations, but 1 Thessalonians refers to all Christians.
For some strange reason, many fundamentalist Christians ascribe to a view commonly called dispensational premillennialism wherein all Christians will be raptured to heaven before the tribulations, even though the Bible isn't clear at all on the timing of the rapture. Essentially, they're fine with whatever happens to the rest of the world, as long as they don't have to live through it. There are also those who believe in a post-tribulation rapture, wherein Christians will have to live through the tribulation just like everyone else.
A bunch of fundamentalist Rapture Ready Jesus Jerks actively praying for the destruction of the earth can't possibly be a good thing. They could at least throw in a good word for the rest of us. I mean, they're basically saying "I don't care if you die a horrible, horrible death, as long as I'm good."
Conversely, there are many non-Christians (probably all dirty liberal/atheists) who are hoping that the Rapture will occur (soon!), taking the Christians to wherever, and leaving the rest of us in a Christian-free world.