Revelation Rule #2: Know the Genres

Thursday, September 13, 2018

(This post is part 3 of my 8 part series on interpreting Revelation faithfully. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

Rule #2: Revelation has three different genres, and each of these genres has its own set of rules.

When we know the rules, we know how to play. This is true for any game, whether it be Monopoly, Simon Says, or Call of Duty. It's also true for the book of Revelation.

Half of the battle in interpreting Revelation is understanding its genres and the subsequent rules that come with these genres. Just about every form of modern entertainment has a genre, including movies and books. A genre is a literary type that completely dictates the ways in which we should interpret the subject. We would interpret a fantasy novel very differently from how we would interpret a newspaper article. Each genre has its own set of rules, and in order to be immersed in a book or movie, we must let go of reality (to an extent) and accept the rules of the genre (even if they sometimes break logic).

For example, an action movie is not complete without a car chase. Car chases typically take place during the busiest part of rush hour and challenge the very laws of physics. We believe that James Bond’s vehicle can rush through a busy intersection without accumulating so much as a scratch, but we would not dare try the same feat as we travel to the grocery store to pick up some milk. This is because physically impossible feats are one of the "rules" of an action movie.

In the same way, in order to understand the book of Revelation, we must recognize the unique genre “rules” that govern its interpretation. Now here's where it gets tricky. Revelation actually has three different genres (letter, prophecy, and apocalyptic lit). We could spend an entire series talking about each one, but for now we'll tackle the most misunderstood one: apocalyptic literature.

Apocalyptic writings are usually thought of as containing truth that is hidden, but really the opposite is true. By definition, "apocalypse" means an "unveiling" or "uncovering" of truth. It's not about keeping something a secret; it's about revealing truth.

Apocalyptic writing is actually a really old Jewish literary form that only appear in times of crisis. We consistently see this literary genre pop up every time God's people are oppressed or terrorized. This genre critiques those people and systems that are expressly anti-God and envisions a time when God will intervene to defeat evil.

Contrary to popular belief, apocalypses don't foresee the end of the world; they foresee the end of evil.

Often this end of evil entails the renewal of the world, whereby God will right all the wrongs and restore everything to the way he intended it to be. This end of evil is foreseen in the present age, the future age, or sometimes both.

This message of critique and hope is packaged in art and poetry. Apocalyptic literature does not follow the rules of logic and science. Its rules are artistic expression, thoughtful symbolism, and experiential immersion. Oppression of any kind causes art to flourish as an expression of resistance, and the book of Revelation is no exception. 

Take, for instance, the Bethlehem walls that surround Palestine. They are filled to the brim with artistic words and images that both critique and give hope to occupants and those passing by. 

Think of the book of Revelation as this form of passionate art. Think of Revelation as poetry that protests the anti-God powers and systems of John's day.

Think of the book of Revelation as a form of "resistance literature."

But what, exactly, was John resisting? We'll tackle that next in our third rule.

For now, tell me about your favorite genre. What are its rules? How does understanding those rules help you interpret a movie/book/song?

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