Defining the genre of Revelation (Difficult passages)

I’m currently in a series within my difficult passages post on the book of Revelation.

After defining some of the major viewpoints on Revelation last week and the week before, this week I’d actually like to talk about what genre Revelation is (which is important for understanding what, exactly, Revelation is trying to say).

Some have argued that Revelation is prophecy. The problem with that view is that “prophetic” books are not the same as books that talk about the future. Just so I am clear, prophecy is not defined upon whether or not something tells the future (how is Jonah prophetic?). Rather, prophecy is a message from the LORD that speaks to a situation contemporary with the prophet, and which may possibly, but not necessarily, have something to say directly to future groups of people (Yahweh). Yet prophetic books seem to conform to certain styles of writing including, but not limited to, receiving a message direct from the LORD (YHWH). Revelation is distinct from that because the message is not direct from God, but is mediated to John through an angel. Instead it has something in common with another Hebrew genre, of which there is only one book represented in the Old Testament. Here’s a hint: the book gets really really weird.

It’s Daniel. Sorry to those who picked Ezekiel (which is pretty weird, but definitely a prophecy book). Daniel, despite often being grouped with prophecy, is Jewish Apocalyptic. The biggest shift between prophecy (some of whose elements carry over) and apocalyptic is that it is delivered by an angel, which for Daniel starts about halfway through the book. Other characteristics: more frequent use of animal imagery, much broader in focus (i.e. the whole world and all of time, not just Israel), much more fantastical imagery (though Ezekiel approaches this at times), and similar things.

How do we know this is a separate genre? Well there are other writings, which were rejected for canonicity, that meet these criteria (and sound quite a bit like Daniel). Revelation also fits well with this genre in many of its elements, and was labeled early on in the church as the Apocalypse of John (there are other Apocalyptic books also). So to understand something about how John works we need to also understand something about how Daniel, and similar books, work.

Unfortunately for this post, I am pretty worn out from preaching this past weekend (a 40min bit on the 2 chapter of 1 John), so I’m leaving it at that. But I’ll pick up again next week.


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