Is the Book of Revelation about the Future?

I read a disturbing post the other day, over at Taylor Marshall’s blog: The Two Beasts in Revelation – What Do They Represent? And I’ve read similar material by other authors also, on Revelation as well as on the Book of Daniel. The basic premise of all these writings is that Revelation and Daniel are not about the future of the Church, but about the past. Why is this disturbing? Two reasons: First, it represents an abandonment of the traditional interpretation of Revelation and the book of Daniel found in the Saints and in orthodox Catholic eschatology. Second, the words of Jesus, of Daniel, and of John in Revelation all clearly indicate that these writings are about the future, not the past.

Dr. Marshall’s claim is that the Book of Revelation is the story of the early Church battling the Roman empire (before its conversion to Christianity) and the Jewish leaders in Israel. He claims that the two beasts are Rome and Jerusalem. His view of Judaism during that time period is particularly disturbing: “the High Priest and the sacrificial system he represented as an apostate beast fostering worship of the Roman Empire”.

Unfortunately, some very conservative Catholics have a bias against Judaism. For example, Michael Voris, a popular conservative speaker, claims that Judaism, after the fall of Jerusalem, became a false man-made religion. He was rebuked by his Bishop for this view, but he stands uncorrected. His view is contradicted by the teaching of Pope John Paul II and of the Second Vatican Council, but he stands uncorrected. Some ultra-conservatives don’t really take their views from Catholicism, but from conservatism.

The idea that Dr. Taylor Marshall expresses, that the Jewish high priest and “the sacrificial system” is the “apostate beast” that worships the Roman Empire is anti-Judaism. It is a wholesale condemnation of a religious group, without any sound basis in fact or doctrine. This view is unsupported by any interpretation of Revelation by the Saints, and contrary to the constant respect that the Catholic Church has always held for all devout Jews and for the Jewish Faith itself. Marshall claims that when the chief priests said to Pilate: “We have no king but Caesar”, they in effect:

“changed their allegiance from the God of Israel to the Caesar of Rome. They bowed down to the Roman Beast of the Gentiles and in turn became the Beast of the Holy Land.”

This interpretation condemns a whole group of Jews and the Jewish faith itself, based on the sin of a few leaders during the time of Christ. But it is not a view consonant with Catholic teaching, nor is it found in the teaching of any Saint or Pope.

In truth, the Jewish Faith is a true religion established by God, the Jews continue to be the chosen people, and they continue to hold to a covenant established by God. The old covenant was transfigured into the new covenant of Christ, but in as much as the new contains the old, elevated to a higher form, the old covenant continues within the new. The new covenant has broadened membership in the chosen people to all human persons in a state of grace, to all human persons who love God and neighbor. But this elevation and transfiguration of the old into the new does not cast aside the Jewish faithful, nor does it nullify God’s promises to them under the old covenant.

Moreover, as an historical fact, the Jews in Israel rejected the occupation of their nation by Rome, and the Jewish high priests resented the influence that Rome exercised or tried to exercise over their religion. The Herodians were a small Jewish sect that did consider Rome to be the savior of Israel; they thought that Herod the great was the Messiah. But they never held the position of the high priest, and their sect was short-lived. The Pharisees and Sadducees, well-criticized by Christ himself, nevertheless did not worship Rome. Nor does Christ accuse them of that particular sin.

There was an incident in the first century A.D. that illustrate the Jewish rejection of pagan Rome and of those Roman emperors who considered themselves to be gods. Near the end of his reign, the emperor Gaius (aka “Caligula”) decided that he was a god and that his statues should be placed inside the Sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem. He ordered the Roman governor of Syria at the time, Petronius, to take an army and carry out this purpose.

The Jews were greatly alarmed at this event. A large number of Jewish men, with their wives and children, gathered in the plain of Ptolemais (in Galilee, near the Mediterranean Sea) and met the army sent by the emperor. They pleaded with Petronius and refused to be dissuaded by even the threat of force against them and their families. They stood unarmed, blocking the passage of a Roman army. They faced down a Roman governor with an army at his back. These Jews risked death rather than allow an idolatrous statue of a Roman emperor to be installed in the Temple of Jerusalem.*

So it is absurd to say that the serious sin of a few Jewish leaders at the time Christ was crucified turns the whole religion and all its subsequent leaders into the apostate beast of the book of Revelation.

Aside from the offensive anti-Judaism in Marshall’s interpretation, there are other serious problems.

First, the Book of Revelation is infallible Sacred Scripture. And yet many of its assertions cannot be reconciled with the interpretation asserted by Marshall:

[Revelation]
{6:12} And when he had opened the sixth seal, I saw, and behold, a great earthquake occurred. And the sun became black, like a haircloth sack, and the entire moon became like blood.
{6:13} And the stars from heaven fell upon the earth, just as when a fig tree, shaken by a great wind, drops its immature figs.
{6:14} And heaven receded, like a scroll being rolled up. And every mountain, and the islands, were moved from their places.
{6:15} And the kings of the earth, and the rulers, and the military leaders, and the wealthy, and the strong, and everyone, servant and free, hid themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.
{6:16} And they said to the mountains and the rocks: “Fall over us and hide us from the face of the One sitting upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.
{6:17} For the great day of their wrath has arrived. And who will be able to stand?”

If the book is about the struggle between the Church, the Roman empire and the Jewish religion, when did this event occur? Never. The text of Revelation itself is incompatible with Marshall’s interpretation.

[Revelation 7]
{7:1} After these things, I saw four Angels standing above the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, so that they would not blow upon the earth, nor upon the sea, nor upon any tree.
{7:2} And I saw another Angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the Seal of the living God. And he cried out, in a great voice, to the four Angels to whom it was given to harm the earth and the sea,
{7:3} saying: “Do no harm to the earth, nor to the sea, nor to the trees, until we seal the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
{7:4} And I heard the number of those who were sealed: one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.
{7:5} From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand were sealed.
{7:6} From the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand were sealed.
{7:7} From the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand were sealed.
{7:8} From the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand were sealed. From the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

And here is another passage of Sacred Scripture that contradicts Marshall’s claims. If Judaism became an apostate false religion, and if Revelation is about the struggle of the early Church against Rome and Jerusalem, then why would Scripture say that 12,000 (symbolizing a large number, but also a holy number) are sealed from each of the 12 tribes of Israel? Clearly, Sacred Scripture views the Jewish faith as continuing to be holy and pleasing to God, even during the time described in the Book of Revelation.

{8:7} And the first Angel sounded the trumpet. And there came hail and fire, mixed with blood; and it was cast down upon the earth. And a third part of the earth was burned, and a third part of the trees was entirely burned up, and all the green plants were burned.
{8:8} And the second Angel sounded the trumpet. And something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast down into the sea. And a third part of the sea became like blood.
{8:9} And a third part of the creatures that were living in the sea died. And a third part of the ships were destroyed.
{8:10} And the third Angel sounded the trumpet. And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch. And it fell upon a third part of the rivers and upon the sources of water.
{8:11} And the name of the star is called Wormwood. And a third part of the waters were turned into wormwood. And many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
{8:12} And the fourth Angel sounded the trumpet. And a third part of the sun, and a third part of the moon, and a third part of the stars were struck, in such a way that a third part of them was obscured. And a third part of the day did not shine, and similarly the night.

When did these events happen in the early Church? They did not. When was the sun and the moon and the stars darkened or obscured? This has not happened yet. One common but foolish interpretation claims this passage merely describes an eclipse of the sun or of the moon. But there are eclipses every year. So an eclipse cannot be an indication of the end times.

{9:15} And the four Angels were released, who had been prepared for that hour, and day, and month, and year, in order to kill one third part of men.

When, during the time of the early Church, was one third part of humanity killed? This event has not happened yet. These are all future events. Marshall does not even attempt to give an interpretation of these passages that would support his own claims. He interprets later passages, describing later events, as referring to the early Church. And yet these earlier passages, describing earlier events, have not occurred yet. But if the earlier events have not happened yet, then neither have the later events.

It could not be clearer, to anyone who reads the Book of Revelation with faith and reason, that the Book is about the future.

Second, Marshall’s interpretation is contrary to the words of Jesus Christ himself in his eschatological discourse (Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21). Marshall claims that Daniel was prophesying about the struggle of the early Church. But Jesus says that the events described in Daniel are about the future, about the suffering of the Church in the last days, prior to His own Return.

{24:15} Therefore, when you will have seen the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, may he who reads understand,
{24:16} then those who are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains.

{24:30} And then the sign of the Son of man shall appear in heaven. And then all tribes of the earth shall mourn. And they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven, with great power and majesty.
{24:31} And he shall send out his Angels with a trumpet and a great voice. And they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the heights of the heavens, even to their furthest limits.

The traditional interpretation of Jesus’ eschatological discourse, and Daniel, and Revelation, is that all these passages refer to the tribulation, to a period of suffering through which the Church must pass, in the future, prior to Christ’s Return.

Furthermore, Marshall’s claim that the two beasts are not two persons, but Rome and Judaism, is contrary to the words of Jesus and the traditional interpretation of Scripture:

{24:24} For there will arise false Christs and false prophets. And they will produce great signs and wonders, so much so as to lead into error even the elect (if this could be).
{24:25} Behold, I have warned you beforehand.

Jesus was referring to false Messiahs and false prophets, of which there have been and will be many. But He was also referring to the worst false Christ, the human person called the Antichrist, and the worst false prophet, the human person who assists the Antichrist, of whom all other false Christs and false prophets are merely foreshadowings.

Third, Sacred Scripture clearly refers to the two beasts as two particular human persons. The one beast is a particular human person, the Antichrist, and the other beast is another particular human person, the false prophet who assists the Antichrist. Certainly, in some passages, the beast also represents the kingdom of the Antichrist (in the distant future). But in other passages the leader of that kingdom, the Antichrist himself, is referred to as the beast. As for the second beast, the one with two horns like a lamb, this figure is only used to represent a single human person, the false prophet, whom I understand to be the woman called Jezebel and harlot in other passage of Revelation. The false prophet is a woman religious leader within the new religion that the Antichrist will establish.

That the two beasts are two human persons could not be clearer in this passage:

{19:19} And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, having been gathered together to do battle against him who was sitting upon the horse, and against his army.
{19:20} And the beast was apprehended, and with him the false prophetess, who in his presence caused the signs, by which she seduced those who accepted the character of the beast and who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the pool of fire burning with sulphur.
{19:21} And the others were slain by the sword that proceeds from the mouth of him who was sitting upon the horse. And all the birds were sated with their flesh.

The beast gathers with the kings of the earth and their armies, so the beast is not the whole kingdom, in this passage, but the leader of that kingdom. Then these two, the Antichrist and the false prophetess, are thrown alive into Hell (“the pool of fire”). Only individual human persons (and fallen angels) are sent to Hell. God judges each person individually. He does not send an entire kingdom to Hell. But if we follow Marshall’s interpretation to its logical conclusion, we would have to interpret this passage as if Rome and Jerusalem (which he claims are the two beasts) will be sent to Hell.

Unfortunately, this type of interpretation is consonant with the views of some ultra-conservatives: that Jews who know about Christianity, and yet refuse to convert prior to their deaths, must certainly be condemned to Hell. Why do ultra-conservative Catholics condemn Judaism and all Jews who refuse to convert? I have no idea. Ask them.

The Church teaches that salvation is accessible in mysterious ways, even possibly without external membership in the Church, but always in relation to the Church. It is a mysterious relationship for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her. This saving grace requires acceptance, but this acceptance can be merely implicit in its orientation to Christ and the Church.

Fourth, the Saints have always interpreted Daniel and Revelation as referring to the distant future, and they have always interpreted the two beasts as the Antichrist and the false prophet. Saint Thomas Aquinas considered these beasts to be the Antichrist and the false prophet. Yet Dr. Taylor Marshall, who usually adheres to every theological opinion of Aquinas as if it were dogma, utterly ignores him on this topic.

For specific quotes from Saints on this topic, see my article: The Antichrist is Not in the World Today. In that article, I quote a number of Saints as indicating that the Antichrist is a real human person who will have a terrible worldwide reign in the distant future.

Fifth, the CCC considers the eschatological passages of Sacred Scripture to refer to the future tribulation, not to the past:

675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.

677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

It is astounding to me to see how often various Catholic bloggers (Taylor Marshall is just one example) when writing on this topic, ignore the plain words of Sacred Scripture, ignore the teaching of Christ in His eschatological discourse, ignore the teachings of the Saints and of the Church, all in order to nullify the teaching that the Church must pass through a time of terrible suffering, the tribulation (the end times, the apocalypse), before entering into Her glory.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

* This dispute ended happily for the Jews. Petronius wrote to the emperor, to dissuade him from forcibly placing his statue in the Temple of Jerusalem. The emperor received the letter of Petronius, and sent a letter in response ordering him to act. But then the emperor died, and another letter was sent to Petronius, informing him of the emperor’s death. The second letter arrived first, and so Petronius and his army returned to Syria.

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2 Responses to Is the Book of Revelation about the Future?

  1. Nicholas says:

    good article! Way to catch the ultra-conservative errors. Yes disturbing. I know firsthand that these sort of ideas have terrible effects.

    What struck me was his ideas seem to stem from what I would call more liberal commentaries of Revelation, the ones who deny Revelation targets the future of the Church. I’ve read parts of these and I doubted whether or not the authors even believed in Divine Inspiration. So now this mixes in some erroneous ultra-conservative understanding with erroneous ultra-liberal understanding. It all gets mixed together. Errors are having baby errors.

    I think of what Mary keeps on saying in the Pedro Regis’ messages: “Blind leading the blind” and “you live in a time of great spiritual confusion”. Also think of Saint Paul’s predictions in the two letters to Saint Timothy. Its happening right now.

    For me it is just a matter of Jesus opening the book and breaking the first seal which I think is a figurative manner of saying Jesus initiates the Tribulation (for us the first part). This in itself will correct the erroneous understandings of Revelation. Even so there will still be spiritual confusion in the Church as there already is.

  2. Moneybags says:

    Of course Revelation is not either about the future or the past–it is about both. Revelation describes truths which are relevant at all times, and looking to assign them to single events misses the point. Revelation presents us with a framework in which we can view things that are happening all the time.

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