There are certain Christians utterly fascinated with – sometimes all but eager about – the end of the world. In the past, they’ve almost always been confined to the wilder reaches of Protestantism, though they also pop up these days in various Catholic circles. The world, to be sure, will someday come to an end. But since we have it on the Highest Authority that “concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” (Mk. 13:32), it’s always seemed better to me to spend our short time here on earth on other things.
Yet for obvious reasons – 2020 has months to go, and has already given us plagues, fires, wars and rumors of wars, storms, riots, looting, mayhem, stories of corruption in Rome itself, and political upheavals that remind you of the great Beasts in the Apocalypse (chs.13 to 17ff.) – people, with some justification, start raising the old question: Is this finally it?
Which is why I’ve been reading the Book of Revelation and related works (at least in my mind) with students at Thomas More College this semester. As we’ve mentioned here before, I was asked to be the first St. John Henry Newman visiting chair there this year – thanks to a generous grant by an anonymous donor – and my initial thought was: If people are speculating about the End Times anyway, why not study what Scripture actually has to say in the book that is the culmination of the whole Biblical account that began in Genesis?
Revelation is not an easy text to read and unless someone knowledgeable is taking you through it, I’d recommend a commentary. My own favorite is Joseph L. Mangina’s in the Brazos series of theological commentaries, overseen by our friend R. R. Reno, editor of First Things.
But St. John, author of the Apocalypse, says it is to be read aloud in all the churches. And in some of the very last verses of the Bible he warns, “if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”