Steeped in images of plagues, disasters and the end of time, the Book of Revelation has inspired equally fertile imaginations of a gruesome judgment day, also known as the Apocalypse.

But for Fr. Gerardo Tapiador, NCR director of the Episcopal Commission on the Biblical Apostolate in the Philippines, the trivially construed doomsday expositions, revived in best-selling novels and other popular depictions is only surface interpretation.

“The central theme of the Revelation revolves around the Scroll and the Seven Seals that highlights God’s ultimate promise of salvation for mankind,” Tapiador told the Varsitarian. “In fact, it is one of the best expressions of the vision of what the Church should become on earth as the bride of Christ and the New Jerusalem.”

This statement, however, proved immaterial during the fourth and fifth centuries when the book was momentarily excluded in the canon of the Sacred Scriptures due to authenticity issues in what Tapiador believed as the early Christians’ ignorance of its content.

“The early Christians in the Syro-Palestinian region at that time do not have a complete grasp yet of what the Bible completely was,” Tapiador said. “Only in 340 AD did the Church determine the parts of the Bible through the Codex Vaticanus.

In the Codex Vaticanus, however, some parts of the Revelation were missing. But the manuscript was complemented by the Bible’s first original manuscript, the Codex Sinaiticus as well as its third manuscript, the Codex Alexandrinus, which later became the major codices responsible for determining the full content of today’s Bible.

Unquestionable authorship

Inspired by Divine Providence amid solitary confinement in the island of Patmos, John the Apostle was considered the author of the original Greek text of the Revelation.

But despite doubts of some theologians regarding the true identity of the “John” who introduced himself as the author of the book in its introductory chapter, Tapiador believes that the person, who authored the fourth Gospel, saw the vision of eternal deliverance from sin is the same John the Apostle and Evangelist “who had experienced the Lord himself.”

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Although the Revelation’s tone might have departed from the style John employed in writing his Gospel and three letters, Tapiador maintained that the use of symbolism in the Apocalypse is the best argument that would settle qualms over the identity issue.

“The main resemblance between the Gospel and the Revelation would be John’s use of allegoric language,” Tapiador said. “Among the four Gospel writers, it was only John who used signs as an effective means of bringing about God’s graces.”

Tapiador also claimed that John’s Apocalypse is the basis of what is now known as the Sacramental Theology where the basic understanding of the divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is captured in such metaphors as “God the Father who is the One seated on the throne in heaven, Jesus the Lamb who was to open the scrolls, and the Holy Spirit who was the Unifying Force of the entire Church, as well as the communion of saints and angels in heaven.”

Relaying God’s vow of salvation to the persecuted people of Israel like what the prophet Daniel did in the Old Testament, John addressed the seven churches of Asia Minor namely Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, to tell the people to “return to the way you love Me before” amid persecution from the marauding fleet of Babylonian and Persian invaders.

In sum, these epistles remind early Christians to be firm in their faith, to be aware of false prophets, to abstain from sexual fornication, and to refrain from offering meat to idols.

“John’s Apocalypse may be viewed as a simplified advice to the community of the seven churches. But then, he injects a degree of universality to this advice by directing the people who have ‘ears’ to heed what the Spirit says to the Church,” Tapiador said.

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Figurative not literal

Tapiador suggests that the Apocalyptic codes must be interpreted through the milieu of spiritual reality.

For example, a Seer tasked to preside over God’s revelation is construed to be the all-knowing power of the Almighty which comes in the form of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, the four beasts seated around God’s throne in chapter 13 refers to the four Gospel writers with Mark as the lion, Matthew the ox, Luke the man, and John the eagle in flight.

In the sixth chapter, the Risen Christ is depicted with the opening of the first seal as a white horseman carrying a bow, which symbolizes victory and conquest. However, war and slaughter, which the red horseman resembles after the second seal was shattered, would be man’s recourse toward achieving victory.

After the third seal is unveiled, the black horseman, bearing a scale in his hand that represents justice, would emerge before death symbolized by the sallow horseman comes out of the fourth seal.

Meanwhile, the fifth and sixth seals would bring chaos and terror to the world and to its morally-blighted citizens. By the time the seventh seal is broken, silence for half-an-hour springs forth and peace will reign on heaven and on earth.

“The Seven Seals will serve as obstacles that will prevent the opening of the Scrolls where God’s liberating promise of salvation is kept. But once they are broken, it means that God’s people have come closer to understanding the message of the Good Book. The revelation of God is about everlasting peace,” Tapiador said.

From a more realistic perspective, Tapiador pointed out that the Seven Seals, despite possessing futuristic underpinnings, should be viewed within the context of God’s absolving power in the Old Testament. This, he believed, goes again and again in a recurrence of God’s work in history until the “end of ages.”

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For instance, the seven trumpets provide a glaring recap of the plagues that chastised unbelievers in the Old Testament. At the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the nations are judged and the Kingdom of Christ is established.

Tapiador asserted that God’s Revelation is not about the destruction of earth or of mankind, but the existence of divine calm after crises and tragedies.

“The first few seals’ aim is to prevent mankind from knowing the Revelation of God prematurely, but once the last of the seals and the trumpets already served their purpose, the Kingdom of Christ will prevail and the forces of evil will be banished,” Tapiador said. “Christ the King’s eternal rule ensues.”

“Even the 666 symbolism, originally referred to as Caesar Nero in Hebrew numerology, should not be deemed as a demonic but rather adversarial personification of Satan as mankind’s greatest oppressor,” Tapiador said.

Tapiador also clears that the mistaken notion that year 2000 was the purported “end of time,” can be attributed to the millennium passage’s anomalous relation to Christ’s foretold “second coming.”

“The day of the Lord is identified like a thousand years to man. It simply describes the profound difference of God’s time which is eternal from man’s time, which is relative.” Tapiador stressed.

The Revelation strictly signals that the fated end of the world can only happen once the Gospel is proclaimed to all nations. The end, after all, is fulfillment of God’s vow of perpetual emancipation from the clutches of sin and fragility, not of destruction. With reports from www.vatican.com and www.newadvent.com

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