How does the Book of Revelation speak to 2018 Catholics? Should all its visions, images, warnings, cautions, advice, and guidance be applied to their spiritual and temporal lives?
The Book of Revelation, sometimes called the Apocalypse (from the Greek verb “to reveal”), was intended as a book of consolation for Christians who were suffering violent persecutions from pagan rulers in the last decade of the first century AD. Its affirmation that God’s power and justice will ultimately prevail continues to console Christians.
Unfortunately, over the centuries some people have treated it as a blank slate on which they could project whatever they wanted. Various people have said, for example, that the person with the number 666 on his forehead (13:18) is meant to signify Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and many other leaders.
In an era when Dan Brown’s novel The DaVinci Code and similar books have become enormously popular, it is hardly surprising that the Book of Revelation is cited to “prove” whatever a speaker wants it to support. Jesus warned his followers in Matthew 24:6 not to despair because of wars and rumors of war; that warning still applies. Frenzy does not help anyone grow as a disciple of Jesus.
The Book of Revelation is part of the inspired word of God and should be understood in the spirit in which it was written—and in which the Church has received it. Its warning against being lukewarm in faith (3:16), for example, remains completely valid and relevant.