Christian Apocalyptic – Understanding Apocalyptic Literature

August 31, 2009

This is a direct continuation of the series on 2 Peter and Jude.

Apocalyptic literature refers to writings that reveal the hidden things
of God. It is a new term, not one that apocalyptic writers applied to
themselves, and there is some debate as to which works are apocalyptic
and which are merely prophetic. It is found in canonical and
extra-canonical writings of both the Old and New Testaments, mainly
after the Babylonian Exile, usually in times of persecution, especially
the time from 200BC to 200AD, and deals with the end times
(eschatology).

Apocalyptic visions are dramatic and often wild and highly symbolic,
and often mediated through an angel. There is no definitive list of
apocalyptic literature, but commonly cited as examples are Daniel,
Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, Revelation, 2 Thessalonians, The Olivet
Discourse (found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke), as well as the
extra-canonical books of 1 and 2 Enoch, Jubilees, Testament of the
Twelve Patriarchs, 4 Esdras, 2 Baruch, The Testament of Abraham, and
the Apocalypse of Abraham. The extra-canonical books are called
pseudepigrapha (or falsely ascribed writings) to distinguish them from
the deuterocanonical books sometimes called apocrypha by Protestants.

Apocalyptic eschatology differs from prophetic eschatology in a few
ways, but one difference is that some see prophetic eschatology as more
personal and more naturalistic, while apocalyptic eschatology is more
obviously supernatural and deals with God breaking into history in
cataclysmic ways coming from above. Others would note that even in
prophetic eschatology, it is God’s will which the prophecy follows.
Apocalypse is often less well-accepted into the mainstream than other
prophecy, but none of these criteria should be viewed as absolute;
there is much room for dispute.

Some believe these apocalyptic writings were composed in part to give
an answer to why the pious were continuing to be persecuted and the end
of prophecy. This is probably true of the pseudepigraphal works, though
it must be clear that apocalyptic prophecy is given by God, and not
brought down by man. There was a rise in apocalyptic writing in the
19th century in an attempt to understand why some Christian sects were
becoming more liberal.

The closing theme is Gerard Satamian’s Chansons Sans Paroles Op. 2 Pastorale, from the album Dry Fig Trees. www.magnatune.com

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