Friday, January 17, 2014

Revelation: Chapters 16 to 22

Click here for the previous part of the book.


God commands to “pour out the seven bowls of God’s fury upon the earth.”  Enter the plagues. 

The first one causes festering and ugly sores to break out on all the worshippers of the beast.  The second turns the sea into blood, killing all fish and sea creatures.  Oh hey wait – Boo!  Why kill the fish?  What purpose does that serve?  I dunno – let’s see that in the post St. Peter world that all the fishermen have gone over to the Beast.

The third bowl of fury turns all the rivers into blood.  Man, there goes our drinking water.  The fourth bowl of fury burns people.  They are scorched by heat and in response they blasphemies against God.  Yeah, that actually makes sense.  God isn’t trying to win people over with a bit of honey but a lot of vinegar.  (Actually, he isn’t trying to win anyone over.  This is torturing of his enemies, pure and simple.  He could make it easier on them and kill them swiftly if he wanted to – he is God, after all.  But he’s opting for this approach.  Yeah, this is a nasty book).

The fifth bowl of fury plunges the world into darkness, and “people bit their tongues in pain.”  I’m not sure I get the connection, but that’s what the Bible says.  The sixth bowl dries up the water in the River Euphrates.  That seems like a weak one.  After all the horrible things – all seas made blood, all rivers likewise, all light taken away – after all that God hits one stinking river?  Seems pretty weanie after all that came before.

But apparently it’s at a key location, for now John tells of the false prophet.  It’s all a bit cryptic, even for Revelations, so I’m not really sure what this false prophet is.  I think it’s the second beast or something.  Or maybe I missed something.  It’s hard to keep track of all the weird stuff in this book.

Anyone, we’re gearing up for a battle – a big battle that’ll take place at Armageddon.  The footnotes tell me that this in Hebrew means “Mountain of Megiddo.”  That’s an actual place, and the site of many key battles.  (The footnotes say it’s listed in Judges 5:19, the Second Book of Kings 9:27, and the Second Book of Chronicles 35:20-24.  Let’s see – 5:19 in Judges does mention Megiddo in the Song of Deborah.  So that’s where that big battle was.  In Kings, that’s where Jehu kills Ahaziah of Judah.  In Chronicles, that’s where the good king Josiah was struck down).  Nowadays, Armageddon is more a concept than a place.  It can be used interchangeably with apocalypse. But it refers to a specific place – the high point by Megiddo.

Anyhow, the seventh cup of fury is finally poured and a great earthquake happens.  It’s the greatest one ever.  We’re told that “the great city” splits into three parts.  I figured this meant Jerusalem, but no, the footnotes say it means Rome.  Man, trying to understand all the stuff in this book is like trying to analyze the lyrics to American Pie.


Now we’re in Babylon the Great – the town of Babylon, I suppose. Well, actually that’s a matter of debate.  The way it’s described clearly reflects on Rome, not Babylon. There is a reference to the seven hills – that’s Rome.  There is a line about “the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth.”  That’s certainly Rome at this time.  I guess the author uses Babylon as his proxy name to refer back to the old Babylonian Captivity, when the bad guys ruled and forced the truly religious (like Daniel) to go underground. . Now he’s saying this is the Christian version of that.  Also, if he spoke so badly of Rome, he could really end up in trouble with the authorities.

Also, this Bible speaks of “the great harlot” at Babylon.  I can only assume that most Bibles translate it as the “Whore of Babylon” as that’s the famous phrase.  I bet that’s what the King James Bible calls her.

Anyhow, this Babylon/Rome/whatever is a horrible place full of all sorts of sinning.  An angel decides to take John aside and explain the symbolism of what he’s seeing.  Well, that’s different.  John, in the middle of his vision, has a character in his vision explain the meaning of his vision.  Also – this indicates that even the Book of Revelations thinks that the Book of Revelations shouldn’t be taken literally, but more symbolically/allegorically.

The discussion of the symbols really loses my attention, though.  It’s also this stuff explaining why there is seven of this or ten of that – and even the explanations are obscure and in some cases we literally have no idea what’s going on.  For example, then angels tell John that seven heads on the beast represent, “seven kings: five have already fallen, on still lives, and the last one has not yet come.”  OK, who the hell are they?  We don’t really know.  The beast himself apparently represents Nero. Sure why not – the 666 number of the beast apparently refers to him. 


Angels start singing how Babylon has fallen.  That seems a bit premature – it hasn’t fallen yet.  But you get a bunch of songs and poems here praising the fall of Babylon, and denouncing those who sided with it.  One thing I found striking is how often the section denounces the merchants who profited off of Babylon.

Nothing actually happens here, just some ritualistic poems calling for its fall; incantations I suppose.


OK, now it’s time for Babylon to actually fall. Really, this is extremely anti-climatic.  After the wonderful set up earlier on with the seven seals and the seven trumpets, you’d expect some big build up here.

Nah.  God just rides out with his forces and that’s that.  The beast is overcome.  The false prophet is overcome.  Blink and you’ll miss the Battle of Armageddon. 

One thing I can say – the good guys all ride white horses.  OK, so this is where that motif begins. 


Well, the battle isn’t entirely over, but what’s left is described in about as perfunctory manner as in the previous chapter.  An angel comes down and seizes the dragon (AKA Satan).  He ties up the dragon and throws it into the abyss, where it’ll stay for 1,000 years.  Side note: with all the other things that caught on in this chapter, I wonder why we never got a popular imagery of Satan as a dragon.  He’s typically more bull-like than dragon. 

Apparently, Satan will be let out after 1,000, but only for a little while.  And it’s 1,000 years away – so who cares.  Oh, and a Gog and Magog reference is thrown in for good measure.  That is a clear Ezekiel reference.  Again, this book is like a psychotic version of Ezekiel. 

This chapter also starts to transition into the post-Armageddon period of glory.  There is a great throne. The martyred dead rise from their graves and help God sitting in Judgment.  Yes, Judgment Day occurs in Chapter 20 – right after Satan has been tied up. 

So, after 15 or so chapters of seemingly unrelenting horrors, we get to the good news.  The good guys are in charge. 


Now begins the millennium – the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth.  A new holy city, a new Jerusalem is in place.  In fact, the old earth and even the old heaven are gone.  They are no longer needed.  We have a new earth and a new heaven. 

John never refers to God by name here.  He just says, “The one who sat on the throne.”   Maybe it’s a professional seat warmer.  Nah, as Throne Sitter says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  OK, that’s just a really cool line right there.  He also says, “The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God.”   Yeah, I’ll bet you’ll be his God, what with you being the actual God and all.

Jerusalem is introduced as “The wife of the Lamb.”  That phrase got my attention – is Jesus getting laid?  No, wait – no.  It’s referring to a city, not an actual wife.

We get yet another Ezekiel-esque moment as John gives us far too much information on the physical description of the new Jerusalem.  It’s not nearly as long as Ezekiel’s eight chapters of cubit talk – I’ll say that for it.

Also, since this is the Lord’s city on earth, it’s far more spectacular than anything Ezekiel even imagined.  The walls are made of jasper.  The city is pure gold, “clear as glass.”  That’s quite the image.  There is no sun or stars, but that’s cool.  You don’t need it with the glory of the Lord giving light.  I hope it gives heat, too – because otherwise you’ll really miss those parts of the sun. 


The angel takes John to a river of life-giving water.  (That sounds very poetic, but isn’t all water life giving?).  Then he shows John the tree of life.  Oh – that’s where Terence Malick got the phrase from for his movie.  Huh.  Even in its very last chapter the Bible can throw an unexpected cultural reference at me. Anyhow, this millennium will be a glory time, with nothing accursed left anymore.  (Of course, you have to go through the apocalypse to get there).

Time to wrap up – the last 16 verses are an epilogue.  John wants it known that everything he saw is imminent.  The angels tells him it, “must happen soon” and then reinforces the point later, saying that, “the appointed time is near.”  People still often believe that the End is Coming Soon – but for me it’s just another reason to assume this vision is just nuts.  He said it would happen soon ….nearly 2,000 years ago.  At the very least, he has such an usual definition of the word soon that he should probably avoid using it. 

In the meantime, the angel counsels John to, “Let the wicked still act wickedly, and the filthy still be filthy.  The righteous must still do right, and the holy still be holy.’  That back half of that sounds nice, but the front half is rather nasty.  There is no attempt to save the wicked.  There is no effort to reach out to them.  Peoples’ characters are fixed and immutable as good or bad, and screw the bad.  No grace of God for them.  (I can’t imagine Paul or Jesus would like that very much). Oh, and letting them stay wicked means they get to suffer through all of this – all of the monstrous act foreseen in this last book of the Bible.

You can make a bit of an argument for that if you really think the end is coming then there isn’t time to help.  But that means he’s completely wrong about how long it’ll take.  It can’t be any “a thousand years to us is a day to the heavenly” allegorical dodge.  Because if the end is really 2,000 years away, then why and blazes wouldn’t you try to reach out to the damned? 

John ends his vision by writing that no words should be added or removed to his vision, it should be left as is.  Anyone who does add/subtract to it shall be cursed.  Yeah, copyists would do that sometimes.  There are clear examples elsewhere in the Bible of that happening, because some of the oldest surviving copies we have of some of these books don’t line up.  Usually it’s just a minor case of grammar differences, but some copies have a story or two that other copies of the same book don’t.  But I already discussed that earlier, when going over the last chapter of Mark, or the “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” story in John.

Oh, here is the last line: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.”  As nasty and ugly and blasted a book as Revelations typically is, that’s a nice note to end on.


This is one of the best-written books in the Bible – at least in the first half.  In the second half it tends to lose its way and become muddled, but the section on the build up through the seven seals and the seven trumpets was masterful.

It’s a very nasty image.  It has a happy ending, sure, but the main focus is on all the sufferings.  It’s Biblical torture porn.  On the one hand, I can understand why this book gets so much attention, because it is well-written and does talk about The End.  Then again, I got to wonder about people who make this book central to their faith.  The message here is nastier than the message is pretty much every other book of the New Testament.  Who the hell wants to envision God as someone who let’s all of this happens?  It’s an engaging read, but an appalling message.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Revelations: Chapters 9 to 15

Click here for the start of Revelations.


Now the fifth trumpet blows.  A star falls from the sky to the earth (again?  It’s comet-crazy here in Revelations!) and opens up an abyss when it lands.  Out of the abyss comes all kinds of smoke, like a huge furnace.  And I think I just found the Bible passage that forms our view of hell.  There is virtually nothing on hell in the Bible. Eternal life is for the believers in Christ, not for the bad people.  But we have an underworld with smoke and fire – yeah, that’s hell.

And out of this hell comes locusts.  But not your normal locusts.  They have the power as scorpions and they had faces like humans.  Weird.  This is like Ezekiel on a bad acid trip.  They locust-scorpion-human-whatever sting people, but don’t kill them.  People are seeking death because their torment is so bad, but death doesn’t find them.  This goes on for five months.  Man, that sucks.  The only ones they can’t/don’t attack are the 144,000 with the mark of the Lord on them.

And there are still two more trumpets left to sound.

The sixth angel blows his horn and four angels, “who were prepared for this hour, day, month, and year to kill a third of the human race” come out with their armies. (Again – John has a nice way of phrasing his horrible visions.  You get a real sense of these angels counting the seconds until they can slaughter tons of people).  Their army is huge: 200,000,000 people.  Holy smokes!  Folks, the world’s population isn’t even going to reach a billion until 1800ish.  Doing some basic checking, the world’s population was about 300 million, and since they’re only going to kill a third of humanity, there will be one dead for every two troops.  It would be like now an army of 3.5 billion came out.

Actually, this army doesn’t kill in the normal ways.  Their horses (the army is all cavalry) have smoke and sulfur come out of their mouths.  That’s what kills so many people – smoke inhalation and lack of oxygen. 

Well, at least the dead are free of the scourge of those scorpion-locusts whatevers.


So far, John has been proceeding with a steady pace towards the end of the world.  Now, his vision takes a bit of a detour of a few chapters.  It does build suspense – what will happen when that seventh and final trumpet blows? – but it doesn’t flow as well as what came before. 

An angel comes forward with a small scroll.  In his vision, John is commanded to eat the scroll in order to remember what it says.  Again, this happened in the Old Testament – I’m pretty sure it was Ezekiel.  (That’s my default guess for all odd sounding visionary things).  I’m too lazy to look it up, but this visionary John seems to have a definite influence from the Old Testament visionaries like Ezekiel. 


We’re still in this little detour.  John is commanded to measure the temple of God.  Yeah, that was eight or nine chapters in Ezekiel. 

A great earthquake happens, and we’re told 7,000 die.  Really?  That’s it?  I don’t mean to make light of a calamity that kills 7,000 people, but we just had 200,000,000 riders wipe out a third of humanity.  7,000?  Hell, Haiti wishes their earthquake killed that few people.  In a book filled with so many impossibly horrible events, you get a calamity that would make page 4 of the newspaper.  Bit of a letdown, really.

But wait – because after this awkward and unsatisfying detour, the seventh angel finally blows the seventh trumpet.  The 24 elders in their mini-Ditka thrones now bow down and say now is time for God’s wrath to come (yeah, all that early stuff was just getting warmed up).  It’s time for the dead to be judged.  Here it is – judgment day. 

God’s temple in heaven opens up and the ark of his covenant could be seen.  I find myself thinking of the altar to Zuul at the end of Ghostbusters.


Before things get even worse for earth, though, we get another segue.  There is a woman – no name given – who is with child.  She gives birth, and at first I assumed she was giving birth to the anti-Christ.  That makes sense, given how bad things are.

I guess not, though.  For there is also a dragon and the dragon is clearly the bad guy.  (The give away is when the dragon is called, “the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan.”  Yeah, that would be bad.  Oh, and while the Old Testament never identifies the serpent as Satan, here the Book of Revelations does just that.  Interesting).  Anyhow, this dragon wants to kill the newborn baby and the mother.  Ah, so it’s not the anti-Christ then that’s been born – but the second coming of Christ.  Thus the unnamed woman must be the second Mary. 

She is saved by God’s angels and kept in the desert protection.  Instead, the dragon goes off “to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”  So the 144,000 are his target.  Yeah, this dragon is definitely bad news.


Enter the beasts.  A beast with 10 horns and seven heads crawls out of the seas.  The dragon gives it his power.  So the beast is now proxy for the dragon.  (Oh, a proxy war during Judgment Day).  One of the heads appears to be mortally wounded, but this mortal wound was helped.  The footnotes tell me this is an apparent reference to a belief/fable about Emperor Nero.  The legend held it that Nero, the first emperor to persecute Christians, could come back to life after death and rule again.

Well, the world sees the dragon and its beast, and decides to worship the dragon because its so powerful.  The beast rules for 42 months and promotes all kinds of evil activities. 

Then comes a second beast: “it had two horns like a lamb’s but spoke like a dragon.”  Wait – lambs had horns?  I’m not questioning that fact, I just didn’t know that.  I’m assuming John has more experience with lambs than I do.  Also – how does a dragon speak exactly?  (With a smoky voice, I’d wager!  - Cue rimshot). 

This is getting a little awkward, with all the weird beasts and the dragon.  Apparently this second beast now has the authority previously given to the first one.   Uh, OK.  Why do we need a second beast again?  Ah, never mind.  Forget it – John’s rolling. 

Oh, and I almost missed a famous line at the end of the chapter.  The last verse: “Wisdom is needed here, one who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person.  His number is six hundred and sixty-six.”  Because the Bible spelled it out, I nearly missed it – but there it is. 

More importantly, the footnote informs me that each letter in the Hebrew alphabet (as well as in Greek) has a numerical value.  Many possible combinations of letter will add up to 666, and so many people have been called the beast.  The best guess, though, is Nero.  Elsewhere this book seems to take shots at Nero, so there you go. 


Well, all life sucks on earth now, so let’s check out on heaven again.  With the lamb are angles, and there is a sound “like that of harpists playing their harps.”  Oh, so this is where we get our image of harp-playing angels up in the heavens.  A song is sung, but only pure of heart virgins can learn it.  Meanwhile, all who worship the beast are doomed, though.  We’re told the harvest is finally ripe.  I assume that’s meant metaphorically that it is time for God to unleash his final vengeance. It sure would be weird if we left the whole apocalypse narrative for a discussion of farm practices.


This is a short chapter that introduces us to the seven plagues.  Man, John sure did love his sevens, didn’t he?  Seven seals, seven trumpets, and now seven plagues.  By this point, we’ve lost the wonderful momentum of earlier, though. The seven seals and seven horns section was masterfully done.  This is starting to read like a bunch of random bad events piled on top of each other without much sense of overall narrative thrust.

Anyhow, we’re introduced to the plagues here, but they don’t strike until the next chapter.

Oh, and there is a line about “God’s harps” here as well.  Yeah, Revelations is totally where we get our notions of heaven having harps.

Click here for the final chapters of the book - and of the entire Bible.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Revelations: Chapters 1 to 8

Click here for the previous book, Jude.


Here it is – Revelations!  The last book of the Bible, and the official Bible book of religious loony tunes everywhere – from David Koresh to Kirk Cameron. 

Our author tells us his name is John.  He’s often thought to be the Apostle John, but he never says that.  He clearly feels himself to be a person of note, as he feels he is justified in writing to seven leading Christian churches of Asia.  At the time, he tells us he’s living in exile on the Aegean island of Patmos. 

His mission: to show “what must happen soon.”  He emphasizes this point again – “the appointed time is near.”  So he thinks that the end truly is nigh.  2,000 years later, we’re still waiting for it, though in every generation some people always take some personal comfort in thinking that they are about to live through all this.  That sounds odd, because this is a nightmare story – the end of the world.  But it has a happy ending, and it makes people feel that the struggles they are living through aren’t petty, minor things are The Grandest Issues of All-Time. 

At any rate, this is a vision John had from God, and he’s writing it to seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  Hey – Smyrna!  My great-grandfather came from that town.  (Though his family wasn’t there in Biblical times.  His people came there when Spain kicked out all the Jews during the Inquisition).

We’re still a-ways away from the havoc-wreaking portion of Revelations. This is still Opening Ceremonies stuff.  In Chapters 2-3, John gives some individual notes and comments to each of the seven churches.

Ephesus: John congratulates them for not tolerating wickedness, but then upbraids them for having lost their fervor of old.  Repent, or be damned.

Smyrna: The Christians here aren’t very rich, but they mean well and for that John is happy with them.  But they are persecuted in their town and they should not be afraid.  They should consider these things to be tests.  Who is hurting them?  “Those who claim to be Jews and are not, but rather are members of the assembly of Satan.”  Wow – Jews are really in league with Satan.  You can see the overt anti-Semitism of the early Christian Church.  The people should pass their tests – or else. 

Pergamum: They live “where Satan’s throne is.”  The problem isn’t Jews here, but pagans.  But between the comments here and the ones in Smyrna, you can see a really angry tone.  Get used to it – this is a book about the end of the world, after all.  Anyhow, the people of Pergamum overcome their problems – or else.

Thyatira: Here you get a really angry image of Jesus: “The Son of God, whose eyes are like a fiery flame.”  Eyes are like a fiery flame?  Granted, that can be taken a couple different ways, but given all the violence that comes later, when it doubt, assume that John means this violently.  Anyhow, John seems especially angry with this community, because they have false prophetess – Jezebel John calls her, harkening back to the Old Testament.   John says God will put her kids to death.  Man, the end of the world hasn’t even begun and we’ve already seen some of the angriest language of the Bible.


Sardis: You guys have a great reputation, but you’re coasting.  Quit coasting.  Or else. 

Philadelphia: Huh.  I didn’t know there was a city in the ancient Near East called Philadelphia.  Anyhow, they also have to deal with those darn Satanic Jews.  John’s message to the Christians of Philadelphia is simple: endure.  Or else. 

Laodicea: John says they are “neither cold nor hot.”  I don’t know quite what this means, but it isn’t a good thing.  I guess they’re lukewarm or wishy-washy.  Quit being so wishy-washy, or “I will spit you out of my mouth.”  So really go for it guys – or else. 

With each congregation, there is advice – and a threat beyond it.


OK, after the preliminaries, we finally get into John’s vision.  But of course the opening bit is just the preliminaries of the vision itself. 

John sees a great throne where the person on it sparkled like precious gems.  Surrounding it are 24 smaller thrones.  (It’s Ditka surrounded by 24 mini-Ditkas).  And there are four odd creatures in the area – one is like a lion, the next like a calf, the third had a face “like that of a human being,” and the last one is eagle-ish.  In each case, John lets us know the animal is “like” the one he is describing, so never exactly like it. I don’t know quite what these animals represent, other than that John has probably read the Book of Ezekiel.


I’ll say this for John.  He can write.  He goes step-by-step, slowing building his way to the main event.  First the letters, then describes his heavenly vision.  We know what’s coming, so all this description and advancement helps heighten the suspense.  He’d make a good screenwriter in modern times. 

Now we see our main character – the Lamb.  The Lamb is clearly Jesus Christ.  John even says that he died and his own blood made a kingdom of his followers.  So it’s Jesus – but it sure isn’t Jesus physically.  Instead, we’re told this Lamb has seven eyes and seven horns.  I don’t get the significance of all that.  There was stuff like this in the Book of Daniel, so it fits into the religious tradition – but I don’t get it.

The Lamb isn’t the only new element in the story. There is also a scroll.  Just as the lamb has seven eyes and seven horns, the scroll has seven seals.  We get a few songs by the angels in praise of the Lamb, and then it’s time to break the seven seals.


Methodically, John works his way to the End of Times. 

The Lamb breaks the first seal.  Not much happens – a horseman shows up.  He’s on a white horse.  The Lamb breaks the second seal.  Another horseman shows up – and he is in charge of war.  The third seal sets forth a horseman who talks of the price of grain.  The fourth seal releases a fourth horsemen, this one has a name: Death.

OK, it is obviously the four horsemen of the apocalypse, famine, war, plague, and death.  Strangely, I don’t quite see all that in their descriptions.  Well, the last one is called Death, so OK.  The second one is war – that’s clear.  The other pair, though – it’s hard to see.  I guess the discussion of grain prices means there is a famine (and grain prices are up?  I don’t know what normal grain prices were back then, though, so it’s lost on me).  That means the last one is pestilence.  I don’t see it, though.  Here is the description: “I looked a there was a white horse, and its rider had a bow.  He was given a crown and he rode forth victorious to further his victories.”  And that’s pestilence?  Ohhh-kay. 

Well, through four seals, no actual destruction has occurred.  We’re still just meeting characters.  Again – John is really good at this whole build up. 

The fifth seal is broken – and it causes the Christian martyrs to rise from the dead.  (Note: that’s a difference between John’s theology and ours.  We think they’d be in heaven already.  But for John they only rise now).  And, this being the Book of Revelations, even the Christian martyrs are bloodthirsty.  They call for vengeance.  They want blood for their blood.  They’ll get it.  My word – how they’ll get it. 

Now the Lamb cracks the sixth seal.  Now things really start happening on the earth.  The earth quakes all over the place, the sky turns dark, and the moon becomes like blood (!).  The end is nigh.  A huge wind happens and even mountains shake loose.  Everyone on earth, from king to slave, feels what is going on and takes fear.  Yeah, it’s taken long enough, but now the payoff from the big build up begins.


Oh, this entire chapter covers more reverberations from the sixth seal.  The seventh seal won’t come until Chapter 8.

Here, four angels go to the four corners of the world.  (Quick time out to oppose Biblical literalism.  If you want to take the Bible literally, then the earth has four corners.  The author probably didn’t mean four corners figuratively, after all.  He probably thought the earth had four corners).

Well, huge winds come from all four corners.  And it’s time to ready the faithful.  The upcoming seventh seal will begin the real calamity, so let’s save the faithful first and protect them.  144,000 are marked with the seal of the Lord.  144,000?  Well, there were 12 tribes of Israel and 144 is 12 squared.  That’s where that number comes from.  That is made evident, as John then talks of the 12 tribes of Israel – and gets two wrong.  He calls Levi a tribe.  No, they were the priestly class, not a tribe. He calls Joseph a tribe.  No, Joseph’s two sons became two different tribes.  That’s an odd mistake fro John to make.

But these 144,000 are the faithful, they true – and now quite literally the saved.  They are whisked to safety just in time – for the Lamb is about to rip the seventh seal.


RIP!  There goes the seventh seal. 

But John is too good a writer to end it all right now.  We’ve already begun the End with the sixth seal, but rather than just destroy everything, John figures out another way to prolong the disaster.  (He’d probably be a screenwriter on Saw movies, as this is Biblical torture porn on a massive scale).

The new narrative trick?  The seventh seal unleashes seven angels who each have a horn.  Each blown horn will create more havoc and bring us another step closer to the end of the world. 

The first trumpet sends hail and fire mixed with blood.  Wow – that’s what I call some nasty precipitation.  That’s much worse than the foot-plus of snow we got here last week.  This bad weather destroys a third of the land, a third of the trees, and a third of the grass.  (That’s surprisingly little, given that fire rained down). 

The second trumpet causes “a large burning mountain” to be “hurled into the sea.”  So, it’s a big meteor?  Maybe a comet.  Something like that – yeah, those things should show up if the world is coming to an end.  Oh, and a third of the sea turns to blood.  Well – that shouldn’t happen just due to a comet.  A third of the sea creatures all die as a result.  John sure likes his thirds, doesn’t he?  I guess it’s a Holy Trinity thing – except that doctrine won’t be fully formed until a few centuries after John. 

The third trumpet causes a large start to fall like a torch from the sky.  That’s a lot like the last one actually.  I guess this is the comet. John is repeating himself a little, which is a shame – because normally he’s more imaginative than that.  Anyhow, this new comet turns a third of the water into a poisonous-tasting bit of bleach.  A third of all people die from this water, because it tastes so bad.  Ah, sounds like Kentucky water.  (Seriously, water in Kentucky is horrible).

Back to the Marching Band of the Damned.  The fourth angel blows the fourth trumpet, and a third of the sky goes dark.  The sun, the moon, and the stars – they all get a dimmer put on them.  Just in terms of light that’s bad, but it’s even worse if it means a third of the heat is gone, too. 

And then comes one of my favorite moments of the entire Bible – the most badass verse of them all: Revelations 8:13: “Then I looked again and heard an eagle flying high overhead cry out in a loud voice, `Woe! Woe! Woe! To the inhabitants of the earth from the rest of the trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to blow!” 

Holy crap that’s impressive.  It’s little things like that – these things make John a masterful writer.  He interrupts his action just to give us a pause – and the pause tells us we ain’t nothing yet. 

Just think – we’ve seen a third of the people die, a third the sea creatures die, a third the animals die, a third of the light go out –all kinds of massive, unimaginable calamities occur – and …. That ain’t squat folks.  Screw it – for only just now is the woe really coming. This is just Holocaust foreplay so play.

We get an entire chapter of massive disasters, and then this flying eagle tells us “Folks, the real shit hasn’t even hit the fan yet!”  That heightens our tension and suspense for what will come next.  Jeez – what could possibly outdo what’s just been done!  It’s mind-boggling to think of stuff worse – but it’ll really get worse.

Oh, and also let’s not forget this: if that verse wasn’t there, you would never notice its absence.  That’s why John is so masterful.  He has the vision to include a verse which greatly adds to his story, but isn’t even needed at all.  That’s artistic vision.  That’s inspiration.  That is a master at work.

Click here for the next part of Revelations.