Apocalyptic literature is a form of prophecy, largely using symbols and imagery, to predict natural and manmade disasters in relationship with the end times. Often the symbols and imagery involved strike readers as strange. For example, Daniel 7 describes four beasts, one of them with iron teeth; Revelation 9 mentions long-haired locusts with men's faces; and Ezekiel 1 talks of four-faced creatures.
Why is apocalyptic literature strange?
Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew 24, Mark 13, 2 Thessalonians, and Revelation contain the bulk of end-times prophesy and description in the Bible. In fact, the Greek apocalypse means "revelation."
The views into the future that some prophets and John, the author of Revelation, were granted were difficult to understand and describe. Some descriptions may be detailed sketches of what they saw, others may be the best analogy the writer could summon due to the uniqueness and supernatural sources of the view. For example, if the prophets saw some piece of technology not yet invented, what vocabulary would they have had to describe it?
Likely much of the prophets' apocalyptic visions were symbolic in that God showed them the literal things they describe seeing, but used those things as metaphors. For example, John tells of a woman clothed with the sun, a dragon waiting to attack her offspring (Revelation 12:1–4), and a beast with seven heads and ten horns from the sea (Revelation 13:1), among other things. His initial readers understood these descriptions as symbols.
Another reason for the oddity of apocalyptic literature is the very nature of the end times. By definition, the destruction of our world will be out of the ordinary. It makes sense that the descriptions of such calamity would sound strange to us.
Apocalyptic literature also exists outside of the Bible, but that literature generally has an anonymous author and is vague about its audience. On the other hand, the Bible's apocalyptic literature is not so veiled. John clearly identifies himself as the writer of Revelation (Revelation 1:1–2) and addresses his writing on specific groups of people (Revelation 1:9–11). His general view, after the direct messages to specific churches, was far into the future (Revelation 22).
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