What are some distinctive characteristics of apocalyptic literature?

High Definition Video Standard Definition Video

(Right click this link to download video.)


Apocalyptic literature is not like any kind of literature we have today, and so, sometimes, when modern readers approach the book of Revelation, for example, they're surprised, and they're trying to figure out what's going on. So, it's important to talk about some of the characteristics of apocalyptic, ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature. Fundamentally, apocalyptic literature is, really, crisis literature. And by that we mean, it arose in the context when God's people were under severe pressure, even pressure of potential extermination. And the message, then, that comes through, in apocalyptic literature, is that no matter what crises you're facing, no matter what enemies you're facing, God is the sovereign Lord of the universe. He is in charge of human history, and he will intervene to accomplish his salvation, and to bring you through this impossible or difficult time. So, that's fundamental to apocalyptic literature. Then, of course, we see characteristics like symbolic images, and sometimes, you know, we see beasts and dragons and locusts, and these coming out of the pit, and these kinds of things. So, lots of symbolic literature. Revelation through angelic creatures, angelic mediators, these kinds of things are characteristic of apocalyptic literature. But fundamentally, apocalyptic literature is meant to send a message to God's people that the crises that they're facing, the challenges they're facing, they can persevere through it because God is ultimately going to save and deliver them.

Answer by Dr. Mark L. Strauss

Dr. Mark Strauss is Professor of New Testament at Bethel University.