The final biblical genre to examine is also one of the most misunderstood. They account for a lot of the misinformation regarding Christian beliefs, and they also serve as the basis of an entire Christian subculture.
They are the books of prophecy, and theirs is a rabid fan base.
Guess What’s Next?
To begin with, let’s establish what prophetic books actually are – books of the Bible that record the message of God as spoken through his chosen representatives. Most of the prophetic books are in the Old Testament, and contain a message that God shared with Israel of future trouble and/or future blessing.
The list of prophetic books are:
Prophecies are first and foremost written to the nation of Israel, and most of those prophecies were intended to bring about the nation’s repentance. Even prophecies foretelling future calamity were intended to turn the will of the people back to God. When Israel was stubborn and refused to repent, the predictions of the prophets would come true, bringing disaster on God’s rebellious people.
One of the major challenges of prophetic books is determining which of the warnings and promises intended for Israel are also intended for the Church. This issue is further complicated by people who equate America as the heir to Israel, even though no country has a covenant relationship with God in that way. As a rule of thumb, consider only those prophecies quoted by Jesus or the early Church as intended for all believers. (This is a great practice for biblical studies – letting Scripture affirm Scripture.)
Of course, there are several pieces of biblical prophecy that capture attention more easily than others. In fact, an entire sub-genre of prophecy is found within these passages. That sub-genre is called apocalyptic literature, and it is a vision of the end of the world.
The most common apocalyptic prophecy is the Revelation of Saint John. Not only is it the subject of countless books and movies, it is also one of the most symbolism-packed books in the entire Bible. John’s vision on the island of Patmos (a prison island where John was exiled when he wrote the book) is the source of everything from the Left Behind books to complex notions of the One World Order.
In short, Revelation requires interpretation – and not all interpretations are created equal. The same goes for the apocalyptic passages in Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.
So how should a Bible reader approach these apocalyptic prophecies?
The simplest answer is to remember that each one is a message from God about one of the great ignored truths of human existence: we are finite, and this world has a shelf life. Apocalyptic literature is meant to remind us of the transience of our existence by contrasting it with the thunderous and eternal existence of God.
When you read the book of Revelation or Daniel 7, the emphasis isn’t on solving the puzzles, as if God intends for us all to be Sherlock Holmes; the emphasis is on the power and awesomeness of God, and His control over all of existence. Apocalyptic literature should always point the reader towards God as the hero, the final authority, and the ruler of all things. Everything else is of secondary concern.
We hope these simple articles on biblical genres will help you as you draw closer to God through the reading of his word. Always remember that God reveals Himself through the Scriptures, even if—and sometimes because—we don’t fully understand what is being said. It is our willingness to come back to the Bible again and again that helps us more fully know the heart of God.