Considering the amount of "apocalyptic" literature circulating in the first Christian century, it’s amazing we only have one apocalyptic writing in Scriptures: the Book of Revelation. But there are apocalyptic sections in other writings, including Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 13: 24-32).

Apocalyptic writing focuses the reader more on the future than on the present. Many scholars contend this future emphasis is triggered by a present that is so horrible that the only way to deal with it is to step into the future.

Persecution seems to be the element making the present unbearable; in the background of this pain is a haunting fear that God isn’t concerned about those who are persecuted.

Conflict

We hear that double element in the first reading (Dan 12: 1-3). Daniel is the Hebrew Scriptures equivalent of the Book of Revelation: its only apocalyptic writing. The Seleucid persecution of Jews triggers its composition.

Rev. Anthony DiLella writes in the New Jerome Biblical commentary, "The conflict between the religion of the Jews and the paganism of these foreign rulers is the basic theme of Daniel. However, the conflict is regarded from God’s viewpoint as long foreseen and tolerated by Him, both to show the vast superiority of Israel’s wisdom over all pagan philosophy and to demonstrate the truth that the God of Israel is the master of history who will ultimately establish His universal kingdom on earth." Yahweh is still in control, though it doesn’t seem so.

As the Daniel author puts it, until Michael the great prince arrives to liberate Yahweh’s people, "it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time." The message is clear: "Just concentrate on the future, and the present will be bearable."

The Gospel parallels Daniel’s hopefulness. Like their Jewish predecessors, Jesus’ followers believed God would rescue them from their persecutors. But what makes Christian apocalyptic writing unique is the belief that the risen Jesus will play a part in that deliverance.

"Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds," Jesus promises, "with great power and glory, and then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the end of the sky."

He will overcome

It seems that the main reason Jesus’ followers knew He’d help them through their problems was because He had overcome His own problems. The author of Hebrews presumes this when he writes, "This one [Jesus] offered one sacrifice for sins and took His seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until His enemies are made His footstool. For, by one offering, He has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated" (Heb 10: 11-14, 18).

That could be why there’s so little that is apocalyptic in the Christian Scriptures. Because of what Jesus already accomplished and what He was currently accomplishing in the lives of His followers, they didn’t have to wait for the future to be relieved of their problems. No matter their pain, the risen Jesus was present among them, suffering that pain. Once He overcame persecution by His resurrection, He also empowered His disciples to overcome persecution. We don’t have to wait for the future to be saved.

Yet, when our present reaches a point in which we find it almost impossible to surface Jesus’ presence, it might be good to turn to one or more of these apocalyptic passages. Knowing human nature, the early Church chose not to remove apocalyptic theology from its writings. It’s still there to be used in those situations in which the future is the only part of our existence in which we can trust.

(11/13/03)