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Professor Craig R.
The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History
Koester, Luther Seminary
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Exiled to the island of Patmos over 1,900 years ago, a prophet named John wrote a remarkable letter to fellow Christians. That letter is the Apocalypse of John, also known as the book of Revelation, and Christians and non-Christians alike have been debating its message ever since.
The meaning of the Greek word for apocalypse is "disclosure," and John’s book discloses dimensions of two age-old mysteries: the character of evil and the nature of hope. So influential was Revelation in the early Christian church that it was placed as the final text in the New Testament, and its popularity has intensified in the centuries since.
As a result, its rich language and symbolism pervade Western culture, often in ways not recognized as coming from this unparalleled biblical work:
The details of heaven in the popular imagination, with its pearly gates, streets of gold, divine throne, and tree and river of life, are taken from the vision of the New Jerusalem at the end of Revelation.
Paintings and sculptures of the Virgin Mary since the Renaissance typically portray her as Revelation’s "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head."
Revelation contributes some of the best-loved lyrics in Handel’s Messiah, including the "Hallelujah Chorus," which takes singers and listeners to a realm of sublime mystery, just as John’s text does.
The words and images of many popular hymns were inspired by Revelation, including the "grapes of wrath" in "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the lyrics from "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Revelation is also a touchstone for hopes and fears about the resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment. And its many baffling images have been studied for clues about the end of the world. The Apocalypse is both a terrifying vision of evil and a celebration of God’s ultimate victory over the forces of darkness. It has inspired great thoughts and great misunderstanding.
What are we to make of such a book? The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History is your guide to this extraordinary work in 24 thought-provoking and enlightening half-hour lectures, divided into three parts:
The historical and intellectual background of the Apocalypse
A close reading of John’s text, focusing on the meaning of its images
The wide-ranging impact of the book on Christian and Western history
Your professor is a preeminent scholar and teacher of the Apocalypse, Koester of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Koester-who has translated the book of Revelation from its original Greek-draws on years of experience with students, pastors, and lay groups to engage you directly with Revelation, examining its meaning in John’s day and how it continues to be meaningful to contemporary readers.
Book of Predictions? Or Work of Literature?
Professor Koester notes that many of the questions people ask him about the Apocalypse are sparked by sensationalistic interpretations that see it as a book of predictions. Explaining that Revelation follows a literary genre with roots in the apocalyptic writings of the Hebrew prophets, Professor Koester discusses the reasoning behind the futurist perspective and why it is problematic. For example:
The Antichrist: The word "antichrist" does not appear in Revelation. Instead, it is a term taken from First and Second John in the New Testament, where it refers to those who have left the Christian community, not to any individual tyrant.
The Rapture: The idea that true Christians will ascend to heaven while others will be left behind to be ruled by the Antichrist occurs nowhere in Revelation. It is a mix of literal and symbolic readings of passages from other books of the Bible.
Number of the Beast: Today’s Internet continues a centuries-old search for the name encoded in 666, the number of the beast in Revelation. But the context of John’s passage and an ancient puzzle technique give the likely answer: the emperor Nero.
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