The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting topic, irritating teaching style After reading the Bible in its entirety earlier this year, I've watched seven Teaching Company courses covering various aspects of the Old and New Testaments. I watched Koester's course "Reading Biblical Literature." While I liked the subject matter, I found Koester's presentation to be measured, almost mechanical. I also found that Koester has a way of grooming the material so as to make it more spiritually instructive than it actually is. (In the "Reading Biblical Literature" course, he describes the Book of Esther but neglects to mention the slaughter that takes place at the end of the book.) Well, I decided to take "Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History." Going in, I knew I had issues with Koester's manner of presentation and also with the religious/moral overtones of his teaching. But I decided to take the course anyway. To his credit, Koester was more passionate in this course than in the earlier one I took. His speaking was less measured and mechanical. But I was still bothered by his moral reading of what is, to say the least, a very wild text. The first twelve lectures purport to be a literary analysis of Revelation. There was some literary analysis but the main way Koester reads is to draw out moral/spiritual points from the material. He might as well be preaching to a congregation. The second set of twelve lectures concerned the impact of Revelation throughout western history. You will find these lectures to be quite informative. He discusses early Christian reaction to the book, medieval reaction, protestant reformation reaction, and American reaction, including reaction in the African American community. Noteworthy topics include the origins of the Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah's Witness denominations (Denominations is not the right word but I can't think of a better one right now) and contemporary evangelical interpretations of Revelation. All this material is quite good. Koester believes Revelation should be treated not as predicting future events but as a commentary on early Christianity during the Roman empire and as an inspirational Christian text. If you're looking for a Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins take on Revelation, you will not find it here. That's about all I have to say except that I do want to comment on Koester's affect. There is an overall lack of warmth to his presentation style (even when he's speaking passionately) and this is off-putting.
Date published: 2020-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Apocalypse This was an outstanding course on the Apocalypse. Not only did Professor Craig Koester examine Bible perspectives, great writers of the topic but he also presented parallels to great art and music. I loved the course.
Date published: 2020-05-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Apologist, Apocrypha or Apocalypse? One definition of 'apocrypha' is: 'writings or statements of dubious authenticity' (from Merriam Webster). An 'apologist' is defined as: 'one who speaks or writes in defense of someone or something' (same source, Merriam Webster). And, finally, 'apocalypse' (despite being commonly depicted with an image of an atomic bomb mushroom cloud) simply means: 'a Greek word meaning "revelation"', (or something that is revealed). Merriam Webster goes a little deeper with: 'one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom'. Dr Koester, in my estimation, fills the role as an apologist, trying to bring clarity and perspective to a very complex book in the Christian bible. His lecture style is clear, well organized and well researched, but I thought his attempt to offer interpretation as to the meaning the book has as 'scripture' just didn't hit the mark. Initially the good doctor attempts to put the book ("Revelations") into the context of the times in which it was (presumably) written and examines the veracity of 'John' (the John) as the author. Later, he discusses Martin Luther's initial conclusion that the book just didn't belong in the Christian canon. Here, I go back to the definition in the expanded Merriam Webster that states (in part): "one of the Jewish and Christian writings of 200 b.c. to a.d. 150 marked by pseudonymity, symbolic imagery..." During that time period, the Christian canon was barely established, and much that was coalescing was primarily based upon the Hebrew bible... and agrees with many of the gnostic writings, as was found at Nag Hammadi. Those many authors had quite the imagination! It seems to me that Koester is attempting to find meaning where there is none. 'Revelations' may be a book of hope mixed in with a bit of the old fire and brimstone, but it just doesn't 'feel' like a Christian doctrine espousing love and forgiveness...rather it's a very exclusionary message that threatens to condemn those who don't 'believe'. I'll try it again...learning is always an effort (especially when it's on sale with a coupon).
Date published: 2020-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Topic! Professor Koester not only provided interesting details about the context and passages of the Book of Revelation but he also presented interpretations that made it relevant to today's world.
Date published: 2020-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In depth lectures I bought this course to help me understand the unusual symbolism expressed in the Book of Revelation. Professor Koester does an outstanding job explaining the meaning of the symbolism and the history of the time of the writing. I like the course so much I also purchased Reading Biblical Literature by the same professor.
Date published: 2019-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent lectures, well-structured and compelling Not a course for one who has set, firm opinions about the book of Revelation, as Professor Koester expounds on Revelation in the context of the time it was written. Dr. Koestler has a very pleasing, clear method of lecturing, with no annoying tics. The first half of the course is devoted to the book of Revelation itself; the second half deals with how Revelation has had influence in so many fields, including music (Bach and Handel), the arts, and, of course, speculation about the end of time, and how the Book of Revelation is relevant today. Professor Koester presents Revelation as a book of hope for the future, as opposed to a prophecy of destruction and disaster. Rather than dismissing the book as a fantasy, Dr. Koester makes the case for relevance whatever faith the viewer/listener may have. He explains how, through the centuries, right from the date it was written, Revelation has been "interpreted" with reference to the society and mores of the time; he connects the text with actual events of the various ages, with very specific reference, quite rightly, imho, to how the book would be read and understood by readers back then. Of great interest to me was the clear identification of Nero as "666"; this is what I have always believed, and precisely what John intended. It is fascinating to see how, along the years, the "beast" has been named as Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, even certain US Presidents, among others. I feel that Dr. Koester's emphasis on the "word pictures" in Revelation simply cannot be stressed too strongly. We have to bear in mind always that today we use political cartoons this way, e.g. the donkey and elephant in the USA, the bull and bear for the stock market, even the bulldog to represent Great Britain, ditto the bear for Russia. In John's Revelation we see this technique used extensively. This is an enjoyable, stimulating course by a thoughtful, charming and articulate teacher. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2018-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Revealing the meaning of Revelation I could not stop listening to the lectures. It is a great presentation, treating fairly all of the various methods of interpretation and providing a literary sense of the writing. It was so good I purchased Koester's book, titled Revelation.
Date published: 2018-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Methodical & Grounded I appreciated Professor Koester’s methodical approach to explain the book of Revelation and grounding it in the context of the time in which it was written. I learned a great deal, including some “fun facts” like the book of Revelation is the origin of the Hallelujah Chorus (which was new info even for a friend who is an Episcopalian priest). Professor’s presentation style flows easy. And the graphics added to the presentation.
Date published: 2018-11-29
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The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History
Course Trailer
Revelation and the Apocalyptic Tradition
1: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Tradition

Professor Koester introduces one of the most discussed books of all time: the book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse. Learn the original meaning of "apocalypse" and the importance of the apocalyptic tradition. Also survey the three-part structure of the course.

32 min
Apocalyptic Worldview in Judaism
2: Apocalyptic Worldview in Judaism

Investigate the world of the Hebrew prophets, whose writings deeply influenced the author of the Apocalypse. First, focus on the themes of evil and hope in such works as Ezekiel and Isaiah. Then, see how these themes are taken up in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the apocalyptic book of Daniel.

30 min
Apocalyptic Dimension of Early Christianity
3: Apocalyptic Dimension of Early Christianity

Consider how the apocalyptic worldview, with its strong sense of conflicting powers, was taken up and transformed by Christian writers in the New Testament. Apocalyptic themes had an important place in the early church, creating the religious matrix out of which the book of Revelation arose.

30 min
Origins of the Book of Revelation
4: Origins of the Book of Revelation

Begin your close study of the text of the Apocalypse by looking behind the legends to surmise what can be said about its origins and author, identified only as John. Also examine the peculiar quality of John's Greek, which is not apparent in most translations.

29 min
Issues Facing Revelation's First Readers
5: Issues Facing Revelation's First Readers

The first two chapters of Revelation discuss the issues facing the Christian communities that first received the book. Delve deeper into the experiences of the men and women addressed by John. What was the nature of the persecution and other problems they faced? Who was this book written for?

30 min
God, the Lamb, and the Seven Seals
6: God, the Lamb, and the Seven Seals

John's distinctive images-his "word pictures"-have captured the imaginations of readers for centuries. Plunge into some of John's most vivid scenes, including the breaking of the seven seals, which unleashes the four horsemen and other startling visions.

31 min
Seven Trumpets, Temple, and Celebration
7: Seven Trumpets, Temple, and Celebration

Analyze the middle section of the Apocalypse from two contrasting perspectives: first, from the futurist view that Revelation is a book of ominous predictions; then, from the literary perspective that seeks to understand how John organizes his details into a narrative that is surprisingly hopeful.

31 min
The Dragon and the Problem of Evil
8: The Dragon and the Problem of Evil

Turn to some of the most dramatic scenes in the Apocalypse, which deal with the problem of evil, personified by Satan, the great red dragon. John's account draws on an ancient fascination with stories of good battling evil, but he gives a bold new interpretation to the conflict.

32 min
The Beasts and Evil in the Political Sphere
9: The Beasts and Evil in the Political Sphere

Trace John's depiction of evil through the images of the two beasts. The beast from the sea, whose name equals 666, works in the realm of politics. The beast from the land supports the beast from the sea through practices that serve worldly empire.

30 min
The Harlot and the Imperial Economy
10: The Harlot and the Imperial Economy

Encounter Babylon the harlot, one of the most remarkable figures in the Apocalypse. She symbolizes the city of Rome in all its ancient opulence. Two literary forms useful for understanding John's metaphor are satire and the obituary. John is both satirizing Rome's decadence and sounding its death knell.

32 min
The Battle, the Kingdom, and Last Judgment
11: The Battle, the Kingdom, and Last Judgment

Revelation's final chapters feature scenes that have had a powerful effect on the modern imagination, ranging from the battle of Armageddon to the final defeat of Satan and the Last Judgment. Learn the ancient context for these images, which mark the climax of God's battle against the forces of evil.

31 min
New Creation and New Jerusalem
12: New Creation and New Jerusalem

Conclude your close reading of the text of Revelation with John's vision of the new creation and the New Jerusalem. Professor Koester explores this triumphant ending, which is the source for the popular image of the pearly gates-along with so much more.

32 min
Antichrist and the Millennium
13: Antichrist and the Millennium

Start a new section of the course in which you probe the impact of the Apocalypse on Western history. Study the early debates about the nature of the Antichrist and the Millennium, two ideas that drew heavily on writings outside of Revelation.

32 min
Revelation's Place in the Christian Bible
14: Revelation's Place in the Christian Bible

How did Revelation get into the Bible? Discover that, although it is unlike any other book in the New Testament, the Apocalypse met three broad criteria that early church leaders used to determine which books were authoritative and which were not.

31 min
The Apocalypse and Spiritual Life
15: The Apocalypse and Spiritual Life

By the 4th and 5th centuries, leading Christians were reading the Apocalypse for its spiritual truths, rather than what it had to say about coming events. Explore three topics that were especially important to this view: Revelation's symbolism, internal repetitions, and timeless message.

31 min
The Key to the Meaning of History
16: The Key to the Meaning of History

Trace medieval responses to Revelation through the ideas of several influential thinkers, including the controversial monk Joachim of Fiore, whose struggle with the Apocalypse led him to the mystical insight that it was the key to the meaning of history since the Creation.

31 min
Apocalyptic Fervor in the Late Middle Ages
17: Apocalyptic Fervor in the Late Middle Ages

See how certain followers of St. Francis of Assisi carried Joachim's ideas even further, styling themselves players in an apocalyptic drama and predicting that the present age would end in the 13th century.

31 min
Luther, Radicals, and Roman Catholics
18: Luther, Radicals, and Roman Catholics

Move into the world of the Reformation, where a renegade monk named Martin Luther first rejected Revelation but later used its imagery in his controversy with the papacy. During this period, Catholics discovered much of their standard iconography for the Virgin Mary in John's text.

31 min
Revelation Takes Musical Form
19: Revelation Takes Musical Form

Explore Revelation from a completely different perspective: its rich musical heritage. There are many songs within Revelation, and much music has been inspired by it. Examine Handel's Messiah, the hymns compiled by Charles Wesley, and gospel songs such as "Shall We Gather at the River?"

32 min
Revelation in African American Culture
20: Revelation in African American Culture

The Apocalypse has played a vital role in African American culture. Its visions of hope inspired the spirituals sung by slaves in the American South and the Dixieland favorite, "Oh when the saints go marching in." Scenes of New Jerusalem caught the imagination of Sojourner Truth and others who worked for social change.

31 min
The Apocalypse and Social Progress
21: The Apocalypse and Social Progress

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, many Americans believed that Revelation outlined a progressive social destiny pointing to the great millennial age of peace on Earth. Meet leaders in this movement, including Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and Julia Ward Howe, who wrote "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

31 min
Awaiting the End in 1844 and Beyond
22: Awaiting the End in 1844 and Beyond

Chart a pivotal end-times crusade in America led by William Miller, who drew on the Apocalypse and book of Daniel to predict that 1844 would see Christ's Second Coming. The heirs to this movement include the Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses.

31 min
Rapture, Tribulation, and Armageddon
23: Rapture, Tribulation, and Armageddon

Turn to today's most popular futuristic perspective on the end times, Dispensationalism, held by those who believe that all true Christians will be spirited up to heaven in an event called the Rapture. Examine the origins of this view, its connection to Revelation, and its mix of literal and symbolic interpretation.

31 min
The Modern Apocalyptic Renaissance
24: The Modern Apocalyptic Renaissance

Finish the course by meeting some of the contemporary theologians who show how dynamic and engaging the study of Revelation continues to be. The book has an unparalleled ability to both challenge and encourage, proving that the Apocalypse is as powerful today as it was 1,900 years ago.

32 min
Craig R. Koester

What I enjoy most is inviting people into a process of discovery. Asking good questions is central. Questions open paths to explore and enable people with differing views to engage the Christian tradition in meaningful ways.


Union Theological Seminary


Luther Seminary

About Craig R. Koester

Dr. Craig R. Koester is the Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary. He attended St. Olaf College and Luther Seminary, then earned his Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York before returning to Luther Seminary to teach. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, a scholar-in-residence at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, and a guest lecturer at universities in Europe and the United States. Professor Koester has written numerous articles and essays as well as the popular work Revelation and the End of All Things. He is also completing a major commentary on Revelation for Yale University Press, and he translated Revelation for the Common English Bible. Among his other writings are a landmark commentary on Hebrews and Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel. Professor Koester is known for interweaving the study of biblical texts with their impact on art, literature, and music. A frequent presenter at conferences in the United States and Europe, he has also appeared in series for popular audiences, such as The Life of Apostle Paul with travel writer Rick Steves.

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