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The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History

Decipher the most mysterious and controversial of all biblical works-the book of Revelations-in this spell-binding course by an acclaimed professor.
The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 84.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an enjoyable class and I learnt a lot I'm really enjoying this course on the Apocalypse. It's really interesting and the professor makes some great analogies. I've read it before on my own, and had been completely confused by it. I've never seen the book broken down before like this, it think this is very masterfully done. The explanations makes a lot of sense, and it includes the historical context in which the book is written. I learnt a lot, and now I understand a little bit more why this book is included in the Bible. It's a great addition to my library and I might watch it again in the future because I enjoyed it so much.
Date published: 2024-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Very knowledgeable and informative speaker. Passionate about the subject but easy to listen to and understand.
Date published: 2024-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting course! It is an interesting academic course about the Chrisitan End times literature, beliefs and theology. I do feel professor is Amellienial and subscribed to either preterist or ideologist (perhaps combination) views about the events spelled in the Bible. However, in his last few lectures he touchbased on other views many Americans are subscribed - premillienialism, futurist and historicist views on the end time events. Overall, this is an interesting and complete course on End times theology and history.
Date published: 2023-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very stimulating. Really enjoying and being blessed by it!
Date published: 2022-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous! The audio was adequate, but the video was useful. Given the volume of notes I've taken, a Transcript might be better. Lectures 14 (L14) and on describe various controversial interpretations of the Apocalypse throughout history and are too complex for this review. HISTORICAL FRAMEWORK: L1 describes Isaac Newton's book "Observations upon the Prophesies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John" noting that Newton spent as much effort on Revelation as he did on math/science. The original Greek word "apokalypsis" is translated as "disclosure" - an insight into reality. The Hebrew prophets had urgency: where we see "causes", they saw the brutishness of people in God's presence. They were unwilling to allow the people to be satisfied with their own efforts and portrayed "vistas of peace and wonder" that could "transform Creation itself". "They are not the kind of people you'd want to spend a pleasant evening with." "Rabbis did not want the people to read the opening chapters of Ezekiel, as it could singe." The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel spoke of the future "to disclose what is at stake in the present" (L2). They did not live in a closed universe but their "worldview is an overwhelming presence of God and their accountability to him (Isaiah 6:3)." Daniel predicts that all forms of tyranny will fall, as a figure that will be known as the Son of Man comes on "the clouds of heaven". L3: The Jewish apocalyptic (of an evil age giving way to an age of life and righteousness) was redefined in Luke 17:20-1: "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed…it is within you" during Christ's classical confrontation with the Pharisees. The cross was "an (apocalyptic) action that takes the form of complete self-giving". The Gospel of John "assumes that life has a relational dimension…with God and other people”. Paul adds: "…death is swallowed up in the victory that comes through life." John of Revelation (L5) addresses certain difficulties early Christians faced when trying to ASSIMILATE within societies openly hostile to them: how far must they compromise? Another is COMPLACENCY: those happy in "faith as long as it did not become…uncomfortable." Similar problems are confirmed by Ken Harl's Great Course lectures on Asia Minor. APOCALYPTIC SYMBOLISM: Koester suggests that the book is "troubling" to many because it is written in a C.S. Lewis style. EXAMPLES: When no reply comes to the Angel asking, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (L7) it simply means no one is worthy to make the will of God known. While a Lion "was a traditional image for…majesty", instead John sees a slaughtered Lamb whose power comes from what he suffered for others. The Horsemen "who appear as the Lamb starts to open the seals depict threats to the prevailing order. The 1st holds a bow (the Romans didn't use them as primary weapons but tribes beyond the borders did). The 2nd holds a great sword, suggesting that their rulers' "rhetoric of peace (conceals their) violence that worked below the surface". The 3rd has a pair of scales to represent commerce and heralds a food shortage thereby suggesting the limits of any economic system. The 4th, Death, is followed by a Hades figure (the Greek realm of the dead) that threatens both rich and poor. The 5th seal reveals the faithful who suffer in a world of violence. The 6th seal brings forth God's final judgment when the "sun becomes black…the moon turns red as blood…the ground shakes". The final seal astounds John because a "countless multitude from every tribe and nation" are redeemed, not John's prior understanding of only 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel. L8 the 7 trumpets herald the coming punishing justice. But as the last trumpet is blown, no final judgment comes, rather an angel descends and 7 thunders roar. This INTERRUPTED JUDGMENT occurs because God wants truth-telling people to be in celebration, not terror. A figurative temple of worshipping people (the 7th trumpet) brings not "disaster but celebration". L8-13: a heavenly chorus announces it is time to destroy the "destroyers of the earth". These are represented as caricatures: the Beast of the Sea (politics of domination through all forms of violence), the Beast of the land (economics of greed where everything is a commodity - including "even human life" and merchants who gobble up "everything the world has to offer"), Babylon the Harlot ("the ultimate in materialism", that is: consumerism). John's satire thus uses word pictures to depict truth. The Messiah (and those who speak truth) escapes such Beasts by suffering and death…leading to life with God. FINAL REMARKS: Lastly, Koester shows John's relevance today: 1.) Rev 18:4 John does not want his readers to 'go with the flow' " (embrace the herd mentality) 2.) "People are being pressured into accepting the mark of the beast (that is, the '666' approval of the elite) in order to do business…thus the (rulers) give them their identity." 3.) Ultimately, the beast devours the harlot…as evil "is inherently self-destructive". 4.) "Evil seems relentless not because it is powerful, but because it is desperate..." Unlike most Great Courses on Christianity, a Christian Professor actually teaches this one. Here we don't have to listen to agnostic professors promulgate their disappointments, set Paul up as a straw man, or C.S. Lewis as a fairy tale writer instead of an influential apologist. The course simply helps open-minded students interpret the Apocalypse rather than construct a political POV.
Date published: 2022-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful Approach This professor expanded my understanding of the Bible with his wise and gentle guidance. He offers a more open vision and interpretation of Revelation than in common understanding. He presents popular readings, but then wonderfully presents deeper insights that open my mind and strengthen my own comprehension of God's plan. Much appreciation!
Date published: 2022-05-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed I had hopes for this course, as I was interested in a historical and literary analysis of this book of the Bible. I have read through it, but was still wanting some expert commentary. Unfortunately, this is simply a sermon (24 sermons). He even has the exact cadence of a preacher when he's lecturing on the subject. Not a scholarly treatment of the Book of Revelation, mostly just rhapsodizing by a true believer.
Date published: 2022-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Video We are part way through the Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History. The author is a very well versed and learned speaker. He bring forth well versed recollections of the biblical background as well as questions about it. He is an excellent speaker. We are enjoying this video as it answers our questions about this difficult book
Date published: 2022-02-05
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What are we to make of the book of Revelation? The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History, by scholar and Professor Craig R. Koester, is your guide to this extraordinary work and its impact on our civilization. These 24 thought-provoking and enlightening lectures are divided into three parts: the historical and intellectual background of the Apocalypse; a close reading of the book of Revelation, focusing on the meaning of its captivating and haunting images; and the wide-ranging legacy of its content on both Christian and Western history.


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.


Luther Seminary
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.

By This Professor

Reading Biblical Literature: Genesis to Revelation
The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History
The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History


Revelation and the Apocalyptic Tradition

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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