Reading words on a page, especially sacred words, can sometimes mislead us into taking an overly reverent and detached posture toward the story being told. Throw in serious controversy about the interpretation of those words, and you’ve got a recipe for literature too densely landmined with hermeneutics to impact our hearts and minds in a meaningful way.
For years, that was how I felt about the book of Revelation. Having mostly abandoned the “Left Behind” eschatology of my upbringing, Revelation became something of a black box for me. Shrouded in prophetic imagery as it is, I had little idea how to fit the book into my grand picture of Scripture.
My feelings started to change, however, when I discovered how absurdly awe-inspiring the book’s last chapters are accompanied by film scores (may I recommend Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings” original motion picture soundtrack?). The promise of Christ’s triumphant return, the final defeat of Satan and his fallen armies, and the resurrection of Creation through the establishment of the New Heavens and New Earth felt like the rightful owners of that music—the originals from which the apocalyptic battle scenes and “piercing beauties” of J. R. R. Tolkien’s high fantasy were cast.
I get the strange feeling that’s how the Holy Spirit intended a reading of John’s Apocalypse to feel. This portion of Scripture has since impressed upon me its importance and power in other ways, but I’m always drawn back to the blaze kindled in my heart when I realized that this often delerious-sounding vision of the last living Apostle is the juiciest spoiler history has ever known. And it’s not just the end of the Bible’s story. It’s the end of our story, and the unconsummated promise of Jesus Christ to return in power, raze the kingdom of darkness, and wipe away every tear.
No adaptation that I know has captured the scope, the terror, or the glory of the Apocalypse more completely than "The Book of Revelation," a graphic novel adapted by Matt Dorff and illustrated by Chris Koelle. Using a muscular retranslation of the original Greek by Father Mark B. Arey and Father Philemon Sevastiedes, which preserves many of the most beautiful words in the New Testament (ever called Jesus “Pantokrator”?), and depicting John’s vision with scorching, eye-wateringly intense, comic-book-style illustrations, this little treasure may acquaint you for the first time with the dread and joy of seeing God’s cosmic plot unfold to the last page.
The artwork here is, of course, the star of the show. Koelle formats his significant illustrating achievement in panels, but it’s no cartoon. It fact, it reads more like a film, and moves at a fevered pace (I devoured all 192 pages while sitting in a choral and organ concert at a grand old church). Alternating between aggressive, often bloody, realism and violent impressionism (especially when things get spiritual), Koelle’s gritty visual prose is feels like pure cinema. As someone who dabbles in this genre of art during free time, I became an instant fanboy.
The text, surprisingly enough, plays a crucial role. Aside from the transliterated original words and phrases that most readers of Scripture will never have heard of before, some of the translations themselves feel less awkward than the typical choices in NIV or ESV Bibles. I’m no scholar of Koine Greek, but I personally feel that “phials of God’s wrath” in Revelation 16 (think six-foot gold tubes brimming with lava) is a more elegant choice than the standard “bowls.” But far more importantly, the graphic novel format lends itself well to Revelation’s episodic and often achronological structure—a feature which can become overwhelming and difficult to sort out for those who simply open their Bibles and read straight through.
You can probably guess the audience for whom this book is intended. It’s certainly a teenage boy’s dream depiction of Scripture, and let’s be honest: We all know this is what was going through his imagination during your church’s study of Ezekiel last year. (We can admit it: the Bible is epic.) Yes, it will make a great gift for him. Get it.
But after passing the novel to my wife and several non-teenage friends to enjoy, I’m also persuaded it will appeal to more than just adolescent fellas. Koelle’s art is none-too-intense for the God-breathed text, which can shock and offend in places by itself. But of course, there’s nothing too inappropriate or out-of-place. Just good old encounters with multi-headed heavenly monsters, demons, harlots, bloodthirsty soldiers, and plagues in all their pustulous glory. You know—the Bible.
Bottom line: This book is a gem. It helped make the story arc of Revelation clearer and more imminent to me than just about anything else has, and it provides a chance to launch readers of appropriate ages into a deeper engagement with Holy Scripture by capturing their imaginations and helping them realize just how costly the battle leading up to the Bible’s “happily ever after,” really has been, and will be. But most of all, “The Book of Revelation” will inspire fiercer love and devotion for the Man who wrote history from beginning to end, and who Himself is the Alpha and the Omega—and is coming back soon.
Image copyright Zondervan. Review copy obtained from the publisher.
G. Shane Morris is Web manager for BreakPoint and the Colson Center.
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