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.‘Apocalypse Now’.
.Calendar of joy or calendar of mourning?.

The four horses of the Apocalypse

1 – The things that have to come to pass
The word ‘apocalypse’ calls up scenes of death and destruction in which God pours out
bowls of tribulation. I was somewhat surprised when I first learned that ‘apocalypse’ is
simply a Greek word for ‘revelation’. (1) It appears for the first time in the Bible in the
book of Revelation: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show his
servants – things which must shortly take place”. Major events are referred to here, for then
the text goes on to say that they who hear and take it all to heart will be blessed. But that is
not the finale, for those who have been liberated sing: “And we shall reign on earth.”
(Rev. 5: 9-10) And also, three verses further on, but now in chorus with all creatures:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the
Lamb forever and ever.” At the end of the book the holy city of Jerusalem comes down to
earth out of God’s heaven. (Rev. 21:10) It comes ‘out of’ God’s heaven. But where does it
land? Where else than on (the new) earth! With the announcement of the final plagues the
victors over the beast sing first the hymn of Moses, God’s servant, which is also the hymn
of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God almighty! Just and true
are your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your
name? For you alone are holy, for all nations shall come and worship before You. For
Your judgements have been manifested.” (Rev. 15:3-4, Deut. 32:1-52) The book closes
with the following words (Rev. 22:16): “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you
these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and
Morning Star. And the Spirit and the bride say: Come! And let him who hears say: Come!
And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the waters of life freely.”
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It would be extremely fatalistic to dare to state that all the bowls of tribulation and so
many more terrible events are the things “that must come to pass”, with the emphasis on
‘must’. Although the text allows this, another interpretation is possible, one that is not so
obvious. The final goal of the Apocalypse is fixed: that God’s liberated ones, from every
family and language and people and nation will reign as kings on earth. This ‘must’ and
‘shall’ happen. There is no disputing the fact, and it will be thanks to the “golden bowls
full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”. (Rev. 5:8) And thus not all the bowls
are filled with tribulations. Hallelujah. Praised be the Lamb!

2 – Harvest cycle of mourning
A remarkable aspect of the cycle of occurrences in the book of Revelation is the way in
which it regularly refers to a ‘harvest’. Rev. 6:6 speaks of “A quart of wheat for a dena-
rius ad three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine”. In
verse 13 we find mention of the fig tree that rejects its unripe fruits. In verse 4 of the ninth
chapter is the following: “They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or
any green thing or any tree.” In Chapter 14 from verse 14 onwards writes in terms of the
grain and wine harvest, ending with the winepress being trampled, something that always
occurs at the end of the season, this as a prelude to the seven final plagues. In the 19
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chapter, where the victory of Christ over the false prophet is proclaimed, the winepress is
once again trampled (verse 15).

Israel’s cycle of feasts accentuates the important events of the harvest season – happy
occasions. But here there is no thought of a cycle of joy but a cycle of mourning! The
remarkable thing is that when all this is over and the tears have been wiped from the eyes
and pestilential death has been conquered (Rev. 21:4) – an interpretation that matches up
with the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘mut’ or ‘death’ – then at that stage the harvest
cycle has turned into something quite different. Indeed, since everything is new. The tree
of life (Rev. 22:3) will produce fruits every month. But all of this happens in a future
which, at present, does not need to concern us, except for the fact that it helps keep our
hopes alive that everything will come right.

In order to obtain a better understanding of the harvest cycle of mourning, we can turn to
Moses’ last speech at the gates of the Promised Land (Deut. 27-33), called in the book of
Revelation the hymn of Moses. (2) Here Moses presents the blessing and the curse as two
extremes in the same spectrum. He closes his speech (after which he transfers command to
Joshua) with the following words: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and
cursing, therefore choose life.” (Deut. 30:19) What is that blessing exactly? The Lord will
make you overflow with all that is good, in the fruit of your loins, in the fruit of your cattle
and in the fruit of your land; on the land that the Lord swore to your fathers He would give
to you. The Lord will open the rich treasury of heaven for you in order to give your land
rain at the appropriate time ad to bless all the works of your hands. (Deut. 28: 1-14) In the
curse we find the mirror-image of the same words, but much more detailed (verses 15 to
68): “The Lord will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with se-
vere burning fever, with the sword, with scorching and with mildew (…) And your heavens
which are over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you shall be iron.
The Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust (…) You shall carry much
seed out to the field but gather little in”.

The text describes further dark disasters… You will plant vineyards yet drink no wine.
You will have olive trees but will be unable to anoint yourselves. Pests will overtake all
your orchards and the fruit of your land… No wonder that these verses have gained little
popularity in Judaism. The harvest calendar of joy is mirrored in one of mourning, some-
thing that continually comes into the foreground when God’s people leaves the right path.
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Then the abundant blessings of the other calendar are cut short with judgement as the
logical consequence. On the other hand we can also say that the harvest calendar of mour-
ning is mirrored in one of joy, something that continually comes into the foreground when
God’s people is on the right path or turns from the wrong ways.

We recognise this pattern in the New Year’s festivities in the month of Tishrei that end in
the great Day of Reconciliation or Yom Kippur on the tenth of the month. Typically, New
Year’s Day is also known as the Day of Judgement. The first and tenth days of this month
developed into official days of repentance and in the course of time came to be known in
the synagogue as the “Yamim Nora’im”, the fearful and terrible days with, in between, an
interlude of peace. How can it then be that the Great Day of reconciliation in Judaism is
preceded by fear and feelings of doom – fear that the plagues of Egypt – or worse – will
strike the people of Israel? The explanation is to be found in the mirror-imaged alternative
within God’s plan of creation. The choice is ours. A similar kind of sombre reflection also
applies to the weeks leading up to Whitsun (Shavuot), which are spent in semi-mourning.
The Jewish wise ones do not actually know precisely why. Coincidentally it would seem
that Shavuot is also the exact day on which the beginning of the handing over – from
heaven – of the Horeb laws and prescriptions occurred, which was cloaked in darkness,
thunder and smoke. And thus it is here that the start of the covenant saga is commemora-
ted, with all its blessings and curses. If the mourning calendar is in force, it can turn into a
festive calendar provided that the requirements of penance and repentance are fulfilled.
The festive calendar and that of mourning both turn out to be conditional but not exactly
one another’s mirror-image, for the Lord is slow to anger and quick to forgive. And, as
already pointed out, the Magna Carta of this historical pattern is laid out in the last speech
of Moses before the people’s entry into the Promised Land. Every judgment can turn into
an anti-climax, and that is what in the end will happen, not just for the people of Israel but
also for the whole world. Their blessing will turn out to be everyone’s blessing – and ours
too! (3)

3 – Call to repentance
The fact that the punishments announced by God are conditional can be found in the
writings of the prophet Jeremiah who, shortly before Judah went into Babylonian exile,
announced (18:7-11):
«« The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to
pull down and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its
evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak
concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil
in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good
with which I said I would benefit it. Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to
the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: “Thus says the Lord: I am fashioning a disaster
and devising a plan against you. Return now every one from his evil way, and make
your ways and your doings good.” »»

At a later stage the prophet speaks out against Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, who had
done wrong in the eyes of God. In addition, the leaders of the priests and the people sinned
more and more, practising the horrors committed by the nations, and they dishonoured the
House of God that He had dedicated in Jerusalem. Zedekiah refused to humble himself
before the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke from God’s mouth (Jer. 38:17): “If you surely
surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be
burned with fire and you and your house shall live.” Even at this advanced stage of loss of
the true belief and in a state of misery, the merciful God, like a caring and loving mother,
showed His people a way out of destruction. Judah had already endured great sufferings
under two recent invasions, the last involving a major deportation of the inhabitants of
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Jerusalem. Nonetheless Zedekiah refused to humble himself. And so it happened that
Israel was rejected from God’s presence, yes, nineteen years after the first invasion.
Around that time the last small remnant of the people was torn away, thereby issuing in
the start of the seventy years of exile.

A well-known example of a king who did listen to God’s call to repentance was Manas-
seh. It would be difficult to find a greater sinner than this man. In the books of Kings and
Chronicles it is written Manasseh misled his people to the point that they committed grea-
ter evils than the Canaanite peoples that God had driven away for the Israelites. (2 Kings
21; 2 Chron. 33) He built up the sacred places on the mountains where his father had pre-
viously demolished them. He set up altars to the Baals in every part of the land. He offered
his children up to Moloch ‘the King’ in the fires of the Tophet in the Valley of Hinnom.
He put his own son through the fire, gave himself up to all kinds of wicked fortune-telling
ad magic and consulted exorcists and mediums. He even caused a carven image of Ahshe-
ra to be erected in the Temple of Jerusalem. It was only after he had been taken prisoner
by Assurbanipal that he returned to God’s ways. So we read in 2 Chronicles 33:12-13:
“He humbled himself greatly before the Lord God of his fathers (…) (and God) brought
him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”

4 – Prayer is not useless
It is therefore possible that all the disasters foretold in the book of Revelation and there
presented to us can change into the opposite if the world repents and turns to God. It is
possible – but if it will happen is another question. If you want my personal opinion, I find
it unrealistic to expect the world to come to its senses and turn away from its evil paths,
thereby changing the calendar of mourning into the calendar of rejoicing and thus enabling
us to change every curse of the Apocalypse into a blessing. God in His wisdom has chosen
to write the book of Revelation in terms of the calendar of mourning. So despite its con-
ditional character, we would do well to take seriously into consideration the fact that the
events will happen as written. It does seem realistic to me to assume that within the world-
wide scenario some countries will be an exception. For that reason a prayer for the con-
version of the Netherlands must not be seen as a useless exercise, but to be just as useful
as a prayer that the calamities should be lessened once they have come, even if the prayer
is only for that which happens to our immediate vicinity.
Hubert Luns
[Published in “Profetisch Perspectief”, spring 2006 – No. 50]
[Published in “De Brandende Lamp” 4th quarter 2007 - No. 112]



Notes
(1) The misconceptions regarding the meaning of the word ‘apocalypse’ are encouraged by
the great deal of attention paid by readers of the book of Revelation for the catastrophes
described in that book, with books and films referring to the theme playing on the mis-
understanding. The last film of this type is called: “Apocalypse then: A second look at the
first Gulf War”.

(2) In Exodus 15 Moses and the people of Israel join together in a song of praise for God’s
victory after their passage through the Red Sea. The ten plagues of Egypt and the
beginning of Exodus are a source of a great deal of exciting comparisons with the book of
Revelation. And there is also David’s hymn of praise in II Samuel 22 that matches up
wonderfully well with that material.

(3) The end of Tishrei 1 might agree with Matthew 24:30 and Tishrei 10 with 2 Thessa-
lonians 2:8. The day of completion of the harvest cycle on Tishrei 22 might agree with
Matthew 25:31.

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