Broken City

The Book of Revelation is filled with vivid imagery and surreal descriptions of what the end of the world will look like. The detail and careful order that it gives to the events that will occur near the end have made it a subject of fascination for both Christians and non-Christian apocalyptic theorists for generations. Its strange metaphors and cryptic portrayals of the people who will be instrumental in bringing about the end times have caused biblical scholars, doomsday predictors, literary analysts and every Christian with a blog to attempt to unravel the secrets of the book and identify the most likely candidates for the Antichrist, the 10 kings and the timing of the prophesized events. Given the mystical and cryptic language used in Revelation, it is no surprise that almost every person who reads the book has come to a slightly different conclusion about what its riddles mean. 

Despite how the book seems to be written in a series of riddles and metaphors, there are a number of places where it gives specifics. It mentions individual and recognizable events that will occur and occasionally gives hard numbers for things such as the death tolls from the various disasters that will befall the Earth at the end.

When Revelation begins to unfold, there will likely be war and famine as part of the first seven seals. What is explicitly described in the book is what will happen when the sixth seal is opened. At that time, “the sun [will turn] black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon [will turn] blood red, and the stars in the sky [will fall] to earth... everyone both slave and free [will hide] in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.” While the image of a black sun and red moon is undoubtedly somewhat surreal, they are both events that happen on a regular basis. The moon turns a dark red-orange during a full lunar eclipse, and a total solar eclipse will make the sun appear to turn black as the moon crosses in front of it and blocks the sun’s light. As for the stars falling to Earth, taken literally, this describes a meteor shower of incredible proportions. During such a bombardment, people would likely seek shelter underground in order to escape the inevitable shockwaves and firestorms that would result from Earth taking such a beating. 

After the seven seals have been opened, Revelation states that seven trumpets will sound. When they do, “there [will come] hail and fire mixed with blood [which will be] hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth [will burn] up, a third of the trees [will burn] up, and all the green grass [will burn] up.” Disasters falling out of the sky and blood where it does not belong are common themes in both Revelation and other end of the world prophecies. Taken literally, the sounding of the first trumpet will result in roughly 20 million square miles of land burning and billions of trees being set alight. The overwhelming amount of smoke and ash released by this could easily mix with clouds to form reddish and acidic rain that looks like blood and unusually large hail.

The second and third seals describe “something like a huge mountain, all ablaze” falling into the sea and “a great star, blazing like a torch” tumbling to Earth. Both of these likely describe a massive meteorite strike or, even worse, a head-on collision between Earth and a sizable comet. Either one would be a disaster of apocalyptic proportions on its own, but given that this catastrophe will be only one of the many calamities to occur in Revelation, it is no wonder that Armageddon will be the end of the world. There will not be much left of it by the time all of the seals are opened and all the trumpets have blown.

To make matters worse, the fifth trumpet releases “locusts…[with] power like that of scorpions.” A swarm of locusts is a nightmare by itself, and given that the Earth will be reeling from, so far, multiple meteor strikes, huge wildfires and likely at least one comet collision, locusts alone would be enough to cause the sort of famine that would kill off thousands. Given that these locusts will, apparently, be poisonous enough to make people suffer “agony…like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes,” the death toll will only rise as able bodied workers, already in short supply, fall before the horde. 

After the scorpion-locusts have wreaked havoc for five months, a third of mankind will die. There is no way of knowing how many people will have already fallen to meteor strikes, famine, wildfires or the inevitable violence that will erupt as people become desperate, but a third of the current human population would clock in at about 2.3 billion people. The death toll would only continue to climb as “seven thousand people [will be] killed in the earthquake” that will level a tenth of Jerusalem. The sounding of the seventh trumpet will kill more with further earthquakes. All of this will occur before Satan begins to persecute Christians, war explodes across the globe, and seven plagues are heaped on the survivors. Among those plagues will be the complete annihilation of sea life which will result in a massive drop in oxygen levels in the atmosphere as the phytoplankton in the ocean die off; an epidemic that sounds like it could refer to a resurgence of smallpox or even the Bubonic plague; a “severe earthquake like none before,” perhaps the near-mystical 10.0 on the Richter scale, a magnitude that has never been recorded and hailstones that weigh nearly 100 pounds. For reference, the largest hailstone every found weighed roughly 2 pounds. It was over 8 inches in diameter. 

By the time Revelation is finished, there will be little left of Earth. Meteorite strikes, wildfires and dying seas will have completely obliterated the face of the planet as it is known today. Mankind will have little choice but to return to Eden. It may be the only place left where life exists. 

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