Lions, dragons and beasts – Oh my. Some parts of the Bible can be intimidating. Swirling wheels, ugly animals and books of judgement cracking open can be a bit overwhelming. All of these things can come to mind when a person thinks about apocalyptic literature (books of the Bible like Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation). Yet I have come to the conclusion that these books of the Bible are immensely practical. If Christians dive into these books of the Bible, then I believe their spiritual walk will be strengthened. I even think that these “frightening” texts can be used in counseling to fight against sin.
The Need for Apocalyptic Imagery in Counseling
Apocalyptic literature attempts the impossible. It attempts to process things that are inexpressible and full of glory and communicate them on paper (1 Peter 1:8). John Piper aptly tweeted that “Jesus is greater than I have ever portrayed him to be.” This is undoubtedly true for Dr. Piper and it is surprisingly true about biblical apocalyptic literature. The Scriptures are accurate and inerrant but even they fall short of the full manifestation of the glory of God.
The visions described in the book of Revelation will be even more glorious than they are portrayed by the Apostle John. The destruction of God’s enemies will be even more gruesome than how the prophet Zechariah has described them. Paul wrote about the message of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 2:9 saying that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” If this was true about the good news of the incarnation, how much more will this be the case when the return of Christ takes place along with the consummation of history? Paul also confirms this in 1 Corinthians 13:12 by writing, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Even with the flawless inspired Scriptures, believers are unable to fully imagine what it will be like when Christ returns. Currently believers walk by faith but soon they will walk by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Having noted the reality that God is ultimately indescribable, apocalyptic imagery is arguably the closest believers will come to seeing the throne room of God this side of eternity. Apocalyptic imagery equips and enables believers to better walk by faith and imagine what they cannot yet see. Although Jesus’ glory is more incredible and magnificent than the visions described by the author’s of Scripture, these descriptions are essential to believers and necessary for them to grow in godliness. If these texts are the closest believers can get to seeing Jesus fully arrayed in his glory, then it is imperative for believers to become immersed in the imagery and symbolism of apocalyptic literature.
Apocalyptic literature is an accurate attempt to describe the resurrected Christ in all of his glory. The dim glass of apocalyptic literature is one of the clearest pictures available to mankind of heavenly activity. In light of the need to see Jesus as clearly as possible, it should become the goal of the counselor to help others look through this glass with eyes of faith in order to be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
The Goal of Apocalyptic Imagery in Counseling
The goal of the Christian life is to be conformed into the image of Christ. One of the primary means of doing this is beholding the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” While remaining on earth, believers cannot see the glory of God face to face. However, God has graciously given his word to all believers and believers can truly encounter God through the Scriptures. Beholding the glory of God primarily includes understanding and applying the Scripture to life. 2 Corinthians 4:6 teaches that believers are able to see God through the message of the gospel. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Christians are enabled by the spirit to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus through the Scriptures. Since this is the case, believers should cling tightly to the entire Canon of Scripture and especially those passages which speak of Christ himself. The goal of beholding Christ in his glory is made possible through apocalyptic literature in a way that no other biblical genre communicates.
Images are powerful tools. As a person’s mind absorbs an image, it is digested in the heart and eventually bears fruit in the hands. Throughout history, people have been captivated by images and paintings. Artistic images have been used to change societies and impact nations. For instance, it is hard to measure the massive impact Norman Rockwell had on the American people during the Second World War against Adolf Hitler. Thousands of Americans were rallied to the cause of fighting due to his artwork that was published nationwide. Rockwell captured on canvas images of the core American beliefs of freedom. To this day, many Americans feel strong emotions upon seeing and pondering the well known paintings of Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The images Rockwell created were not simply for entertainment or artistic acknowledgement. “The paintings also toured the United States and raised in excess of $130 million toward the war effort.” (Biography of Rockwell) Rockwell intended to changed minds and lives with his imagery.
Just as Rockwell’s art was not neutral in its purpose, the imagery in biblical apocalyptic literature has an agenda. God has specifically chosen the language in the apocalyptic genre in order to stir affections for himself and to spur believer’s on in sanctification. 2 Timothy 3:16 means that all apocalyptic imagery is profitable for training in righteousness in order that the man of God may be equipped for every good work. The task of the biblical counselor is to learn how to properly harness this imagery for the growth of others. In the upcoming weeks, I will post a few practical ways apocalyptic imagery can be used in counseling and personal spiritual growth.