5. Guide to Revelation
In terms of its specification as a commercial commission to a particular artist, the tapestry is an illustration of the Book of Revelation. The viewer cannot really disregard this specific biblical origin, even though Christians have difficulty with its interpretation.
No other writing in the New Testament is so intentionally mysterious as the Revelation to John, also called the Apocalypse. Within its pages one reads of a scroll eaten from the hand of an angel, a woman clothed with the sun pursued by a great red dragon, a beast with ten horns and seven heads. Exotic symbols and riddles abound. All these are part of a vision that John says he saw "in the Spirit." Because of its complex, and sometimes its apparently contradictory messages for most people, this 'end game' of the Bible has been consigned to a scriptural limbo.
Revelation is in fact a vast pageant set on a visionary stage spanning heaven and earth. Its message of hope was directed to Christians who were faced with persecution by the Roman state, and it gave them a vision in which the powers of the world were measured by a new divine scale.
For example, the mighty Roman Empire, which presented itself as the keeper of ancient values, the fountainhead of order and law, appears in the vision as nothing more than a beast or a harlot, or the demon-filled ruin of a once awesome city: "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" (18:2). By contrast, the church becomes "a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne" (7:9). It is not seen as it in fact was- a tiny and mostly poor minority within a hostile or indifferent society. The narrative is intended to thrill and captivate its readers as it circles about its central vision of a world transformed by God's power.