Red, White, Blue and Brimstone: New World
Literature and the American Millennium
The Revelation of Jesus
Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things
which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by
his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of
God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that
he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words
of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein:
for the time is at hand.
The Holy Bible,
King James Version
So begins the vision of the Christian apostle St. John,
who was exiled on the Island of Patmos at the turn of the second century.
John's vision, which occupies the last book of the New Testament, foretells
a cosmic drama that awaits mankind. This drama, lying just around the
corner of history, warns us that the world as we know it will soon undergo
drastic changes: the faithful will be tried by great temptations, the
forces of evil will gain political control, wars will rage, and great
plagues of sickness, death, and disease will ravage the earth. These events
culminate in a great cataclysmic battle between good and evil, between
the chosen people and the damned, and between Jesus Christ and the devil.
After Christ is victorious in this last battle, He transforms the earth
into paradise, and the heavenly city New Jerusalem descends to earth.
Not surprisingly, the Book of Revelation has always been something of
a Rorschach test--especially in America. In the short history of the nation,
probably no other book has justified as many soap-box sermons and hare-brained
schemes as it has, and perhaps none ever will. But neither has any book
produced a more profound vision of America's hopes, duties, dreams, and
destiny. If the Revelation of John gave Americans a cosmic optimism of
scientific progress and manifest destiny, it also gave them enemies to
fear, sins to condemn, and terrors to behold.