6 Horror Tropes in the Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament and of the Bible itself. It brims with tropes that have become standard fare for horror stories over the centuries, right up to this present year. For example, in 2024 we’ve seen the latest instalment in the Omen franchise, which is about the birth and rise of the Antichrist.

Again, taking our cue from TV Tropes, lets look at 6 of the main horror tropes in Revelation.

1 Apocalypse Wow

If someone asked you what ‘the apocalypse’ meant, you might say something like the end of the world, or at least, a world-wide catastrophe, a terrible disaster. But that’s not what it means at all. Our English word is from a Greek one that means an uncovering, or in other words, a revelation. And it’s not even – or not just – a revelation of horrific events, but a horrifying Person.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place…When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

Revelation 1:1, 17

It’s not a hurtling asteroid or meteor, and alien invasion, a giant tsunami, a nuclear war, an environmental collapse, or colossal monsters that bring about the apocalypse wow. It’s the return of the King of kings. When this happens, there will be terrifying events that accompany it – great earthquakes, the sun turning black and the moon red, the stars falling from the sky, mountains and islands moving from their place. But these are only on the side-lines of horror.

Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the commanders, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”

Revelation 6:15-17

2 Signs of the End Times

The apocalypse doesn’t just happen. There are signs of the end times – portends of doom, heralds of woe, augurs of disaster, foreshadowing of evil…you get the idea. The entire Book of Revelation is one long prophecy about the sort of times to expect before the end. But if reading an entire book of the Bible is too much, try a single chapter instead. Matthew 24 is a sort of mini-Revelation in which Jesus give his disciples a private lesson about the signs of his coming and the end of the world (v3). He includes events like wars, famines, earthquakes, false prophets and false christs, astrological phenomena, and social apathy, along with the advance and persecution of his church.

3 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse either help the end of the world or serve as signs that it is near by. Three of them are easy to identify:

  • War on his red horse, holding a sword (6:4)
  • Famine on his black horse, holding scales (6:5-6)
  • Death on his pale horse, with Hell following close behind (6:8)

The first horse has given commentators a bit of a problem to identify. There’s a white horse. It’s rider has a bow and crown. He rides forth as a conqueror. Some see him as a personification of conquest and empire. Others interpret it as the advance of Christianity throughout the ages. Other identify it with their particular understanding of the antichrist, including historical figures. The comics and films that have made use of this trope tend to lump all four horsemen of the apocalypse together as bad guys.

4 Number of the Beast

The number of the beast has fascinated readers for millennia. It’s a puzzle and an enigma that cry out to be solved. What is the significance of this mysterious number?

Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Revelation 13:18

As strange as it may seem, the first book of fiction I read that mentioned the number of the beast was War and Peace by Tolstoy, where one of the characters tried to apply it to Napoleon. This is another example of how the trope has moved beyond horror and into works of fantasy, comedy, thriller and sci-fi too. But the verse in Revelation remains the trope maker.

5 Mark of the Beast

But the number of the beast doesn’t exist by itself. Rather, it is often linked with the mark of the beast, and in fact they are found together in the same chapter.

And the second beast required all people small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark—the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Revelation 13:16-17

If the number of the beast is an intellectual puzzle, the mark of the beast (also a trope maker) is its physical manifestation. This trope has moved way past its biblical context to include any sort of distinguishing feature that may mean you’re destined for evil. A birthmark or facial marking. Weird eyes. A natural tattoo, or a State imposed one. Tainted skin. Extra appendages…or missing ones. Animal traits. A barcode or biochip. An ID card. The possibilities are endless. Until the end comes.

6 Armageddon

Armageddon is only mentioned once in Revelation. The unholy trinity of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet send out three “unclean spirits” that resemble frogs.

These are demonic spirits that perform signs and go out to all the kings of the earth, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty…And they assembled the kings in the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

Revelation 16:14, 16

The name has come to mean:

  • a final battle between good and evil (like Tolkien’s Dagor Dagorath (Sindarin; ‘Battle of all Battles’)
  • an impending cataclysmic event
  • any end of the word type scenario (a nuclear or ecological Armageddon)
  • any great and crucial conflict

Worse than all these combines, Armageddon can even refer to a WWE event. And so the fall from epic prophecy to fake fighting is complete.

Photo by David Wirzba on Unsplash

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *