One of the central themes in most apocalyptic books is that the world is experiencing some kind of spiritual warfare. Apocalyptic literature generally sees the world as a great conflict between the powers of evil, represented by Satan, and the powers of good, represented by God. Daniel 12:1-4, for example, anticipates “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” and only those “whose name shall be found written in the book” will be delivered when the great prince Michael arises. Some people will be raised to “be like stars forever” while others are raised and suffer “shame and everlasting contempt.”
Although Daniel and Revelation describe a great conflict, it is not an equal battle between God and Satan. Satan does attempt to destroy the people of God and to exert control, but God very simply destroys Satan, there isn’t much of a battle at Armageddon or Gog and Magog. God and Satan are certainly not equals in Revelation.
Because of this sense of spiritual warfare, apocalyptic seems pessimistic. The writers of non-Biblical apocalyptic tend to be pessimistic about the world, seeing it as a dark place full of terror and usually see the followers of God as being a persecuted minority. There is no solution for the problems of this world other than a dramatic intervention by God to set things right again. 4 Ezra 8:1, for example, states that few will participate in the new age.
This sort of pessimism often accompanies popular apocalyptic literature any time in history. One of the complaints against classic dispensationalism is that it is pessimistic about the church’s ability to effect any real change in the world. Typically dispensationalists who are involved in “social action” run some sort of evangelistic ministry to the homeless.
Daniel and Revelation, however, does not seem to be as pessimistic. While there will be a great persecution, salvation will come out of that tribulation. The function of non-biblical prophecies was to urge holy living, but often that took the form of revolt against the oppressors. These movements typically fail (Daniel and the Maccabean revolt, for example, or the apocalyptic fervor prior to the fall of Jerusalem A.D. 70), but they do generate a committed following willing to die to effect change!
On the other hand, Leon Morris considers Revelation to be a very optimistic book. “History is the sphere in which God has wrought redemption” (Apocalyptic, 92-3). Both Daniel and Revelation look forward to God completing the plan he initiated in the Garden to restore his creation. Although there is bad news for those who “worship the beast,” the ones who do not are promised vindication at the final judgment.