Monday Minute: Thoughts on Revelation

My last class has given me pause to reflect on the last book in our Bibles: John’s Revelation.

Hope, not Pestilence

“They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle” (Revelation 9:9).[1]  If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone describe these locusts as modern-day attack helicopters, I am pretty sure I could get me a really nice steak dinner.

This is but one example of where folks can get carried away when it comes to deriving the truths of biblical texts.  While it is true that the bible’s message is timeless, that does not mean it was written TO us.  When looking at the bible, we need to remember who wrote it, who it was written to, and why.  The bible cannot say what it was not intended to say.

In this case, the Apostle John wrote the book.  He wrote it to a group of churches he cared for in the Lycus River Valley, near Ephesus.  He wrote it to encourage them as they entered a period of persecution.  To infuse the believers of John’s day with hope for a certain future where Christ would return, claim his own, and the people of God would once again live in perfect harmony with the God who created them. While there happens to be descriptions of what will happen in the end of it all, the timeline of those events was not the primary goal of John.

Unfortunately, John’s message is often twisted into some form of synchronicity with current events.  In doing this, the meaning and the message of hope is obscured in a complicated and often painful rendering of a detailed chain of events that lead to an impending period of tribulation followed by some sort of theocratic government with the saints serving as administrators.

John’s message of hope is mostly obscured with warnings of a coming tribulation, with wars and pestilence, and with concerns about 5 “red moons” in one year, and so on.

Literary Language

John’s Revelation is largely structured in an Apocalyptic genre, a writing style that was influenced by an ancient Zoroastrian literary style[2] back in Daniels day, and was used by Daniel, a contemporary of Zoroaster, to describe the same end times that John is describing.  Through the use of colorful and descriptive imagery, John weaves a narrative of what was revealed to him concerning the end of humanity’s brokenness and the final victory of Christ.  These allegories attempt to tell the story of the God’s people from the viewpoint of God, and describe events that have happened, were happening in John’s day, have happened since, and will happen in the future. [3]

Format and Flow

John’s message of hope for his beloved followers, while written within the Apocalyptic style, seems to use a narrative format for relaying the events that he saw in his vision.  John begins his book with words of advice to seven churches under his care in the Lycus River Valley, and by extension all Christendom, ending his advice with, as Page Patterson puts it in his commentary on Revelation for the New American Commentary Series, a call to ensure that a proper “relationship of Christ to the local church”[4] is maintained by the believers who embody Christ’s Church.  John then moves to a deep apocalyptic style, depicting the history, the current state and coming future of God’s people. A people group which began with the Hebrew nation through Abraham and Jacob, into which Christian believers were grafted in (Romans 11:17-24), by God’s grace through faith made available by the atoning blood of Christ.

The “Rose Guide to End Time Prophecy describes four primary views of interpreting the Book of Revelation as futuristic, historicist, idealist, and preterist, [5]  with dominant views among Christendom being preterist and futuristic. Idealists see Revelation as describing an abstract “good vs evil” scene.  Historists, see revelation has depicting events in their past.  Preterists view Revelation has prophecy in John’s day, but everything has happened shortly after it was written.  Futurists, as you can imagine, view Revelation as, well the future, even for us.  The Idealist and Historist views don’t make much sence by themselves.  Between the Futurist and Preterist viewpoints, neither view can fully describe the text adequately, and, like most topics within the Christian landscape, it is not either one or the other  view, but a blend of both.  John relays historical, current, and future events, striving to show that God’s hand was behind it all, from the garden at the beginning to the garden city at the end.

Concerning the Future of Israel and the Church

Dr. Bob Utley points out in his commentary on John’s Revelation that through the use of apocalyptic language, John demonstrates God’s control over the history of his people in order to provide encouragement to believers heading into a period of terrible persecution.[6]  Because God shaped events of the past to suit his will, believers can take great hope in knowing that current and future events will also be shaped according to his will.

Remember, though: John is writing to the first century Christians in the Lycus River Valley, encouraging them to hold strong through to the end.  He is reminding them that what began in a perfectly unstained garden ends in an equally unstained perfect garden city, where all is restored to what it was before the fall.

Rather than getting bogged down by concerning oneself with what this beast or that horn means, or whether believers are taken prior to a tribulation or in the middle of it, modern readers should remember the larger story of the Christian hope that resides in God’s glory that await the faithful descendants of Abraham who looked forward to the Messiah’s sacrifice, and those of us who look back at that same sacrifice as the sole hope for our salvation.

 

[1] Quotations of Scripture are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Joyce G. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 23, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978), 109.

[3] Timothy Jones, Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy, (Torrance: Rose Publishing, 2011), Kindle Edition, Location 1154 of 6349.

[4] Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 144.

[5] Timothy Jones, Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy 1204 of 6349.

[6] Robert James Utley, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, vol. Volume 12, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2001), 2.

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