Why I side-stepped the Book of Revelation and 5 Things to know about it

Side-stepping revelation

Revelation is an intimidating book of the bible. Growing up in the faith I was taught (either explicitly or implicitly), that “revelation is hard to understand, brings division” and “not to worry about it, God will figure out and we don’t have to understand.”

More at stake than I thought

The longer I have spent participating and observing disciple-making contexts, the more I have realised there is actually a lot at stake in whether or not we read revelation and exactly how we understand what is written in it. One of my goals this year was to understand the book a little better and figure out what might be a reasonable take on how to read it. To that end, I bought Revelation – A shorter commentary by G.K. Beale and David H. Campbell.1

Secondly, I dug out the mini-popular-level commentary by Tom Wright, Revelation for Everyone, I’ve really enjoyed the overview commentary style of the ..for everyone, it certainly isn’t scholarly in the traditional sense but gives enough backing to not miss the point of the verse and drench it in a modern reading that misses the original context.
So, maybe this is the beginning of short series (depending on how successfully I can find time to read these books (and the book of revelation itself) amidst our work and thesis writing!

Eschatology or ESCAPEology

Most people agree (though not all with the second point) that revelation has something to say about both life in Christ now, namely discipleship, and something about a reality to come in the future. The second point, how we imagine God’s future plans, has struck me as an extremely significant aspect that affects our life lived now. For example, certain ‘last things’ theories portray a sense in which, those who believe, shall be whisked away on some cloud to a safe space with Jesus, while animals, other people and the earth get burnt to a crisp (OK, I’m falling into caricatures here). But if we have, what has been termed an esCAPE-ology (we head off to heaven forever) rather than an Eschatology (where heaven comes to earth and re-news and redeems the earth), we will make different choices about what we build and invest in while we are here.

So what do we need to know about Revelation?

Ok, so here is where I am simply rephrasing the points pulled out by the books I am reading rather than making well-thought-through claims of my own, so feel free to interact and disagree in the comments;

1) Revelation is written in an apocalyptic genre, which was not uncommon at the time of writing. It was a style of writing which demanded interpretation which is why it often seems so hard to interpret to our minds. That being said, given the increase of apocalyptic movies and novels, maybe our age is ripe to re-connect with the significance of being moulded and ordered with a renewed vision of the future.

the goal of revolution is to bring encouragement to believers of all ages that God is working out his purposes even in the midst of tragedy, suffering, and apparently satanic domination. – GK Beale, p.1

2) Revelation is found in the new testament, but draws very strongly on the old testament, scholars estimate that 278 out of the 404 verse contain references and there are over 500 allusion to the old testament (compared to less than 200 in all of Paul’s letters).

John identifies himself as a prophet (Rev1:3) in the line of the OT prophets, speaking the word of the Lord in both judgement and promise. – GK Beale, p.1

3) It seems fairly unlikely that anyone other than the apostle John is the John referred to as the author of revelation. Mostly due to the fact that the author knew the OT so well as to be a Palestinian jew and has enough authority to write a letter taken seriously and authoritative to the churches it was circulated to.

4)  Beale dates the letter at shortly after AD 90 which makes John a very old man. The date of writing revelation is particularly significant for the book of revelation because certain theories of how to read it are based around the idea that it is speaking primarily about the destruction of the temple which is AD70.

5) Apocalyptic literature is actually very close to ideas surrounding the prophetic books of the OT, the main distinction being the images and source as being the throne room of God.

The interest of these prophets was both in forth-telling exhortations to apply to people in the present and in foretelling the future. GK Beale pp.5

There is also emphasis on this heavenly perspective so that the churches will be reminded that real spiritual struggles are going On behind-the-scenes of what appear to be insignificant earthly appearances or offence. Indeed, the reason for addressing churches through their representative angels is to remind them that they have already begun to participate in a heavenly dimension and that their real and eternal home is in the dimension of the new heavens and the inaugurated through Christ’s death and resurrection. Pp.5

The original hearers of revelation claims Beale live in a worldly culture which makes sin appear normal and righteousness appear strange (sounds familiar!)

In particular, John writes because he perceives there is a real danger that the churches will conform too what are considered the”normal” values of the world– system rather than two goals transcendent truth. Pp.6

Why might revelation be important for us today?

More than simply figuring out what might happen in the future, which even Jesus admitted is not fully known to Him, revelation is a letter attempting to narrate complex current events, political and cultural in a way that helps believers resist the temptation to simply follow the trends that surround them and recognise that forces of evil and God’s unfolding victory and very much at play in the midst. Many movies imagine what our lives might be like if the foundations of abundant resources, social order and norms were removed, Christian eschatology affirms that God intends to re-make the perceive foundations of our world that in a way the ultimately reveals beauty and love rather than fear. Maybe revelation can help us grapple with that in ways we never have before.

In the next post I’ll look at the four ways of interpreting revelation…

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  1. I’ll be honest and say I wrote the title down at some point as it was recommended, but can’t remember exactly from where, but it was well acclaimed, as is G.K. Beale. 

2 Comments on “Why I side-stepped the Book of Revelation and 5 Things to know about it

  1. I found a lot of value in Michael Gormans reading revelation responsibly. Worth considering (from an anabaptist persoective).

  2. HI Liam, This blog post is really interesting timing. Our 10 year old daughter is currently reading through revelation with us as her bed time bible reading (her choice btw). She loves the descriptive language and has asked if we can find any video of revelation! Im not sure I would want to watch it myself. Do you or anyone else reading this have any ideas?

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