Summary: Introduction to Revelation, part 1
Introduction to Revelation, part 1
May 19, 2013
First, I believe Revelation is understandable by the ordinary person. Many of you woman can run circles around most of the men here. You have the ability to sew complicated stitches, cook, home school, have a phone conversation, and balance the checkbook all at the same time. Many of you men can quote sports statistics, repair complex mechanical machinery, and describe the intricacies of bullet ballistics. And anyone under thirty can figure out any electronic wizardry. Yet you plead ignorance and helplessness when it comes to understanding Revelation. Second, though it is understandable, it has unique interpretative challenges. You cannot read it like Romans or Psalms or Acts. It is not like a scientific manual or a math book or even a jigsaw puzzle; it is more like a fantasy novel like CS Lewis', The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Some books of the bible appeal to our intellect like Romans, to our affections like Psalms, but Revelation appeals to the imagination.
It is made up of three literary genres – apocalyptic, prophecy, and epistle. Apocalyptic literature describes in symbolic ways what takes place at the consummation of all things. It was very popular in Judaism and early Christianity from about 200 BC to 100 AD. If you read a half dozen pieces of this literature you would have a good grasp of it; it is pretty consistent and standardized. Its symbolism is fantastic and not meant to be taken literally. Other characteristics is that there is no middle ground, everything is either black or white. You are a conqueror and are rewarded or you are not and face God's judgment; everything is either good or evil; you are on the side of the Lamb or the beast.
Revelation is also prophetic, it foretells the future, what takes place in the flow of history before the consummation of all things. Prophecy also forth tells, calling God's people to covenant faithfulness. Last, Revelation is an epistle, a circular letter, that circulated among several churches to address the specific historical situations and needs of these local churches at the end of the first century. Failure to determine the meaning for the original readers fails to determine the meaning for us. Until we understand what it meant to them we cannot understand what it means to us. And it cannot mean something to us when it did not mean that to them. The best place to look to understand Revelation is the Old Testament not today's newspaper.
The Revelation is an Unveiling of Jesus Christ
'The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him.' That word revelation is where we get the word apocalypse, which means to unveil or reveal what is hidden. Revelation reveals Jesus Christ, so it is an unveiling of Jesus Christ, the glory of the King who now reigns, how he will save his people, and conquer evil. This book gives us a glimpse into reality - the way things really are to encourage the church under attack and wondering where is God. It was given to 'show his servants what must soon take place.' It is addressed to seven churches but applies to all churches of all time. It was given to specific Christians but it applies to all Christians of all time. That little verb, must, is used seven times in Revelation and points to God's predetermined plan that will take place. God says something will happen because God makes it happen. It is not a contingency plan, it is not a hopeful plan, it is an absolute plan, it is a sure and secure plan. It will happen because God ensures it will happen. Christ will win, we will be vindicated, sin will be destroyed, and we will dwell with God for all eternity. What must take place soon and the time is near causes us some trouble as 2000 years have passed! What does John mean? John talks about periods of time in Revelation. It will happen soon because the time is near. The options of understanding this are the following: some say John was wrong or that he meant swiftly. Others say he may not have referred to time at all but to any given time. Still others suggest that some of the events take place immediately after John wrote but other events are still future. But all these are not honest with the words. There are even those who say that everything has already taken place but that ignores the last two chapters. So how do we understand this? Soon means soon; near means near. The book of Revelation is the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament book of Daniel. This book must be interpreted based upon the Old Testament apocalypse. Daniels time of the end and Johns soon and near mean the same thing, the same time. In Daniel chapter two Daniel interprets a dream - statue with four great empires. In the days of the last empire God will set up his own kingdom that will never end. Daniel says it will take place in the latter days; John says this must must soon take place, updating the text. God says he will use a rock to shatter the kingdom to establish his own kingdom. Jesus tells us that the rock the leaders rejected has become the cornerstone. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom so when John says that things must soon take place and the time is near he is speaking of now, the last days, the time between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ.