Summary: A sermon designed to help the congregation understand The Book of Revelation.
Prophecy and the Book of Revelation
We have now entered the time of the year following Epiphany Sunday which we as United Methodists sometimes refer to as the season of Epiphany. Other denominations roll their eyes at this, there really being only one Sunday of Epiphany, but they let us get by with it. One of the scripture passages associated with Epiphany is the story of the wise men from the East who interpreted the signs and prophecies which revealed the birth of King Jesus. Revelation, the revealing of hidden things, might well be a theme of for Epiphany Sunday, and, if we are going to refer to those Sundays following Epiphany as a “season”, then it is, perhaps, an appropriate thing for us to consider prophecy and revelation at this time of the year as well. Actually, I’ve been looking for an excuse to speak on prophecy in general and The Book of Revelation in particular, and the time has come. I understand that the Bible Study Group has recently discussed prophecy and revelation. Some of what I say today may be “old hat”, a review of what you have been studying. If so, again I ask that you bear with me. There will be some new examples illustrating various interpretations of The Book of Revelation.
There are two aspects of prophecy in the bible, one of which is associated with the “revealing”, or one could say the “epiphany”, of the Creator’s purposes. Much of the prophecy in the Old Testament, however, is simply speaking out against evil and injustice and calling for a change in direction. Other prophecies, however, predict or reveal something of the future.
During the season of Advent leading up to Christmas we read various prophecies foretelling the birth of Christ. This aspect of prophecy, the revealing of something about things to come, is as much a part of our Christian tradition as the other aspect, the challenge to injustice and iniquity. If prophecy in the Old Testament foretold the birth of Christ many years before the actual event, surely it is reasonable to conclude that certain of the New Testament prophecies also foreshadow or perhaps even foretell things which lie ahead in the future. And because this is of such great interest, I’d like to focus on that today.
First off, let me say that what I’m going to say isn’t going to be like the overly simplified and sensationalized version of what many a TV preacher might have told you about the coming end of the world. Some of what they say may well be on target, but much of it is not.
Historically, there have been six approaches to understanding the New Testament’s foreshadowing or foretelling of future events. These various interpretations include—
1) Interpretations of the New Testament prophecies as metaphorical or allegorical in nature neither predicting nor pertaining to any particular historical time frame, specifics, or particular sequence of events.
2) Interpretations which are historical in nature but which identify only the general direction of history and do not predict specific events.
3) Historical interpretations which explain the prophecies as applying to events that took place among the Jews and Romans during the first few centuries after Christ, all having been fulfilled during that period.
4) Historical interpretations which explain the prophecies as applying to the Reformation, all having been fulfilled during that period.
5) Interpretations which see none of the predictions as being fulfilled and all yet to take place.
6) Interpretations which see some of the prophecies having been fulfilled in historical or current events and some yet to take place before the end of the world.
Turn on the TV to any of the religious broadcasting networks and you are likely to see preachers talking about prophecies pertaining to the latter days and end of the world. What most of these preachers are saying fits into categories 5 and 6—they are trying to discern and portray a correlation between what is happening now and various biblical prophecies. These interpretations often incorporate a warning of judgement to come, and, in this respect are similar to the prophecies of the Old Testament. Such interpretations stress the idea that the world as a whole is soon to be judged and that this epoch must come to an end because of the growing iniquity among the peoples and nations of the world.
Jesus, of course, told his disciples to not worry about the future, a fact that many persons seem to forget. “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof”, Jesus said, implying that we should not worry about things that are beyond our control. The end times are one of those things that are completely in God’s hands, not ours.
Nevertheless, the end times are coming, and a study of New Testament prophecy can be of some interest, if for no other reason than to help us arm ourselves defensively with sufficient knowledge to not become overly concerned or confused by what is happening in the world in which we live.