Having finished John’s Gospel in our faith-community, we have turned our attention to what I feel is the most challenging book in the canon – Revelation. As Mark stated last night in our meeting, I love the first few chapters and the last two chapters, but everything in between is just plain confusing.
For me, reading Revelation is like listening to modern jazz. It’s filled with dissonance, syncopation and unfamiliar notes that tip me slightly off-center. Remember that party game where you put your head on a bat and spin around several times and then try to walk in a straight line? That’s how I feel when I read Revelation. I feel like I’m constantly stumbling sideways when I have every intention to move forward. My equilibrium is constantly askew as I careen from the barrage of images, metaphors, symbols and poetry.
Reading Revelation is like reading a hybrid of a political cartoon, fairy tale and poetry. This isn’t to say that Revelation isn’t real or true. Rather, its reality is shrouded in a literary style that communicates more with images than with words. I came across a great quote by G.K. Chesterton that I think applies to Revelation:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
That’s the power behind Revelation. It’s an art form that uses fictional images to express ultimate reality. Yet, when I think of art I imagine an art museum where people meander through an array of creativity, lingering at each image, whispering quietly in admiration and pondering about the artist’s intentions. However, Revelation couldn’t be further from this image. It’s artistry is explosive. It compels us to action. Imagine the same art museum, but behind each painting is a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse. The last thing you do is stroll or discuss the detailed nuances of brush strokes.
Approaching Revelation this way is proving very difficult for me. My spiritual background is the one that spawned works like the Left Behind series. As a young Christian, I read books like The Late Great Planet Earth that viewed Revelation from a futurist perspective. I was frightened into Christianity by the “threat” of the rapture and the prospect of being left behind. Virtually every sermon I heard somehow weaved the rapture or Jesus’ return into its application. During my early years as a youth pastor, I used to show the “classic” rapture movies to evangelize kids.
I have since repented of those tactics. And along with the sweeping changes that have occurred to my overall theology and spiritual life during the last several years, I have experienced significant alterations to my eschatology. However, when all you’ve cut your eschatological teeth on are ideas like the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Millennium, the Antichrist, the Mark of the Beast, and the Second Coming of Christ, it’s very difficult to silence those voices as I read and reread Revelation.
And yet, as challenging as Revelation can be as a literary form and as difficult as laying aside my previous interpretive grid can be, I eagerly anticipate the journey through Revelation and its depiction of the unfolding of God’s New Creation in fullness upon God’s earth.
3 thoughts on “Journey Into Revelation”
“What these eyes beheld, in spiritual realms defies words. Pen and ink cannot describe the spiritual world and reality that I was allowed to see. This was the heavenly sanctuary that Moses saw which became the pattern for the tabernacle. My eyes were fixed on the reality of what the mercy seat in the tabernacle only represented: the throne of God. And I saw the glory of the One who sits on the throne…”
From an “An Evening In Ephesus” by Bob Emory. Have fun!
I used to have major problems understanding the book of Revelation. Well, I guess that’s why God put it last. It was meant to be read AFTER we have read all the books before it? 😉
Just curious, so r u saying u don’t “believe” in Rapture, Tribulation, Mark of the Beast, AntiChrist, Second Coming…?
How has the change in ur understanding changed ur life?
Hi Jason and Ben. Thanks for reading the post and commenting. Jason, great quote. I think it really captures some of the explosive imagination of Revelation.
I also appreciate your questions, Ben. You struck right at the core of my intentions for studying Revelation — feeling the book’s impact on my daily life as Jesus’ apprentice just as I would expect from the Gospels or the other Epistles. I’ll probably post more about this in the very near future.
In regards to the Rapture, Tribulation, Mark of the Beast, etc., I think I would say I don’t embrace those issues as defined from the futurist interpretation of the Revelation. The Revelation is written in the style of apocalyptic to the local churches in Asia Minor. Being apocalyptic, it must be read very symbolically. And being a letter to local churches, it must be read very situationally. From my limited perspective, the futurist/dispensationalist view fails to do either of these and overlays the Revelation with a foreign interpretative grid.
This is difficult ground for me to walk since my entire exposure to Revelation as an evangelical Christian has been from a futurist perspective. So my world is going through a bit of upheaval. On top of that, many of my family and friends still embrace the futurist interpretation. And a few of them place their entire Christian hope and identity in it.
So I’m challenged by my own changing perspective as I study the Revelation. And I’m challenged by how to live as Jesus’ loving apprentice among those who would not only disagree with me, but would even find my emerging perspective threatening.