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.