Based on a friend’s recommendation, I recently read Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It.
This book reminded me of a truism about reading the Bible that I find relevant to Revelation: “False expectations can lead to incorrect interpretations.”
For example, many people read the Gospels as though each account was an attempt to prove Jesus’ divinity and demonstrate how a person can “be saved” and “go to heaven.” That false expectation distorts the authors’ intentions.
The same is true for Revelation. Due to popular theology and the highly symbolic nature of the book, many people assume Revelation is a roadmap to the future. They either ignore the fact that it’s written to seven historical church or they “symbolize” those churches to represent stages of the Church throughout history. Either way, they view Revelation as the result of John peering into the far distant future and trying to describe what he sees from his ancient perspective.
It is essential that we try to set aside our presuppositions about Revelation and let it speak for itself. I remember how difficult this was back in 2005 when I studied the book. As I read and reread the book, the futurist interpretation from my early Christian formation kept whispering in my ear.
But any serious Bible reader must practice “exegesis” as best as possible. Exegesis means “to draw out.” This allows the author’s intent, and not our expectations, to determine the book’s agenda
Unfortunately, most of us are guilty of the opposite, which is “eisegesis,” reading into the text. This is understandable. Most of us have heard other people’s interpretations and those voices accompany us as we read. We just need to be aware of this and keep trying to let the text speak louder than the other voices.
I had mentioned in my first post in this series that I no longer accepted a futurist interpretation of Revelation. That’s because such an interpretation is blatant eisegesis. It requires a “dispensationalist” interpretative grid that is foreign to anything John intended.
When we set aside the false expectation that John is describing future events, John’s actual intention becomes clearer.