Revelation: Revisited – Biblical Inspiration

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I think many people believe that the Bible is “inspired” because they assume God dictated his message to human authors. So when we read Revelation, which is a remarkable prophetic vision, we easily assume that John is simply scribbling down his vision as quickly as he’s seeing it.

But that’s not how biblical inspiration works. God works with the biblical authors. And every biblical author shapes the “story” he’s telling in order to accomplish a particular agenda.

A good example of this is the four Gospels. The authors of the three synoptic Gospels— Matthew, Mark and Luke — take the “raw material” available of the Jesus story and shape it with a theological and pastoral agenda. So these three Gospels include, revise or omit certain stories or details to communicate different agendas. John’s Gospel stands out from the other three because it’s crafted more creatively than the others. Have you ever noticed that the Jesus in John’s Gospel has long and complex speeches while the Jesus in the synoptic Gospels speaks in short pithy statements? The synoptic Gospels also have Jesus giving longer “sermons.” But in those Gospels he uses parables and short statements rather than more complex theological reflections in John’s Gospel.

All four authors are sharing the story of the same Jesus. But their theological and pastoral agendas are guiding how they portray Jesus.

The same is true for Revelation. John receives an incredible vision. But he then shapes that vision with a specific pastoral and prophetic agenda. This is especially apparent in the word choices, Old Testament allusions, and literary devices that he uses throughout Revelation. The final product of his literary efforts is work of great depth and reflection. His work is a well-crafted, well-thought piece of literature with a very unique purpose for ongoing Christian discipleship, not forecasting the future.

This is important because if we expect Revelation to be only a recitation of a glorious vision, than John is relegated to the role of observer. But if we let Revelation speak, we discover that John, both a faithful steward of God’s vision and a faithful shepherd of God’s people, works with God in communicating a beautiful symbolic world filled with Old Testament allusions and counter-cultural imagery to strengthen the faith and courage in Jesus’ people so they will follow him in a world filled with temptations, threats, persecutions, pain, sorrow and struggle.

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