The dilemma is what to do with passages like Revelation 4,5 when putting up power point slides during a message. Most of the pictures of a 7 horned and 7 eyed lamb that was slain do not seem to work for me. I am putting up a word graphic, and letting folks turn on their imaginator.
We can come to the book having decided what we think about “the end times” and try to fit the bits and pieces of Revelation into our dogmatic framework. To be fair, it is a fair principle of scripture, to compare scripture to scripture. So we place the saying of Jesus about “hating” our mothers and fathers next to the 5th Commandment to Honor our Fathers and Mothers. This keeps us from falling overboard into some cult like interpretation.
However, when we attempt to fit the scriptures into our dogmatic framework, we are trying to fit the text into our pre-determined filing system. This places our dogma, or filing system, above the scriptures.
At the start of books on Revelation, one can get lost in a sea of history and controversy. The whole thing makes me feel like one of the survivors in the painting by Géricault.
Another approach is to focus more on a reading of the text, comparing English translations, or to the Greek if you can, and noticing the internal structure and flow of the work. Keep observing, and them observe some more before you start to try to formulate a structure or a framework. Become familiar with the text before you consult other observers (these are the commentaries and expositors). Only then will you be anywhere near able to learn from and dispute with these literary friends.
For example, in reading Revelation 4, the scene of the adoration of the Almighty in Heaven, i found that the verse :
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! (4:8)
introduces three concepts of God that are each repeated three times – Holiness (this one is obvious), Might (“almighty” and in following verses “seated on the throne”, and Eternity (was, is, is to come; lives forever and ever (2 times)). There are other “3s”: God is worthy of “glory, honor and power” because he “created…they existed…were created..” (all from Revelation 4:8-11
I don’t know what that means, but it had me singing they hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” in my back yard patio where I was reading under the bright and warm sun.
Reading through dogma can lead to confusion, reading, just reading, leads, occasionally, to worship.
Some read the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2 and 3 as an outline of the stages of the church through history. That is interesting but there is nothing I find in the text that would suggest that. It seem to me that you could make any one of the letters fit any stage. There were false teachers and indifferent believers from the get go, if we judge by the letters of Paul to the churches.
I prefer to consider the letters in light of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You remember, she sits in each chair, tries each bowl of porridge and lies on each bed to see if any fit.
It is best for us to “sit” in each letter. Read first Ephesus, see if the description and the challenge speak to you or your situation. then try Smyrna, Pergamum and down to the 7th Church. I’ve had my Ephesus moments, when my first love seemed to be lost somewhere. I’ve felt weak and poor like Smyrna. I’ve thought about retiring from the field of battle, and letting some fresh troops come in a “be faithful to the end.” These letters then speak to me and to my church, not to “those people over there.”
I suppose it is noteworthy that Goldilocks was sleeping away when the bears returned. We do not want to be sleepers and interlopers when the Lord returns.
Playing with Revelation 1 and some watercolors. Consider it a game like the one in the Sunday Funnies, where you find diffrerences between the two pictures, in this case between Revelation 1:12-16 (NIV84)
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
I am in chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the 7 churches. What is mind numbing is reading the extensive background (was that available to the first readers) and then to detailed enumeration of speculations on the significance of symbols. For example, is the open door, mentioned in the letter to Philadelphia, an open door to missions? (Reference is made to Paul’s letters here, and the supposed strategic location Philadelphia has for missions.) Or maybe it is to what the letter speaks of – the New Jerusalem. the Lord is the one with the Key to David. No key of David is mentioned before, and some speculate it is tied to Isaiah 22 (Isaiah 22, really?).
How about the idea that each introduction to the letter is keyed to the first chapter. There Jesus is said to heave the key to death and hades, verse 1:18. Hmm, is it possible he has a key to the other location, New Jerusalem, also on his key ring? Look the end of the letter speaks of entrance into the temple of God (the eternal heavenly one) and ones perpetual place in it. When we look ahead to Chapter 22 (all the letters make reference to chapter 19-22 in one way or another) we find that there are 12 gates (doors?) that are always open.
The open door is final salvation and entrance into the City of God – as opposed to what that key in verse 1:17 opens, which is the other option described in the end of the book at 20:14.
Again, things are more clear if I read the text, first and repeatedly, and note INTERNAL connections before EXTERNAL ones. And save the historically survey of speculation until you have a good handle on the text.
Did I mention, read the TEXT? If nothing else, there is a blessing for reading this text (1:3) which can not be said for the stack of commentaries on my desk.
Jesus says “I am the first and the last’ in Revelation 1:17. This could be drawn out in a number of ways. However, the scriptures start in Genesis with the creation, to which John’s gospel comments, “he was with God in the beginning. through him all things were made.” So there is the Beginning. Revelation ends with a description and a promise of the New Heaven and a New Earth. (Genesis speaks of the creation of heaven and earth.) There is the end.
From a materialistic standpoint, the universe is a great moving consequence of an explosion – it is something that works out according to the laws of physics. Personality can be explained as a perception built up from complex electro-chemical processes. In this view, everything is impersonal.
From the Bible’s stand point, we see that before and after these material forces is Someone – before the big explosion that brought about the world, there was love among the Father, Son and Spirit. In the End, there will be no need for sun and stars because the light of these persons will be all that is needed.
Whatever these statements mean when they are translated from poetry to history, they do mean that the universe is deeply personal. The world of God is personal. The church is personally attended to by the “one like a son of man” (chapter 1). This creator speaks, thunders, writes letters, gives promises, shares visions and promises a banquet. These are all personal.
At the center of all things, according to the scriptures, God, in three persons, who lives, creates, intervenes, saves and attends in love.
That’s pretty neat.