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.
The book of Revelation has these literary genres:
- Prophecy – by self designation (22:19), messages to God’s people of rebuke and encouragement given in Spirit inspired oracles.
- Apocalyptic – a literary form which uses symbolism to depict the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom into history.
- Epistle – it was a circular letter to the churches, and includes 7 specific letters to 7 churches in chapter 2-3.
- Visions – it is a series of Visions given to John.
- Poetry – The Literary Study Bible points out the amount of imagery and allusion, common stuff for poets.
It is best to keep all of these ideas in view, rather than to stress one only.
Regarding Symbolism – I like John Stott’s comment: “Further, the symbols of Revelation are to be understood, not visualized. If we were to visualize them, the result would often be grotesque. For example, god’s redeemed people are said to be wearing robes which have been ‘made…white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). Now I confess that I have never tired to launder dirty linen in lamb’s blood, tut he concept is rather revolting, and the consequence would not be to make them white. The interpretation is beautiful, however, namely that the only righteousness which qualifies us to stand in God’s presence is due to the atoning death of Jesus Christ, in whom we have put our trust.”
John Stott, The Incomparable Christ, IVP, 2001, p. 171
Oddly, as visual as this book is, trying to visualize it is difficult, and literalist drawings based on it are often unhelpful. Maybe if an Impressionist or Expressionist painter gave it a go, it would make more sense.
There is a TV documentary called “From Jesus to Christ.” The idea of this PBS series is that Jesus was really a simple teacher, a rabbi who preached a simple spirituality. Then along came Paul, and Paul changed Jesus into the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer.
The assumptions of the scholars that think this way is that there can be no miracles. All that exists comes about by the natural process of evolution. We can explain mountains, stars, and duck-billed platypuses all by the gradual change in things over time. So then, that is how Jesus a man became Jesus the Son of God.
There is another way to explain these things. It does involve a miracle. Probably we have to say it involves a history of Miracles. And the one who took the idea of Jesus the man and showed him to be Jesus the son of God is in fact Jesus. This is what we learn from Luke 24. Luke does not tell us what it was that Jesus told the 2 on the Road to Emmaus – but he does tell us that Jesus told them, and later the groups of disciples a new way to read the bible and a new way to Know Jesus.
Luke 24:25-27 “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself”
This is repeated with the 2 plus the 11 Apostles (minus Judas)
While these two were telling the 11 what had happened, and they were talking about it. Jesus appeared with them. They were talking about Jesus, and then they were with Jesus. They at first thought they saw a ghost.
So Jesus gave them some concrete evidence. Look at my hands and feet. The marks of his crucifixion remained as testament to what had happened. Then he asked for some food. They gave him fish.
The Point? Ghosts do not have bodies and they do not eat fish.
Now came the bible study again:
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Again he shows them from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – which are headed by the Psalms, all that was said about him. Then he sent them to tell the story.
Where did Jesus go from Jesus to Christ, the son of God? It happened on Easter Sunday. It happened long before Paul came along. Paul did preach Jesus as the Christ – everyone knows this as it is a matter of historical record.
But years before Paul, starting on Easter, the Disciples began to preach Jesus and the Savior and the Son of God.