Monday, December 31, 2012

Two types of justice in film

As many know there is a new version of Les Miserables on film in the theaters. We, in Petersburg, will have to wait a while before we get to see it, but for the rest of you, based on what I’ve read, it sounds like a very worthwhile view.

I thought about writing something on the two types of justice portrayed in this story by Victor Hugo, but then came across one that articulates it better than I probably could have done.

Javert vs. Valjean: the two Christianities of Les Miserables

I include the link here because I think it illustrates what we have been discussing about Revelation and the kinds of justice and judgment that is described in that book.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fall of Babylon, Part 1

Outline: Fall of Babylon, Part 1
Passage: Revelation 18:1-8
Discussion audio (1h31m)

The next section will be discussed as a three part series. We discuss the first part this week. The first part reveals the reasons why Babylon must fall. It is because of her sins, but what exactly are they? Her sins are arrogance, pride, and self-reliance. She claims to have the power to provide security to all who would embrace her ways. She believes nothing can harm her, that she can even prevent negative consequences of her actions from falling upon her.

Throughout her history, the Church has been tempted by the seductions of worldly power and the appearances of security and influence attaching herself to the world can bring. The Church’s record on resisting the temptation has been dubious, at best. Revelation contains a sobering warning to the Church on the results of such a union. It is never the world that is influenced by the Church. It is always the Church that will fall, together with Babylon.

As we continue to work through Revelation, it is vital to keep in mind that John is not really addressing individual relationship to the State or to other worldly centers of power. John’s concern is with the Church as a whole. John’s concern is NOT with whether or not civil and secular authorities are necessary and what powers they can rightfully employ. John’s concern IS whether or not the Church can employ or accommodate the means of the world to gain respectability and approval from the world.

The means of the world ultimately comes down to the use of fear: the granting and withholding of rewards, and the imposing of punishment to control behaviors (punitive justice).

The ways of God are love, grace, and mercy – the way of restorative justice. God does not employ fear to try to change people’s behaviors. He allows natural consequences to follow negative actions, but that is not the same as imposing punishment.

The book of Revelation is a warning for the Church to avoid the former and a call to embrace the latter in her dealings within and without.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Great Prostitute and the Beast

Outline: The Great Prostitute and the Beast
Passage: Revelation 17
Discussion audio (1h18m)

There is God’s way, and then there is every other way. God’s way is love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence, and restorative justice. The world’s way includes deceit, manipulation, coercion, force, vengeance, violence, and punitive justice. It too often seems like the world’s way “works” better and obtains results more noticeably and quickly.

The Christians to whom John wrote Revelation must have felt the same way. The Roman Empire was prospering. They could be a part of it too, by just going along and accepting the Roman way.

John’s message to the Christians was this: the way of the world will self-destruct; don’t be a part of it. Resist the temptation to mingle the world’s ways with God’s ways. Be patient. Endure. Keep faithful. Hold on to the assurances and exhortations in this book. God’s restorative justice will win. Evil eventually turns upon itself and destroys itself. Then all will see that God’s way is the only way to life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Seven Bowls

Outline: Seven Bowls
Passage: Revelation 16
Discussion audio (1h21m)

The variety of interpretations of Revelation 16 may be as numerous as there are Christian denominations. What is found in Revelation is too often used as a fear motivator to bring people into the church, or keep them there. Our study shows the exact opposite: that fear never leads to repentance.

I began the session by reading a post on Provoketive, God in a Fear Factory. Any use of Revelation (or anything, for that matter) to raise fear, and then to capitalize on it to bring a decision is simply, abuse. It is a form of psychological control over another human being. It does not belong in the Christian church, or a believer’s life.

Revelation is a drama describing two entities, each claiming to be the source of power, authority, and deserving of worship. One is genuine; the other, a counterfeit. The genuine can only employ truthful persuasion. The counterfeit can employ whatever it wants: deception, injustice, manipulation, coercion, fear.

The message of Revelation is to the saints; it is not directed to those outside the church. The message of Revelation is for the saints to hang on, to endure, to remain faithful, because God is faithful and he will come through. It is not a message that was given to be used to scare unbelievers into the church.

Revelation describes a spiritual (not military) battle that has taken place, is taking place, and will continue to take place until sin implodes on itself, destroys itself, and all sees evil for what it is. The judgment is the ongoing and final revelation of what is true vs. what is false. Judgment is not some kind of punitive justice imposed upon the unrighteous.

“End of the World” Podcast

A good podcast in which a Baptist and a Presbyterian minister discuss the end of the world and apocalyptic thinking, influenced of course, by the Mayan 21-Dec-2012 thing.

It’s the Bourbon Talking Podcast – The End of the World
”Pull up a bar stool. And listen in. Join Zac and Mark as they take a progressive Christian look at what's happening in politics, spirituality and culture. Cheers!”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Interpretation Matters

I came across the following post, “Why Are Right Wing Extremists So Anti-Islamic?” It demonstrates how something as esoteric and niche as biblical prophecy can have profound real-life implications to a broad swath of the global populace.

The post describes why so many Christians seem like they are pro-Israel (but not necessarily pro-Jew). They are pro-Israel because their particular interpretation of biblical prophecy demands it. Without the State of Israel Jesus’ return cannot happen. So all effort – political, religious, and economic – must be expended to guarantee that the State of Israel remains until Jesus returns.

One particular brand of Christian theology has infected the entire world.

For the record, anyone following this blog should know that I don’t subscribe to that particular worldview. My interpretation is that:

  • The term “Israel” in prophecy never refers to a literal region or a nation. It refers to God’s people, his servants. It refers to the universal (“catholic” with a little-“c”, if you like) church.
  • Prophecy is not primarily about fore-telling, but forth-telling. Fore-telling is about the future. Forth-telling is about God.
  • Prophecy is not given to provide us with a roadmap for the future. The purpose of prophecy is to assure God’s people that he can be trusted, whatever present circumstances might be.
  • In those rare instances where prophecy appears to be describing something in the future, it is so that we can look back upon the event, after the event, and see God’s hand in it.
  • To use prophecy and try to force a particular unfolding of it is idolatry; i.e., an attempt to control God and his actions.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Seven Angels and Plagues

Outline: Seven Angels and Plagues
Passage: Revelation 15
Discussion audio (1h36m)

Revelation 15 appears like a dramatic interlude (we’ve seen a few of these already). You might imagine a TV series where for the last few episodes the action and tension has been rising more and more. And then suddenly there is a dramatic pause: it’s not that everything stops, but the plot doesn’t really move forward. It is more a character piece than an action one. As the episode enters its final minutes, however, new elements are introduced that raise more questions and increase the tension. This kind of episode doesn’t answer any questions that the audience has, nor does it resolve any of the plot. It’s there for the audience to take a breather and to reflect on what has already transpired. I see Revelation 15 to serve a similar function.

The outline is quite short, but the discussion audio is rather long. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I found the readings for the first Sunday of Advent to bear some relevance to the whole idea of “Revelation” and the anticipation of the coming of Christ to right the wrongs of the world. I read the lectionary readings, and I also read a piece I found on the web – Pregnant Waiting: Reflections on Advent.
  2. I read nearly all of Isaiah 63-66. The images and languages found in Isaiah are found repeatedly in the last half of Revelation, and I thought it best for us to understand the context that John borrows to convey his message to his audience.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Lamb, The 144k, Three Angels, and Two Harvests

Outline: The Lamb, the 144k, and Three Angels
Passage: Revelation 14
Discussion audio (52 min)

Revelation 14 continues the dramatic Act that began at chapter 12. We have tried to consistently read Revelation as speaking not to individuals, but to groups and systems. Revelation is then addressed not to individual Christians, but to the Church. Revelation sees the opponents of the church not as individual peoples, but as systems (including political, religious, social, economic, entertainment) of the world that run on principles that are against God’s principles.

With these principles in mind, a couple of the key messages of Revelation 14 are against 1) those who seek to influence worldly systems through collective participation of Christians in said systems, and 2) those who would seek to gain influence of the worldly systems to promote and benefit the church. The message is that systems based upon principles of the world will never be redeemed by the collective influence of Christians. When the church collectively attempts to participate and influence worldly systems, it is the church that becomes infected with the very principles it originally set out to correct.

The very beginning of Revelation, the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, addressed the Church. The collective message of the letters was against accommodating the Empire in order to gain and leverage her favor for the Church. Revelation 14 reiterates the message, but much more forcefully and graphically. John has already depicted the worldly powers (“those who dwell on earth”) as never repenting. The message of the three angels is not a warning to the world, but a declaration. The “good news” is not so much the proclamation of the gospel so that the world might repent, but the proclamation of judgment against the Church’s oppressors to vindicate the Church.

There is great temptation among Christians to attempt to redeem the world by working through its systems. There is also great temptation among Christians to hold up “trophies” it has “captured” from among the world in order to bolster its position and prominence. Revelation exhorts the Church to reject both temptations. That is not to say individuals cannot be in the world (remember, Revelation is not speaking to individual actions), but rather the Church must remain separate from the world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beast from the Earth

Outline: Beast from the Earth
Passage: Revelation 13:11-18
Discussion audio (1 hour)

The second beast comes up out of the earth. As we continue into the depths of Revelation it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to fit symbols and images into predefined boxes that we have been given and/or created based upon whichever traditions we have. What happens when we attempt to listen to these passages and process them as if we were in the first century AD in the region of Ephesus?

Both the first and second beasts represent aspects of the imperial cult of the Roman empire as recognized by these first century Christians. Meanings of some of the details may have become lost to us, but the overall message is quite clear. There is nothing esoteric or mysterious in any of these passages. They were meant to be understood by the first century Christians. The message is that whatever external forces might be oppressing the church, there is nothing to fear. Even if God’s hand may be hidden from view, even if it might look like the church will be destroyed, his hands are at work to preserve and bring victory to his church, his people.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Don’t Get Alarmed

Today (Nov. 14) a piece was published on Huffington Post, Mark 13:1-8: Signs That the End Is Near.

It begins,

No matter the tragedy these days, some religious leader or blogger will attempt to connect it to God's judgment… This instinct to interpret current times through the broader lens of God's judgment is not new.

The post goes on to speak to our desire to want to know precisely how the future will unfold, and how we have a tendency to take prophetic (as in future-telling) proclamations as blueprints and recipe books to interpret present times and project into the future.

The problem with this is that more often than not, it is wrong. Even in those cases where it turns out to be correct, is it because we got it right, or just coincidence?

Believers today take many different approaches to waiting (and interpreting) the end times. Some read into the Bible explanations that simply are not there, mislabeling storms like Sandy and causing more hurt in the process.

Prophecy is not given so we can figure out how the future will play out, but to provide us with assurance that whatever happens, God is with us. Because God is with us, we need not fear the present nor the future.

The article concludes,

We must break the cycle of interpreting these events in ways Jesus specifically warned against, and instead, follow the one who healed at every opportunity, who urged care for those without food and shelter, who loved beyond all love even in the most desperate of times.

Jesus gave a vague answer as to when God will renew the world in God's justice, but his instructions for caring for our neighbors were abundantly clear. When disasters hit, Jesus' followers should get to work and leave the end time prognostication to God alone.

As we study Revelation, we should keep this in mind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Beast from the Sea

Outline: Beast from the Sea
Passage: Revelation 13:1-10
Discussion audio (1h02m)

The drama of the conflict between the dragon and the woman (from Rev 12) continues. The dragon calls up a beast from the sea to do its bidding. Once again, rather than reading this as a future-prophecy, we seek to understand how the 1st century Christian living in the region of Ephesus might have read this message-from-God-prophecy.

The overarching message continues to be this: that although the oppressive powers against the church may appear to be prevailing, the church (saints) have already conquered because Jesus has conquered.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Methods of Reading Scripture

The Patheos site, back in 2010, posted an interview with Karen Armstrong on her book The Bible: A Biography (Books That Changed the World), which is written as a “biography” of the Bible. In the posted interview, she describes how during much of the existence of the Bible, there was no single, “correct” method for reading and interpreting the Bible. She describes how throughout history, the text of the Bible was read and interpreted in attempts to describe things that are ineffable and inexplicable.

Among the ways the pre-modern peoples used to interpret the Bible, Ms. Armstrong says,

“People always took the literal sense of the Bible seriously, but a literal reading was only one of the senses in which they took the Bible.  Jewish and Christian traditions had sophisticated, metaphorical, mystical, and allegorical ways of thinking about the Bible.”

Where the interview touches this blog is found on page 3 where she talks about John Nelson Darby and his “new” way of reading and interpreting Revelation, a process that took place in the 19th century. The excerpt:

David [the interviewer]: We should make it clear to readers of our conversation that your book provides lots of examples of what we're talking about here. You've really written a fascinating history. We just talked about Catholics, so let me mention a Protestant example from your book: the evangelist John Nelson Darby, this 19th-century guy who came up with the concept of the Rapture.

Karen: Darby is interesting. He was a Brit who developed this entirely new reading of the book of Revelation. I don't need to go into the Rapture theory for people. People in this country know about that idea particularly well, don't they?  But, Darby had no takers in the UK, so he came to America where he was a resounding hit. In a sense, as bizarre as it may sound to say it: This was quite a modern way of reading the Bible. As strange as that may sound, Darby's whole idea about how the Bible was divided into eras was in line with scientific thought that was current in his day. Just as Darby based his ideas on great ages and great stages of history, this is what scientists were uncovering in that era in their studies of cliffs and rocks.  And, then, he took a very literal reading of the book of Revelation and, hence, he was modern in that respect, too. The traditional reading of Revelation was highly allegorical. Darby pointed to a literal reading. If there was going to be a Battle of Armageddon, then this would happen in a given place, a given time.  Until the modern period, people didn't see Revelation in this way as some kind of program outlining the last days. The book was seen as a highly obscure pattern of symbolism.

The point I want to make is found in the last part of Ms. Armstrong’s response, which I underlined. What I am doing in the journey through Revelation recorded on this blog is to set aside both types of reading that are described and attempt a third: what did it mean to the original audience? How did they understand it? The reading I take is symbolic but not allegorical. And unless there is an obvious case for literalism, it is rejected as a default method of interpretation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Woman and Dragon–Part 2

Outline: Woman and Dragon - 2
Passage: Revelation 12
Discussion audio (1h04m)

Revelation 12 can be read as part of a dramatic narrative. By departing from an allegorical reading, the entire chapter can be seen as describing a single, coherent event – victory of Jesus over Satan through Jesus’ death and resurrection – from multiple perspectives.

This chapter can be seen as setting the scene for the next several chapters in which the conflict introduced is described in more detail. It raises a number of questions that are not immediately answered.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Woman and Dragon–Part 1

Outline: Woman and Dragon - 1
Passage: Revelation 12
Discussion audio (52m)

With chapter 12, we enter what may be the beginning of the heart of the book of Revelation. At the very least this is where many consider the “interesting” aspects of Revelation to begin, what with dragons and beasts and other assorted fantastic creatures.

How should we read this next section? As allegory, as is often the case? Or as dramatic narrative, as we have been doing so far? Does how we read it make a difference to how we interpret the text? Does it make a difference to the message we take away? Those are some of the questions that we will begin to answer with this session.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Outline: Seven Trumpets - 7
Passage: Revelation 11:15-19
Discussion audio (1h21m)

This wraps up the series of the sounding of the seven trumpets. Instead of further judgment events, the sounding of this trumpet returns the audience back to the Temple and Throneroom scene in heaven with the return of the twenty-four elders. They had become silent as the trumpets began to sound, but with the seventh trumpet sounded, they resume their worship of God.

This scene ends in verse 19 with imagery reminiscent of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, immediately after the Exodus story. God and his covenant with his people are revealed. For the servants of God though, this time God is not veiled behind clouds. The innermost compartment, the location of the very presence of God is visible in heaven.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Trumpets–Interlude, Part 2

Outline: Seven Trumpets - Interlude, Part 2
Passage: Revelation 11:1-14
Discussion audio (1h27m)

This session discusses the second part of the interlude scene between the sounding of the sixth and seventh trumpets of Revelation. According to a number of scholars and commentators, these are some of the most difficult texts in all of Revelation. Who are we kidding the, when we try to figure out what they mean? The key, I believe, is to stick to the big picture and the overall theme of the message rather than trying to identify what every detail supposedly could mean.

John borrows heavily from his Old Testament context when he writes the words that form today’s passage. Without properly understanding those contexts we can misinterpret and misapply what John wrote. We can end up forcing meanings and interpretations onto the text that were not intended. This is not to say that what we have is provably better than other explanations, but by taking a look at the larger context and keeping to the overall themes, I hope we come away with an interpretation that is closer to what John intended his audience to hear.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trumpets-Interlude, Part 1

Outline: Seven Trumpets - Interlude, Part 1
Passage: Revelation 10
Discussion audio (43m)

The sequence of the sounding of the trumpets is interrupted by an angel that flies into John’s vision. As with the interlude that occurred during the opening of the seven seals, this interruption occurs between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The interlude can be seen as describing something different, yet closely related to the events of the sixth trumpet.

The text can seem rather confusing upon initial reading, but many of the images and allusions are quite similar to those that have already appeared. When we carefully examine the similarities and allusions, the overall picture that emerges seems quite reasonable. As we have emphasized in the past, Revelation is less about the details and more about the big picture of where God is leading his people.

In this installment we take up the first part of the interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. The overall message is that the time has come for the plan of God for the world is to be revealed. The end of time that Daniel saw is now present. God’s servants are commissioned to carry the message of and about Jesus to the world. This message is sweet, because it is a message of hope, but also bitter, as God’s servants identify with Jesus in his experience of the rejection of his message.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Outline: Seven Trumpets - 6
Passage: Revelation 9:13-21
Discussion audio (1h13m)

The discussion of the trumpets continues with the sixth one now being sounded. It is similar to the previous one in many ways. The primary difference is the commentary at the end where John writes that in spite of the terrors falling upon them, those who have chosen to reject God continue to do so and will not repent.

It must be reiterated that these judgments are “signs” in a manner patterned after the signs that fell upon Egypt. Just as the signs on Egypt failed to move the Pharaoh, the signs that fall upon those who have rejected God do not move them.

The sins that they fail to repent of can be classified into three broad types:

  1. The sin of attempting to build security for themselves using their own efforts
  2. The sin of seeking security through powers and authorities of the world
  3. The sin of seeking security through elevating self over others, through manipulation, abuse, and use of others

In contrast the servants of God, those who have been sealed, have already been described in contrasting terms:

  1. Servants of God rely upon God to provide security
  2. Servants of God worship God as the ultimate power and authority over the world
  3. Servants of God do not elevate self, but instead love one another through giving of self

The fifth and sixth trumpets describe the results of false worship. False powers and authorities promise security and comfort, but in the end these powers turn on the very ones who rely on them.

In the midst of all that is happening, servants of God have nothing to fear because Jesus holds the ultimate power and authority. He is even the master of death so that even physical death cannot ultimately harm his people.

The book of Revelation was written to encourage God’s people and to inform them of what is going on behind the scenes. It was not written to those who have not yet accepted the gospel. Revelation cannot be understood outside of the gospel framework. Revelation is not an evangelism tool.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Outline: Seven Trumpets - 5
Passage: Revelation 8:13-9:11
Discussion audio (1h)

We continue our journey through the Seven Trumpets of Revelation. The fifth trumpet reveals imagery that both seem frightening and puzzling. Once again placing the descriptions in its proper historical and literary context is crucial to its interpretation.

The key message from this trumpet scene is that Jesus/God is more powerful than any gods (sources of power and security) that this world offers. All who choose to be with the true God will be delivered, but all who place trust in anything else will find that what they thought was safety will return to sting and torment them.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Trumpets–One through Four

Outline: Seven Trumpets - 1-4
Passage: Revelation 8:7-12
Discussion audio (1h16m)

Our discussion enters into the Seven Trumpets proper and this session covers the first four trumpets. We have already noted that trumpets symbolize a call for God to act, to judge, and to deliver. In this session we attempt to bring more clarity into what they mean when applied to this specific sequence of events described by the sounding of the trumpets.

There is a great deal of Old Testament allusions that John assumes his audience already knows and identifies with, and we spend a great deal of time examining a number of those passages. We also spend a few minutes toward the end examining different types of prophetic genres to see where these trumpets fit.

The conclusion is that what John appears to intend for his readers is to see the Church as the new Israel who is currently going through a new Exodus.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scroll and Seals–Silence and Trumpets

Outline: Seven Seals - Silence and Trumpets
Passage: Revelation 8:1-6
Discussion audio (56m)

This discussion concludes the Act of the Seven Seals and the scene of the Temple in Heaven that began in Revelation chapter 4. Suspense has built up as the audience awaits the opening of the scroll. But alas, the audience must wait a little longer because the opening of the seventh seal does not immediately follow with the revelation of the scroll’s contents. Instead the Temple scene continues as trumpets are handed to seven angels and the handing down of judgment appears to begin.

One of the key points that John makes in this transition passage between the seven seals and seven trumpets is once again, the Church is Israel. John continues to transfer the typology found in the Hebrew temple rituals to what Jesus is doing in the Temple of Heaven. Implied by this transfer is all of the promises and prophecies that were given to Israel and to the Jews are now transferred to the Church.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Scroll and Seals–Great Multitude

Outline: Seven Seals - Great Multitude
Passage: Revelation 7:9-17
Discussion audio (1h 22m)

It’s been a few weeks since the last discussion. We’ve had people away from town during this time, but we are back for one week at least.

We took a look at the last half of Revelation 7 where a description of “the”1 Great Multitude is given. We establish that the 144,000 of the first half the chapter and the Great Multitude are the same group, and that they are probably also the “every creature” of 5:13. We also establish that this group, which is the Redeemed, is not limited to a specific period in time (such as the end-time) but is the entirety of all the Redeemed throughout history: past, present, and future.

We spent some time discussing the identity of the “great tribulation.” There are several possibilities, and argument can be made for each of them. Commonly the great tribulation is suggested as something that is externally pressed onto believers (i.e., persecution). However, in the context of the OT allusion of the sealing (c.f., Rev. 7:3) in Ezekiel 9 (discussed in the previous session), the tribulation is internal to the righteous (c.f., v.4). The word translated as tribulation can certainly mean “persecution” but it can also be translated as affliction or anguish2. Given the allusion to Ezekiel and the other possible translations for θλιψισ (thlipsis), another interpretation for “the great tribulation” can be offered: an internal struggle and crying out against the evils in the world, and for God to bring justice (not punishment, but righting wrongs) to the world.

Whatever the precise interpretation of the details may mean, the overall message of Revelation 7 is that of hope for and vindication of the servants of God. This chapter answers unequivocally the question posed at the end of the opening of the sixth seal, “Who can stand [the judgment Day of the Lord]?”

1The discussion includes the possible differences between English and Greek in the use of definite articles.

2g2347. θλιψισ thlipsis; from 2346; pressure ( literally or figuratively): ― afflicted (- tion), anguish, burdened, persecution, tribulation, trouble. [Enhanced Strong’s Dictionary]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scroll and Seals–144,000

Outline: Seven Seals - 144,000
Passage: Revelation 7
Discussion audio (43 minutes)

The breaking of the seals is interrupted with a scene that takes place back in heaven, to the consternation of the audience. However, the answer to the question that ended the sixth seal, “Who can stand?” is revealed.

Last week we did not meet to discuss this passage. Thus the audio is an elaboration of the associated outline.

As we move along to investigate this chapter in the full context of the book of Revelation, it becomes clear that the 144,000 is not a literal number to be associated with some literal group of people, but a symbolic number that represents a function that is associated with the Great Multitude in the second half of chapter 7 as well as the “every creature” of 5:13.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Revelation and the Tony Awards

Last night (June 10, 2012) I watched the Tony Awards show. As part of the show, short segments from each of the four musicals nominated for Best Musical were performed.

Even though television/movie drama and live theater are both performance arts, it occurred to me that they are quite different. (And you, reader, probably just responded, “Duh.”) Let me explain.

What I mean is that in TV and movie dramas, in most cases one of the goals is to bring the viewer into the story and make it believable as reality. It may be fantasy or sci-fi, but it still could be fathomed as reality that exists somewhere. Screen dramas can take advantage of camera work to zoom into scenes, or zoom out to take in the big picture. It can quickly shift from one scene to another. Screen dramas are strictly one-way communication: the actors to a passive audience.

Not so with many forms of live theater. There is a stage with the sets and actors. There is the audience. There can be no zooming in, so sets, actions, words, and songs must be exaggerated to emphasize importance. The audience cannot move either, so exaggeration is necessary in order for those in the nosebleed seats to understand what is going on. Another element present in live theater is that the actors, even as they follow a script, can still engage with the audience and vice-versa. The audience is not passive.

That got me thinking (again) about the book of Revelation as drama. When I describe the book as drama, I am thinking about it as live theater. John alone is the very first audience. Throughout the book he interacts with the drama. The book contains activities attributed to John: “I saw”, “I heard”, “I wept”, “I asked”, etc.

The first recipients of Revelation were the next audience. Although they did not have the benefit of seeing the visions as John had, they could still imagine the visions through the words. They could imagine John sitting in the theater, interacting with the activity on stage.

As the newest audience for one of the oldest, continuously running drama of Revelation, we too have the privilege of entering the theater, interacting with the actors, and entering into the story that is unveiled through the words of Revelation.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Scroll and Seals–Martyrs and Cataclysms

Outline: Seven Seals - Martyrs and Cataclysms
Passage: Revelation 6:9-17
Discussion audio (1 hour 4 minutes)

The discussion continues in the Seven Seals. This week we look at the fifth and sixth seals, dealing with the issue of martyrs and cataclysms, respectively. Once again the primary frame of reference through which we hear Revelation is that of drama. What is being described is symbolic, a metaphor of reality, but not reality itself.

The fifth seal describes martyrs. While not entirely dismissing literal martyrs, this seal depicts the Church under pressure, oppression, and persecution throughout its history: past, present, and future.

The sixth seal describes a worldwide, cataclysmic event. The description John borrows comes from the Old Testament, where it describes the Day of the Lord, a day when God was expected to bring justice; i.e., right the wrongs that were done to his name.

Suspense builds with the sixth seal. All of the seals have been building up the concept of a judgment process being set into motion, starting with the first seal and the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus. But with this sixth seal, in the way John describes it, it might appear that no one will come through the judgment. Hence the chapter ends with the question, “Who can stand?” “No one” is the presumed answer, the audience expects the seventh seal to be opened; but instead the stage darkens… What is going to happen next? The audience waits with held breath….

(Those of you following will have to wait out this cliffhanger for an extra week. No study this next week. We will return on June 23.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Scroll and Seals–The Four Horsemen

Outline: Seven Seals - Four Horsemen
Passage: Revelation 6:1-8
Discussion audio (1 hour 18 minutes)

We now observe the opening of the first four seals on the scroll given to the Lamb. The frame of reference through which we observe is vital to how the next few chapters are interpreted. The seven letters described what was happening to the churches on earth. In this drama, the scene has now changed to heaven and the audience is given a peek into how heaven is responding. What John wants to see (and therefore wants his audience to see) is the contents of the scroll (which we have preliminarily identified as the book of life). The opening of the seals and the events described by them are of secondary concern – they are simply what has happened or must happen on the way to the revealing of the content of the scroll.

In my reading of various commentaries and notes on this passage, I observed that interpretations are all over the map. For example, the white horse and rider (the first seal) has been interpreted as from Jesus to the Antichrist and everything in-between. What is found in the outline and discussion that I provide is what I believe makes the most sense given the context of Revelation and the possible Old Testament allusions that are incorporated.

What is most important is not the details, but the overall impression that the audience receives. For the first four seals, the four horsemen, it is that of Jesus and his gospel of peace coming to the earth and the judgment that is an inevitable part of either receiving it or rejecting it. It also portrays God’s mercy in suspending, at least for a period, the full consequences of rejecting him. On the other hand, those who have accepted Jesus and his gospel have nothing to fear, not even from Death and Hades, because Jesus holds its keys.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Scroll and Seals–Lamb and Scroll

Outline: Seven Seals - Lamb and Scroll
Passage: Revelation 5
Discussion audio (59 minutes)

The scene setting for the Act of the scroll and seven seals continues from where it left off in chapter 4 of Revelation. When the chapter is read through the eyes of watching a stage drama, the description has both suspense and surprise. It ends with a grand crescendo of a huge chorus (think of a modern musical) before the events of the rest of the Act continue.

The focus of chapter 5 is on the evolving description of Jesus. In the previous Act (the Seven Letters) he was seen as one walking amongst the churches on earth, evaluating their conditions and taking steps to correct, if necessary. In this Act Jesus is described as Lion and pictured as a Lamb who appears to be slain. His equality with God is again reiterated and as such is worthy to open the scroll and to receive praise and worship.

Jesus is no longer pictured on the earth, but in heaven, holding the authority and power to do something about the conflict raging on earth. Christians on earth might feel the oppressive power of Rome, but Revelation reveals that there is one in heaven who is greater than the emperor. The emperor may hold the power over temporal life and death over his subjects, but even he must submit to the Lamb who holds in his hands the scroll (book) of life – life to those whose names are written in it; judgment for those who have rejected the source of life.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Scroll and Seals–Interlude

Outline: Seven Seals - Interlude
Passage: Revelation 4
Discussion audio (53 minutes)

We now enter the second Act of the drama that is depicted in the book of Revelation. This chapter (4) is primarily a static description of the scene that sets the background for the next few chapters dealing with the Lamb and the Scroll with the seven seals. As in a theatre production I imagine backdrops and props being moved around and changed. Some elements of the old scene remain while new ones enter for the next scene.

Whereas the setting of the previous Act (the Seven Letters) began in heaven but shifted primarily to what was happening on earth, this upcoming second Act is set primarily in heaven: the throne in the temple of God and the activities (praise, worship, and adoration) surrounding it. Act One ended by raising some questions among which was: how is God/Jesus going to confront and resolve the conflict that his churches on earth are experiencing? Act Two appears to be part of the answer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Laodicea

Outline: Seven Churches – Laodicea
Passage: Revelation 3:14-22
Discussion audio (1 hour 36 minutes)

This seventh letter concludes the series of letters found at the beginning of Revelation. Towards the beginning it was noted that Revelation may be seen as a work of dramatic theater. With the seven letters the main characters of this drama are introduced, the broad outlines of the major conflict are defined, and the earth-side setting is laid out. We know that truth will overcome, but the question remains, how? The remainder of Revelation dramatizes how the conflict between good and evil, truth and lies, and the church and the world will play out.

This seventh letter to Laodicea contains more echoes of earlier letters than any other letter. As such, it seems to be a fitting conclusion and summary of the series of seven letters. The letters began (in the prelude to the letters) with a throne room scene in the heavenly temple. The letters end back with an image of the temple (Philadelphia, #6) and the throne (Laodicea, #7).

For those belonging to certain Christian traditions, this letter to Laodicea is one in which long-standing traditions and interpretations must be set aside, at least for a little while, in order to hear what the letter is and isn’t saying. It must be read and interpreted foremost in the context of this first Act and Scene of the Revelation drama.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Philadelphia

Outline: Seven Churches – Philadelphia
Passage: Revelation 3:7-13
Discussion audio (1 hour 32 minutes)

Powerless and discouraged, under attack, falsely accused… These words appear to describe the state of the church at Philadelphia. In spite of external pressures, this church remains faithful to Jesus and he has no criticism in regards to this church. He exhorts the church to remain faithful and promises that he is working to make things right.

In this letter, once again, true Israel (or in this letter specifically, true Jews) is composed of all who are faithful to God in Jesus. The term “Israel” as found in Revelation is not about race, nationality, or religion. This letter describes Jesus himself closing the door to the former means of access to God: the Hebrew and Jewish religious system based on the sanctuary and the temple. Jesus tells his audience that access to God based on that particular form will never, ever be open again. Instead Jesus describes himself as the new, open door which is the new means of access to God.

I am reminded of Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. When the woman asks which religious system is correct, Jesus’ response is neither (John 4:19-24). What this means is that salvation will never come through faithfulness to religious systems. At the time spoken, it would have meant Judaism, the Samaritan system, and also Roman and Greek religions. Today it would include the various eastern religions, Judaism, Islam, paganism, scientific naturalism, and yes, even Christianity. No tradition, forms, rituals, or a system of doctrinal beliefs can save. Just as Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman and to the church at Philadelphia, he is the one who saves and all who choose to be led by His Spirit are saved. Profession and words do not save; only the Spirit saves.1

The reality of our existence is that frequently we will feel discouraged and powerless. We often feel as if the world is against us. But what this letter to the church at Philadelphia tells us is that feelings and appearance does not always correspond to ultimate reality. The ultimate reality is that Jesus is with us, he loves us and claims us as his own, and he will reveal all that is true in his own time. Our work is to trust in his power and to depend upon his goodness and justice (i.e., righteousness).

1In case anyone is wondering, my soteriology falls into the camp of Inclusivists. In other words, I do not believe that a specific confession of the historical Jesus is necessary for salvation. Rather I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in all people and that the work of Jesus at the cross covers all who choose to be led by the Spirit, whether or not they ever literally confess the name “Jesus.”

Other soteriological views are universalism, which says God will save everyone, regardless of choice, confession, or Spirit; exclusivism, which says a literal confession of Jesus is the means to salvation; and specificism, which says not only a literal confession of Jesus is required, but a specific set of “right beliefs” are also required.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Sardis

Outline: Seven Churches – Sardis
Passage: Revelation 3:1-6
Discussion audio (1 hour 26 minutes)

We turn the corner on the series of letters. This is letter number 4 – now past the midway point in the series. Like its chiastic counterpart, letter number 3 to the church in Pergamum, this letter is addressed to a church that is going through severe problems – the letter contains no commendations; only warnings and exhortations.

On the outside the church in Sardis appears to be vibrant and healthy; but Jesus, who knows all, sees otherwise – it is dead. Although we cannot know for certain precisely the manner, the church in Sardis has managed to find a way to avoid all tribulation and persecution that should have been expected for a Christian church at that time and place. Therein lies the problem: in avoiding persecution, the church has managed to compromise its faithfulness to Jesus. It has wandered away from the true source of Spirit and Life, seeking security and stability in the practices of the world.

The precise type of temptations we face today, in regards to accommodating worldly practices, differ from that faced by the church in Sardis. But we can apply the general principle found in this letter: anything that leads us to depend on the security offered by the world above that offered in Jesus is faithlessness; i.e., sin. No matter how “religious” we may appear, even to ourselves, if we are not depending upon Jesus completely in every part of our lives, we do not have the Spirit and Life – we are dead.

The good news is Jesus does not give up on anyone, even those that may be “dead.” He has the power to resurrect and bring to life even those that have died, if they choose to respond to his breath of life. The church at Sardis was spiritually dead, but Jesus did not give up on it. He sent this letter to “wake them up” so that they might choose to receive the Spirit Jesus wanted them to have.

Monday, April 16, 2012

No post weekend of April 21

Due to the Petersburg Community Health Fair on April 21, there will be no new discussion this upcoming weekend.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Thyatira

Outline: Seven Churches – Thyatira
Passage: Revelation 2:18-29
Discussion audio (1 hour)

Yesterday, we discussed the fourth of the seven letters in Revelation, the letter to Thyatira. It is the middle letter and the longest of the seven letters. As was noted in earlier sessions, we are interpreting these letters according to a chiastic structure that places this letter as possibly the most important and key to all of the letters.

One of the most distinguishing features of this particular letter is that there really isn’t anything new that is introduced. It borrows words, phrases, and imagery from the first three letters. It is as if all of the good and bad characteristics of the first three churches are all found in this fourth church, Thyatira. The church itself appears to be sharply divided between those who have been led astray vs. those who remain faithful. This letter contains words that, more strongly than in others, indicate that this letter is to be read and heeded by the other churches. All the preceding characteristics make perfect sense if we see this fourth letter as central to the seven and see it as the key to the whole series.

There are some indications that imply this letter is also a concise summary of the book of Revelation itself. The imagery of Jezebel and all the Old Testament allusions it brings up parallels much of what can be seen in Babylon that follows later in the book. The confrontation of Elijah with Jezebel (through her “prophets”) on Mt. Carmel may be a pattern that John had in mind when he wrote Revelation. If this is the case, the theme of Revelation is not principally about end-times or even history, but rather about the conflict that God’s people have always had with those who belong to Satan, and about the confidence that God’s people can have in God’s faithfulness to them.

A perspective on apocalyptic biblical literature

The current (March/April 2012) issue of Adventist Today (requires subscription for access) contains a review of a book, Finding My Way in Christianity: Recollections of a Journey, authored by Harold Weiss. The book is the author’s autobiographical journey within the Adventist brand of Christianity. Part of this brand includes fascination with apocalyptic end-time scenarios and the review spends a large portion of its text describing the book author’s change in perspective through his life.

I want to quote excerpts from the review article what I find most relevant to the subject matter of this blog.

For Seventh-day Adventists, Weiss says the books of the Bible that serve as a canon within a canon are “the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation. All evangelistic meetings center on the interpretation of these apocalyptic books, which Adventists have always considered to be prescriptive biblical prophecy.”

Having been raised with this emphasis on prophecy, some of Weiss’s earliest
memories include depictions of dreadful beasts and the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, which faithful Daniel and his companions refused to worship. Just as others have expressed concerns about long-established Adventist evangelistic approaches, he too worried that there might be “something manipulative” about how Scripture was construed and conveyed to reap baptisms.

“In her interpretation of the last days,” Weiss chronicles, “Ellen White makes the point that Adventists, along with those who keep the commandments and in particular the Sabbath commandment, will be persecuted by both Catholics and what she designates as apostate Protestantism.” Having enshrined Daniel and Revelation in the Adventist canon within a canon, it is no wonder that Adventist theology speaks with an apocalyptic accent.

Weiss summarizes in three sentences the core take-away message of a typical Adventist evangelistic campaign: “According to the Adventist interpretation of the book of Revelation, a law by the United States Congress supporting observance of Sunday as the Christian day of worship is one day to be established as the Mark of the Beast. Thus, in the large scheme of things, the United States government is to be at that time on the wrong side of the divide between the forces of good and evil. The United States government would renounce the wall of separation between church and state and side with Catholics and Protestants who worship on Sunday, for all practical purposes establishing a state religion.”

These specific words are not among the 28 fundamental beliefs, leaving
progressives to interpret their exclusion to mean they are not fundamental, whereas conservatives insist that they are so fundamental as to render inclusion unnecessary, much like Adventist churches declining to post “No Smoking” signs in Sabbath school classrooms because everyone knows better.

Weiss recalls coming “to terms with the historical roots of apocalypticism,” realizing “that the Adventist approach to apocalyptic interpretation was based on a misunderstanding of the character of these books. As a testament of faith, apocalyptic literature makes perfect sense. As prophetic foretellings of what would happen in the future, at the end of time, the books have been a source of much confusion and hubris of the worst kind: spiritual pride.

Rather than provide frightening details for use in a provocative prophecy poster or PowerPoint slide, apocalyptic literature is “primarily concerned with the affirmation that God’s justice will triumph.” When correctly reading “apocalyptic literature as theology rather than as predictive of the sequence of tragic events preceding the coming of Christ,” eschatology becomes faith in Christ, not faith in chronology.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Pergamum

Outline: Seven Churches – Pergamum
Passage: Revelation 2:12-17
Discussion audio (1 hour)

We continue in our journey through the first act of Revelation – the seven letters. This one is to the church in Pergamum which appears to be having some serious problems in its faithfulness to Jesus. The imagery presented in this letter seems rather violent and threatening.

The main point of discussion is how to reconcile what appears to be contradictory teachings given by Paul and John in regards to eating food offered to idols. We took some time discussing the difference between morality and ethics and how scripture seems to point to God’s judgment being based on ethics rather than on morality.

This letter contains additional imagery and symbolic language that we covered:

  • The sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth and the nature of the war this entails
  • The relevance of “hidden manna”
  • The relevance of the “white stone”
  • The interpretation of “a new name”

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Smyrna

Outline: Seven Churches – Smyrna
Passage: Revelation 2:8-11
Discussion audio (54 minutes)

Smyrna, the second of the seven churches of Revelation, is undergoing a time of tribulation. Tribulation is one of the motifs found in Revelation and although it is frequently interpreted as severe persecution and natural disaster occurring right before the end, for John in this particular letter anyway, tribulation is about the present and ongoing pressure to conform and be acceptable to the world.

This letter is one of two (the other being the letter to Philadelphia) that contains no warnings from Jesus. It contains only an exhortation to “fear not” and “remain faithful unto death.” The promise is a “crown of life,” a symbol of victory.

The key to the interpretation of this letter is the cryptic phrase, “ten days.” It is the only obvious allusion back to the Old Testament and it is a reference to the ten days of testing requested by Daniel (Daniel 1). Daniel’s situation was the pressure to conform and accommodate to the worship of the gods of Babylon. The church in Smyrna is to see herself as experiencing a situation similar to that of Daniel in Babylon. Just as Daniel was able to remain faithful and was rewarded accordingly by the God of Israel, the church in Smyrna is exhorted to remain faithful to Jesus and whether or not individual Christians live or die physically, their reward of eternal life is already secure in Jesus.

This letter is yet another message of hope and promise: Jesus identifies with his church and walks with them through their tribulations and tests. There is no need to fear because Jesus has already conquered and the promise of victory is sure.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Ephesus

Outline: Seven Churches – Ephesus
Text: Revelation 2:1-7
Discussion audio (44 minutes)

The first scene of Revelation has been introduced and now the action begins. I feel that in the past, these seven letters were sometimes glossed over as not being terribly relevant for our times (except the one to Laodicea). As we will begin to see, each letter was meant to be read by every other church, and by extension is applicable in some way to us today.

We spent the first part of this session discussing the general format of each of the letters. By understanding the format it can help us discover what is important in each letter.

We also discussed the chiastic nature of the seven letters in that the main point of the series of letters is likely to be found in the middle letter (to Thyatira) rather than at the end (to Laodicea). Looking forward to future sessions we will be comparing the last three letters to the first three letters (in reverse order, respectively, to correspond with the chiastic nature). We will also look at the letters as a whole at the end of Act One.

The main issue with the church in Ephesus is its preoccupation with doctrinal purity at the expense of love. The exhortation to this church is to return to the middle where one has both discernment between truth and error while loving one another. It seems like a very relevant exhortation for churches today.

This letter once again emphasizes that Jesus is already here – is come – rather than is coming exclusively in the future. It is an important point for us to recognize because if we do not live with his presence today, there is no point in us looking for him to appear physically at some future day.

(I’ve begun recording our discussions. I’ve also gone back and recorded my side of the “discussions” for the first four sessions.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Introduction

Outline: Seven Churches – Intro
Text: Revelation 1:9-20
Discussion audio (56 minutes)

We enter into John’s first vision as the scene is set for the letter to the seven churches of Asia. The imagery and allusions John employs find their basis in Jewish literature (Old Testament as well as intertestamental writings and traditions), Greco-Roman religious mythologies (the goddess Hekate, cosmology), and Greek literature (Greek drama form). John uses imagery and forms familiar to his audience in order to find common ground with as many as possible.

Perhaps the point John is attempting to communicate to his audience is that Jesus is the one, universal God that walked among his people, walks among them today, and will always walk among them, whatever troubles they may face and have to endure.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Outline: Prologue
Passage: Revelation 1:1-8
Discussion audio (39 minutes)

In our discussions yesterday, the most surprising and difficult concept to grasp in this passage was the concept of temporal terms that John uses: soon, near. Traditionally we’ve known that at least some of the things described would indeed take place within a few years of their writing, but we assume that most of what was written was about a future taking place after an indeterminate number of years. But for John and his audience all of what was written was to take place now and in the imminent future.

Another concept that requires a change of perspective is the Second Coming. For most Christians this is something that takes place at the very end of time. John, however, frequently uses the present tense verb when he writes about Jesus’ coming. It appears then, that for John, the Second Coming is not just about something at the end of time, but something that has already taken place and continues to take place all of the time.

A few more things to note in this passage:

  • John employs terms used in the Old Testament to describe God and applies them to Jesus. Perhaps there was confusion in the churches of Asia Minor regarding the true identity and nature of Jesus. John wants to make it absolutely clear that Jesus is fully God.
  • John employs terms used in the Old Testament to describe Israel and applies them to the Church. “Israel” is not a national or a racial term, but a theological term. It means “people who belong to God as his special people.” Interpretation of Revelation can get very convoluted if this concept is not held clear – that Israel and the Church are one and the same.
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is a key theme in Revelation – “the firstborn of the dead,” “by his blood.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

External Resources

Here are some of the external reference resources that I am employing to help guide us in this journey through Revelation.

  • English Standard Version (ESV), Study Bible notes
  • New English Translation (NET), translation notes
  • Reading Revelation: A Literal and Theological Commentary Revised Edition; Joseph L. Trafton
  • The Gospel from Patmos: Daily Devotional; Jon Paulien
  • IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament
  • Seven Keys: Unlocking the Secrets of Revelation; Jon Paulien
  • The Deep Things of God; Jon Paulien
  • Armageddon at the Door; Jon Paulien

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A new book about Revelation

Amazon link – Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

Elaine Pagels authors a new book on the Bible’s Revelation. Her religious views definitely place her outside traditional, orthodox Christianity. Thus this book is probably not everyone's cup of tea.

From the reviews, previews, and excerpts that I’ve seen, I think it can shed light on a different perspective, and offer historical and religious perspectives that traditionally have not been considered. That does not mean Ms. Pagels’ views should take precedence or assume that they are right. Rather, by challenging traditional interpretations, we can rethink our own interpretations and beliefs and arrive at conclusions that are better thought through and are built on a stronger foundation.

Here are links that discuss the book –

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Methods of Interpretation

Associated outline: Interpretation
Discussion audio (11 minutes)

We also covered today, at a 30,000 feet level, some of the major schools of interpretation of the book of Revelation.

The point of doing this is to demonstrate the wildly divergent interpretations that can be made by educated, serious, Christian scholars. It can also demonstrate how a different interpretations of Revelation can result in different ways of interpreting and responding to current events, global as well as personal. If we assume that Revelation is about current events, we inevitably fall into the trap that there can only be one “right” interpretation (corollary: all other interpretations are wrong).

The lesson here is to again, set aside preconceived ideas about what Revelation is supposed to mean and let the text speak for itself, and primarily use those cultural resources that were known to the original audience to interpret the text.


Associated outline (MS Word): Introduction
Discussion audio (30 minutes)

The book of Revelation. It inspires all sorts of thoughts, images, and feelings. For many individuals, Revelation is either a mystery that must be solved, or so confusing and foreign that it is best to just ignore it.

Our church group begins our journey (hence the title of this blog: Road Trip) into Revelation today.

Some of the words, phrases, and concepts given by members of the group this morning to describe Revelation as we prepare to venture into the book:

  • Fear
  • Call back to legalism
  • A “roadmap” for last-day events
  • A document to be studied and analyzed
  • Every church has its own interpretation
  • There is one “right” interpretation
  • It reveals (a revelation of) Jesus Christ

Here are some of the key points that came up during our discussion that we believe are important as we prepare to read Revelation:

  • Biblical “prophecy” is not about future events, but simply, a message from God. Prophecy may or may not include foretelling of the future, but when it does, it will be clear from the context. We must not impose foretelling onto prophetical texts when it is not appropriate.
  • The author is simply “John.” He could have been, or may not have been, the Apostle John. In our reading of Revelation, we cannot base interpretations and conclusions solely on assumed authorship.
  • One of the key background currents undergirding the message of Revelation is the issue of emperor worship and the Christian response to it.
  • Revelation was written for the contemporary churches at the time of writing. The issues it addresses, the imagery and language used, are specific to that time and place. Twenty-first century Christians are not the intended audience, although we can obtain theological principles and applications that remain relevant for us today.
  • Revelation is not simply a transcription of what John saw and heard. It is not taking down dictation. Rather, it is a record of John’s interpretation of what he saw.
  • Revelation is not an allegory. Not every detail necessarily has a meaning or needs to. Some of the meanings of symbols may be lost to us due to the span of time, space, and culture. That’s okay. It’s the big picture that matters.
  • Revelation is meant to be read and heard aloud. It is, first of all, a story. John did not intend his original audience to meticulously study every detail. It was written as a circular letter: to be read in one setting and passed on to another. He didn’t expect every word and detail to be memorized or copied down to be studied. Again, it is the big picture that matters.
  • Traditionally, the climax of Revelation is probably thought to be the end, where the the heavens and earth are made new and every saved person lives happily ever after. However, the structure of the book suggests that the main point and climax is found somewhere in the middle.
  • Perhaps the most important point is to set aside what we have been taught previously (regardless of rightness or wrongness) and let the actual text and the story it writes fire our imaginations and get a sense of what the original hearers of John’s words pictured.