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.