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.