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.