Revelation as an Apocalypse

Perspective 6
The Andromeda Galaxy, an immense island of some 200 billion stars, 2.52 million light-years away from our galaxy. Together with M33, the Milky Way and a handful of dwarf galaxies, M31 is in the local cluster of galaxies. This may help put some things in perspective…

Apocalyptic Perspective

‘Apocalyptic’ is a literary genre to itself. Its distinctive characteristics, motifs and perspective must be interpreted AS apocalyptic. Daniel has apocalyptic passages. Sun and moon darkened, earth shaking, creation unmade etc. are also apocalyptic themes [Is 13:10; Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 8:9; Mic 3:6; Mt 24:29; Ac 2:20; Re 8:12, 9:2, etc.].

RB notes that Revelation is an apocalyptic work in many respects. But he focuses on two main points.

Transcendent Perspective

John wrote seven churches Asiatic churches in concrete, historical situations, and gave them a transcendent perspective on the world.

John enables churches to see God’s purpose for their specific situations, and bring a kingdom-appropriate response. That’s the point of Re 4-5.

God transported John by this vision into his throne room. There, he saw God’s take on the world. He saw behind-the-scenes glimpses which give him understanding/meaning to world events in every time and place.

One immediate result is to break the boundaries of Roman power and ideology. Believers in the seven churches could then see the transcendent greater purposes of God at work in the world. And so can we!

John’s intent is NOT to give esoteric knowledge the future, but to let us see the here-and-now very differently, as through God’s eyes.

Revelation ISN’T about seeing a DIFFERENT world; it is about seeing our OWN world very differently IN WHATEVER TIME OR PLACE we live.

John intends for the churches to see and respond very differently to the dominant, Roman imperial view of the world and all that said view entailed. RB writes: ‘Revelation counters that false view of reality…’

[I think that once this is grasped, it has explosive potential to revolutionize the church and its role in the world. Ex: rather than bemoaning social conditions as ‘signs of the times,’ preachers can say that current social distress are judgment on the world: because whenever nations war, poverty reigns, social calamity befalls us and death tolls rise, it means that the four horsemen bestride us. And we can point to our political parties and say together, they have four policies — War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. So why should we follow any of them?].

[Ironically, this actually makes the Revelation FAR more accessible to and relevant to believers than what we’ve been told.].

Who Is Lord

As soon as you touch on the boundaries of power, the question arises, ‘who is Lord over all the world.’

RB notes that Jewish apocalypses [books of Enoch, Abraham, etc.] were concerned with unfulfilled promises, judgment on evil, the salvation of the righteous, and God’s rule over the world. Other apocalyptic themes include the suffering righteous, flourishing righteous, and the rule of the world — not by God, but by evil.

He continues saying that apocalyptist bolster the faith of the righteous against the oppression of evil, political power. But it is characteristic also for the apocalyptic worldview to insist that ‘despite appearances, it is God who rules his creation,’ and that ‘the time is coming soon when he will overthrow the evil empires and establish his kingdom.’

RB’s take on Revelation is that God’s rule over the world is contradicted by the rule of Caesar, whose rule [in any time or place, and by any name] hijacks the rule of God to itself. So apocalyptic seeks to demonstrate that God, not Caesar [under any administration, by any name, in any time or place] is in fact, ‘Lord.’

While irrelevant to the study of Revelation [or Bauckham’s book], it may help those grappling with a Fundie past to think of Fundamentalism as an apocalyptic sect. It certainly evidences very similar traits.

But more, this reading of Revelation gives Christians very serious reason to consider who/what they call ‘Lord.’ Certainly, the correct answer in the theological sense is to say, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The problem is, John is intent on challenging our relations with the world. Many of us may stand in need of repentance. Your IFB pastor/university/ministry included.

The Revelation as a Christian Prophecy

Exploring Prophecy

Revelation is ‘an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.’ RB, Theology of the Revelation, p. 2.

That is the simplified take on ‘what kind of book is Revelation,’ The first division in chapter one of Richard Bauckham’s ‘Theology of the Book of Revelation.’ The remaining first chapter sections are as follows.

— Revelation as a Christian Prophecy:
— Revelation as an Apocalypse:
— Differences from other Apocalypses:
— Revelation as a Circular Letter:
— Understanding the Imagery:

Revelation as a Christian Prophecy

Among the points RB makes here are these:

  • Early Christian prophets communicated their revelations to the churches [Ac 10:9-11:18]. John was a prophet, and Revelation was his vision report.
  • John had an extraordinary vision. He also reflected on it deeply for a long time. The form of Revelation is astonishingly complex.

[Note: This opens room for theological purpose and author personality, factors usually reserved for other authors. This seems to open a new factor in our reading/understanding of the Revelation of Jesus Christ].

  • John wrote as a Jew in OT prophetic tradition. His commission was patterned after Ezekiel’s prophetic commission [Ezkl 2:9-3:3 cf. Re 10:8-11]. But John was also a Christian prophet, led by the Spirit [Re 1:10].
  • As a prophet himself, John need not rely on OT prophets. But he alludes to them numerous times [though he never quotes them].
  • In his prophetic work, John refers to earlier OT writings, just as later prophets borrowed from former prophets.
  • John is therefore able to reinterpret the prophets and use their work to serve his own, Spirit-shaped purposes as a Christian prophet.

Reading Prophecy

Lastly, RB makes an intriguing point regarding the oracle against Babylon in Re 18:1-19:8. He says that the oracular prophesy of Re 18-19 ‘echoes’ OT oracles against Babylon [Is 13:1-14:23; 21:1-10, 47; Je 25:12-38, 50:1], plus two oracles against Tyre [Is 23; Ezek 26-28].

If John borrows from multiple authors speaking to several situations, a large question mark hangs over any prophecy ‘expert’ who flatly ties an OT statement to a text in Revelation. That there are several hundred allusions to the OT but not one single OT quote is also reason for caution.

Reading Scripture Sanely

Caution is exactly what is needed in broaching such a book. It is also what is so lacking in Fundamentalist and Evangelical treatments of Revelation and other Scriptures. So again, it isn’t that one doesn’t necessarily believe the book of Revelation. It’s that the theology is sufficiently important that it must be done well. That’s the rub.

Learning to Read the Revelation

Considering Revelation

Many years ago, and for personal reasons, I was involved in a GARB church for several months. That congregation heard multiple prophecy series. One was on Daniel, another was on the Revelation, and a third was on messianic prophecies from Zechariah. That actually made some sense since it happened in Advent and Christmastide.

In Fundamentalism, sermon series on Bible prophecy are not optional. If your Fundie sect doesn’t have at least two prophecy series annually, your credibility will bleed quickly. But if end-time stuff makes odd preaching at Christmastide, we must acknowledge that it is just as strange for Fundies exploring other traditions to find such a dearth of end-time odysseys. We can forgive them for wondering if we believe anything about last things.

But Bible sects have no exclusive claim on end time belief. People firmly planted in the confessional church believe in Jesus’ second coming, the resurrection of the dead, the consummation of the kingdom, the eternal Sabbath, and more. Perhaps we can play some small part in setting right the record on this. That someone is not pre-millennial or dispensational does not mean that they do not believe anything about last things.

A Guide for a Study

It might be profitable, then, to spend some time on this. I thought I’d try an extended book review to help structure this project. If a Fundie cares for a sane alternative to the pastor’s prophecy series, great! And if this becomes a bore, it can be set aside. Meanwhile, I’ll try a kind of running summary/commentary on the Theology of the Revelation, by Richard Bauckham, Professor of NT studies at St. Andrews University.

Bauckham’s writing is dense. He isn’t for the weak of heart. In just over 160 pages, he crams more information into 7 chapters than one finds in many popular texts. And he doesn’t hold to a traditional view on John’s identity. This doesn’t alter the value of his work; but I mention it in the event that is a ‘deal-breaker’ for anyone thinking of buying a copy.

Learning to Read Revelation

Bauckham devotes his first chapter to the question of HOW to READ the Revelation. This isn’t a matter of a ‘literal’ or ‘spiritual’ interpretation of the text. The question is what kind of a book ‘Revelation’ is.

Is the book of Revelation an apocalypse? ‘Apocalypse’ is translated ‘revelation.’ It implies an unveiling, a making known of what was there all along, but was not seen our understood. The apocalypse [revelation] of Jesus Christ is actually the title of this book and it is used in Re 1:1.

Or, is it a prophecy? Re 1:3 speaks of ‘the words of the prophecy.’

Or, is Revelation an epistle? Re 1:4 declares John to be the author, and addresses the churches in the Roman province of Asia. It includes the formulary benediction [grace to you and peace …] and doxology [to him who loves us and released us from our sins…] that is characteristic of an epistolary work.

Bauckham [RB] opens saying that misinterpretations often arise from misunderstanding what kind of work it is. Is it an apocalypse, a prophecy, or an epistle? I have heard vicious debates on this subject. Perhaps you have heard those as well. This is because answer to that question shape what we expect to find in the book of Revelation. So it matters.

Then RB notes that the Revelation is unique in that it is cast not as one but three literary genres cast in one work. It is an apocalypse. It is a prophecy. It is an epistle. And justice must be done to all three literary genres to read this work seriously.

Revelation is ‘an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.’ RB, Theology of the Revelation, p. 2.

Rallying the Conservative Believer Vote

When I found Mr. Connelly on Kevin Folger’s twitter page, I knew I’d done a post on him but couldn’t find it. However I discovered it yesterday when I checked articles that I haven’t posted. I intended for this article to go up in March. At the time, was two weeks old. I guess that I flubbed the ‘schedule for publication’ function. So I’m publishing it now.

Folger and Connelley at the RNC, Folger Twit, July 21
Kevin and [presumably] Mrs. Folger with Chad Connelly, supposedly at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Ohio last week.

Meet Chad Connelly

Guest at Cleveland Baptist Church, Voter Registration, and possibly more...
Getting out Cleveland Baptist Church voters!

Chad Connelly is known in Republican Party circles. He has chaired the South Carolina Republican Party. When RNC Chairperson Reince Priebus wanted someone to head up the RNC’s Faith Engagement program, Mr. Connelly was his choice. Mr. Connelly served at least two terms as the RNC National Director of Faith Engagement.

Mr. Connelly works the RNC ‘web-based effort to rally conservative believers behind the party.’ He is active on the web; the page linked to his blurb names various operations and talking points. He had this interview with the Faith and Liberty Talk Show.

But Mr. Connelly’s efforts are not limited to the internet. Kevin Folger apparently felt that it would be a good idea for Mr. Connelly to address the supposedly ‘conservative believers’ at Cleveland Baptist Church.

The Cleveland Baptist Church Voter

The Cleveland Baptist Church Facebook page says this:

This Wednesday (January 27) Chad Connelly will be our special guest. Mr. Connelly will take about 10 minutes in the meeting to encourage God’s people regarding the importance of getting registered to vote and then voting in this November’s presidential election. Mr. Connelly is the Republican National Committee’s first-ever National Director of Faith Engagement.

There is nothing untoward about encouraging people to register to vote. Churches across the spectrum do it. And many churches open their facilities as polling stations as a public service.

Wherever they ‘register’ on the spectrum, one may hope that when they address churches, speakers would be non-partisan, encouraging people to register and vote, and nothing more. With Mr. Connelly’s record, one may wonder about the wisdom of this event. Still, Rev. Folger may have made clear that Mr. Connelly was to speak be non-partisan and non-ideological. I’m not privy to those matters, so I can’t attest what did or didn’t happen.

Church, Voter Registration and Wisdom

But Mr. Folger or some other staff member might just as easily have given the same pep-talk. Or, could not a former state Democratic Party or [God forbid!] Socialist Party representative to fulfill that same function?

Kevin Folger
Rev. Kevin Folger

Or would the involvement of those persons somehow occur worldly entanglement? But if so, how does Mr. Connelly’s address at Cleveland Baptist Church manage to escape censure for just such worldly engagement?

This is not to argue against the intersection of secular affairs and church life. But it begs to be asked what that intersection means. Moreover, the nature and meaning of that intersection must be clear to all.

Beyond Voter Registration

Presuming you don’t have a roster of lunatic candidates, voter registration may be a worthwhile project. And many other worthy concerns might also be raised at Wednesday night church meetings.

The epidemic of assassinations by police [euphemistically dismissed as “justifiable homicides”] is one. Virtual immunity from prosecution is another. And it isn’t as if Cleveland has had no ‘justifiable homicides.’ The whole country knows otherwise. So Cleveland Baptist knows it.

Again, the state of public education in Cleveland is known far and wide. Cleveland has seen education budgets slashed, mass teacher dismissals and school closures. Might this merit a public service announcement on an upcoming community discussion on education?

Maybe Cleveland Baptist is more interest in the school it maintains than in the public school system. As for police affairs, the church website periodically features ‘police devotionals.’ So someone at Cleveland Baptist is ‘up’ on police issues. But Tamir Rice doesn’t isn’t among those issues.

Where Our Interests Lie

At Cleveland Baptist Church, can a public service announcement for Cleveland’s homeless make the cut? What about an announcement on a public discussion of an initiative for peace? What about class issues? What about food insecurity? What about poverty?

Lastly, what about this?

‘My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives’ [Jms 2:1-4]?

Whatever else, Chad Connelly got his ten minutes. Perhaps others will have some thoughts on what all this plus the James text actually mean.

Since writing this post, Mr. Folger and his Cleveland Baptist Church have had further involvement in civic functions which can be the basis for a future post.

A Short Break

Shop Temporarily Closed, 1

A Short Break

For some years, I’ve participated in a project requiring preparation and presentation of material several times a year. This is one of those times. Owing to the need to present next week, I’m taking a short break from SFL. God willing, Cleveland will still on the map by Monday 25, and I’ll be back to resume the discussion on the Revelation. Until then, Blessings!

PS: I don’t recall Darrell ever giving homework, but it occurs to me that you hear any IFB commentary on events here in Cleveland next week, that might make a worthy post in itself. Apparently, Westboro Baptist wants to make an appearance. How could it not with such potential for spectacle?