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.

Stepping out in Faith and into Spiritual Growth

Stepping out in faith

Dear First time caller:

A few preliminaries out of the way, we move to the heart of your inquiry.

Discovering Growth

I have horrible instincts when it comes to knowing what He’s trying to say to me.

Many IFB and ex-IFBs feel this way. Yesterday’s post addresses the IFB pastor’s investment in membership self-flagellating.

But where you say you ‘have horrible instincts’ for discerning the Spirit’s voice, I see an insatiable thirst for knowledge. And for your questions and timidity, you’re better at this than you guess. You ask how you can learn to read Scripture with new eyes. What you don’t see is that your own post largely answers own question. Here is what I see in your post.

  • You strongly desire to read the Scriptures through new eyes.
  • You know that the Spirit speaks to us through the Scriptures.
  • You are open to the possibility that God gives us new wine.

If you are seeking the starting point discerning the Spirit’s leading in the Scripture, I can offer no better council. But I also see how you interact with Scripture from your emotional life. Look at the words you use:

cautious, skeptical [a little], scary [a little].
much more gentle, love to read it, refreshing.

That, First time caller, is the stuff of which growth is made. It requires that we ‘step out in faith.’ And yes, that can be at least mildly scary. Yet we are not called to avoid dangers but to face them relying on the word and Spirit. Willingness to explore and test ideas is why the Bereans [the ones in Acts 17:10-11] were commended. A favorite text of mine:

‘We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ’ [2Co 10:5].

Spiritual curiosity disciplined with Biblical-shaped caution is a wonderful gift, and it is a gift is much needed in the church. It is here that the church does some of her best theological work.

Even if somewhat scary, you’ve already made an huge step of faith with respect to how you ‘read’ Ph 2:12. In the process, you’ve touched something extremely important, with deep ramifications, and which is profoundly beautiful. It is also relevant to your inquiry as to HOW to read the Scriptures. It is also revealing of who you are as God’s image. But I’ll take up this in tomorrow’s post.

Blessings!