Understanding the Imagery I
We come to the final section of the first chapter of Richard Bauckham’s ‘Theology of the Revelation.’ This section will require several posts.
In reviewing the first chapter of Richard Bauckham’s, we considered:
— What kind of book is Revelation
— Revelation as a Christian Prophecy:
— Revelation as an Apocalypse:
— Differences from other Apocalypses:
— Revelation as a Circular Letter:
Now we consider:
— Understanding the Imagery:
Symbol Sets in Parody
Having said that John created a symbolic world, RB applies this in some interesting ways. John’s readers were barraged constantly with powerful images that proclaimed Rome’s version of the world. BR says:
‘Civil and religious architecture, iconography, statues, rituals and festivals, even the visual wonder of cleverly engineered ‘miracles’ [cf. Re 13:13-14] in the temples — all provided powerful visual impressions of Roman imperial power and the splendor of pagan religion.’ [p. 17].
In that context, John provides readers with an alternative set of symbols. The intent is to give hearers and readers God’s version of the empire.
The woman of Re 17 gives an example of HOW John’s symbolism works. Hearers recognize her as the goddess Roma, from which the ‘eternal city’ took its name. The epitome of Roman civilization, she was worshiped in temples across Asia. John shows her as a seductive/scheming whore/witch whose obscene wealth comes from her plying her disgusting trade. Re 17 also adds to the mix some hints of the whore/queen, Jezebel.
Insight More Than Prediction
In this way, John’s hearers/readers learn about Rome’s true character — its moral turpitude, and the propagandist illusions [political campaigns?] that believers saw peddled continually in every imperial city. John’s intent was to change perceptions of the empire, and believers’ response to it, and to the issues/struggles/questions the churches faced because of it.
[Read this way, Revelation doesn’t intend to ‘predict’ history before it happens; the intent is to reorient believers into God’s take on our times. In other words, whereas fundamentalists/futurists use the newspapers to interpret the Bible, John intends that people use the Bible to exegete the times and interpret the world!].
Deepening Respect for John’s Work
RB notes that Revelation is awash with OT allusions. They’re everywhere! He also seems to regard Revelation as a kind of theological library. He says that the Revelation:
‘creates a complex network of literary cross-references, parallels [and] contrasts, which inform the meaning of the parts and the whole.’
As RB sees it, these allusions [very precise and very subtle] are critical to reading Revelation. The imagery of Revelation gets it meaning from those OT connections/themes. It is by pondering those images and meditating on their OT roots that Revelation speaks its message to us.
Revelation and Lifelong Study
RB makes another fascinating point. The literary composition of this book is so ‘astonishingly meticulous’ that all the cross-references, parallels, contrasts and connections will not be found on the first or seventh or seventieth reading.’ This means that we will spend the rest of our lives mining the resources of this book.
This is also to say that we are a lifetime learning what it means to live as God’s people in God’s world. And it is to recognize that God is also aware that this is the case. Lastly, RB’s final insight for this post suggests that we can in a sense regard Revelation as a manual for Christian living. And this has potential to open the book for reading in ways so new that it is like discovering another book in the Bible we never knew was there.
In fact, it was there all along. But it has been a closed book for many generations. Thank God — that is now changing!