Revelation as a Circular Letter

An Epistle

RB’s discussion of Revelation as a circular epistle has some important and potentially mind-blowing implications. The writing is dense; much of what RB says here can’t be condensed. So I quote him extensively in this post. It is a lengthy post, but I am passionate about this and don’t know how to do otherwise. Interested parties are encouraged to get this book!


Revelation as an Epistle

Many misreadings of Revelation occur because it is overlooked that this whole work is an epistle, a letter written to then existing churches, and not to some far-off end-time/last-day generation.

While most directly concerning the seven churches, Revelation has interest to a broader audience. 1 Corinthians is very targeted to one church; but we all benefit from that epistle [cf. Col 4:16].

Meet the Seven Churches

John uses a unique strategy in Revelation. The body of his message is for all the churches. But he has very different, very specific introductions for each church. These are the famed ‘seven letters’ to the churches.

Seven Churches OrderThe churches are named in the order a messenger delivering this letter to them from Patmos would most naturally follow.

The churches faced very different problems, and they faced some common problems very differently. Each ‘letter’ is an ‘introduction’ to the whole book, in which Jesus addresses that specific church.

God Sanctions Other ‘Interpretations?’

The Revelation as a whole is a circular letter written to seven churches. But John intended for it to be read from seven different perspectives. [This seems to be to be HUGELY liberating to fundamentalists who are bound so very slavishly to the ‘one’ reading allowed every passage!].

Churches in turn are promised future salvation ‘to him who overcomes!’ This is the call to eschatological [future] battle. But what is victory? What does it mean conquer? The letters don’t explain that; but that is explained in the central chapters of this epistle. Likewise, our eschatological destiny is described at the end of the epistle.

John’s World, Ours, or Both…

John lived under Rome’s worldwide tyranny. He wanted the churches to see how that tyranny related to the issues they faced. He wanted them to see how their struggle on the issues fit in God’s great battle against tyranny, and how it served God’s purpose to establish his kingdom.

RB observes that not all Christians were poor and oppressed by Rome’s tyrannical system. Many were affluent and compromised with it. For them, the judgments described in Revelation came not for consolation but as stern warnings of the danger they incurred. It was not only pagans, but many of John’s hearers/readers were tempted to or actually did worship the beast [as those who listened to Jezebel at Thyatira].

Comfort or warning, the application of Revelation turned on the group to which hearers belonged, and their relationship with Rome’s tyranny. Asia Minor had more churches than seven. But the wealth of perspectives John provided allows all the churches to find analogies in his representative sampling of churches.

POLITICAL CYCLONITE

Thus read, Revelation becomes a devastating critique of much Christian profession. They are not alone, but even some very ‘fundamentalist’ sects uncritically endorse US militarism, war, foreign interventionism, plus domestic repression [law-and-order] and poverty [austerity, wage cuts, medical/benefits cuts, interest rates favoring the wealthy, etc.].

The Revelation identifies that as spiritual alignment with and worship of the powers of Death. We have the means to address the enormous social, economic and political crises besetting nation and world. But we surrender this by pushing the theology of the Revelation into the future. And it is done PRECISELY to allow us to profess Christ AND sell out to the world.

“Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues’ [Re 18:3-4].

Grace for a Broken World I

Pray for the World

Christie Thomas makes a spiritual practice of something I’ve long thought should be a spiritual practice. And while it isn’t my own practice, I wish it had more exposure. Ms. Thomas’ days begin with newspaper reading and prayer over world crises. There is plenty for which to pray. Ms. Thomas lists these points.

We have unstable world leaders with fingers too close to weapons of mass destruction.

We have terrorist cells scattered everywhere, caring for no one except their need to destroy others and bring in their own versions of “heaven” with them as kings and rulers.

We have grinding poverty shoving hard-working people face-down to the barren ground.

We have an over-sugared world exploding the epidemic of metabolic diseases, the most common being diabetes.

We have political leaders who have no concept of the common good, driven instead by personal ambition and a need to take down the “other,” whomever that may be.

Ms. Thomas’ post also observes that:

And we have a Christian church that . . . well, it does do a lot of real good, but primarily turns inward on itself, arguing over minutia, seeing its own power plays and back-room dealings.

Poverty [including food insecurity and public health] and political failure [the erosion of democracy and rise of militant extremism] are grave issues. They work injustice and havoc worldwide.

And the church? It does do much good. Years ago, I learned that the Seventh Day Adventists maintain a world-class flying hospital that can land anywhere on earth within 24 hours.

Yet many church bodies do spend reserves on minutia. Others deem kingdom life as a distraction or heresy. Darrin Yeager notes that 1Co 15:1-4 sums the gospel in terms of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Then he adds:

‘Strange. No mention of social justice, or regulating inputs and outputs; Paul must have been negligent in failing to mention the heart of the Gospel.’

1Co 15:3-4 was a very early church creed. With resurrection being denied, [1Co 15:12ff], Paul very reasonably replies with 1Co 15:3-4. Does that make Jesus’ death and resurrection a case against kingdom justice? Hardly. And what Mr. Yeager says Paul ‘neglected’ to ‘mention,’ Peter proclaims freely in Cornelius’ house:

“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him’ [Ac 10:38].

Peter weaves kingdom life with Jesus’ death and resurrection into a seamless narrative [Ac 10:39-43].  It is bookmarked on both ends by the Spirit’s presence and power  [‘anointing with the Holy Spirit…God was with him’ (v. 38) cf. ‘the Holy Spirit fell on them’ (v. 44)]. There is no Gnostic kingdom/gospel dichotomy here. Nor should there be with us.