Lesson 13: Reasons for Reading Revelation (Part 2)

prophetsLet me continue mentioning reasons I find important for reading John’s Apocalypse. Close after the Prophet’s broadening our concept of church-state relationships and narrowing our definition of the Christian community, I would place enhancing our understanding of prophecy.

A good half of the Old Testament books are the prophets. Obviously, prophecy makes up a great deal of the scriptures. At the same time, Revelation is the only example of that means of grace found in the Christian testament. I found studying John’s work helped me read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Daniel, Ezekiel, and all the others more intelligently. Of course, I also found they helped me see what John was about. In addition, I had a better understanding of what Paul and the church fathers meant when they spoke of prophets in their congregations. For that matter, I instinctively searched for modern day prophets who spoke God’s Word in their own special way.

At the time I was discovering all this, it dawned on me that it was fascinatingly strange that just about everyone I knew thought we should be studying the Old Testament prophets but in no way encouraged people to read Revelation. Along these lines, I found most of my scholarly friends had no problem observing that the Old Testament prophets meant Greece when they wrote Babylon and Antiochus Epiphanes when they wrote Nebuchadnezzar, yet they failed to see John was pointing to Rome when he said Babylon. In spite of their scholarship, my friends were ready to think the bizarre interpretations of the “religious wrong” captured John’s meaning and the best approach was simply ignoring Revelation.

Gradually, I became aware that in spite of all of our denials, the Apocalypse had a profound effect on our lives. For instance, I noticed that every worship service in which I participated during the 12 weeks of writing this series included hymns using word pictures found in Revelation. Most weeks, more than one hymn utilized these colorful images and often, a hymn employed more than a few. I also found these prominent in the liturgy and sermons. Obviously, the poetry of prophecy has greatly influenced the artistic endeavors of the Christian community. Perhaps we would appreciate these art forms more deeply if we examined the source of their inspiration.

My study also enhanced my belief that God’s love saves us from our own self-destructive activity. John believed sin is based on the satanic falsehood that promises we shall be satisfied when we pursue our own selfish desires and needs. His prophecy depicts judgment as the natural consequences of this self-destructive lifestyle. That certainly is a much-needed corrective to the modern approach to life.

Finally, I came to appreciate a new Christian vision of the future that I think John was the first to advance. It is in no way associated with the nonsensical popular imaginations that picture an angry God destroying the creation he loves. In fact, it directly opposes such thought. Instead, it complements previous visions, such as the peaceable kingdom, the just society, and the beloved community when John adds to these the vision of the New Jerusalem as an ecologically sustainable city. I think his contribution marvelously addresses the environmental problems of our contemporary urban world that associate cities with pollution.

Having said all this, it helps to read Revelation with a good commentary, as it depends so much on ideas, slogans, and events at the time of its writing. It is not that hard to find good ones if you search for scholars who have studied the history of the period and/or those who know the scriptures well enough to recognize when John is rather obscurely citing other parts of the Bible. Incidentally, the Prophet hardly ever speaks without some oblique reference to other scripture. The prophet depends on his people recognizing these when he places them in a poetic context. It is almost laughable that so many readers realize he really is talking politics, but think he somehow is addressing those of our time. They miss all the references to the Roman Empire and so fail to really understand his message.

Of course, some of that apparent ignorance probably stems from our not wanting to acknowledge how much John’s words speak to our present situation. His attack on the beastliness of violent government and the prostitution of greedy economic system hits home. That is the primary reason that we should be reading these last words in the Bible. After studying Revelation, most of us respond by praying with the Prophet, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come into our hearts, our homes, our world.”

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  1. Fritz Foltz says:

    The post incited a close friend to ask what the “common chest”
    was. This was my reply: “The common chest is the term used for the economic practice of the first Jerusalem Christian community (Acts 2 ff. And Acts 4:32- 5:11). Because it included Jesus’ followers, many think it reflects how Jesus’ band operated.

    From this perspective it always challenges Christian life. Some say it has to be understood in the historic situation in which the group was extremely poor. As the church grew and prospered, it was no longer prudent. Others insist it pictures an ideal community only able to be realized in the Kingdom of God. It serves as a vision of the future. And others see it offering principles Christians should pursue in every society.

    It has in later years become embarrassing p, because it is clearly a communism. My New Testament professor spent time analyzing its difference from Marxism, emphasizing it is a volunteer type communism.

    Martin Luther at one point felt if the Gospel was accurately proclaimed, people would naturally adopt the common chest. In later life he was frustrated when this did not happen. I recently read in the end he said if he could do it all over again, he would have tried to develop a small church of believers that among other things practiced the common chest.”

    I found it interesting that he reported the State Department in the old days discussed the different of Christian voluntary and Marxist compulsory Communism before assigning him to Russia.


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