The Book of Revelation

24 November 2018

Someone wrote to me the other day having found The Book of Revelation challenging and confusing (as so many - if not all - of us do). The Book has many facets. Importantly, it cannot always be taken literally. There are, certainly, many parts of it that might or might not have substantial, identifiable meaning. However, the frequent use of things being 'like' in the original Greek script makes it clear that this is primarily poetry; metaphor. It's like looking at a modernistic, impressionistic work of art, or a piece of music that we don't necessarily understand. Often the artist or composer will tell you: I can't explain what I mean by this myself, I can only put down on canvas or a music stave how I feel, or what I have experienced, or what I want to say - but don't have the words to say it.

So we take Revelation at face value, but do not try to get too interpretative about it all. Many Christians, especially cults, of course offer their own interpretations but, you can rest assured, they are not accurate. Essentially, the book was written at a time of great Turmoil; either just before or just after the death of the great Roman Despot Nero. Or during the reign of the awful Emperor Domitian and his horrific persecution of Christians and Jews. The general scholarly view is that, in Revelation we have coded, emotional responses to a shocked and terrified group of persecuted people with the need to feel that one day all the horrors will be over. We mustn't forget that, as far as the New Testament writers were concerned, they were still living in Old Testament Times. The Old Testament spans a few thousand years. It was often written by people living in what we might call the Iron Age. Intelligent, able people but nevertheless with certain tribal, cultural and social norms. Violent times. The Old Testament relies often on the People of God (as in Revelation) struggling to survive against powerful oppression. Of course they are going to think that one day God will give the oppressors their comeuppance. And that will serve them right.

Having said that, we can take great comfort in what we do respond to in the Book of Revelation, and should also be challenged by that which makes us feel uncomfortable. It doesn't mean that such-and-such will actually come to pass. It just means - like all prophesy - if this makes you feel good or uncomfortable - what are you going to do about it to make God's world a better place in your lifetime? So we can perhaps imagine that overall The Book of Revelation is saying: Christ will one day return 'in power' and all the powers of the world will then have to answer for the way they've behaved. But then the Book turns to look at us and says: do YOU want to behave contrary to Christ - or do you want to conform your life to the Blessings and Joys of the Kingdom while you have this life to live? Meanwhile, we are absolutely right to always filter everything through Christ and his saving work & teaching. He puts right those things which we fallible, fallen human beings have misunderstood, and even today often continue to misinterpret. Thanks be to God. Amen