The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show show to his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1, ESV)
The Things that Must Soon Come to Pass
The opening verse of this book undermines all interpretations that try to make John’s Revelation a coded history of current events. As Craig Koester helpfully recounts in the first part of his concise commentary Revelation and the End of All Things, there is a long history of misinterpreting Revelation in this way. All such interpretations have one thing in common, the predictions they make never come to pass. Modern dispensationalists now avoid making predictions and so resort to probabilities. This kind of thinking leads to ridiculous concepts like the Rapture Index. So, when John writes that God wished to show his servants “the things that must soon take place”, the “soon” refers to those things that the intended recipients of John’s letter were experiencing and about to experience.
Does this mean that John’s visions have nothing to say to us today? Absolutely not. For even though these visions were about imminent events, they still are not a coded timeline to be decoded by John’s contemporaries anymore than they are a coded timeline to be decoded by modern dispensationalists. Rather, as I suggested in the initial post, they are God’s throne room perspective that “reveals” or “unveils” the true nature and character of the powerful players in world shaping events.
Drawing Analogies not Deciphering Codes
The Pax Romana is really a Pactum cum Diabolo. The Peace of Rome is really a deal with the devil. One of the key messages of the text are that all merely human kingdoms and empires are temporary even if at the time they appear indomitable. John reminds his scripturally literate readers of this ultimate reality by referring to Rome as Babylon. For historically Babylon too once appeared indomitable and eternal but where is Babylon now. John could have alluded to many empires in Israel’s past — Assyria, Egypt, or the Greek Empire. But Babylon holds a unique place in Israel’s history and it is to Israel’s experience with Babylon that John finds the most fruitful analogy for the churches in Asia Minor.
So, in the same way that the book of Exodus continues to speak to us today or similarly just as the different people Jesus encounters in the Gospels continue to have present day analogies, Christians can continue to draw analogies between John’s visions and current events. Indeed, John’s visions are a lesson in drawing such analogies. Rome is analogous to Babylon, for example. The way of the world and worldly ways have not really changed since the first century and certainly God has not changed. Modern Christians face the same temptations as those who came before us. John is training us to see the world, the powers, and ourselves from a throne room perspective. He is training us to pull back the curtain and found out who is really pulling the strings on world-shaping events and to ask who is pulling our strings.