The opening verse of Revelation tells us that God is revealing God. Again, the peculiar and precise language that both affirms and guards the mystery of the Trinity is still in the future of the Church. Nevertheless, it is clear that already when this long letter is penned Jesus of Nazareth is no longer understood just another man. First of all, this Jesus of whom John was a follower was crucified by the Romans under Pontius Pilate. Nevertheless, John assumes that this same Jesus is alive and dwelling in heaven (i.e. in God’s presence). Moreover, John presumes that this man Jesus was raised bodily from the dead and ascended to heaven. From the place of God’s presence, this Jesus, resurrected, transfigured, and ascended can command angels for he sends and angel (a messenger) to John from this place.
A moment’s reflection here is worthwhile, the opening lines of this book are set in God’s heavenly throne room which narratively speaking is the point of view of the visions that John receives. Revelation gives us a God’s eye view of the the world, specifically the Roman Empire and the plight of Jesus’s followers in Asia Minor. Where the worldly appearance of the empire is one of wealth, opulence and power, from God’s throne room perspective these features are revealed to be greed, debauchery, and injustice.
Like the prophets of old, John through these visions is addressing the issues, challenges, and even temptations facing the people of God (the saints) in his own day. The Roman Empire figuratively referred to as Babylon represents a sort of microcosm for all the “kingdoms of this world” including modern nation states which go the way of the world. So also, the seven churches of Asia Minor to who John addresses this letter are a microcosm for the the church universal.
It is not surprising then that readers and interpreters throughout history have found parallels to circumstances in their own historical, national, and ecclesiological contexts. The interpretive error has been and continues to be in some circles and traditions to assume that text refers specifically to one’s own era or a definite and identifiable not too distant future set of events. The error is to read John’s visions as “history written in advance” and as an overly simplistic set of prediction-fulfillment texts that are waiting to be decoded by a Schofield, a Tim LaHaye, a Grant Jeffries, a Jack Van Impe or a Vernon Wayne Howell (aka David Koresh).
Rather, the parallels are there in our own historical contexts because the way of the world changes little at its core even if its superficial appearances may change with time and culture. The Serpent always comes to us sounding very persuasive with his latest sales pitch and looking very impressive on his fine scaled legs and wearing his fancy crown. Yet, it is only when we learn to look at the world from the perspective of God that the powerful dragon standing before us is really the serpent of old. His sales pitch has not really changed. He is living on borrowed legs and borrowed time. He is the snivelling, boot-licking, con artist whose head we are called to stomp on to silence even what little remains of his hissing voice.
Recommended Reading: Revelation and the End of All Things by Craig R. Koester