Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it, for the time is at hand. (Rev. 1:3, ESV)
AS we shall discover together in working slowly through this text, The Book of Revelation is a Trinitarian text. Of course, it does not have the post-Nicene terminology. In this text, one will not find the language of Father, Son and Spirit as one finds abundantly in John’s Gospel and in post-nicene formula. Rather, one will find God, Jesus Christ, and the Spirit which is more similar to Paul’s formulation.
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.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. (Revelation 1:1-2, ESV)
“Revelation”, the common english translation of the greek word “apocalypsis” (αποκαλυψις) which opens this text, is such a familiar term that its basic meaning is almost lost to our ears and eyes. Similarly, the term “apocalypse” has come to refer to any large-scale catastrophic event that threatens the extinction of humankind and life as we know it i.e. zombie apocalypse. (Pace Rick Grimes et al.)
But slow down and listen to the text. John’s first readers did not have this linguistic and cultural baggage hanging on these terms. They were not dispensationalists. There was no such thing as guns or atomic bombs. They had not heard of global warming. John and his early readers had their own linguistic and cultural milieu which shaped their understanding of the term “apocalypse” and the other terms, allusions, and images John uses throughout this prophetic letter to the Christian communities in first century Asia Minor. Like learning a new language, it takes some mental effort and yes some reading and research to understand and interpret an ancient text, including those included in our Scriptures.
Learning to Hear What John has Written
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:1-3, ESV)
“Some modern theologians say, ‘God doesn’t speak.’ Well, He says, He does.”
J.I. Packer from Lecture at Regent College
God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible 3rd Edition
Chapter Two: The Lost Word
Apparently, although I have not scientifically verified it, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Likewise there is more than one way to lose the Word of God.
Losing the Word
In the second chapter of God Has Spoken, Packer draws an analogy between the famine of the Word announced by the prophet Amos to the people of the Northern Kingdom in the eighth century BC and his contemporary situation. That is, while Creator God spoke to the people through the prophets to His people, there came a time when a refusal by the people (especially those with power) to listen to God resulted in God answering with silence. If you won’t listen, then I will stop speaking or I will make you deaf.
Christians have always affirmed the authority of the Bible. The earliest Christians affirmed the authority of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings which Christ and the apostles read as witnessing to the character, covenant and promises of the God of Israel and to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of those promises and climax of those covenants. At the same time, particular texts written by the apostles and their close associates were used in much the same way. These are commonly referred to as the Old and New Testaments, respectively. Continue reading “God Has Spoken 2: Reflections on J.I. Packer’s Book”
“Theology is for doxology.” J.I. Packer
As I find myself in the middle of a conversation that is dominated by Evangelistic Atheists (EAs) on the one hand and the heirs (wittingly or unwittingly) of American Fundamentalism on the other hand, I find myself disagreeing with both sides with respect to how they frame the debate and on their assumptions about the nature of Christianity. I have described their almost symbiotic relationship in a series of posts entitled An Unhappy Marriage.
As one who grew up reading and watching Carl Sagan and other modern scientific apologists, I too imbibed a particular views of Christianity especially with respect to the nature of revelation and of the Christian Scriptures aka the Bible. I accepted their understanding of the nature of Scripture and of Biblical Revelation. This view was reinforced by some Christian relatives, televangelists, and pop-culture in general. For instance, my grandfather was into End-Times charts and, as far as I know, I was the only one of his grandchildren that enjoyed these theological conversations. Like Carl Sagan, I was much more into extra-terrestrials but was fascinated by people’s beliefs in and the idea of supernatural beings as well.
For the most part, those who engage in evolution vs. creationism or science vs. Christianity debate seem to share similar views on the nature of Scripture. Obviously, atheists reject that any text ought to be authoritative in the way Christians hold the Bible to be authoritative but many atheists tend to grant that people like Ken Ham and other heirs of American Fundamentalism are normative with respect to how Christians do and ought to read Scripture. Continue reading “God Has Spoken 1: Reflections on J.I. Packer’s Book”
“And though St. John saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” — G.K. Chesterton
In many of my posts, I focus on Genesis. So, why not turn my attention to another controversial and misunderstood book at the back end of the Scriptures, The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John of Patmos? If one is allowed to have a favorite book in the Bible, then this book has become mine thanks in large part to my beloved professor Gordon Fee. In the year of our Lord two-thousand, Fee taught a course at Regent College on The Book of Revelation. When we asked him if all the Y2K talk and the year itself influenced his decision to teach this course at this time, he smiled, laughed at himself, and said, “You know. I never even thought of that.” That answer is an indication of how free he was from the dispensationalist background of his youth. How could that be? Continue reading “The Book of Revelation: My Picks for the Best Books on this Book”
As I write this post, in my Sunday School class, we will be finishing up our study of the The Book of Revelation. Without question, for the modern reader this book is one of the most difficult books for us to comprehend. So, below, I have compiled a list of good books that will help you read Revelation well beginning with its historical context. I list them in order of their relative difficulty. They are all linked to Amazon. So, you can read the descriptions and reviews there. Continue reading “How To Read REVELATION For All Its Worth”