a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

heavenly-minded to be the greatest earthly good

Scot McKnight points out in his stimulating book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, that many of the most engaged, active Christians in this world were also the most heavenly-minded saints. The two mindsets are not necessarily mutually exclusive at all, in fact the more vivid the vision cast in one’s mind of the promised world to come, the more longing for “God’s will to be done” even now “on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ve been listening again to Michael Card’s wonderful album on the book of the Revelation: Unveiled Hope, and am encouraged that something much better, indeed the fulfillment of all that is good is coming when heaven and earth become one at King Jesus’s return, what Scot McKnight calls “Heaven” (the word, capitalized). When we look at the world now, listening or watching the news, we can easily be tempted to despair. What progress we do find is tainted with failure, yes with sin, with wrong doing out of untoward motivation coming both from systemic evil as well as wicked hearts. I use the word, wicked, warily. There is clear wickedness at work in our world today, which any of us wouldn’t have any trouble identifying, but there is also the wickedness or evil in our own hearts, which can violate the first and greatest command to love God with all our being and doing, and the second like it, to love our neighbor as ourselves. So that the only love left is love for one’s self and for the idol, be it money, or something else.

Christianity’s goal certainly isn’t eventual non-existence through loss of passion. Nor is it escape from this life even through an apocapalyptic ending, as in the end of the world as we know it. We do long for the return of King Jesus when the full salvation comes, yes, through necessary evil being rooted out of this world. Any Armagedon is actual judgment on humans in letting them do battle in what will amount to a terrible debacle. The new order to come in will be nothing short of new creation in the kingdom of God to come in King Jesus.

In the meantime, even as we look forward with longing for Jesus’s return, we seek to do the works of God now, which will somehow be carried over into the new world to come, but which begin even here and now. The new creation is present in its beginning and heart in and through Jesus, through the gospel and the church.

And so, we’re not going to be satisfied with any constitution or government of this world, even of that which we might think may be ideal for the present time. We long for more, for much more. And we long to see its beginning more and more implemented in this life, to help the poor, and to bring in salvation for all, a salvation which is as pervasive in its scope as the God who gives it.

the Revelation: judgment and salvation

Revelation, the last book in the Bible, is a book which seems to have been more or less a quandary to many Christian theologians over the centuries, and a book which misinterpreted lends itself to quack theology. A book filled with symbolic, meaning, an apocalyptic, end of the world vision to be sure. It is not an easy book to interpret, though must be done so with a sensitivity to genre.

In it, God’s judgment against an evil world system and salvation in replacing that system with God’s kingdom come in King Jesus is front and center. And in the struggles in which we live, especially so in our following of Jesus, and this is so very true in so many parts of today’s world, and relatively completely unknown where I live, we are to see everything we are going through in terms of this Revelation.

Eugene Peterson has said that this is a book for worship (see his helpful rendition/paraphrase in The Message). The Lamb seated on the Throne with God and the seven spirits representing the seven-fold Holy Spirit are front and center in the book. And judgment like the rest of the Bible is primarily in terms of getting rid of the evil in this world. Such is always necessary for the salvation which follows, which in this book is about the bringing in of true shalom, peace and prosperity, true human flourishing when God’s kingdom takes over earth in the descent of the New Jerusalem. So that evil is vanquished and replaced with what is truly good in the new creation from God in which God’s Trinitarian love will have full sway in a world renewed to fulfill God’s original intent in creation.

Revelation will remain a challenge to wrestle through. While it is part of God’s written word to us, just what that word means, why it was given I don’t think we should begin to think we can pin down entirely. God’s written word, of course fulfilled in the Word, Jesus, has its purpose, and will achieve its goal. But part of that is surely to help us toward a healthy dependence on God and interdependence with each other in and through Jesus. Knowing where our ultimate hope lies. The end determining the means in which we live, in and through the Lamb, Jesus.

not a literalist

When it comes to reading both Genesis and the Revelation, I can say hands down that I am not a literalist. At the same time I can say hands down that I believe both texts to be true and the inspired, inscripturated word of God. We do have to read all of scripture for what it is, each part. And we have to read it in context, especially its own, and it helps to know something of the historical, cultural context into which it was written.

I am reading in the Revelation right now, and sometimes don’t know quite what to make of it in regard to literal and figurative. Sometimes I’m thinking the text I’m reading is to some extent figurative. Truth is told all the way around, but exactly what is meant or how that truth will be played out in literal terms, sometimes I’m not sure, nor frankly do I care. What I do care about is that it is true. In fact it is rather easy for me to depart from some literal reading of a text, and chalk it down as figurative, saying something profound in a striking sort of way. Like the possibility of being victorious so that we can sit with Jesus on his throne just as Jesus was victorious and sat with his Father on his Father’s throne. Maybe all that means is that we will reign with Christ if we are victorious in him in this life. It may help to find more information which might actually see something of a literal fulfillment in the like. But much of the Revelation as well as the early chapters of Genesis lends itself readily to something of an interpretation which does not see all the text as strictly literal, while nonetheless true in its context, true in some way or another as part of God’s inscripturated word.

We need to read, study and ask questions. Though for myself, I am most concerned at this point with reading with a view to being formed more and more into the image of Jesus by God’s grace through the Spirit in communion with others in Jesus and in mission to the world.

the wonderful carols of Christmas

What is more special about Christmas than the wonderful carols we sing? I don’t want to list them, which would be rather long. I wouldn’t want to leave any of them out. Of course what is most special about Christmas is its meaning: the celebration of the birth of God’s son, Jesus, our Savior, Christ the Lord. And yes, the Messiah, the one who comes and fulfills God’s promises to Israel for the world. I am guessing that the thought that comes to mind, or prevails, when I think of Christmas is both some of the beautiful Christmas imagery surrounding and pertaining to Christ’s birth, and without a doubt, those wonderful carols. And probably imagining beautiful singing of them, preferably in church. Different kinds of beauty in singing, but one preference is the blend of all the ordinary voices lifting up their hearts to God in song. And the heart of God coming down to them through the songs.

Yesterday in chapel Bill Crowder shared with us the thought that our celebration of Christ’s birth in song should be practice in anticipation of the great celebration of the Lamb to come (Revelation 4-5).  I was struck by his thought that the Lamb is the name or title most often given to Jesus in the Revelation (28 times). Yes, that will be a celebration and a half, in awe and reverence in song proclaiming the wonder and beauty of him who sits on the throne and of the Lamb. The idea that singing the Christmas carols can be a practice now in anticipation of that, I think is a wonderful thought. I was reminded too of Handel’s Messiah, which wonderfully transports us into much of this majestic terrain in its contours and beauty.

And so let’s not forget the carols. They are something of the centerpiece of our tradition of Advent, as we remember and celebrate the wonderful coming of that little baby Jesus, so many years ago.

the gospel reading of scripture

Two books recently have challenged us, particularly us evangelical Christians, to understand what scripture is about, what really is the point of scripture. And to learn to read all of it according to that, including what is now the hotly (in some quarters) debated book of Genesis. I consider them (from my limited perspective, but gathering from those with a much broader, deeper view, and having read both books myself): Christian Smith’s, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture, and Scot McKnight’s, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, co-books of the year, 2011, not necessarily in that order. They actually complement each other well, I think. Christian Smith is particularly apt at laying out the problem of biblicism, which over simply stated means or could be described as a role given to scripture which actually undermines its true role. We as Christians, followers of Jesus must have nothing short of a gospel (evangelical means something like holding to the gospel/good news) reading of scripture.

What holds scripture together? What gives it its true meaning? Jesus said that they point to him. That their true meaning is found in him. In his fulfillment of them. Jesus fulfilled and is fulfilling the story of Israel for the world, and in Jesus we are part of that fulfillment. So scripture is meant in the end to be read, prayed through and lived out of, with reference to its fulfillment in Jesus. That dynamic, which continues on to this day.

Thus, when we read its beginning, Genesis, as well as its ending, the Revelation, we do so holding to the dynamic which we begin to see in 1 Corinthians 15, as well as in “the gospels”, and the sermons in the Acts. It is a gospel oriented book, which is meant to point us to King Jesus, whose coming brings with it the realization of the true hope for this world. In the end bringing justice in shalom, in the remaking of the old into the new creation in and through Jesus.

That is what scripture is all about. That is its point. Not a text book of any sort, or meant to give us detailed information on this and that. But a dynamic, Spirit-breathed, Spirit-filled witness to the truth in Jesus, everything related in some way to that. In the story of God.

Scripture is then held in higher esteem than before. It is the word of God to point us to the Word himself, Jesus. We then find the true meaning not only of scripture, but of life itself. Meant not only for us, but for the world. In and through Jesus.

My thoughts are gathered from these two books shared above, which I am convinced are true to scripture and God’s revelation in Jesus.