The Revelation – Interpretative Strategies

This Tuesday, we are beginning our study of Revelation. For this week we are discussing writings similar to Revelation. We will be looking at all or portions of Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Joel 2:30, Daniel 7-12, Zacheriah 1-6, The War Scroll, Mark 13, and Ephesians 6:10-20. Before Tuesday-week, please try to read through the entirety of Revelation.

Interpretive Lenses:

When we begin reading through Revelation, there are different hermeneutics (interpretive methods or strategies) that we can use to make sense of John’s visions. These different lenses with which to read Revelation can be used individually or in conjunction with one another. These basic lenses are Predictive, Preterist, Poetic, Political, and Pastoral/Prophetic. A good discussion of these lenses is in chapter 4 of Dr. Gorman’s book.

A. Predictive:

A predictive or futurist understanding of Revelation is the most common. This type of reading of Revelation understands John as seeing actual events that will (usually soon) happen in the future. The idea is that if the reader can decode John’s language just right, he will be able to know the future, identify the characters, and be prepared. This is a very literal understanding of Revelation that is not only common in more modern dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible or Hal Lindsay but also goes back to the very early Christians such as Justin who wrote in about 150.

B. Preterist:

Preterism simply means concerning the past tense. A preterist interpretation understands the visions and prophecies of Revelation to have already taken place in the past. Therefore, when John writes about the Beast, he is only speaking of the Roman Empire and its Emperor. Revelation is simply a historic Christian artefact. In a preterist understanding, we can discuss John’s imagery, but his book has very little to say to us today.

C. Poetic:

In the poetic approach, we see Revelation as using mythical or poetic language to express a greater truth about God. This is also called the allegorical or idealist hermeneutic. Augustine writing in the4th century will employ this approach. Whereas the Predictive and Preterist attempt to decode Revelation to reach John’s underlying intent, in this method we should allow the language to simply speak for itself. Like the rabbis interpreting Genesis 1, we should be able to take a passage from Revelation and simply let the Spirit and our imagination guide our discussions. In other words, the deeper truth of Revelation goes beyond John’s historical context or his understanding of future events.

D. Political:

In its historic context, Revelation is a political document. John and his community are being persecuted by the Roman Empire because they refuse to offer statements of political allegiance (i.e worship) to the Emperor. John’s understanding of Jesus as Lord prohibits him from recognizing Caesar as Lord. The Romans are unconcerned about John’s religion only his politics. In the late century, as part of the liberation theology movement, Revelation became interpreted by black South Africans and Central American peasants as a political document speaking primarily about against political oppression.

E. Prophetic/Pastoral:

In this type of interpretation, John is calling his congregations and the church at large into greater faithfulness and to comfort them in their persecution. This is not unlike the themes of John’s letters. This type of interpretation focuses on a more present understanding of Revelation. It opens Revelation up to see how John’s concerns can be applied in our own time, and therefore Revelation is not bound only to the past or only by looking to the future.

Theological Themes:

As we read through Revelation, our study will primarily look at Revelation through the lens of the Prophetic/Pastoral. Although we will decode some of the symbolism of Revelation as speaking about the past and the future, our primary concern will be how Revelation speaks to us today in our world. As you read through Revelation, seven (of course) major themes should jump out:

  • The Reign of God and the Lamb: The Creator and the Lamb rule and will prevail. Jesus is Lord.
  • Evil Empire: Evil is real. The Empire is real. The Empire is that through which Evil acts in the world. (Star Wars is heavily indebted to Revelation.)
  • Temptation: The Church is forever tempted by the idolatry and immorality of the Empire. The source of earthly power is always seductive.
  • Resistance: The Church is called to resist the temptation of empire and evil. Our call is covenantal faithfulness to God and the Lamb.
  • Worship: We all worship, the only question is what do we worship – Empire and earthly power or God and the Lamb which leads to the Cross.
  • Imitation of Christ: Our resistance to Empire and Evil must be modeled on Jesus. The sword must be sheathed, and love towards all must be given. Vengeance is the Lord’s, not ours.
  • New Creation: God and the Lamb will prevail. Evil and Empire will be defeated. Creation will be renewed, and Eden will be recovered.

In applying these themes to our present, we can look at these themes both externally and internally. Externally, Revelation is a warning against the church being assimilated into the politic and statecraft of this world and being conformed to this world. John’s primary purpose is to keep the politics of empire out of the church (like having an American flag cross) and to reserve worship for God and Christ alone since the concerns of this world will end in destruction.

Internally, another aspect of the Prophetic/Pastoral is to understand that Evil and Empire are not out there in the political realm, but inside us in the phychological realm. If we substitute Ego for Empire (meaning we all have our own personal evil empire within us), the overall analysis simply gets more internalized. The battle, therefore, is not taking place out there, but inside every human soul. Therefore, as we read through Revelation, we will also discuss how Empire and Ego may be interchanged and how the struggle takes place within ourselves.

Cruciform Reading:

Regardless of the interpretive strategy employed or the themes recognized, Revelation, like all of the New Testament, must necessarily be read within the context of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. The Church’s proclamation since the day of Pentecost is Christ crucified. Therefore, as you read through Revelation keep in mind these three points:

  • The supreme importance is Christ and our witness about him. We are not to be conformed to the world, but to him, and particularly to his Passion.
  • The death and destruction in Revelation are the judgment and cleansing of God who renews and restores God’s entire creation. It is death and evil that are judged and are destroyed, not that which is part of God’s initial created order. This is Resurrection.
  • Revelation is a call to worship he who died and rose again. In some ways, the fantastic imagery hides this fundamental gospel message, but in other ways, it is only through the use of fantastic imagery that a fantastic proclamation can be made.

Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is chicken potato casserole. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!

Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”

1 Cor. 15:54-55 (Isa. 25:8, Hos. 13:14)

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