The final book of our Bibles is by far the most misunderstood, misquoted, and generally abused or ignored book of the Scriptures. As we study the Revelation to St. John, we will place the book within its literary and historical context and envision how this extraordinary book speaks to us in the church today. Revelation is a liturgical book centered around worship. It tells us that evil is conquered, the saints are redeemed, and a new creation will be brought about not through the force of arms but through the blood of the Lamb and the testimony/martyrdom of Its followers. In preparation for the study, I am primarily using Dr. Michael J. Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly and Fr. Lawrence R. Farley’s The Apocalypse of St. John. I will also be using Reading Revelation in Prison, a blog post by Richard Beck in “Experimental Theology”, the chapter on “The Meaning and Mystery of Wrath” in The Prophets by Abraham Heschel, and the relevant portions of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut by Brad Jersak, The Writings of the New Testament by Luke Timothy Johnson, and the Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. This lesson covers sixteen weeks.
I hope that you will be able to join us on our journey into St. John the Divine’s vision and partake of the most extraordinary book in all of the Scriptures.
Revelation is an amalgamation of Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pastoral Letter.
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.
For John, there can only be one God Worshipful King – a man who was crucified in Jerusalem rather than the man who sits on the throne in Rome. Revelation is his teaching.
It is in the opening words of the book in vv. 1-9 that tell us what the book is about and how we are to interpret the visions. Never skip over the beginning.
Within this vision, John introduces himself to his audience and introduces three reoccurring themes in Revelation of security, hope, and discipleship.
As we read through these seven letters, the challenge to us to see ourselves as being spoken to within these seven oracles. Continuously ask yourself how have I earned Christ’s commendation and how have I deserved his condemnation. Most importantly, however, see yourself as the recipient of the promises made…
As you read through each of these seven oracles to the seven churches – their proscription, praise, and promises – see yourself. Where do you meet the expectations of Christ and where do you fall short? Most importantly, how do Christ’s promises speak to you?
A book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and thought on his name. Mal. 3:16
The challenge in reading these letters is to see ourselves as the recipient.
John wants to draw these parallels between God and Ceasar to create a binary choice so choosing both is not an option.
The Lamb is more than something extraordinary and worthy of this world. The Lamb is more than the descendant of Judah or of David. The Lamb is, in some way, God as well.
Rather, judgment, harm, and destruction are simply the natural consequential result of turning away from God and the Lamb. When we reject the Lamb and the source of its power, we experience disorder, death, and destruction.
It is the blood of the Lamb that cleanses the temple and the people to receive the presence of God (Ex. 24, Lev. 4). Therefore, it is only through the blood of the Lamb that salvation is received.
The seven trumpets are part of the seventh seal. These trumpets announce God’s coming judgment and war against the forces of evil.
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star (Heb. Lucifer), son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! . . . But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit.”
God knows that the church will be tempted to shrink back from its commissioning in face of its persecution. This is why the message is given by an angel in the form and likeness of God and why the commission must be fully consumed and internalized.
What we see in tonight’s study are the promises of God written in flashing neon letters. The spiritual struggle is real, not only between the forces of Good and evil within the world but between the forces of Good and evil within ourselves.
We are not sinners in the hand of an angry deity, rather we are sinners who stand accused, but our Accuser has been cast out of the court. That is Good News.
The subordination of our religion to the State or the exchange of worshiping God for worshipping the State or something more sinister is always easier to see in others than in ourselves. The challenge is to have and to cultivate the self-awareness as to whom we are following.
God’s judgment is not on his creation but on those forces that keep his creation imprisoned. Overall, that which gets harvested and destroyed is what stands in the way of the new creation.
Once more, John’s vision tells us that the gospel testified to by the saints is the story of the Exodus written on a spiritual plane. John is simply telling his Gospel narrative with graphic visions instead of the more philosophical arguments of Paul or the story-telling parables of Jesus.
God’s wrath is never spontaneous, irrational, and unpredictable but always is in reference to the behavior of humankind and motivated by God’s intimate concern for right and wrong.
God’s wrath is always described as lasting but a moment. It is something that happens only for a while, and never something that abides forever.
The final act of God rendering recompense to his enemies begins now. All of the warnings and all of the intermediate punishments have been given. We are nearing the end of the opposition to God and to God’s people.
When you read Revelation 17 and the description of Babylon, see where the parallels are with today’s world and in today’s society.
John’s command to leave Babylon behind is this call to leave behind earthly political power and command to leave behind an exploitative economy.
The judgment Jesus speaks is a warning of what the opposition will reap if they did not stop sowing seeds of rebellion. To reject Jesus’ words of life is to die. This image in Revelation is intended to be Christ’s last call for repentance.
The good news that John brings us is that it is not only Satan that is defeated in the end, but ultimately it is both Death and Hell.
I want us to remember and review the arc of Scripture and the arc of Revelation so that we better understand the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem, and the new Eden when we conclude next week.
This is the promised reality for us, the Bride of Christ. John gives us a vision of a redeemed and transformed creation from which all manner of evil and ungodliness are absent and the church is that beautiful, life-giving, at-one-ness with God.
John has a vision of the final reconciliation of all creation. For God is making (present active indicative) all things new. Rev. 21:5