As the “Revelations for Everyone” class comes to its final weeks I want to share a couple things about the experience of leading and studying John’s Revelation. The class has been very patient with my weekly rants about how the book of Revelation is generally portrayed; tending to emphasize the scary images while missing the whole purpose of the book. The Holy Spirit did not lead John to write Revelation in order to provide a way to scare people into believing that Jesus is going to knock people around for not having joined the right groups. John also did not intend Revelation as a source of personal superiority, causing some to feel they have super-Christian knowledge; and even though Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour; they have discerned the day and the events leading up to that day. One popular author has devoted an entire book to describing events that don’t actually exist in Revelation. (A side note, John doesn’t describe any of the battles because to him they weren’t significant. No battle of Armageddon takes place in Revelation – the people choose sides and then the battle is over. No fighting is mentioned.)
So if Revelation is not intended to be scary or to provide material to push people into a particular point of view, what is it for? It was John’s way of trying to equip persecuted Christians to live faithfully. There were a lot of difficulties in trying to be faithful when one was displaced from their home, their worship that they had known, and their familiar language. There were penalties to faithfulness and constant struggle to know what compromises were acceptable in order blend into their new environment and when they needed to separate themselves. In that situation there were dangers to Christian practices becoming unloving and hostile traditions; to becoming overwhelmed by trials; and to forming healthy bonds within the church between people who had little in common. John wanted to provide a way to grow in Christ in the middle of all of this pain and turmoil.
If you want to experience the gospel in an intellectual manner, go to the Apostle Paul. Classically trained and methodical, Paul tends to use illustrations, outlines, and lists. John is more of an artist. He doesn’t provide explanations; he verbally creates images and scenes that we are invited to hold in our minds and in which to find guidance. Each time we revisit those images we are able to draw more understanding and find more fruit. Paul tends to speak to our heads. John is very much aiming for our hearts.
Interestingly, if we were to describe God’s intention for when evil is defeated we would probably describe the same forms of power and authority, only with us in charge. John wisely recognizes that swapping who has the power does not end oppression, just spreads it around a bit. Instead he draws an image of humans in fellowship with God that has God fully present with all of God’s people, wiping every tear from every eye and constant loving fellowship and security. John’s visions are not intended to answer our questions or provide solutions to all of our challenges. They are to give us a picture of God working behind the scenes, the interaction between God’s love and God’s people as well as judgment of the evil in the world.
I hope more of us will give Revelation a second look. The difficulty is it is really designed to be seen as well as heard. It is intended to be shared in fellowship (not interpreted but experienced). It is a gift of knowing that in the end God will prevail. And it is God’s desire that we experience healing, love and peace.