“OK class, can I see a show of hands please how many of you think that the book of Revelation is just about the end of the world?
“Wow, almost everyone; hands down. OK, now, how many of you really have no clue what it says?
“Gee, so many of you who raised your hands before are raising them again! Alright, let’s try one more: How many of you think Revelation is so hard that nobody really can be sure what it’s all about?
“Oh come on class, look how many of you have voted three times!”
I’ve tried this little exercise at least three times in the past, and this is the typical result; Revelation is about the end of the world, most of us aren’t quite sure what it says about the end of the world, and most of us think it’s so hard to understand that we’ll never really know. One time I added another question to the list: How many think it’s about The Antichrist? As you might guess, almost all hands went up. When I added that question, I was teaching an upper division Bible College class, so naturally I asked the students to tell me which verses they find the term “Antichrist” in. I grabbed the marker, and stood at the board ready to record their answers… Several of them chuckled as the others grabbed their concordances and looked it up; I’ll never forget the shock of those who discovered for the first time that the word is not to be found in Revelation.
When I was kid, I read The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey; actually I read it several times, I could quote it freely… I became quite the little Late Great Planet Earth scholar. It was so exciting, it was so thrilling, and it was so scary! Then it really came home to me: About the time I would be getting out of college, the world would end… I would never have a life, for just as my life would begin, the world would be over!
Well this struck me as being quite unfair, since I was a lad of high ambition and big plans! I wanted to be pilot, and if that didn’t work out, I wanted to be a history professor… or maybe president of the United States. If I worked it right, maybe I could be two out of the three. This isn’t fair!
It all makes me laugh now as I look back…
Here I sit at my keyboard, an old man, and this world is still chugging along. In the many decades that have passed since I was a boy, I’ve come to understand that the Revelation is not about the end of the world, although the end of the world comes up a few times. It turns out that Revelation is much more than the tale of the end of things, for it turns out that Revelation is about the life we are living in the here and now, which would seem to make a great deal of sense. Haven’t you ever wondered why God would give a series of visions to the Apostle John in 90 something AD, about events that would only happen thousands of years in the future, and ask him to report it to the church in his time? When did our God become a God of disorder and confusion?
Our God is a God of order; He brings order out of chaos as He holds the whole of Creation together, so why would He create chaos for the early church when it was already suffering the trials of persecution? Oh great, tell these poor brothers the world is about to come to an end; scare the heck of them… or give them false hope! Maybe I’m crazy, but that doesn’t sound like God to me. Of course, we aren’t living in the late first century AD, we are here now, so it makes more sense that an entire book of the Bible was written just for us, after all, we are the special ones. Sounds pretty bad when you just come right out and say it that way…
Here’s what I propose: Let’s begin by dropping the preconception that Revelation must be about the end of the world, and prepare for our review of its contents by saying that maybe it is about the end of the world, and maybe it isn’t and then see what we can find. If we can agree to do that, I would say that this post has done its job. If we can’t, then this series of posts may irritate you…
Next time, let’s discuss how best to approach the text in terms of methodology; see you then!