Post 6, Understanding the Book of Revelation

Adventists often access Revelation seminar materials through the Ministerial Association of their local conference or from the Resource Centre of the Australian Union Conference (PO Box 4368, Ringwood, Vic 3134, Australia). It is the intention of the South Pacific Division to market the excellent DVDs on Revelation developed by Dr Graeme Bradford (a well-known Australian evangelist) and Dr John Paulien (a world-recognised New Testament exegete and Dean of the School of Religion at Loma Linda University in the US) to local churches and conferences as economically as possible. Readers of adventiststudies.com can go to the website <revelationhope.com> to see more about the materials by Doctors Bradford and Paulien that are available at the lowest price. Currently, the Revelation program features on Hope Channel each Saturday afternoon around 4pm. It can be also picked up on broadband under Hope Channel, international live programs.

When I am trying to focus the interest of church attendees on the excellent DVD series that Dr Bradford and Dr Paulien have developed, I offer a sermon something along the following lines. (Bear in mind that this is a summary only, not a transcript.)

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”

Scripture Reading: Revelation 1:9-18, NIV.

 I’ve read a fascinating book many times recently. Some books you need to read only once. However, I get more out of this book every time I read it, and I’ve been doing that for sixty years. Read Revelation 1:1.

So the first thing to emphasise is that this is “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation is an interesting term. It literally means a disclosure, revelation, manifestation, appearance, or a big dose of spiritual enlightenment. The verb is usually translated to uncover, to reveal, to plainly signify, to distinctly declare, to set forth, to announce, to manifest.

Our society throws the original Greek word around a lot, like in the arresting movie “Apocalypse Now.” A whole body of Jewish writing is described as “apocalyptic literature.” Just as the Bible has history (Kings, Chronicles), and poetry (Psalms), it also has apocalyptic embedded in various books of the Old Testament and the New. We Adventists know and love best the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation.

How can we recognise apocalyptic when we see it? Well, it abounds in symbols of many kinds, including symbolic numbers. Angels populate apocalyptic. It is a literature of crisis, suffused with a sense of immediacy, urgency and expectation. It claims to offer dreams and visions about realities usually unseen by mortal eyes. It is often associated with another mysterious word, eschatology. That one isn’t so hard to understand if we break it up. Eschatology has two parts: eschatos, last, and logos, word. So eschatology is simply a word about last things, like death or the end of the world. One is a personal end, your death or mine. The other is a cosmic death, the end of the planet.

So the last book of the Bible is an apocalypse about, or a revelation of, Jesus Christ. We could expect vivid, poetic descriptions of him in such writing. There are a great many; let’s notice four examples.

Chapter 1:17-18, “the Living One”; chapter 5:6, “a slain lamb”; chapter 12:5, “a man child”; 14:14-16 “a son of man” with a sickle; a rider on a white horse who is “King of kings and Lord of lords,” 19:11,16.

Who could write an apocalypse about Jesus? It would help a bit if you knew him well on earth, and had written a book about him and letters to your friends about him. Cf. John 20:30-31; I John 1:1. It would help even more if you saw panoramic visions of him as Living Redeemer, Slain Lamb, Gatherer of Earth’s Harvest, King of Kings. John the Beloved Apostle fits the need so well!

A sermon at best can be an effective starter for our journeys through the coming week. I’d like nothing more than that you actually picked up the Bible and read Revelation this week. You’ll be mystified, frustrated, enthralled, inspired and much more. Almost all human learning happens when we try to overcome some obstacle, some barrier. Parts of Revelation certainly pose obstacles for us to overcome. But some parts are so clear we can be sure about what they mean. Here, for starters, are seven things that may be of some help to you as you read this scintillating apocalypse. (Seven, because you’ll find so many sevens in Revelation!)

  1. The first thing I’d like you to notice is that Revelation is a mosaic. We don’t know much about mosaics in our culture, though we do speak of mosaic tiles. A mosaic is a picture made of small pieces of stone or glass, of different colours, inlaid to form a design. John’s culture abounded with mosaic pictures. He wrote a book that is a mosaic of gemstones from the Old Testament. At the College Church we have a half-dozen or more “Educational Events” each year that I coordinate. The first one for this year was a presentation by our newest doctor in the Faculty of Theology who has spent years studying Revelation. I guess I was astounded as to how much of the Book of Revelation, both in ideas and language, is simply a mosaic of Old Testament gemstones put together in a fresh setting.
  1. The next thing you need to notice is that the Book of Revelation is a war story. It isn’t a peaceful book, I’m afraid. It is a volume of conflict, between good and evil, righteousness and sin, Christ and Satan. As Adventists, ever since 1858 we have been aware of Ellen White’s growing list of books about The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels. Revelation, the final book of the New Testament is a book about conflict, a great war in which the armies of the Living God take the field, and win. It is a war in which every one of us is engaged from the day we are born until the day we die. It is also a strangely different war: a lamb wins by being slain, and redeeming us to God–by his blood.
  1. Revelation is a narrative of crisis. All kinds of important things are up for grabs. The destiny of individuals. The justice of God. The fate of the planet. The well-being of the universe. To read it is to be drawn into a compelling narrative.
  1. Revelation is also a tale of two cities. The Old Testament depicts a long struggle between Babylon and Jerusalem. One is the city of pride, possessions, self-sufficiency, earthly power. The other is the City of the Prince of Peace. The literal Jerusalem fails, so God revises the hopes of his people with the promised heavenly Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem that comes down from God out of heaven.
  1. Revelation includes a series of hymns of praise. It constantly focuses on creation and redemption; see chapters 4, 5, 15, 19, for some instances.
  1. Revelation is far more than a story of war, a narrative of crisis, a tale of rival cities, a sublime hymnbook. Yes, there is plenty of tension in it. But Revelation is primarily a Book of Resolution. The towering problem of sin is met, the planet and its people are restored. There will be no more tears, death. The entire universe will be clean, one pulse of harmony and gladness will beat throughout God’s vast creation.
  1. So we must end where we began. John’s Book of Revelation is an apocalypse of Jesus, an unveiling of the Risen Lord, slain, but victorious. He came, he is coming to earth a second time. And a third time. He is restoring Eden. He is giving his people a New Jerusalem.

Life in the Christian communities of the first century was precarious. So far as we know, when John wrote Revelation, the other eleven disciples and the Apostle Paul were already long dead, perhaps none of them from natural causes. Acts 12:2 tells us that Herod had James “put to death with the sword.” Peter, tradition suggests, was crucified upside down. Paul was beheaded. But John, the youngest of the disciples survived, it seems, for sixty years after the crucifixion. Then the Roman authorities decided they must get rid of him. How? Fry him. Evidently they prepared a huge cauldron of boiling-hot oil, and strong men lifted the aged saint high and threw him in. The Lord looked after John just as well in the bubbling oil as he cared for the three Hebrews in the burning fiery furnace back in that other apocalypse, Daniel. What to do with the unfryable Apostle John? Banish him to the rocky island in the Aegean Sea, Patmos.

Revelation 1:9-11. The seven churches were just like ours: College Church, Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Mona Vale, Hillview, Kanwal and more. Revelation 1:3 is a promise for us all: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy.”

Arthur Patrick, 30 September 2011

 

 

About adventiststudies

Arthur Nelson Patrick, DMin, PhD, is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Avondale College of Higher Education, New South Wales, Australia
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