In response to a blog on Revelation, one of my friends observed that early on in my series (perhaps even better beforehand) it would be good to help people answer the question, ‘Why read this book at all?’ Many people mistakenly believe that it is either a complicated irrelevant fantasy, or a prophecy that gives minute details of the ‘end times’ that are upon us, such as the beliefs expressed in the Left Behind series.
He’s absolutely right, of course, and I immediately wanted to answer, ‘We need to encourage people to study Revelation because…’ – and there were a whole lot of ‘becauses!’ This blog is not meant to be comprehensive, but it gives some reasons and illustrations of why grappling with Revelation will prove to be a very positive experience for our Christian life and growth.
- Because of what it tells us about God. There are descriptions of the majesty of God that make us bow down in wonder and worship to God the Creator. If we take them seriously they will transform our worship. But there are also more challenging pictures of who God is and what God does – how are they to shape our understanding of a God whose essence is love?
- Because of what it tells us about Jesus. We can learn lots about Jesus from the vast range of titles and descriptions John uses to convey his significance, but none more than the recurring theme of the victorious Slaughtered Lamb.
- Because of how it describes the church. One of the reasons I love the music of the Taizé Community in France is because its songs and Scripture readings reflect many of the languages of those who worship God around the world. The church is the Bride of the Lamb, purchased from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, and this will shape how we see our sisters and brothers across the globe.
- Because of the way it challenges and encourages the churches. Apocalyptic is the literature of resistance in times of threat and oppression. It demands that those who have been lax in their allegiance to Jesus repent and change their ways; it assures those who do that they will overcome and receive a special reward from Jesus himself; it gives hope to those whose suffering is unto death, that they will find both justice and eternal life.
- Because it tells us about the mission of the church. ‘No matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are, sometimes the dragon wins.’ That was the theme of President Tom Gillespie’s message at my DMin graduation in 2004, taken from Ezekiel and Revelation. The battle we face in the mission of the church is not always successful. The dragon may defeat us for a time, but ultimately the Lamb wins, and the sacrificial witness of the church is crucial to that victory.
- Because of how it challenges our concept of Empire and the use of Power. We either belong to the Empire of Babylon (in those days Rome, in our day a variety of entities) or the Kingdom of God. There is no in-between. Babylon enslaves, extorts, oppresses – and Babylon will fall, or rather, has fallen. Power in the Kingdom of God is expressed in self-giving, as in the sacrifice of the Slaughtered Lamb and his army of martyrs.
- Because of the hope of justice and judgment. Yes, the Lamb and his followers may suffer injustice, but Revelation gives us hope that there is a day of reckoning coming, when injustices will be made right and those who perpetrated them will experience the judgment of God – what that judgment looks like is debated because of the nature of the symbolic language used, but judgment there is, and it brings vindication to the witness of the church.
- Because of the picture of New Creation and New Jerusalem. The echoes of Eden in the city that comes from heaven to earth tell us that God is bringing to fulfilment the purpose that was planned from the very beginning. From a garden to a garden city, the picture of God’s Kingdom is one of activity and satisfaction in life in the light of the ever-present God. It is creation transformed. Death shall be no more and God shall wipe away all tears.
We could, without doubt, add more ‘becauses’ to this list, but there is more than enough above to justify any attempt to grapple with the meaning and implications of the Book of Revelation. It brims with good things, and it speaks in a loud voice to issues of our time. Eat it, digest it, make it part of you and your journey with God and the Slaughtered Lamb will be all the richer.
If you want to explore further how Revelation speaks to us, you could do no better than read Richard J. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. NTT. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. I receive no reward, except knowing that you will grow in understanding and make progress on the path of discipleship.