The Revelation of John. The Book of Revelation. The one book in the Bible that is loved for its promise of hope or feared with its presumed promise of destruction and with very little middle ground between the two.
This polarity of views is a relatively new invention as the reasons for fearing the message in Revelation is less than 200 years old, by and large. Maybe people of all time have feared it but the reason for the current confusion about the book of Revelation is a theology started in the mid 1800s known as premillennial dispensationalism, which claims that all of history and the entire world order is divided up into timeframes or dispensations. Certain things must happen in each dispensation that lead into what happens in the next dispensation in a neatly mapped out way of describing history and the future. The premillennial bit does not mean ‘before the millennial generation gets ahold of it’ but rather before a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Which, for those of you who followed the Left Behind series in the 90s well know, Christ’s 1000-year physical return to the earth started by the Rapture. That event where all the righteous people are bodily taken up into heaven and the rest of us unrighteous people are, well, Left Behind. That’s going to be a real problem if you’re in an airplane and the aircrew are righteous and you’re not. (Hint – you’re not but Christ is. We’ll get back to this in a minute)
This is all supposedly Biblically based and I suppose if you take things out of the Bible and put them together in a way that confirms your conclusion then it has some Biblical reference to it. We call that cherry picking, those times when you use a verse or two to support your belief or assertion. It doesn’t meet any kind of rigor academically and it just doesn’t pass the smell test either. There are many books written about secretly coded messages in the Bible but they’re completely unnecessary. God doesn’t need a secret code. God has been fully revealed in Jesus Christ and the Bible points us to that reality with no need for hiding anything in code.
This idea of Revelation being a list of prophecy things that will happen in the future is underscored by the idea that this book is frequently referred to as Revelations. That is to say the plural version which is incorrect and like many things incorrect, it leads to confusion.
One frequent confusion is that the Bible is predicting an apocalypse, and end of the world in some horrific event, which is incorrect. Apocalypse is simply the English version of greek word for revelation, apokalypsis. John is revealing something he has learned. It also refers to the style of literature that Revelation is written in, which is a way of writing that uses vivid imagery to form word pictures in your mind so you can remember it. We remember things in Revelation like the four living creatures with six wings. That’s a mental picture, isn’t it? And perhaps more commonly, the four horsemen that we’re going to talk about in a couple of weeks. When we say the four horsemen of the apocalypse we’re not saying the four horsemen of the end of the world, which is how it is typically understood. We’re saying the four horsemen that reveal something to us.
So if Revelation is NOT predicting the end of the world in some horrific Armageddon like cataclysm, and it isn’t, what in the world IS it saying? For that, we turn to good Lutheran style Bible interpretation. Our friend Martin Luther was pretty clear on how we are supposed to look at the Bible. The reasons are longer than we have time for right now but the end result is that all scripture points to Christ. Old Testament and New Testament, it all points us to Christ in some fashion. I’m not always certain how that is, like in the book of Numbers and 1 or 2 Chronicles but I do take it on faith that they do.
There will be difficult times and there will be problems we face and God in Christ will be with us. The God that came to us as the person of Jesus Christ, the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas and the same God that died on the cross, coming back three days later, the resurrection we celebrate at Easter. All those hopes and promises given to us.
We know this because of the promises revealed to us in the Bible and we’re reminded of those promises when we look up and see the cross. We’re reminded of those promises when we see a baptism and think of our own baptism. We’re reminded of those promises when we come to the table of communion, set with the bread and wine.
In those reminders we’re brought back to the truth of the Bible and that is we are saved by grace through our faith. In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we have been forgiven of our sins and assured of the promise of eternal life. There is no rapture taking the good people up while the rest of us wait. There is only God’s loving and forgiving presence that surrounds us.