Needless to say, we are not going to arrive at a healthy theology of The Revelation in four days. Better people than I have spent four decades on Revelation research and still there are lessons to be learned. There are so many different views that one may take, it seems futile to be dogmatic about interpretation.
There is one thing, however, that I think may shed some light onto the canvas of the Revelation mystery. It’s one thing that seems pretty cut and dry. The issue of timing. Twice in the first chapter of Revelation and twice in the final chapter we are faced with a rather simple statement about John’s writing.
“This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John, who faithfully reported everything he saw. This is his report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:1–2, NLT)
“God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3, NLT)
“Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets, has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.”” (Revelation 22:6, NLT)
“Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near.” (Revelation 22:10, NLT)
Four times, then, we are told that the writings in Revelation are about something that is contemporaneous with its initial audience. (~A.D 100-200?) For all that we know about the Bible, we are Biblically illiterate when it comes to the first Christians. What we struggle with was probably far easier for them. The book’s symbolism is not unique for its time – it is unique for our time. There are other works, contemporary with this, that sound similar and have similar goals.
Revelation, for that matter, should be handled carefully. In the Eastern churches, Revelation wasn’t added into the Canon until late for this very reason. I think that we should probably admit our own cultural inability to fully appreciate all that Revelation has to offer but also admit that first Christians were much more comfortable with its content.
It’s like this. My wife and I teach math in a high school. Kids these days like their cell phones. A few weeks back, a student asked me why their phone made a clicky sound when it took a picture. I tried to explain to them the concepts of a shutter, film, light, negatives, and development. This is completely foreign to modern kids. Phones just click for some odd reason. They don’t know why we say “hang up the phone”, you just hit the “end call” button. They don’t know why we say “dial the phone number” when there are just buttons to press. I tried to explain all this and they, for the most part, zoned out and made a way cool snap chat story about the whole thing.
The bottom line is this; you don’t have to know why a phone makes a clicky sound when it takes a picture but it’s pretty cool if you do.
Revelation is like that. There are things there that are beyond our time period. Can we figure it out? Yeah. But we are going to need ancient witnesses to help us, not the modern day “end times” charts. Don’t let this stop you from reading it but approach it like a crossword puzzle. Take care of the easy stuff first, then let that influence the harder clues.
Father, illumine our hearts, purify our thoughts, and revealing the true light of Christ to us as we contemplate your Holy Word. Bless us, restore us, love us and save us. Glory to you Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, both now and forever unto ages of ages, amen.