Revelation


The Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye attracted attention to eschatology—the “part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (Oxford English Dictionary). They are by no means the first writers to depict the events cataloged in the book of Revelation and other passages of prophecy. Back in 1972 A Thief in the Night, the first of a series of four feature-length films, made it’s way into theaters.

There was also a badly written novel—the title escapes me—that encapsulated the entire story of The End . . . in about 250 pages. I’m sure there were others. Certainly there have been since Left Behind. In 2010 Scars: An amazing end-time prophecy novel came out. In 2011 an author announced he was beginning work on The Revelation: a new end-times novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

Years ago, before Revelation became a subject of fiction, churches favoring a dispensational view of Biblical history, held prophecy conferences, complete with charts and time lines.

All this to say, there has been a fascination with Revelation and what it says about the future. But of late, perhaps in reaction to the so popular Left Behind books, there’s been a bit of a backlash against end-time fiction. Some publishers, for example, state in their guidelines they do not want end-time stories. Some bloggers make repeated references to the “bad theology” of the Left Behind books.

I suppose the main struggle with the book of Revelation is to know what is symbolic and what is literal. In some instances, an angel tells John, and therefore us, what the visionary language means.

As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

These passages are not nearly as common as the pictorial, symbolic language filling most of the book.

That we struggle today to know what John saw that was figurative and what, literal, should be no surprise. The disciples struggled to understand Jesus, too. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He told them. Oh, no, the disciples said, we forgot to bring bread. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus said. Who gets to sit on Your right hand and left hand when You take over, the disciples asked.

When was He talking in parables, when was He speaking plainly? If they couldn’t tell, it should be no shock that we struggle a bit with the same issues when it comes to the revelation Jesus gave to John.

But there are some things we can know. So what is good theology when it comes to the book of Revelation? What is this book recording John’s vision of angels and trumpets and bowls of wrath and seals and beasts and the harlot Babylon, all about?

As my former pastor said as part of his introduction to a sermon series over the book, the one clear truth is that Christ wins. That being said, I think there are some additional key themes that run through Revelation which, I believe, Christians on either side of the theological divide, agree upon.

First, Jesus Christ is the Lamb that was slain, making Him the only one qualified to open that which God has held secret from past ages and generations.

In addition, He will return as the Conqueror and the King, defeating Satan and assigning him eternal punishment.

Revelation also portrays divine judgment on those who follow Satan, who do not repent and give God glory.

Throughout, the book shows God as righteous in His acts, even those that come directly from His wrath. Here’s an example:

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev 16:5-7)

Another key theme is God’s provision of a new home—a new heaven and a new earth—for those whose names are written in the book of life.

One more, though undoubtedly there are others: there’s a clear warning to the churches to hold fast to the truth, to love God and obey Him, to resist false teaching or the lure of riches or complacency.

Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday. It shows us what He cares about and what His wrath looks like. It shows that He is worthy to be praised for His justice as well as for His redemption, for His majesty as well as for His righteousness. It shows that He is the Lamb who is Worthy.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

Revelation, The End Times, Eschatology


Book_of_Revelation-John on PatmosI’m currently reading in the book of Revelation which has one section that recorded letters to seven churches contemporary to the Apostle John and another section related to the coming and yet future judgment of the world (though a segment of Christians believe the judgments of Revelation were fulfilled in the first century).

As the popularity of the Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye would seem to indicate, a good number of people are fascinated by the latter subject, even those who don’t actually believe. You see this every time someone makes a prediction about when this judgment will take place. It’s like people can’t help but pay attention and wait for the approaching zero hour, then laugh a little (or a lot) when nothing happens.

Some people react almost as if they’ve cheated death. See, they seem to be saying, I can do whatever I want, and the world isn’t going to crumble around our heads. This judgment stuff is a crock.

Which is precisely what Peter warned about in his second letter:

in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3b-4)

Interestingly, Peter connects the end times judgment with the water judgment of old, saying that those who scoff at the coming wrath have missed the lesson of history:

For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. (vv 5-6)

All this relates to Revelation, to the end times, to eschatology (“the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” – Oxford American Dictionary) because God told Noah He would never again destroy the world with water, that judgment would next be delivered by fire.

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (v 7)

It is this coming judgment which both fascinates and frightens mankind.

Christians take seriously the admonition to be on the alert, to be ready. Many are looking for Christ’s return, not to reign but to take believers out of this world before the disastrous things John prophesied come to fruition.

Some are looking for the Antichrist—the one who will rule by Satan’s power and will make war against God’s people. They’re mindful of the “mark of the beast” which non-believers will accept and believers will avoid.

And many believe the end-time events will take place during a seven year period, though there’s debate about whether Christians will be on the earth during any, part, or all of the prophesied judgments.

Interestingly, Peter reminds his readers that God doesn’t reckon time the way we do:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

In this light, I think it’s somewhat humorous that so many who study the Bible are certain about the seven years of tribulation. What if it’s seventy years or seven hundred years? Maybe we’ve been experiencing the tribulation for centuries. What if the first fourteen hundred years after Christ were the things Jesus said in Matthew 24: “merely the beginning of birth pangs”? Then come the end times—seven hundred years of them.

It’s rampant speculation on my part, but no more so than those who have the times all figured out, since they do not take into account that God can reckon time however He pleases. But the really significant point I think is why He didn’t immediately bring judgment on the world after Christ’s resurrection, why He continues to “delay”:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

It’s such an amazing truth—made more so by those who mock, saying He’s not coming back because He never came in the first place or never ascended to heaven; and by those who accuse God of not loving the people who are off somewhere out of earshot of the gospel.

These are the kinds of things we can expect in the end times—people listening to lies instead of God’s word. Truth is, He’s coming, but He hasn’t come yet in order to make provision for every single person who will come to repentance.

Amazing that the dark days of Revelation are as much a proof of God’s love for humankind as any bright day of blessing. He waits and warns and gives signs and prophecies. But in the end, some will refuse to acknowledge God even in the face of destruction. Perhaps the saddest couple of verses in Scripture say

Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory . . . and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.(Rev. 16:9, 11)

How many times have I heard atheists say something like, if that’s your loving God, I want nothing to do with him. It breaks my heart. Can they not see there is an eternal destiny at stake?

Years ago, before personal computers, tablets and cell phones, children had activity books which often included mazes: Help Dorothy reach the city of Oz, or help Timmy find Lassie—some great prize was waiting on the other end of a twisted, tangled, branching set of pathways. Often there were three or four starting places and little known to the unsuspecting child, if you chose the wrong starting place, you could try all you want, but you were not going to get to the prize.

So too with real life. There is only one way, but if we’ve headed off in the wrong direction, we have the option of backtracking—of repenting—and changing course to follow the Light, to traverse the Way.

That’s what God wants, and that’s why He patiently waits.