Monday, October 27, 2008

Blogging Through Revelation

In a rather sharp break from the momentum of this project, I’m going to blog through the book of Revelation. It’s a less than ideal time to do it, since I’m only now about to reach some of the key Old Testament books that Revelation most often alludes to (Zechariah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel). The book is deeply symbolic and very complex, and I had thought to wait until I had gone through the entire Bible to sum it all up in this last majestic volume.

However, I’m teaching a study on the book in our church small group, so now is the time that I have it on my mind. If I wait 'til I finish the rest of the Bible, I may wait forever - especially at my current rate of an utter standstill. I don't want the imagined best to become the enemy of actual good.

In a study our group did on Genesis a while back, there were a few principles we tried to adhere to:

1. Use the questions of the text. Let the text set its own agenda. Rather than bringing our questions to the text, try to pick up on what questions the text itself is seeking to answer, and ask those.

2. Speak the language of the text. Suspend the need to fit every detail into a preconceived theological framework, and allow yourself to be caught up in the story, interpreting the details in its light.

This is certainly not the only way to study the Bible - or even necessarily the best way, but I think it's a particularly neglected way in evangelical Bible studies. Things seemed to work particularly well for Genesis.

Revelation is a little trickier, because its imagery depends so heavily on the rest of the Bible. But I'm offering the group a few tips that seem helpful, most of which I've shamelessly stolen from a list I found on the internet that seemed wise.

1. The book of Revelation was written to the church in its infancy which was facing a great deal of persecution. We may not be persecuted for our faith, but St. John’s church was, as have been many since, as many are today. How does this speak to a suffering and powerless people?

2. Revelation is deeply symbolic, and though the symbolism is vivid and colorful, it isn’t primarily visual. Numbers, for instance, are almost always meant to convey meaning rather than a sense of how many objects we should be picturing in our heads. What are the symbols pointing us to?

3. The more of the Old Testament you know, the better you’ll get on with Revelation. Almost 600 OT references have been picked up, most of them probably unconscious. John is just so steeped in the language of scripture that it forms a natural part of his language. What OT themes are being invoked?

4. Notice how central ‘worship’ is to this book. The heart of Revelation’s message is the victory of Christ and the sovereignty of God over all the powers of the earth. Though this was written immediately to a church facing the might of the Roman Empire, it still speaks to us because those powers still trumpet their sovereignty in our world. How are we to worship?

Here we go!

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