Revelation for You – my latest contribution to the God’s Word for You series – is published today. I fell in love with the book of Revelation around 20 years ago and this book is the result of that love affair! Here’s an extract …
Mark Twain is supposed to have said, ‘It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand!’ That is certainly how I feel about the book of Revelation. The problem with Revelation is not understanding it (though of course many of its details are difficult to be sure about). The real challenge is knowing how to live it. If John is re-appropriating the Old Testament prophetic critique of idolatrous and unjust power, what does it mean for us to do the same in our generation? For that is what a faithful reading of Revelation must involve. Where do we see idolatrous claims, imperialist agendas and unjust economics today? Where is the church under threat? How is it being seduced?How should the church respond to militant Islam or Chinese expansionism?How do we resist the idolatry of consumerism and the ideology of the self?
Throughout the book of Revelation John offers a penetrating social critique of the Roman empire. Conservative readings of the book of Revelation tend to mute this voice, de-politicising it or postponing it until the end of history. Radicals recognise the social critique, but then assume a certain kind of application, usually some form of political or consumer activism.
But when you look at the response John calls for from his readers, it doesn’t fit our categories. It’s a call to turn from the idolatry and ‘worship him who made heaven and earth’ (14:6-7). It’s a call to reject to seductions of the culture, to ‘come out of her’ whose judgment is sure (18:4). It’s a call to overcome ‘by the blood of the Lamb and the word of [our testimony]’ (12:11). Because this testimony or witness is contested, the book of Revelation is also a call to endure. ‘This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people,’ we’re told in 13:9-10 and 14:12-13. For some this may mean martyrdom; for all it means dying to self (12:11).
A version of the phrase ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’ is repeated seven times in the book of Revelation. John, for example, is told: ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings’ (10:11) The book of Revelation is a sustained appeal to the imagination to inspire Christians to resist the seductions and threats of empire so they might continue the task of world mission.
The book begins with a description of Jesus as ‘the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth’ (1:5). Jesus is the archetypal witness, who did not love his life ‘so much as to shrink from death’ (12:11). But he has risen from the dead and those who die for Christ rise to reign with him (20:4). Whatever the power and seductions of this world, Revelation gives us a vision of the greater and better reign of Christ.
There is an accompanying Good Book Guide available.