By Bill Warren, NOBTS
QUESTION: How can I understand the Bible better when I read it? Part 4 Revelation
NOBTS’ Bill Warren responds: Where can hope be found when the world is in chaos and there seems to be no hope for the future? Is there really any sense in being faithful to God when the future looks so bleak for God’s people and causes?
Apocalyptic writings minister to people in these worse case scenarios, with Revelation being such a writing: Rev. 1:1
“The apocalypse [revelation] of Jesus Christ.” “Apocalypse” implies an “uncovering” or “revealing” of something – this literature seeks to reveal something about the situation at hand that is not being perceived by the larger group, with a goal of inspiring faithful living in spite of the current circumstances.
These are ministry documents that speak to real people struggling with real questions (the seven churches) who are going through horrible circumstances that are affecting life both within the group and in the larger culture.
History is spinning out of control with intervention by God as the only hope. John proclaims that God will intervene on behalf of his people in the most dramatic of fashions and with the most decisive of victories, thereby offering an unfaltering source of hope and inspiration for continued faithful living.
So how can we understand the apocalyptic literature in the Book of Revelation.
First, the historical ministry purpose needs to be kept in mind. The text needs to be seen first in light of the author and recipients of the first century, and then application can be made to other settings and time periods.
This is not to say that the book doesn’t speak of the future, but exegesis starts with the historical meaning of the text. The anchor of historical revelation for understanding the Bible is too important to discard – God revealed himself in history, so history needs to be taken seriously.
Second, the heart of the apocalyptic message is that God himself will make a way forward for his people. The hero of the Book of Revelation is Christ. Christ is revealed as the Lord of History in this book.
Third, don’t get lost in the millennium. The passage in Rev. 20:1-10 contains details that are hard to understand in many ways, but the larger emphasis is not so hard to understand. God will take care of his people, with them participating in whatever good things he has planned for the future.
Fourth, remember that the original recipients of this book were living in the midst of persecution, oppression, and martyrdom.
Our situation of relative ease in the USA needs to be recognized as distanced from that of a suffering church. The ministry emphasis to struggling and persecuted Christians can be overlooked in our desire to make the book relevant to a different context of relative luxury and ease of living, with the call to faithful living and a turning of attention to a vision of hope in God who hears his people’s prayers and fights for them lost in the process.