The Last Book of the Bible
No book of the Bible has sparked more controversy than Revelation. No book of the Bible has had more inaccurate things said about it. No book of the Bible has used more by unscrupulous people to build narcissistic cults around themselves than Revelation. It has led to plenty of bad movies, and even more destructive theological schemes designed the scare the wits out of people. It is a book loved by many including the early church father Irenaeus, and many 19th and 20th century socialists who viewed chapter 18 as a statement against capitalism. It has been viewed with suspicion by others(Calvin) and disliked by still others.(Luther).
During the fourth century AD deliberations about which books of the Bible would be included in its final form, many argued for it's exclusion. They did for basically two reasons: 1. It was not written by an apostle. Contrary to the popular understanding the writer is not John the Apostle son of Zebedee. The text itself leads to this conclusion, as the author speaks of the apostles as being men other than himself in Rev. 18:20, 21:14. 2. It's theology seems inconsistent with much of the other writings of the New Testament especially Paul's letters.
It survived because in the end people realized it was a book that articulated the hope of the Gospel in profoundly beautiful way. The final chapters provide some of the most wondrous images of the entire Bible to give a holistic vision of the hope we will have at the end of days if we cling to Christ. Revelation mines the Hebrew Bible for much of its imagery with Daniel and Ezekiel being most prominent. It communicates the truth that there will be a final victory over all evil, and that God will redeem his children. People will be at peace, and live in harmony with God, others and creation.
The Gift of the Book: Worship
Revelation like Daniel and Ezekiel, was written during a time when the faithful experienced both internal and external threats. The key to understanding what these are is to pay attention to Chapters 2 and 3, where John of Patmos, outlines the situation for seven churches in what is today Turkey. The external threat was the big bad Roman Empire which destroyed Jewish temple in 70 AD.; The earliest supposed date for the book puts it during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian whose son Titus destroyed the Jewish Temple. Most put place it during the reign of his other son Domitian, who persecuted Christians and Jews to reassert the prominence of the Roman gods throughout the empire. The internal threats were twofold, accommodation with pagan culture and immorality. John of Patmos wrote the book to give the answer for both these threats, worship. The simple premise and point of the book of Revelation is this: To encourage the faithful to keep centered on the Jesus Christ as Lord through worship no matter what their circumstances.
Worship is the key to understanding the whole book. It is used as both a commentary on the action unfolding in the book and as the central practice for the faithful to engage in. In Revelation 1:3 we read that blessed are those who keep what is in the prophesy of the book. This clearly alludes to a practice. The practice that is most prominent is worship.
If you are a church goer and are reading the book of Revelation for the first time in depth, you will notice that much of the language will be strikingly familiar. Many hymns and the traditional communion liturgy quote Revelation directly. This would probably warm John's heart because that is what he set out to do when he wrote down his vision to the seven churches. He wanted them to make the choice to worship the one true God even when the culture was doing everything in it's power to keep them from doing it. John calls this faithfulness "victory". If you read Revelation and ignore this you are missing the entire point of the book. All the end-time speculations and schemes (every one has been wrong so far!) mean nothing if one does not take the bold step to worship the God of Jesus Christ. Revelation like good worship, uses imagery to communicate to us on an emotional level the love and justice of God and the hope we have in the risen Jesus Christ.
This makes John of Patmos' book a most relevant one to our time. Today is not the 1950s' in New Jersey. There are no longer any advantages to people attending worship intrinsic to our culture. In fact, in a typical workplace these days, men in our area are more likely to confess to going to strip club than going to church. Church is seen by our culture as something to be ashamed of and kept in the dark. John of Patmos' message to worship boldly is a challenge to contemporary American Christians to keep the faith through worship. For it is only by staying close to Christ that we will have any hope.
Easter Season at Holy Cross
As a theme for the Sundays following Easter at Holy Cross this spring we will be exploring the book of Revelation and what it can say to us about worshiping God in our culture and time. In addition to exploring the themes in worship during the sermon, I will be leading a close reading bible study on Friday evenings at 7PM beginning April 12.
May God bless you with the Joy of knowing the Risen Christ.
Keep the Faith,