So someone suggested that you should have a bible study. Someone suggests Revelation. Heads start nodding and suddenly visions of dragons start dancing in your head. Now what? There has been more ink spilled writing about Revelation that pretty much all other books combined. But it’s not as overwhelming as you may think once you keep these ideas in mind.
Shout out to Dr. Richard Oster, from whom this list is distilled.
- You have to actually read the book of Revelation, not just what others say about Revelation. “Revelation” is a noun. It is the thing that gets revealed, explained, and made clear. The book of Revelation was not intended to confuse, obfuscate, or muddy the water. It was intended to give insight to its original readers, who would have understood waaaaaaay more than we ever will. This book was intelligible and had meaning to its original readers. They would not have read Revelation and been dumbfounded. Neither would they have thought, “Well, that has nothing to do with us, but it’ll be relevant to Christians in 2,000 years.” If your interpretation includes something that would have dumfounded original readers such as helicopters and nuclear attacks, you’re probably on the wrong track. (Fun fact: I LOVE the word “Obfuscate.” Click and Clack used it all the time.)
- The book’s author, John, is trying communicate something he SAW via the medium of WORDS. That is insanely difficult to do, let alone do well. Just try and describe with words the most amazing thing you have ever seen with your eyes, and then watch as the people listening to your life-changing vision look mildly interested and say, “yeah, sounds cool.” There’s a reason for the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So don’t be surprised if you read things that seem shockingly over-the-top. John has his reasons for saying what he said. Sometimes the things in our heads can come out no other way.
- Studying archaeology, ancient coins, and artwork will tell you tons about the ancient world, and therefore the original audience of Revelation. Ignore them at your peril. Some things in the ancient world were so commonplace they did not warrant explanation in the text of Scripture, in much the same way our cars, toothbrushes, and shingles probably will be unfamiliar and mysterious to people in the year 4015. So seek out the primary sources. It’s worth your time. By studying the artifacts, they’ll give you a glimpse into the daily life and assumptions of the people of the context. Indeed, it is quite possible to so misinformed about the ancient world that your interpretation of a given passage or chapter will be dead wrong.
- It’s possible to have dead wrong interpretations. Not all interpretations are valid. Sorry. Welcome to real life. Leading your interpretational process with “I just think that…” will seldom lead anywhere productive.
- John connects his Revelation to the OT Prophets and their messages A LOT. If we miss his references, it’s probably because we don’t know our Old Testaments. Specifically, he draws heavily from Ezekiel, Daniel, Psalms, Zechariah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. And that’s the short list.
- Like the prophets of the Old Testament, assimilation to the culture was (is) one of the main driving themes and warnings of Revelation. God’s people are holy, and are therefore not to be mixed in with a culture whose values stand in stark contrast to those of Jesus. Whatever else happens with dragons, lamp stands, judgements, locusts, and beasts, just bear in mind the story drives the visions, not vice versa.
- Don’t let the “special effects” get in the way of the story John is trying to tell. This book is about God’s justice for those who’ve remained loyal, and against those who’ve stood in opposition, both outside the church and within. Yes, that’s painting with a broad stroke, and there are more nuanced themes. But stick close to that premise and you won’t ever be too far off base.
- Revelation is far more concerned with Holiness (mentioned two dozen times) than Love (mentioned half a dozen times).
- Let’s not forget that Christ is not only resurrected, but enthroned. In fact, he’s enthroned BECAUSE he’s resurrected. We often forget that part, but it’s essential. (Note: Here in the West, we Christians tend to focus on the cross. But in the East, particularly orthodox churches, the focus is on the empty tomb. There’s something there worth learning.)
- The Christology of Revelation (and the NT for that matter) changes as you move through the book from beginning to end. Yes, the person and identity of Jesus may be correctly thought of as holding a lamb and playing with children. He may also be thought of as running toward the prodigal. But we often forget–perhaps willfully?– that the picture of Jesus John paints in Rev. 1 is that of a scary, violent, and not very aesthetically pleasing Jesus. AND JOHN HAS A POINT FOR EMPLOYING SUCH AN IMAGE. It’s okay to have all these different pictures of Jesus. They are all valid, for he is a dynamic figure, and each picture has a point. What’s not okay is interchanging the pictures with other contexts or to using one picture of Jesus for all contexts. Don’t you dare pigeonhole Jesus like that. In asking “Is Jesus more like Mother Teresa or William Wallace?” the answer is, “It depends.”
- Revelation is best read with humility. Let’s not pretend that this is the easiest book in the world to understand. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand anything, or that we can’t grow, revise, edit, or jettison our current understanding.
- You were meant to be encouraged by the book of Revelation, not terrified. But if you are terrified by it, that says more about you than the book.
Happy Revelation studying! I look forward to hearing from you.