Transitioning into Revelation

Herz-Jesu-Kirche, westseitige Teiansicht der Pendentifkuppel,Shared under Creative Commons attribution-Share alike 3.0 Germany

As a part of my personal growth and dedication to these strange, wonderful scriptures I’ve attempted to lean into some of the texts I am less familiar with and there is an unseen method to my madness. I have enough background knowledge to know that some books pull heavily on the imagery of others while others naturally flow in a narrative sequence. I’ve grown immensely in my faith and my love for the scriptures in my work with Exodus, Deuteronomy, Esther, Psalms 1-41, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah and Haggai. I thought Song of Songs or Song of Solomon was going to be the next book I approached, and that one will probably come after Revelation and Psalms 42-50, but I attempt to listen when people ask about something specific and living in Texas people are curious about Revelation.

Revelation is the first book in the New Testament that I am going through completely here on Sign of the Rose. Part of that is intentional, as a Christian pastor I spend more time with the Gospels than any other portion of scripture and early in my ministry I wanted to go back to get a PhD in New Testament studies focusing on the Pauline letters. After fourteen years in ministry I felt very comfortable in multiple reading perspectives for large portions of the New Testament and I’ve found in particular the work of Richard B. Hays which points to the allusions of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament. Like most Christian ministers my comfort with the Hebrew Scriptures (commonly called the Old Testament) was limited and so I’ve attempted to grow in this area. Ideally to approach the book of Revelation I would have preferred to work through the books of Daniel and Ezekiel first since Revelation uses imagery from both of these books frequently and Daniel, especially, is the closest in style to most of Revelation’s imagery and form.

In my tradition, Lutheran and specifically ELCA Lutheran, the book of Revelation is not often utilized. We sometimes may point out perspectives that we don’t agree with in how the imagery of Revelation is misused. Sometimes we have laughed to ourselves about various groups that have boldly posited the dates of Christ’s return. It is far easier to critique or challenge someone else’s perspectives and constructs rather than contribute one’s own. I can’t claim to speak for all Lutherans or even on behalf of one denomination, but rather as one pastor who diligently attempts to use the tools of my tradition, my own experiences and gifts of reason and knowledge and a love for these strange scriptures that point us to the God of the people of Israel and the God who the early Christians would come to know through the witness and revelation of Jesus.

I do think before moving through individual chapters it is helpful to understand how Revelation has been used (or frequently not commented on) by the church across its history so the next post in this series will look briefly at the history of interpretation. Maybe I’m the only person who finds that interesting, but it is helpful for me to understand the way the Christian church has approached this book to understand what pitfalls are there.

If you come to these posts looking for me to explain exactly how the world is going to end I want to warn you up front that you will be disappointed. Much of the misinterpretation of Revelation goes into not paying attention to the rich and allusive language of this work and attempt to lock it down into a series of events that must happen. Revelation has a powerful resonance for today’s world but not as a tool for interpreting the future, but rather as a lens to look at the present. Many recent interpreters, particularly from American and English evangelical traditions, fundamentally misread this book because they assign to God’s plan the things that are God unveiling the way humans have brought death and destruction to the world. They try to make the crucified lamb into the conquering lion rather than Revelation’s reversal of this image to turn the lion into a lamb. Yet, it still has a powerful resonance which can at times be uncomfortable-especially in the places where the United States, my home country, has attempted to emulate the parts of Rome that Revelation parodies. It also speaks to a church that finds itself in various situations: from complete acculturation with the narrative of the nation to finding itself a persecuted entity.

Ultimately, anyone reading this is entitled to their own reading of Revelation. It continues to evoke new readings in culture, art and music-some faithful and some obviously not to the author’s original message. Welcome for those journeying with me into this journey with this strange, evocative, powerful and sometimes confusing vision of John on Patmos. May these humble reflections be my own offering cast before the throne of the one who is worthy to receive glory, honor and power. (Revelation 4:11)

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