“Write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this” (Rev. 1:12-19)
The Book of Revelation is one of those biblical texts to which polite mainline protestant Christians tend to give a wide birth. Yet, the chances are really pretty good that whatever you know about the Book of Revelation (if you know if from popular Christian culture) isn’t particularly accurate. Much too often those words from its first chapter, “what is to take place after this,” have given rise to fevered speculation by cranks and mountebanks about which parts of the Revelation are currently active, which about to enter the stage, and what flavor of fireball the world is going up in. From Joachim of Fiore to John Hagee, the Revelation has been shaken like a warning bell and promoted as God’s last admonition to a sinful public. In short, the book has been treated as nonsense and the popular interpretations are just that—nonsense.
Revelation is most assuredly not about Russia and China, Brexit, ISIS, or the Pope. The book does not even look to our present age, let alone our future (in anything more than the most general of terms), and yet it somehow drives parts of our foreign policy where there appears to be a need for the state of Israel to both exist and return to its historically suspect “original borders.” When Jesus returns to earth, more specifically Jerusalem, there need to be some Jews who will either choose to become “Christians” or join the rest of us in the lake of fire for all eternity (did I mention John Hagee?). Not to put too fine a point on it, this Left Behind stuff, while very exciting, is garbage. It’s no wonder most of us don’t want to touch the text with the proverbial ten-foot pole.
Still, it is a beautiful, if difficult, book for those who care to take it seriously and dig into the text and the context. The Revelation has so much to say that is encouraging and hopeful for a people looking for ways to navigate the stormy waters of a treacherous world. So, here’s a chance to do just that. Let’s dig into it together with this six-part series, Revelation: The End of the World as We Know It.
October 14 – November 18, 1:30 – 3:30PM, Friendship Room
Sunday, October 14: Why the world isn’t ending on Tuesday
We will begin our examination of Revelation by looking at many of the ways in which we have gotten it wrong. From the fascination with The Rapture to the multiplicity of End Times predictions, from The Left Behind fantasies to the endless games of pin the tail on the anti-Christ, the book has been lifted out of its literary and historical context time and time again. We’ll begin to demystify the mysterious text and discuss how some of the most distorted interpretations came to be.
Sunday, October 21: But What About the Apocalypse?
Session two will help us assess the category of literature into which The Revelation falls, namely Apocalyptic. It is a very specific type and style of writing, used primarily in the Ancient Near East, and scattered throughout the Bible. Apocalyptic writing has very specific characteristics and purposes, well worth examining if we want to understand what “John” was up to.
Sunday, October 28: What’s Wrong with the Roman Empire?
Session three will lead us into a discussion about context. Who might this John fellow have been, and what was going on in the world around him as he penned his seemingly chaotic vision? Why would the early church have included this apocalyptic message in its distributed materials? What does this begin to suggest about how we read, and interact with, the text?
Sunday, November 4: The Force Awakens
The Revelation is, above all else, a literature of resistance against the tendency of Empires to abuse God’s people. We will look at how this was true for John and for the early church communities. For those who would oppose the worst predatory instincts of abusive regimes The Revelation is a book of brightest hope in darkest times.
Sunday, November 11: Return of the Jedi
How might the Book of Revelation, rightly understood, apply in our own day and age? What are some of the ways we mythologize those same predatory forces in our world? Does Revelation make more sense as protest literature or as futuristic prophecy?
Sunday, November 18: Dear Church
One of the most powerful sections of The Revelation is that containing the seven letters to the churches. We will look at what John has to say to the prominent churches of his own day, and discuss what critical elements we might apply to our own community.