"Unraveling Revelation" by: Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Wednesday, February 21, from 11 am until 12 noon in our parlor, we will together begin exploring The Book of Revelation (technically titled The Revelation to John). This will be the next New Testament Book we examine in our on-going Bible Study.
It’s not easy to fully understand the deep riches of our Bible. We, Baptists, believe that everyone is given God’s grace to understand the Scriptures. But I believe we all can use help from time to time.
The Book of Revelation is filled with an amazing amount of apocalyptic imagery. Apocalyptic imagery is familiar to readers of the Old Testament Book of Daniel. We also find apocalyptic elements in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Zechariah.
In the New Testament, apocalyptic imagery is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, 2nd Thessalonians 2 and a few other places. The Book of Revelation is, of course, the major apocalyptic text of the New Testament. Apocalyptic writing usually flows forth from religious persecution.
In a few cases, the author of Revelation, John of Patmos, speaks plainly about his visions and imagery - such as the scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns (Revelation 17:3). John explains that the beast of seven heads is the city built on seven hills (Revelation 17:9) - which is, of course, ancient Rome.
Over the years, I’ve heard an endless stream of television preachers proclaim to know everything there is to know about the Book of Revelation and its meaning. In lurid detail, they will explain how the “signs” of Revelation are all unfolding “as we speak.”
This process of predicting the end of times has, of course, been going on for the past 2,000 years! At some point, the “end times” really will be upon us - but until that happens, I hold to what Jesus teaches: “It is not for you to know the times or periods the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) As a matter of fact, I believe one goes against this teaching of Jesus when one gets “seduced” by all those proclaiming “end times now!” This includes the Left Behind fiction works - entertaining though such books may be!
To hopefully help with understanding the Book of Revelation, we’ll engage this complex Biblical book in our every other Wednesday Bible Study.
I believe all Christians - all disciples - need to study the Scriptures. The Book of Revelation is a very exciting book. I’m very much looking forward to presenting these Bible classes for our neighborhood as well as the members of our church.
The Book of Revelation was not the last book of the New Testament to be written (which is, by the way, the 2nd Letter of Peter). But Revelation was rightly placed at the end of the Bible for some very good reasons. The Book of Revelation brings us back to the Garden of Eden with its Tree of Everlasting Life. It’s compelling imagery of a New Jerusalem, a new Earth, and the defeat of all evil is a wonderful way to bring the entire Bible to a conclusion.
Four years ago I led a three-part series on Revelation - both at our church and at Smith Village. But what we will do in our Bible Study is “walk-through” the entire Book - exploring in some depth the riches of Revelation. I expect us to be engaged with Revelation for some months to come.
Here are some thoughtful comments from Biblical Foundations of Spirituality: Touching a Finger to the Flame by the Bible professor, Barbara Bowe (this was the first book we explored as a congregation after I came to our beloved church ten years ago):
“Revelation was written near the end of the first century by a prophetic seer named John who was a member of the Christian church in western Asia Minor, probably in Ephesus. His was the world of the Roman empire, in the province of Asia and in Ephesus, the fourth largest city of the Roman Empire where there was a flourishing cultic (pagan) practice of emperor worship dedicated to the Emperor Domitian (81-96 C.E.) … It is no wonder that the author of Revelation saw the Roman world, and in particular the emperor himself, as the ‘beast’ (Rev. 13). Christians had suffered martyrdom for their belief in his day, perhaps for refusing to participate in the ‘cult of the beast.’
“In the Roman world, citizens were expected to offer homage (thru sacrifice) to the gods who protected and watched over the good of the empire (the Roman emperors were considered gods!) … To withhold one’s sacrificial offering in the exercise of this civil religion was viewed as a subversive act because it angered the gods and threatened the peace and good order of the empire. And so, the author of Revelation comforts the Christians of his day urging them to stand fast against the threat of the ‘beast.’”
The Book of Revelation was written to strengthen the Christians facing deadly persecution by the Roman emperor. It was not intended to “foretell the future.” To use it as such is to corrupt its message and misuse it. Come and learn more! Coffee and donuts are always provided!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643