The book of Revelation is intimidating, and it is often sadly misused as a crystal ball, reduced to a series of apocalyptic charts, or micro-examined as if it were a secret message in need of decoding. The Revelation was written to people who knew their Old Testament a lot better than I do. Therefore, the symbols and imagery that John uses and the numbers that repeat and resonate are all flaming arrows whose trajectories connect the dots to prophecies recorded in Ezekiel, Daniel, and elsewhere.
The trick is to recognize the arrow and hear its twang, in order to follow it. In the 404 verses that comprise John’s final letter, there are 518 references to earlier Scripture — not quotes, but allusions. He doesn’t say, “As it is written in Daniel’s prophecy about the male goat . . .” when he takes up his pen to write chapter thirteen, but his audience, raised on Hebrew scripture, would have recognized the source of the imagery.
Two resources have helped me in my understanding of and appreciation for John’s letters to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Revelation 1:4).
Rachel Schmoyer’s heart for helping readers “read the hard parts” of scripture has resulted in a new devotional workbook that takes readers through Revelation in thirty days. Take It To Heart demystifies John’s writing, making it clear that, first and foremost, the Revelation was written by a pastor. We also forget that the letter was intended for actual communities of believers that existed in a certain geographic, economic, and cultural context.
Read the Hard Parts of scripture with @schmoyer_rachel. #TakeIttoHeart demystifies Revelation, making it clear, first and foremost, that it was written by a pastor.Tweet
Far from a mere catalog of future events, John’s role is to interpret what is to come in light of today’s challenges, to throw in a dash of what has already been, and to help the flock know how to live in the present.
Listening Can Be a Spiritual Act.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”Revelation 2:7
The rhythm of this phrase thrums through the messages to the seven churches no matter what their circumstances or individual besetting sins, causing me to wonder if selective hearing could also be the root of my own failings?
According to Annie Dillard, the greatest theological question of all times is this: “What in the Sam Hill is going on here anyway?” If she is correct, I may find the answer to that momentous question by opening my ears to what the Spirit is saying — through the Word, in response to my prayers, in the whisper-voice of my circumstances.
Worship is the Ultimate Goal
A second and much older resource comes from the heart and the pen of Eugene Peterson. Reversed Thunder gently insists that worship is the ultimate goal when God reveals himself to humanity. Twice, John is rebuked for falling at the feet of a heavenly being in worship (19:10; 22:9). We, too, fall on our faces — easily and in the wrong direction.
My journey through the Revelation reminds me that Jesus is the beginning and the ending, not only because He says so, but because the book puts his magnificence on display for twenty-two chapters, from beginning to end. When the letter is used as a reference book for our quibbling-matches about signs of the time and who’s right about the rapture, we become more of what we already are: a distracted people. Truly a hymnal in its own way, the Revelation reminds me that whenever I find my way into worship, I am joining with and adding to the praise that goes on continually in heavenly places.
The best news we can ever hear with our fallen ears is this: The God of Revelation invites. The word is “come,” and the invitation goes out to all the thirsty. Through desert times of the soul, there is an invitation to drink freely. Here is comfort for the one who is tired of insincere offers; weary of eyes that scan the crowd in search of another more interesting companion; fed up with promises made but not fulfilled.
Join me in taking a step back from the traditional approach to John’s Revelation. Perk up your ears and sharpen your worship as you read the text with new eyes and take in the message with confidence and understanding.
Grace be with you,
The best news we can ever hear with our fallen ears is this: The God of Revelation invites. The word is “come,” and the invitation goes out to all the thirsty.Tweet
The new issue of Joyful Life Magazine can now be pre-ordered, and it includes an article from me! Look for “If I’m Already Forgiven, Why Do I Need to Confess My Sins?” The fall print publication will orient our gaze toward the beautiful growth and change that the Lord is working in our hearts and our homes.
Best of all, the first 100 to pre-order will receive some special bonus gifts.
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