28 November 2012

i wish we all could remember revelation

I have been reading and teaching Revelation on an academic level for a handful of years now.  My continual study of the narrative shows me that this book is nothing like what I thought it was when I was younger.  Although some people will only be able to see this as a hopeful text of a disillusioned exile, and others only look for the codes which are only (supposedly) decipherable by those who are alive on earth's final days, I see it as a magnificent work of literary achievement and theological insight.  In other words, Revelation is much more than we often allow it to be.  Therefore, its message is more powerful than we expect.

Our problem with reading the apocalypse is that we don't.  Not really, at least.  We may give a casual skim over various parts of the narrative, but very seldom do we seek to read it in its own context - without our own preconceived narrative of the end of the world.  The actual contents of Revelation, when read as the divine scriptural word that it is intended to be, does not simply give us a timeless text (general truths for any time and season).  Rather, in this inspired work we have a timely message which speaks to the heart of all times and seasons.  That is to say, it has a powerful message that ought never be overlooked.

What the church needs to hear from Revelation today is the message of increasing polarization that will characterize the relationship of the people of the kingdom and the people of the earth during these last days.  This message is quite timely when the current American culture is so deeply divided around its own ideals.  When the cultural war is being waged so strongly, the church (and sometimes even other religious institutions) will undoubtedly come under fire, for it is devoted to a particular political message - namely, the kingship of Jesus the messiah.

Any attempt for the church to make a moral stand for the principles of the kingdom will produce a clash with those who are devoted to the system of the kingdom of this world.  Although we sometimes are taken off-guard at this reality, we ought never be surprised, for Jesus himself taught us that this was the way things would be.  Revelation simply draws this out in narrative form, showing the natural progression of society to be at odds with the message of Christian faith because it upholds morality and accountability to the divine sovereign.

But what Revelation is also at great pains to demonstrate is that the people of the kingdom, even when under assault, will not act as the people of earth without gaining for themselves the same destruction.  The call for the people of God is to shine the light of the gospel ever brighter, actually increasing the polarization of good and evil in the world.  For the modern believer this, at first, appears counter-productive and possibly counter-biblical.  But this is only because we have allowed modern culture to define for us what kind of God we serve, rather than seeing this God for ourselves.  Over the last few generations we bought into the lie that said the church was no place to confront people with sin, and even today we believe that tolerance is a Christian ideal, though Jesus admonished that we should go and leave our lives of sin.

There is no room for Christianize niceness when one reads the stark reality of Revelation's narrative.  The apocalypse is a story which shows heaven's perspective on the state of creation.  Where we see an impressive leader who cannot be overcome, heaven sees a grotesque beast who distorts the goodness of creation's dignity.  Where we see the endless wars of mankind, heaven sees a progression that will ultimately end with the victory of the messiah.  It is not a nice story of spiritual truths; Revelation's story is a disturbing and unsettling image of our present reality, and its playing out.  This is our story as well, and it would do us all a world of good to read it, study it, examine it, learn it ... along with the whole of God's Word ... that we might live it.

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