Reading Apocalyptic Without Going Apocalyptic

canstockphoto16781728I am strongly considering teaching the book of Revelation in the Fall in my Wednesday night Bible study. There’s a big part of me that wants to do it because I know that people have difficulty reading and understanding that admittedly strange book.

Once you get past the seven letters to the seven churches, things get…weird. So people tend to stop reading it.

Then they either never think about Revelation again, or they fall for the pop interpretations like that found in the Left Behind series written (sorta) by the late Tim LaHaye.

Which. Are. Just. So. Wrong.

But there is another part of me, perhaps an even bigger part, that is reluctant to wade into those apocalyptic waters. Revelation has a great message, one that needs to be heard, but it’s a less-entertaining message than the Left Behind interpretation, which got made into a movie starring Kirk Cameron.

The real message of Revelation will never get made into a movie.

But you know that old saying about not talking about politics or religion in polite company? Revelation talks about politics and religion, and pretty boldly, and that is perhaps the biggest reason for my reluctance.

People today don’t seem to know how to be polite when it comes to politics or religion when we keep those subjects separate. When we put them together people tend to get rather, well, apocalyptic about it all.

Is it possible to study apocalyptic without getting apocalyptic? I’m not sure.

The truth is that the Bible itself is about both politics and religion. It speaks of personal faith, but does so within the context of the world stage.

In other words, the Bible is about more than my life or my personal relationship with Jesus—it is about those things as they relate to what God is doing on a much larger playing field.

canstockphoto16531081The book of Revelation takes place on a truly cosmic stage, alternating between events on earth and events in heaven. All the while it has a very personal message to Christians.

To the Christians suffering under Roman persecution, the message is “Stay faithful. Though popular theology tells you that being blessed means having good things happen to you, and that bad things happening are a sign of unblessedness and unfaithfulness, I’m telling you that it is just the opposite.

“Those who are blessed by the Empire are the ones who have bowed to the Empire. Those who persecuted by the Empire are the ones who are unfaithful to the Empire. But that means that you are faithful to the true King of Heaven and Earth. You are the real blessed ones.”

To the Christian who is not persecuted—which is pretty much anyone who is reading this—Revelation is a warning: do not put your hope in any political system or party, whether that be Roman, Jewish, or American. Jesus is Lord (which in New Testament times was a political statement), not anybody in Rome, Jerusalem, or D.C.

There is a savior who will make things in the world great again, and his name is Jesus.

Revelation is also a warning not to give up on this world, as messed up as it seems. Don’t withdraw into a private world of personal religion and faith; don’t fall into the belief that the only thing God can do is scrap the whole enterprise of a good and just earth and just get ready for a bodyless experience in a spiritual heaven.

Revelation is about seeing things through, not giving up; it’s about renewing all things, not tossing it all out as a good attempt gone hopelessly wrong.

God will not be dragged down into our political and religious fights, as if he has chosen sides, declaring one side righteous and the other unrighteous. God calls all sides to account.

No earthly power embodies the Kingdom of God. Indeed, Jesus is a threat to their power, which is why they always oppose him even as they try to invoke him in their cause.

Christians are supposed to know where their hope lies.

But sometimes I wonder.

Photos by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / jc_cards  © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Gordo25

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