Reflections on Revelation

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I blog about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Deuteronomy and Isaiah. I’ve written about Revelation before:  An observation on Revelation and Jesus in Revelation.

D. A. Carson tells a story of a friend of a friend of his who was doing university evangelism in the UK, handing out copies of the New Testament. A few weeks later, the missions person tracks down one of the people to whom he gave a Bible. “Well, did you read that book I gave you?” “Yes, I did.” “What did you think of it?”  “It’s a bit of a strange book…  I mean, it’s a bit repetitive—on the front end they sort of tell the same story three or four times. But I sure loved the science fiction at the end!”

OK, though Revelation is really weird, it isn’t sci-fi. Christian views on how to interpret it are classified in four schools:

  • Preterist: Revelation deals with prophecy fulfilled in the past, in particular, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The problem with this view is that chapters 19 on seem to point to future events.
  • Historicist: Revelation is the story of the history of the church, century by century.
  • Futurist:  Chapters 4-22 of Revelation deal with the future, with what will happen just before the great tribulation.
  • Idealist: All the above are correct. There is a fulfillment of Revelation both in the past and in the future. It portrays the cosmic conflict between God and Satan and the battle is always raging.

Hmmm. Guess I’m an idealist.

It was helpful for me to learn that the book isn’t written in chronological order. For example, the mountains and islands flee more than once, in 6:14 and 16:20. John retells the same story from different points of view, with cycles ending in with the breaking of the seventh seal (ch 8), the blowing of the seventh trumpet (ch 11) and the pouring of the seventh bowl (ch 16).

Did you know that of all the NT books, Revelation is the one with the most allusions to the Old Testament? Here’s a sampling:

  • ch 1: Son of Man, Daniel 7:14-27
  • ch 2: Book of life, Exodus 32:33, Isaiah 22:22
  • ch 4: Throne in heaven surrounded by living creatures, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1
  • ch 5: Scroll, Zechariah 5:1-3
  • ch 5: Lion from tribe of Judah, Genesis 49:9, Isaiah 11:10
  • ch 6: Horses and riders, Zechariah 1:8, 6:3
  • ch 7: Sealing, Ezekiel 9:4, Eph. 1:14
  • ch 9: Locusts, Signs of judgment from Exodus plagues and Joel 2
  • ch 13: Composite beast, coming from sea, Daniel 2, 7
  • ch 17: Babylon’s wealth and seductions, and fall, Isaiah13-14, 46-48; Jeremiah 25, 50-51
  • ch 18: Fall of Babylon, Isaiah 13, 14, 21, 46-48; Jeremiah 25, 50-51; Daniel 2,7; Hab. 3
  • ch 21: New Heavens and New Earth, Isaiah 65, 66

D.A. Carson describes Revelation as ‘a tale of two cities’—Babylon and Jerusalem. You’re a citizen of one or the other. Either you get the mark of the Beast and face the wrath of the Lamb, or you get the seal of God and face the wrath of the Beast. For me, what came to mind was Luke 13:5—unless you repent, you too will perish.

Finally, my personal observation. As I read chapter 1, I was struck by the incongruity of the relationship between John and Jesus. Here was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who at the Last Supper had reclined next to Him. And yet, when he meets the risen and glorified Christ, there wasn’t a chummy reunion with friendly banter. He fell at Christ’s feet in fear.  Have we made Christ too fuzzy? A recently published novel has a man spending a weekend with the Trinity, and he never once falls on his face in realisation of God’s holiness and transcendence. He’s not like us. Or, as C. S. Lewis says of Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.”

Sources: Covenant Theological Seminary, FBC Durham, D. A. Carson