Second ComingI was invited to speak last night at Woodlands Church here in Bristol on the subject of Making Sense of Revelation, as part of their regular Bible School event. If you were there, you’ll know that we decided to open up my blog to allow feedback, comments and further discussion.

Unfortunately (or not, as the case may be) the talk didn’t tape, so I can’t give you a link so you can hear what I had to say. However, below is a bullet point outline of what I said.

To start to make sense of Revelation you can do a lot worse than begin by considering what kind of literary genre we are dealing with.

Prophecy
– Culmination of the biblical prophetic tradition
– Symbolic roots in Old Testament Prophets and the book of Daniel
– Prophetic language is predictive in a symbolic, open and general sense, rather than a literal, closed and specific sense.
– Concerned first and foremost with the immediate original context and its near future, not events millennia ahead.
– And yet the hyperbolic nature of the language gives a reservoir of meaning that allows for ongoing relevance and eschatological hope.

Apocalypse
– a type of literature in which a prophet or visionary receives a revelation from heaven of hidden mysteries.
– Revelation is a disclosure about the course of history and its outcome from a transcendent perspective.
– Not so much about revealing the future, as a glimpse behind the scenes of history so that we can know what’s really going on in the events of time and place.
– Purpose is to show how the present fits into that bigger picture.
– It’s an exposé of the political, economic and social realities of this world in light of the Coming Kingdom of God.

Letter
– It serves to remind us that John had an audience that he was specifically addressing – in this case, the churches in the Roman province of Asia.
– The letters to the seven churches (Ch 2 and 3) serve as a set of introductions that states clearly the various contexts through which Revelation as a whole could and should be read.
– Not all these churches all are poor, oppressed and persecuted. Many are complacent, compromising and close to apostasy when judged by the demands of faithful witness to God’s kingdom.
– Yet to each of them the same call goes out – Conquer – not by revolution and violent overthrow, but by faithful, suffering witness against the idolatrous world system.
– These seven contexts prevent the common generalisation that Revelation is a book written to console an encourage Christians facing persecution and assure them that their oppressors will be judged and they will be vindicated.
– Whether Revelation brings comfort and consolation or warning and challenge depends on which group of Christians you belong to.
– The seven, though historical churches with very real contexts that Revelation addresses directly, also represent all churches and Christians across time and space.

Books to look at: (The first two I used as the basis for my talk)

Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Cambridge Press

Stephen Holmes and Russell Rook (eds), What are we Wating For? Christian Hope and Contemporary Culture, Paternoster

Ben Witherington III, Revelation: New Cambridge Bible Commentary, Cambridge Press.