Last week Sunday marked the beginning of a new series of messages/discussions I’m leading at Telkwa CRC on the book of Revelation. The amount of unhelpful stuff written about this climax to the Bible is unbelievable. Early 20th Century English writer G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators!” (Orthodoxy, p. 10).
Thankfully there are also astute and insightful resources available. Having read and reread Revelation several times, I am actually beginning to think that it is not as complicated as many people contend. As Lew vander Meer and Bob Rozema contend, the message of Revelation can be summarized in two hope-filled words: “God wins!” Despite Revelation’s simple overall message, I remain grateful for vander Meer and Rozema’s work in addition to several others who have read and wrestled with the text and then write about it for the benefit of church. I have quoted a number of them so far in Telkwa CRC’s journey through Revelation. The first two reprinted below are about Revelation in general; the third quote reflects on the seven churches of Revelation described in Revelation 2-3…
The book of Revelation has taken a bad rap. Once you get the hang of it, it really isn’t all that difficult. It shouldn’t be left to the David Koresh’s of the world. Almost all reputable interpreters today recognize that Revelation is poetry and liturgy. It is not a Rand McNally map of heaven. It is not a timetable for the end of the world. It is not a “Bible Code.” It is by no means as weird as we have been led to believe. It is full of encouragement, hope, and comfort, especially for oppressed people. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was fighting the good fight against apartheid all those decades, he used to say, “Don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged! I’ve read the end of the book! We win!” The celestial vision arises out of the Revelation of Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God who reigns in heaven and who has drawn back the curtain just for a moment to allow us a glimpse of God’s future.
Fleming Rutledge, The Bible and The New York Times, p. 17
[Revelation addresses] the [same] fundamental issue that was facing those who received the document in the first century: Whom will I worship? Someone has said that we human beings are incurably religious, meaning that we cannot but worship someone or something. Who will it be? The powers of the present age, or Jesus Christ? To whom will we give our ultimate allegiance? In the imagery of the book – to the beast, with his seductive offer of pleasure and wealth, or to the slaughtered Lamb, with His offer of life? Whom will we follow as we make our way through this world? By whose value system will we walk? Babylon-the-harlot’s, or New-Jerusalem-the-bride’s? What will shape my lifestyle? The Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, or humanity in rebellion against God?
Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge (noted below), p. 21
The churches of the Revelation show us that churches are not Victorian parlours where everything is always picked up and ready for guests. They are messy family rooms. Entering a person’s house unexpectedly, we are sometimes met with a barrage of apologies. St. John does not apologize. Things are out of order, to be sure, but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms. They are living rooms, and if the persons living in them are sinners, there are going to be clothes scattered about, handprints on the woodwork, and mud on the carpet. For as long as Jesus insists on calling sinners and not the righteous to repentance – and there is no indication as yet that He has changed His policy in that regard – churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright. St. John simply sees them as lampstands: They are places, locations, where the light of Christ is shown. They are not themselves the light. There is nothing particularly glamorous about churches, nor, on the other hand, is there anything particularly shameful about them. They simple are…
A corrupt church still functions as the church: Dirty lampstands do not extinguish Christ’s light. A prettified church [obsessed with looking perfect] still, despite itself, functions as a church: Polished gold does not outshine Christ’s light. Of course, it is better that it be neither of these things, neither tarnished out of neglect or polished in vanity. It is better that it simply be there, unselfconsciously and inconspicuously receiving and sharing the light of Christ.
Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder, pp. 54-55
(If you are looking for a companion volume to read alongside Revelation, I highly recommend Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation by Darrell W. Johnson.)