Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Share Some Classic Sentiments

"Antilegomena" is a category from early Christianity related to the canonization of scripture. Since all books underwent scrutiny, determining whether they were divinely inspired, some fell into ambiguous territory. Some early ecclesiastical researchers would actually speak against inclusion of some books - thus the term "Anti" (against) "Legomena" (I speak). The book of Revelation was among a handful of books that barely made the cut. Other books were James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Acts and Hebrews.

The book of Revelation seems to have the highest degree of dispute. Martin Luther had little use for the book, although he later changed his view. John Calvin believed the book to be canonical, yet it was the only New Testament book on which he chose to not write a commentary. It also remains the only book of the New Testament that is not read within the worship liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

As a devoted student of the bible, it pains me to admit that this is the one book I find myself detouring around. It fascinates me along with frustrating me.

I have only recenetly realized that it is not so much the book that creates the sum total of my frustration, it is what many so-called expositors have done with it. I am grateful for the insight of a new Java Journey friend for given me a fresh perspective. What David Trapero has done, in his study and concise summation, has served as a means of articulating what I've always discerned about the overall character of this unique book. I have often found myself diviating from the conventional interpretation of Revelation and straining toward teaching a "broader brush" perspective of the book. David has now provided me with a very valuable framework to utilize.

I have often likened eschatological revelations to the famous 1980s puzzle called the "Rubik's Cube" (see the "Rapture" post). The book of Revelation is a multi-sided mass of every color imaginable to humanity. This perspective provided so brilliantly by David gives me the peace and assurance that all the colors do not need to be shuffled about so that all distinctions are matching on one plane.

Revised 10-10-10 by David Trapero

Symbolism - The book of Revelation is unusual in that it is composed almost entirely of symbols, dramatic visual imagery and is dripping in rich metaphors.  Approximately 90% of the book fits into this category.  The other 10% is straight forward yet also shows familiarity with the rest of the book’s symbolism.  In addition, over 80% of the symbolism, concepts and imagery are drawn from the Old Testament, perhaps 15% comes from New Testament concepts and themes with the final 5% unique to Revelation itself along with a dash of extra-biblical Jewish apocalyptic writings of the time.

Audience – The book contains seven brief letters in its opening chapters (2,3) and addresses itself and its entire contents to these seven churches which are named geographically and in the order a circuit prophet or apostle might “make the rounds” among them.  Each of the seven churches is most certainly a collection of Jewish Christian congregations scattered around large metropolitan areas like Ephesus.  The Jewish nature of the content and symbolism of the book of Revelation and its relevance to its intended audience indicate a stage in the expansion of Jewish Christianity that had by this time spread both far and wide of Palestine.  For the inner circle of Jesus’ apostles and Jesus’ brother James, their mission field increasingly became the Jews of the diaspora (dispersion) which simply means Jews of Greek birth, culture and citizenship yet faithful to the laws and customs of Judaism.  Stephen, the first Christian martyr was one of these Greek born and cultured Jews living in Judea during the inception of Christianity.  We must expect the unexpected because relatively little is known of Jewish Christianity outside the early chapters of Acts.  The Jewish Christian books of the New Testament probably include Hebrews, James, I, II Peter, I, II, III John, Jude, Revelation and the gospel of John (influenced heavily by Diaspora Jews who had lived in Judea).

Perspective – After the opening chapter and the letters to the seven churches we the readers find ourselves transported with John into heaven itself.  There is a moving and visually arresting “throne room” scene in chapters 4 & 5 and until the end of the book we never entirely leave this heavenly sphere.  In a sense everything that transpires on earth is in direct and indirect relation to heaven’s activities.  Worship is one of the strongest and most powerful themes of Revelation.  In heaven worship is constant and marvelous and praise and honor are offered in all circumstances taking place on earth below.  In times of victory and redemption as well as in times of intense trials and persecution.  It is a kind of unfolding of Paul’s “all things work together for good to them that love God”.  God is depicted as the all-knowing One, who was, who is and who is to come.  His response to evil, even on a grand scale is one of enormous patience and forbearance, merciful and longsuffering.  However, Revelation depicts the limits of God’s mercy and describes God in the most dramatic and colorful terms as administering justice for his persecuted and oppressed people by bringing down the enormous and intertwined evil institutions that once again seek to enslave not only his people but the entire human race.  The enslavement is described as subtle and extremely deceptive and effective in eliciting peoples’ trust and “worship”(13,14,17,18).  It is this overpowering deception, conflict, climax and resolution that brings earth’s history as we presently know it to an end, culminating in what appears to be the “second coming” of Christ(ch.19).  But according to the book of Revelation this is not the end.  Chapters 20 – 22 describe the eventual transformation of the earth, “a new heaven and a new earth.”  On this transformed earth God’s presence is the center of all human life and activity.  God’s temple is humanity itself and all human inflicted forms of pain and suffering have ceased to exist.  More about this in section 8, The Process.

Focus – Even though the book of Revelation unfolds (beginning with chapters 4,5) from a heavenly perspective, God seated on his throne ruling the universe is also the object or focus of the book.  The ongoing worship of heaven is liturgical, educational and transformational in that it helps us correct distorted views of reality, self and God.  Heavenly worship in essence says that no matter what views there may be to the contrary the beliefs and values of heaven are the only ones that are real.  We are invited to join or rather recognize and fully embrace our place in the heavenly worship that transcends time and space, matter and energy.

Orientation – The orientation of Revelation is that of a kaleidoscope, ever changing its patterns, colors and shapes.  Yet the patterns repeat, the colors mingle and the shapes shift and transform into new entities.  Revelation has no single “correct” interpretation.  It has multiple valid interpretations that come and go throughout history.  It is a mirror in which everyone sees himself in his current historical context and each new generation sees something different.  The many current “end-time” scenarios currently in vogue ignore one simple fact:  prophecies (Messianic prophecies a case in point) are only discerned, fully appreciated and promulgated after the fact.  This will certainly be the case with Revelation.  That being said, there is a thematic arc that spans the book of Revelation and has something important to say about the ultimate designs and purposes of God.

How the Story Ends – Revelation is crystal clear about the goal, the end point of all God’s activities in salvation history.  History, His-story is leading humanity to what is referred to as a “New Heaven and a New Earth”.  The new heaven and earth are described as co-existing with God and the Lamb’s throne at the center of human civilization where humans have intimate face to face communion with God and the Lamb and where all the evils and ills that have plagued humanity for millennia have ceased to exist.  Heaven is on earth, which is where God and the Lamb reside.  Humans no longer live in fear (symbolized by the gates of the New Jerusalem always being open).  Old prejudices, stereotypes and biases no longer function as all the nations freely enter the Holy City and bring their precious gifts to God.  All the old animosities and circular conflicts have long since faded away.  Finally, Jesus’ prayer, will be fulfilled.

     “Thy kingdom come,
      Thy will be done,
      One earth just as it is in heaven.”
                           Revelation announces the imminent fulfillment of this prayer in Rev.10:6,7,
The time of waiting is over.
When the seventh angel sounds his trumpet
the mystery of God will be fulfilled
just as he announced in the gospel to his servants the prophets.
                                “The mystery of God” is the transformation of this broken world into God’s kingdom.

How we get there – The main theme and kaleidoscopic narrative of Revelation is found in chapters 4 - 22:7.  What is going on here?  It can easily be experienced as a “bad acid trip”.  And perhaps that is one of the most important points.  From God’s and the heavenly worshipers’ perspective sin, suffering, evil and destruction is indeed like a bad acid trip.  It is a horrific distortion of the will, plans and purposes of God.  Human history is a long and frequently repetitive pattern of suffering, evil and injustice.  God does not stand off at a distance but is intimately and intricately involved engaging the destructive powers of history towards his ultimate purpose:  God with us.

The Transformation Process – When Jesus planted seeds in the earth with his blood a process has begun whereby the gospel of the kingdom has grown, interacted with, interpenetrated, mingled and transformed people, activities, systems and institutions.  Ironically, at the same time the activity of the Accuser has intensified in response to Jesus’ multiple incursions into enemy territory.  Revelation shows that this back and forth conflict, intermingling and triumphs and losses will continue.  As Jesus said, “The wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest.”  We are living in the best of times and the worst of times.  We are better able to see the depths of sin and suffering precisely because the gospel has opened our hearts and minds and made us more sin-sensitive.

The kingdom slowly (historically) leavens human civilization.

The kingdoms of the earth resist even as they unwittingly embrace kingdom principles and practices.

The consequences of not fully embracing God’s kingdom result (naturally) in chaos, confusion and multiple practical problems:  economic, political, social, familial, environmental, etc.

Earthly kingdoms attempt to control the growing chaos of our world which is like throwing gasoline on a fire or struggling while sinking deeper into quicksand.  Rather than surrender to Christ (repentance) the power structures work harder to control what cannot be controlled except by God, only to make things far worse.

This in turn creates greater chaos and leads to crisis, panic and desperation on the part of those in positions of power and the entire world.

Draconian measures are taken to try and bring things under control.  Instead the “solution(s)” become part of the problem and exacerbate the situation further.

Scapegoating (persecution) once again is turned to as an attempt to “let off steam” and bring stability to a runaway system out of control.  Those who have no cooperated with the anit-Christian control methods are targeted and persecuted.

As the scapegoating continues the world polarizes into two increasingly different groups:  those who practice the principles of Christ even in the face of severe persecution and death and those who look to the powerful forces and institutions offering an illusory security at the cost of conscience.

A battle for the hearts and minds of the whole world ensues as the polarization process matures.  This process may be likened to the process that Christ went through during his last supper, Gethsemane, Betrayal, Denial, Jewish and Roman trials, condemnation, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.  The choice that humanity as a whole is faced with is “Jesus or Barabbas”, the way of ever escalating endless violence (i.e. self-destruction) or the way that makes for peace.  The choice and the contrast between these two extremes will never be as pronounced as at this time.  “The time of trial that is coming upon the whole world, to put the people of earth to the test.”  Rev.3:10

At earth’s darkest hour “Christ comes” victorious (a kind of global resurrection) and “takes captive” the primary power structures that have enslaved humanity with force and fear.  The forces of evil are destroyed.  Christ’s faithful followers rule with him (the ascension) for a 1000 years, judging and entering into deep fellowship and participation in God’s ways.

At the end of the 1000 years a final end is brought to Satan, death and the grave.  The New Jerusalem symbolizes a wholly transformed human civilization in which God and the Lamb are at the center and humans have free, unlimited access to God’s presence.  The tree of Life is in the city which represents a full circle back to Eden.  The city of the New Jerusalem represents that humans are no longer in the garden.  Humans have experienced paradise, the fall, salvation history, the conquering kingdom and final transformation and consummation of humanity’s divine destiny.  We have not returned to Eden, we have experienced and become something even more wonderful in the whole incredible process (Rev.21,22).

I hope you have benefited by this as much as many or he has shared this with. My personal thanks to David.

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