The Throne, the Dragon, and the Crystal City

This is the 2nd of 2 entries for this week.  If you're looking for the teaching series summary, go to UPPC.org/blog and find the entry entitled "Lost in Translation(s): series summary."  

God’s intention to uncover his truth to us through his Word is maybe best seen in the fact that there is an entire book of the Bible called “The Unveiling.”  Did you know that?  A whole book meant to pull the curtain back, or “reveal” a reality otherwise unseen from our perspective.  It is the book of Revelation!
Our brief overview of Revelation this week can’t be exhaustive.  It should be studied over long periods of time and many cups of coffee or tea.  
So my hope today is simple:  that you would feel inspired, confident, and curious to read Revelation and be focused on its central theme as it influences your life today.  Before moving ahead, take a few minutes to read Rev. 4, and Rev. 21:1-8.
Revelation presents an alternative view of reality which is often startling, strange, and sometimes troubling.  Which is why it’s meaning can be so highly debated.
So our brief overview is going to start with three things Revelation is NOT, and then we’ll proceed to what Revelation IS, before we conclude with its central theme and impact for our lives.

  1. Revelation is not a secret code for the elite meant only for the highly educated or spiritually enlightened.  Look at the first verse of the book: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.”  The most repeated command in Revelation is to “Look!” and the verbs “I saw” and “I heard” appear a combined 61 times!  This seems quite the opposite of a secret -- Revelation is an unveiling!
  2. Revelation is not a calendar of the end times revealing chronological timing of the future or “end of the world.”  Recall  Jesus’ own words, that neither the angels nor the Son know the day or hour when the Son will return. Only the Father knows (Matt. 24:36, paraphrase).  Revelation definitely envisions the future, but it uses numbers as symbols, not to suggest a definite timetable.
  3. Revelation is not a celebration of God’s wrath.  No responsible reader can ignore the images of divine judgment.  But there is no suggestion that God is glad about it.  In fact, there is better evidence for God’s grief because of it, like God's call for people to repent, and Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem's future destruction.  

So...what IS Revelation?  

  1. Revelation is a letter.  As we've learned elsewhere in this series, scripture arose because of certain historical occasions, to particular audiences.  Any interpretation we make must begin with what the text would have meant then, and to them.  We don't have the liberty to just infer what we think scripture means, especially highly symbolic scripture like Revelation.
  2. Revelation is a prophecy, past present and future.  Sometimes people think of prophecy as “fortune telling,” but Biblical prophecy is more often concerned with the present.  Even when Revelation does foretell the future, the point is in what way that future is meant to influence the present.  N.T. Wright and Michael Bird put it this way: “Revelation is partly previewing what is to come and partly clarifying how the tragic events that are occurring [in the present] make sense within the wider narrative of ultimate divine triumph" (Wright, N.T. and Michael F. Bird.  The New Testament in Its World.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2019, 810).
  3. Revelation is "apocalyptic" literature.    The word “apocalypse” does not mean “the end of the world.”  It means “unveiling,” like pulling back the curtain in the theater.  And the strangeness of apocalyptic imagery can be confusing, even intimidating.  But its first audience would have been familiar with its vivid imagery and historic references.  
    For example, centuries from now, what if someone discovered a poetic description of this year’s US presidential race?  It might say, “When the numbers are 20 and 20, the people of the elephant and the people of the donkey will appear in their multitudes.  The elephant people will cry out, “2 more years, and 2 again!” while the donkey people will stand fast against them.  The one who prevails shall live in a house of white.”  
    Anyone unaware of these images and numbers would be pretty confused!  But most of us understand them, and Revelation’s first audience would have understood its references, too.

So what is the central theme which this prophetic letter so dramatically unveils?
Revelation unveils the reason for hope in the future.
Amidst the swirling array of sights, sounds, and smells of this book, its single, predominant image undergirds every reason we have to hope in the future.  
It’s not the spooky imagery like “The number of the beast,” or “the woman drunk with blood,” or “the Four Horsemen.”  It is not foreboding imagery of “the sun turning dark,” or “plagues,” or “fire and sulphur.”  And it’s not even the triumphant imagery like the archangel Michael defeating the Dragon, or the descent of the new Jerusalem from heaven, like a city made of crystal.  Those images and scenes are all there!  You’ll see them when you read it.  But they are not the predominant image; they aren’t the foundation of our future hope.  
The predominant image that appears more than any other, and also appears more in this book than any other book of the Bible is this: GOD’S THRONE.  This is the image around which all the others revolve.  This is the image that can and should influence every aspect of our lives, every minute of our days.
Because throughout the entire book, the throne is never empty.  
And never once does the One seated on the throne ever have to stand up.  Almighty God has completely unbroken, sovereign and good power.  
But that power can have a surprisingly ironic appearance.  When John is told to see the Lion of Judah, he writes:  “I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne.
Our future hope is that Jesus is on the throne.
The One on the throne has defeated the dragon and its beasts.  The One on the throne ushers in the new city, as clear as crystal.  The One on the throne is both Almighty God, who made his power known to us in the humble form of One who came in the flesh, to be one of us, to be known by us, to reveal God to us.  The One on the throne appeared to be destroyed by the Dragon and its beasts.  But the One on the throne still reigns supreme, as he always has.

For reflection:
  1. When you think of the book of Revelation, what images first come to mind?
  2. What reputation do you think the book of Revelation has in our overall culture, and why?
  3. Do any of the items on this "what it's NOT" list challenge your preconceptions or interpretations of the book? 
  4. Do any items on this list encourage your reading of the book?
  5. When you read Revelation, keep an ongoing list of your questions, so you can look into them.

Blessings
MM




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