Thursday, June 1, 2023

Reading Revelation Number 1 - Revelation 1:1-3

The Revelation of Jesus Christ 

[1] The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, [2] who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. [3] Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. 

(Revelation 1:1–3 ESV)

I've been avoiding you, you Book of Revelation. Not all revelation, just the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Wow, that sounds terrible. More clarity is needed... I've been avoiding the actual Book of the Bible that we call "The Revelation to John."  (Cue Phil Keaggy's live performance of John the Revelator: 

In the podcast version of this post, I will simply have to include the link:

John may have been the Revelator, but if anyone is going to understand the Book of Revelation, it must be stated at the very beginning of any study that this is, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him [Jesus] to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel [messenger] to his servant John." Revelation 1:1 (ESV)  This book is the revealing of Jesus Christ that was given from the Father to Jesus Christ and delivered via a messenger to the Apostle John. 

This means that when I read this book and when you read this book and when anyone reads this book and contemplates its meaning -- it must be stated that its primary purpose is to see Jesus Christ more clearly, the way the Father has ordained and delivered to us and for us to see Him. It is not a book whose primary purpose is for the making of correlations between depictions in this book and current events in our modern world. It is written in the style of apocalyptic literature, to be sure, but it is still about seeing Jesus. 

Avoiding It.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been avoiding this book. I haven't been avoiding the reading of this book: Revelation has made it into my yearly attempts at reading through the Bible each year. (For the record and for open confession, I'm just now finishing last year's reading through the Bible... I'm a little behind.)  I have also attempted to preach through certain portions of this book. In 2017 I did a short sermon series on the Seven Churches in Revelation. So, I haven't been avoiding it entirely, just the apocalyptic, prophetic, "What's the end going to be like?" part of this fascinating book. I've been avoiding it for two specific reasons. 

Avoidance Reason Number One: I have a natural tendency to lean away from anything that everyone else is leaning into. I hate trends. I don't want to be trendy. The other day a student told me, "Mr. Harmless, you're cool."  My response: "Oh Crap. I've been trying to avoid that!"  I know that end-times chatter has been going on since 5 seconds after Jesus ascended and the angels told the apostles, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11 ESV)  But since January of 1989, when I heard the first 5 reasons out of the 88 reasons why Jesus was coming back in 1988, I've been like... "really?"  And since February of 1992, I've been like... "Maybe I just need to start doing what Jesus told me to do today, while it is today." (See Hebrews 3:13.)

When the Left Behind books started coming out in 1995 and there was a new rush of excitement. I tried to get into them, but they seemed a little hokey to me. There was also a little bit of a craze just before the year 2000, for obvious reasons, but then you start reading about the craze in the year 1000... and you realize we haven't changed all that much. Trends and crazes tend to make me suspicious, so I've tended to avoid digging into this book too much, based on others' obsession. 

Avoidance Reason Number Two: It was a video called An Evening of Eschatology. It is a round table discussion concerning three differing, but biblical eschatological views. The moderator is John Piper. The three views are Historical Pre-Millennialism, represented by Jim Hamilton, A-Millennialism, represented by Sam Storms, and Post-Millennialism, represented by Douglas Wilson. It is about 2 hours long and what it did was destroy my own eschatological views. After watching this video (the second time) I abandoned all of my own views and adopted the statement, "I'll be up in the air until we're all up in the air."  (Which I believe actually came from Douglas Wilson in this video.) 

Tackling It.

Even though I hadn't landed on a specific belief, I had definitely "left behind" my previous belief (pun intended). I no longer held to the Dispensational Premillennial view of the end times and its reading of the Book of Revelation. Will there be a rapture? Yes.  Will Jesus return? Absolutely. None of the views disagrees with this. Will there be a rapture at the beginning of a seven-year tribulation that will end with a "third" coming of Christ at the end of that seven years? I don't believe so.... but more on that later. 

In my attempt to really tackle this book, I'm going to do just that: Tackle it. I'm going to blog/podcast my way through it. I'm going to tackle it little by little. I'll dig into my commentaries, do my research, ignore my preconceived notions, explore church history on this topic, and hopefully, I'll be in heaven before I have to make a decision about what I believe. 

I will say this (again) in my first post on this topic: I don't believe that I or anyone else will tackle this amazing book with any accuracy unless we take into consideration what the book says of itself. This is about the revealing of Jesus to Jesus by the Father and relayed through an angel to the apostle John. I am no Greek scholar or apocalyptic rhetorician or any other sort of Theological expert, but I am a pastor of a church, so I have some God-given, Spirit-empowered, Christ-directed responsibility to teach God's people (see Ephesians 4:1-14). This means I ought to tackle this, at least to some degree with a dependence on the Spirit, a trust in the Father, and an allegiance to the Son. 

Approaching it.

Augustine (354-430) "...interpreted Revelation as a chronicle of the Spiritual conflict between God and Satan being fulfilled in the present church age." (New International Commentary, pg. 926)  Other Church Fathers, Church Leaders, Theologians, Reformers, Pastors, and Preachers through the ages have viewed it differently. We can find things from Polycarp to John Calvin, from Martin Luther to John Piper, from Irenaeus to Isaac Newton, and from Edgar Whisenant to Jonathan Edwards. But what is amazing about all of these is that they are in agreement on one key element: Don't miss Jesus!

Let us approach this book with energetic caution. Not to try and predict the times and the seasons. Not to pick dates or identify which country is Gog and which is Magog. Not to determine if the Anti-Christ is actually Google's new AI... instead, let us look to Jesus and look for Jesus. Let us ask ourselves what in this book we can learn about him and be more confident in him. Let us consider the blessing promised to those who read this book aloud (me in this podcast), those who listen to this (you the audience), and those who take to heart these words to "keep" them.  Regardless of your view of the end, we can all agree on one thing: it is nearer than it was.  Hear the words of verse 3 once more before I end this post.

[3] Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. 

(Revelation 1:3 ESV)

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