Preparing to Study Revelation

Before we can dig into Book of Revelation we have to prepare ourselves. To do so, I will suggest three invitations that we need to understand before we can become good readers of Revelation. 1) We need to become good English students again, we need to familiarize ourselves with some basic rhetorical devices. While we believe the book of Revelation, as well as the Bible, to be authoritative texts to our Christian life, that doesn’t mean John didn’t use metaphors and similes, two-step progressions, numbers and numerical sequences, and a few other tools to convey to his readers those authoritative truths. 2) We need to become good History students again. Revelation is a book that has been widely interpreted in and by our culture. Many of the beliefs we have about Revelation come from movies and books like Left Behind or those popular Christian writers who are convinced they have discovered who the Anti-Christ is. (The word anti-Christ is not actually found in Revelation, but in 1st and 2nd John, and used to describe those people who taught Christ didn’t come in he flesh). All this is to say, there are many theories as to what Revelation means, for us to be the best students of Revelation we must be students of History and learn more about the context in which John wrote Revelation. 3) Lastly, we must be good students of Revelation. John gives us some invitations as we begin to study Revelation.

In this post, I want to give some invitations to you as we prepare to study Revelation. One will be from me and the rest are from John.

Invitation 1: Come and Study

This one is from me. Join us, or continue joining us, Wednesday nights as we work through this book together. Incorporate some of these blog posts into your personal study as you reflect on this book of the bible. While this blog helps me organize my thoughts, it is also to help you.

Invitation 2: Come and See

There is a big difference between being the people of God who live in Babylon and being Babylonians who happen to worship God on occasion. Revelation 1:3 reminds us that Those who read and hear are blessed. Those who allow Revelation to be the counter-cultural lens through which they view the world will find that kind of life that resonates with God’s purposes. That is the blessed life.

Invitation 3: Come and Worship

Everything in John’s world is falling apart. He is in exile. The church is scattered. Heaven should be panicking. But God is not in a frenzy. Christ is Lord. All of creation is being caught up in worship. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Invitation 4: Come and Witness

We are the lampstand of Christ. Some day the world will recognize what the saints already know – that the kingdom of God is at hand. Until then we have been raised up to be his witnesses.

Invitation 5: Come and Experience Christ

Christ has not left the lampstands to fend for themselves. He is living, present, and walking among the lampstands. For the seven (complete) churches there are these three sets of threes:

He is, and was, and is to come (1:4)

He is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5)

He loves us, frees us from our sins, and is making us to be a kingdom of priests serving his Father (1:5-6)

Preparing To Read Revelation: Rhetoric

Before we can dig into Book of Revelation we have to prepare ourselves. To do so, I will suggest three invitations that we need to understand before we can become good readers of Revelation. 1) We need to become good English students again, we need to familiarize ourselves with some basic rhetorical devices. While we believe the book of Revelation, as well as the Bible, to be authoritative texts to our Christian life, that doesn’t mean John didn’t use metaphors and similes, two-step progressions, numbers and numerical sequences, and a few other tools to convey to his readers those authoritative truths. 2) We need to become good History students again. Revelation is a book that has been widely interpreted in and by our culture. Many of the beliefs we have about Revelation come from movies and books like Left Behind or those popular Christian writers who are convinced they have discovered who the Anti-Christ is. (The word anti-Christ is not actually found in Revelation, but in 1st and 2nd John, and used to describe those people who taught Christ didn’t come in he flesh). All this is to say, there are many theories as to what Revelation means, for us to be the best students of Revelation we must be students of History and learn more about the context in which John wrote Revelation. 3) Lastly, we must be good students of Revelation. John gives us some invitations as we begin to study Revelation.

In this post, I want us to explore that first invitation to become good students of English. John will use a number of Rhetorical devices to help make his points, and to keep his letter convoluted to the untrained eye. We will talk more about why John did that when we explore the context in which we wrote.

Metaphors and Similes

Metaphors and similes are the structure for John’s symbolic word. A metaphor ascribes an action or quality of one thing to another by way of identity. The curtain of night or the world stage are two simple examples of metaphors. Similes on the other hand, compares two distinctly different things with the use of “like” or “as”. ‘That box was as heavy as an elephant’ or ‘You’re as brave as a lion’ are two examples of similes.

Now metaphors and similes are important because they are weaved all throughout the framework of Revelation. One of the early ones we see are similes and meaphors of the eyes, the purpose of this is to help distinguish good sight from poor sight. Jesus’ eyes are “like a flame of fire” (1:14). His penetrating fiery eyes see through the deceptive appearances of the world, the four living creatures around the throne have eyes everywhere. Their vision allows them to see God for who he is and thus to see God’s holy attributes: his holiness, omnipotence, and his eternality (4:8)  John picks up this metaphor of sight as a contrast too. We see people who have the pure sight of God, but John encourages the Laodiceans to seek our “salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see” (3:18) Laodicea was a producer of a medication for ophthalmic disorders. So the people are quite familiar with items that help you see. Moreover, this passage is reminiscent of Mark 8:23 when Jesus uses spit to heal a blind man. Ultimately, what the metaphors and similes of sight are doing is challenging what it is we are setting our eyes on. The people of Laodicea are luke-warm Christians. They “are rich” and “have prospered” (3:17) but they don’t realize that in becoming complacent in their faith they are lost. John employs a metaphor of sight to say, you guys need to get your eyes fixed so that you can see better. You need to be healed like the blind man, healed and see like Christ. Certainly this is a message that our church can hear too. We must always prayerfully ask God to open up our eyes.

John employs other kinds of metaphors throughout Revelation too. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich” (3:18). John employs a metaphor of transaction. John isn’t in the midst of an actual sales pitch to these people, buy gold from me, not from someone else. Instead, we see that he is using a metaphor to tell the people to invest their treasures in Christ and “the white robes to clothe you.”

John employs metaphors and similes of sound too. All the earsplitting sounds, blaring instruments, and endless hymns train the hearer to listen to the commotion in heaven or to what the Spirit is saying and to ignore the din of this world that shouts for undivided attention. A resounding theme of the Apocalypse is the need for attentive, careful hearing (13:9-10). “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).

John also employs metaphors of sexuality. Metaphors of sexual infidelity and promiscuity describe economic exploitation, social tyranny, political compromise, and religious assimilation to the dominant culture. The sexual language, as odd as it seems, accentuates the crossing of boundaries that are established through covenant relationships, and are descriptive not only of illicit sexual relations but also of other areas that are marred by desire, transgressions, confused boundaries, and compromise. John stands in a long biblical tradition of prophets, like Hosea, Isaiah, Nahum, Ezekiel, who utilize sexual metaphor to speak about boundary crossing and accommodation to the dominate culture.

Metaphors and similes are just one way John creates the backdrop for his narrative. John will also utilize plot, setting, two-step progressions, point of view, narration, chiasm, and number/numerical sequence. We will see more of these rhetorical tools as we dig into some texts in later posts. John utilizes these rhetorical tools to help create the world of Revelation, moreover, these tools also help John make his important points. It is in our best interest as responsible readers of Revelation to become students of English.

Resources for Reading Revelation

We are getting ready to spend the next six weeks studying the wonderful book of Revelation together. Since there are 22 Chapters in Revelation and only six weeks, I am starting this blog to help those who want to dig even further into the book of Revelation. I also, hope to be able to use it to cover some chapters, themes, ideas, and questions that we gloss over in our time together. I’ll open with some resources I’ve found helpful to my study of Revelation. Some of them are available in from our church library (once I return them). So, if you are interested in studying along in a small group, with your family, in your own devotional life here are some of my favorite resources for studying Revelation.

Theological Surveys

Richard Bauckham – The Theology of the Book of Revelation (181 pages)

Bauckham gives us a survey to some of the major themes in the book of Revelation. One of his strengths is how he can masterfully analyze some of the more cryptic elements of Revelation then connect that analysis to a major theme, then connect that major theme to our life as readers of Revelation. However, one major problem of the book is that it is selective of the Revelation texts it uses and they don’t appear in order.

Craig R. Koester – Revelation and the End of All Things (205 pages)

The strength of this book is that it works through the major themes of revelation and does so subsequently. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a book that does that.

Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther – Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now (311 pages)

This is my favorite book on Revelation. Like Bauckham it doesn’t work through the book verse by verse but deals with the major themes. It may be a little bit of a challenge for the average lay-person to read, but it is not inaccessible. Some might consider it to be a little radical in the political conclusions that the authors come to in the contemporary setting, but I find the basic outline of Revelation both interesting and convincing.

Commentaries

Bruce Metzger – Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (111 pages)

Metzger has one of the better commentaries for those who want to supplement their daily devotion. Metzger provides a clear and helpful introduction to the book of revelation and does a great job of dispelling some of common misconceptions.

Carol Rotz – New Beacon Bible Commentary: Revelation (319 pages)

Another one of the better commentaries for those who want to supplement their daily devotions. This commentary approaches the book from the Wesleyan tradition and becomes a helpful book for those who want to connect Revelation to our Methodist tradition.

NT Wright – Revelation for Everyone

This is part of Wright’s for Everyone series, where he takes a book of the bible and writes a simple commentary accessible for every kind of lay-person. This book is exactly that for Revelation.

James Resseguie – The Revelation of John: A Narrative Commentary (288 pages)

One of the newer books on Revelation. I personally enjoy how he approaches book of Revelation, “by paying close attention to the how of the narrative” For Ressequire the way John tells his story is as important as what he has to say.

Here are a few more commentaries on the book of Revelation. Mounce and Boring provide the best commentary on the book of Revelation for those who want some of the interesting details about the book. Some of them really dig into things like Greek grammer and the Greek words, which may only be interesting if you are a Bible nerd, like me.

Robert Mounce – The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation (439 pages)

M. Eugene Boring – Interpretation: Revelation (236 pages)

George Eldon Ladd – A Commentary on the Revelation of John (308 pages)

Catherine and Justo Gonzalez – Westminster Bible Commentary: Revelation (148 pages)

Leonard Thompson – Abingdon New Testament Commentary: Revelation (207 pages)

Joseph Mangina – Brazos Theological Commentary of the Bible: Revelation (271 pages)

Specific Studies

Colin Hemer – The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (338 Pages)

An excellent and detailed work on the seven churches in Asia.

Elaine Pagels-Revelation: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation

Pagel’s book helps put Revelation into context for us. She helps makes connections between John’s cultural context in the midst of the Roman empire. She helps us connect the book of Revelation to other parts of the Bible, like Ezekiel and Daniel. And she details how and why this particular book ended up becoming a part of the Bible anyway.

I think this will be a great several months together as we work to have the “ears to hear” what the Spirit is saying to us through Revelation.