This past Sunday morning at Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship, we began a new series of messages on the last book of the Bible; the book of Revelation. Over the next while I am going to share some aspects of our study with you by means of this blog. For the complete study you should consult the PBF website at www.pilgrimbaptistfellowship.org as the messages will eventually be posted there as soon as they are available for download.
Revelation is a book that has fascinated Christians down through the years. It is full of symbolism and word pictures that challenge teachers and students, pastors and congregations. Understanding the book of Revelation is further complicated by an almost endless array of interpretive schemes which go off in all sorts of interesting and sometimes strange directions. We need to acknowledge from the beginning, that no one understands all that is revealed in the book of Revelation. Consequently, humility and grace are required and arrogant dogmatism is completely out of place.
Just because Revelation is difficult to understand does not mean that we should shy away from it. In fact, there is a "special blessing" pronounced on those who read it and who obey what is revealed therein (Rev.1:3). So with this in mind let us embark on our journey.
Normally when I begin a book study, I start with the "oatmeal," or what are normally called introductory issues. I thought about doing that in this case but when I started to read all the material I changed my mind. The background material is voluminous and complicated. I thought about trying to distill it down to its essence, but ran out of time and energy. So, instead of going through all the prolegomena, I am going to take another route. Right off the top I am going to stake out certain positions on a number of important introductory issues which will enable us to get right into the text itself. As we work our way through Revelation we can discuss these matters in more detail where they are necessary to enhance our understanding of what is being said.
The following are what I am calling "Kirk's Givens":
1. The book of Revelation was written by the apostle John, the same apostle who wrote the gospel and the three epistles that are traditionally attributed to him.
2. The book of Revelation was written in the 90's AD during the reign of Roman emperor Domitian. While it is possible that it was written earlier before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the weight of the evidence points to the later date.
3. Revelation is not primarily about past events like the destruction of Jerusalem or the Roman Empire although it does have something to say about these and many other events.
4. Revelation is not primarily about specific historical events beyond the early centuries of the Christian era. For instance, we should not go looking for the First and Second World Wars, or Hitler, or Stalin, or the current crisis in the Middle East, although it does have something to say about these and much, much more.
5. Revelation is not primarily about events that have yet to take place, events clustered around the time of Jesus' return in glory and power at the end of the age. It was not written to the so-called "Terminal Generation" but to Christians who lived in the first century and in every subsequent century of this era until Jesus comes again.
Of course, it is not enough to say what the book is not about, but these negations help clear some of the interpretative debris so that we can begin to hear what the text is saying. Next time we will look at some of the main points of the prologue (Rev.1:1-3) in which John summarizes for us all that is to follow.