Today is the end of our semester, looking at the Spirit, the Church, and Last Things. And as I’ve thought through this final lesson, I thought it best to talk about two things as we consider the last things. The first is simply some tips or guidelines for reading the book of Revelation. Zach mentioned in the lesson last week that oftentimes when we think about last things we want to stay away from them because we think, “I don’t know anything about that stuff.” But Zach showed us that that’s not truly, actually. In fact, if we think about all the things that are supposed to happen in the “last days,” we’re very familiar with these realities.
However, I know that it could be tempting to try to counter Zach’s argument by saying, “Well, when you think about the last things you think about the book of Revelation, and I’ve got no idea what to make of that book, so I just stay away from that stuff.” And that’s fair. The book of Revelation can be overwhelming and confusing. I’ll admit when I first started pastoring and mapped out how I would preach through the whole canon of Scripture, I slotted Revelation close to the end because it was intimidating. But then, once I preached through the book, I found it to be one of the more encouraging books I’d preached through. In fact, I think the church was sorry it ended. So, I want us to be drawn toward this book, not away from it, and, therefore, this morning I want to give you some tips for reading the book of Revelation and then comment briefly on one chapter near the end of the book that has provoked disagreement among many who read it. So, some tips for reading Revelation:
1. This book is written largely in a literary form called “apocalyptic” literature.
D. A. Carson tells the funny story where a guy was once passing out copies of the New Testament on a college campus when several weeks later a student came by and told the man that he’d read the book that he’d passed out. The man replied, “Well, what did you think?” And the student answered something like, “Well, the beginning was a bit repetitive as it seems like the first four parts just tell the same story each time, but it picked up after that, and I particularly like the science fiction part at the very end.”
We laugh at that because we know it’s not science fiction, but what the student’s comment reflects is that we really don’t have a literary form like what we find in Revelation, do we? And in the student’s mind, the closest literary form he could identify it with was science fiction.
And the literary form is important, isn’t it? I mean, think of some of the Psalms (which are poetry), where we are told, for example, that God is a rock (e.g. Psalm 18:2). We don’t read that and say, “Okay, so God is literally a rock.” Rather, we read this, know that in poetry there is great use of simile and metaphor, and think to ourselves that what the psalmist is saying is that God is like a rock in that he is unmovable, not tossed about by changing winds, etc. That’s what’s going on here. We have to read the book understanding that it’s apocalyptic literature.