9 September 2014Revelation 5:11-14
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (v. 12)
"I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
when all at once I saw a crowd,
a host of golden daffodils...
You probably wouldn't consult Wordsworth about botany or meteorology, nor would you mistake him for a cumulonimbus. It's poetry, not science. And it would also be a mistake to consult the book of Revelation for detailed forecasts of the future. It's 'apocalyptic', not prediction. Apocalypse (or revelation) is a style of biblical writing that claims to reveal the 'hidden' reality behind a current crisis (especially violent persecution) and which seeks to reassure the faithful that a better future is not far away. And it is written in a vivid, visionary, poetic style, using fantastical, dream-like (even nightmarish) images which while revealing the truth to 'insiders', conceals it from outsiders. Be penitent, and persevere in the face of today's persecution, and there's the promise of a brighter tomorrow. So 'apocalyptic' is a particular kind of biblical 'prophecy' (properly understood as 'promise', rather than 'prediction') in response to persecution. It's found in the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezekiel, for example (set in the time of the Babylonian exile, but probably written later, around 200BC) and also in Mark 13, written in response to the Roman persecution that led to the fall of Jerusalem in AD70. The book of Revelation itself was probably written around AD95, during the persecution by Emperor Domitian.
A good way to read Revelation is to think of it as an elaborate 'hymn' with seven 'verses', each describing the current crisis in ever more vivid terms, and with each 'verse' followed by a 'chorus' that equally vividly describes the ultimate triumph of God over his enemies. Today's passage is the chorus that follows the opening 'verse' which urges the seven churches to penitence and perseverance.
- "Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this" (Revelation 1:19). This verse may provide a clue to help the reader make sense of Revelation. Do you find my explanation helpful, or do you prefer the popular view that it is predicting a future that is still unfolding today? Why?
- John, the author of Revelation, was very keen on the image of Jesus as 'the Lamb of God' (it's familiar from John's Gospel - eg John 1:29). Why might that image have appealed especially to persecuted Christians?
- The persecution that prompted the writing of Revelation is long since past (and the ultimate triumph of God over his enemies has not yet happened!), so how might we find this book of the Bible useful today?