Friday marks beginning of the end – or at least the beginning of the newest movie to depict the end of the world at the hands of Christian rapture theology. Droves of people, many of them likely to be Christian, will flood the theaters to watch Nicolas Cage overact his way through Hollywood’s rendition of the imminent destruction the book of Revelation promises will occur at the end of all things.
For a large number of Christians, what they will see on the silver screen come Friday is what they think of when they think of the Apocalypse. While the movie promises to be entertaining (for so many reasons beyond the story), I’m not sure if the theology behind the popular series is, in fact, Biblical.
In many ways, Revelation needs to be rescued from the misunderstandings surrounding the book that dominant the Christian landscape.
In order to rescue Revelation we have to ask the questions, “What kind of book is this?” While that may seem straightforward, it is actually a very tricky question, maybe even a trick question. Revelation isn’t one type of book, but is really three books in one. On the one hand it is a prophetic book in the image of the Old Testament prophets who called the people back to the worship of the one true God. On the other hand, it is a letter much like 1 Corinthians or Galatians. Read the first three chapters of Revelation and you cannot dismiss the fact that this is a letter written to a very particular group of people in a very particular context. This means that if you want to understand the book you must understand it in its context.
Right away this presents problems with many of our modern ways of reading Revelation. Typically, Revelation is read literally. The symbols and images have a one to one correspondence to what is going to happen in the future. So Revelation 9 talks about locust that will cover the earth. We understand that the locusts aren’t like the locusts we know of, so we try and figure out what the metaphor literally means, and in doing so people are led to think the locusts are helicopters. But if the locusts of Revelation 9 are helicopters then the book of Revelation was irrelevant until 1939 when helicopters were invented.
Probably not the best way to read the Bible.
On our third hand we recognize that Revelation is apocalyptic literature. The problem here is that, for us modern readers, apocalypse has become synonymous with death, destruction, suffering, and tribulation. But the word apocalypse literally means “revealing” or “making that which was hidden known.” The question is, “What is John’s Revelation revealing?” The answer to that question is found in the first couple of verse of John.
“The revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
What is being revealed? The word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
This isn’t how we typically approach Revelation. More often than not, Revelation is treated as a Christianized crystal ball. We look into it to try and figure out what is going to happen in the future. This is called divination, trying to get in on only what God knows, and the Bible strictly forbids it. Yet this is what we do. We go to Revelation like we would a fortuned teller, hoping it will tell us about the future so we can be prepared.
It’s time to stop. Treating Revelation like a palm reader cheapens it and strips it of its multi-faceted depth and beauty
Revelation isn’t forecasting future events, but is revealing the imminent future found in Christ’s lordship. Our job isn’t to figure out what the beast is, only to understand that there will always be beasts who seduce us and tempt us to worship something other than Jesus. We shouldn’t read Revelation to try and figure out if the locusts coming out of the Abyss are helicopters or demons, but rather, to recognize that we will always be judgement for worshiping something other than God, and that judgement may be that the thing we worshiped ends up torturing us. But in order to see all this, we have to learn to read the book differently.
My wife is a dancer, and prior to meeting her, I didn’t care at all for dance. I didn’t get it. It didn’t make any sense to me at all. I would try and figure out what the different dance moves meant. I assumed that every movement literally meant something. Rather than enjoying the dance as a whole, I tried to understand each individual movement within the dance, and because of that, I completely missed the beauty of the dance.
Since being with my wife I have begun to understand dance. I don’t try and understand each movement, rather, I take in the dance as a whole. Doing that allows the dance to evoke something out of me. Suddenly, a dance with harsh, angst filled movements that play off two dancers makes me remember a conflict I’m in with someone I love. I watch the dance, and I am moved because what I’m seeing stirs up on the feelings I have because of the conflict.
That’s what Revelation is like. It evokes feelings in us. Worship is stirred as we see in our mind’s eye the slain lamb who is worthy to take the seal. Fidelity is awakened as we are reminded of the destruction that awaits the beast. Resolve is quickened as we dwell on the two witnesses. Hope overflows as we hear that, one day, God will make his dwelling among us and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Joy springs forth when God speaks, saying, “I am making everything new!”