Revelation is one of my favorite books of the Bible, yet I’m not quite sure what to make of it. The different interpretations of Revelation can be overwhelming at times. How can it be that so many good, biblical theologians have come to so many different conclusions regarding the last book of the Bible? How is anyone to know who is right and who is wrong?
Sometimes, I feel like an agnostic when it comes to John’s apocalypse. I know there is an answer and a correct interpretation, but I wonder whether or not we finite humans will ever completely understand it.
My own eschatological journey began deep in Dispensationalism. When I was in the 7th grade, I wrote a series of stories about a teenager who was “left behind” after the Rapture. (This was before Left Behind ever hit the shelves. I’m still waiting on LaHaye to send me some royalties.) The book was an amalgam of all the Dispensationalist ideas I’d heard in my Christian school. Man-eating locusts. Solar flares that baked the world. Millions dying from plagues and wars.
Growing up in an independent Baptist school, the pretribulational, premillennial rapture was considered one of the “fundamentals” of the faith. It was like the Virgin Birth or physical Resurrection of Jesus. You just didn’t question Dispensationalism.
Then I moved to Romania. I soon discovered that no one over there had even heard of a Rapture, a 7-year tribulation and all that jazz. For a couple weeks, I tried to convert everyone to the “correct” understanding of eschatology. But the wide-eyed looks and furrowed brows of my colleagues convinced me that maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.
Reading through Mark one day, I arrived at the apocalyptic language of chapter 13. Two things stood out from my reading. First, the chapter began with Jesus making a specific prediction about the destruction of the temple and then the disciples asking him what the “signs” would be. I skipped over that pretty quickly and kept reading Mark 13 as I always had – as a treatise on the wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and missions efforts that would accompany the very last days of earth.
But when I got to the final part of the predictions (Jesus’ statement that “this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place”), something struck me as wrongheaded about my approach.
Up to that point, I had always interpreted the apocalyptic language of Mark in a literal manner and had taken Jesus’ final statement as figuratively (“Generation” could mean “race” or that last generation; all these things could refer to some of these things). But for the first time, I realized that perhaps I was getting this all backwards. Maybe the apocalpytic language of Mark 13 was meant to be interpreted figuratively, and Jesus’ seemingly straightforward conclusion was meant to be taken… well… straightforwardly.
Then came September 11. The tragedy of September 11 came with a variety of cosmological metaphors. It was an earth-shattering event. The sky fell in on New York. Artists sang songs like “Where were you when the world stopped turning?” All Americans grasped for words to describe the events of September 11. Two towers came down, yes. But so much more was lost in the aftermath of 9/11.
Shortly after 9/11, I realized that I had been reading Revelation wrongly. Statements about the sun and moon not shining, about stars falling from the sky, and earthquakes are metaphors designed to invest earthly events with cosmic significance. It would be absurd for me to interpret all the 9/11 metaphors in a literalistic manner. No, the world did not actually stop turning on 9/11. The sky did not really fall in on New York. The earth did not shatter. But the events of 9/11 were so gruesome that those metaphors are still true descriptions of 9/11.
The same is true of Revelation. Could it be that most New Testament prophecy is pointing ahead to a “Day of the Lord” that finds its fulfillment in the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70? Not all of the prophecy, of course. But much of it, anyway.
I do not make any lofty claims to superior knowledge of Revelation. I am now decidedly not a Dispensationalist. I have found myself in each of the millennial camps at some point and occasionally dabble in partial preterism.
What I do know, though, about Revelation is that the focus of the book is not ultimately a “theology of the end times” designed to fascinate us with details we can chart on a map. The focus of the book is on the unveiling of Christ and his bride. Read Revelation to find out about the end of the world and you might miss Christ – the center and focus of all Bible prophecy.
Maybe one day I will better understand Revelation. Until then, I’m satisfied to leave the eschatological speculation to the pro’s. Better yet, I’m going to keep my eyes on Jesus – the One who is coming soon.
written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog