Revelation: For Re-Readers Only


(Spectrumbot) #1

I should not start a series of comments on the Book of Revelation by disagreeing with the opening verses, and I won’t. But I will tweak it. We can’t tell for sure who is saying it — John, an angel, or Jesus — but the speaker is pitching the value of the book. “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy,” says the speaker. Better still: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy” (Revelation 1:3). Nothing wrong with this; the text calls for reading it aloud at a time when that was how people did it. And yet we must add this variant: “Blessed is the one who reads again the words of this prophecy.”

This is not a translation variant, but it is necessary to say it. “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a re-reader,” says Vladimir Nabokov. This is good advice in general, but it is a must with respect to a text like Revelation. A sign should be posted at the entrance of the book, saying, “For re-readers only.” Readers of Spectrum will easily meet this requirement, but a reminder won’t hurt, and one-time readers should be warned. John does not lay out his message in a linear fashion. The text jumps back and forth in time. Knowledge of the whole is necessary in order to grasp the parts. We cannot simply use the parts to make the whole. In visual terms, the book is panoramic. In musical terms, it is a symphony. It takes practice to hear the melody and master the theme. Thus this word of caution: “Blessed is the one who reads—and reads again.”

Let me offer two examples to prove that this is not a trivial matter. The most pivotal scene in the book begins with the transition to heaven in chapter 4. John sees a door open into heaven, and then he hears a loud voice. “Come up here,” says the voice (4:1). Up there, in heaven, will henceforth be the vantage point for everything that follows. Then, in the setting of the heavenly council, John sees a sealed scroll in the right hand of “the one seated on the throne” (5:1). Adela Yarbro Collins captures the import of this detail when she says that the first four verses of chapter 5 imply that the heavenly council is faced with a serious problem. How does she know that there is a crisis in heaven? She knows because she is a good reader and, as noted above, good readers are re-readers. Collins explains that “the problem facing the heavenly council is the rebellion of Satan which is paralleled by rebellion on earth.” Let us ask the question again: How does she know? And again, the answer will be: She knows because she is a good reader, and good readers are re-readers. Her insight requires re-reader awareness. The heavenly war is not described until later in the book (12:7–9; cf. 9:1–11), but there would be no crisis except for the war. A linear reading of Revelation fails dismally. The first three chapters of Revelation are more than a warm-up exercise; even for these chapters it is necessary to bring re-reader competence to the task of reading. John’s entry into the heavenly council happens at the point where the council is casting about for a solution to the rebellion of Satan. This is assumed by the participants in the heavenly council and must also be assumed by us.

Heaven offers no reprieve from the problems of earth. Heaven, too, is awash in problems! Heaven is at a loss what to do! John’s tears are not the reaction of a person who has found the solution to the problems facing earth (5:4). Rather, it describes the response of a man who has been brought face to face with a problem that makes mockery of solutions!

‘War’ (polemos) is one of the most important words in Revelation, as a noun (12:7; 9:7, 9; 11:7; 12:7, 17; 13:7; 16:14; 19:19; 20:8) or as a verb (polemeō) with the meaning ‘to wage war’ (12:7; 13:4; 17:14; 19:11). In chapter 12, widely agreed to be the structural center of the book, no sentence is more important than the statement, “There was war” (12:7). Polemos is the word from which the English ‘polemics’ is derived. The word means ‘war,’ but the connotation of ‘polemics’ in English is useful: ‘polemics’ is a form of disagreement playing out in the realm of opinion and argument. This notion fits the conflict in Revelation better than an outright match-up of conflicting parties in the realm of power. On this logic, it is trite to say that Revelation’s foremost errand is to show that God is in control. This cannot be the message if the polemic of Revelation centers on which side in the conflict is telling the truth.

A second reason why re-readership is critical is found in Revelation 1:19. “Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this” (1:19). This text is a rebuke to the view that Revelation is mostly about the future. It isn’t mostly about the future; it is not only about the future; it should not be regarded as the source book of the world’s futurologists. In temporal terms, Revelation is about the past, the present, and the future (1:19). Indeed, no book in the New Testament is more a deep-dive into the past than this book (12:7-12), and no book makes it clearer that the solution to the cosmic predicament has been found in time that is present tense for the author (5:1-14). It is a fallacy to believe that Revelation was written when it was seen or that its message comes to us as simple dictation. The scope envisioned in Revelation 1:19 is comprehensive, “what you have seen” as a view of the past, “what is” as present reality, and “what is to take place” as a vision of the future. A fitting title and subtitle for the book might be this: Revelation: The Book of Reality.

Upstream in chapter 1, we are treated to two wonderful affirmations. First, we hear God announcing in direct, unmediated speech: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8). The wording is odd in the extreme in Greek, but it is odd because John tries to preserve Hebrew diction in a foreign language. This is not a claim about God’s existence, as we might assume, Greek-minded readers that we are. The strange self-identification is rooted in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14), not to make the claim that God exists but that God is the one who is with someone.

Second, just a few verses later, Jesus speaks. “I was dead, and look, I am alive forever, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (1:18). Jesus is the only one who can talk about death in the past tense. I take this to heart in a special way after attending the funeral of a friend earlier today. “The keys of death” must mean that the speaker is in possession of the means to overcome death. If this is the case, Revelation begins with a promise of a great reversal.

We could stop there, but we shouldn’t. “Death” is not only physical death, and Hades is not only the place where the dead are buried. “Hades” is not empty space (6:8; 9:1). As occupied space, it is the place that disseminates darkness and misperception into the word (9:1-11). To have “the keys of death and of Hades” is a figure of speech not only for reversal but also for revelation. This is not a small matter for us who live on earth. As re-readers will know, it is also the solution to the crisis in the heavenly council.

Sigve K. Tonstad is Research Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Loma Linda University.

Photo by Eduardo Olszewski on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9325

(reliquum) #2

Reading the Revelation is akin to trying to digest a cookbook co-written by Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse, especially absent the contextually requisite mental images of each chef. Mixing the prophetic with the apocalyptic, imagine the contrast. Julia, with her fancy untarnished spurtle, precisely measuring the constituents of her recipes, narrating what the end result will surely be, all prim and proper in the Queens English versus Emeril banging the tureen with his splintered wooden spoon, spontaneously adding unmeasured fistfuls of fiery pepper- BAM. Reading revelation became a whole lot easier when i understood its dichotomy!


(Dan Springer) #3

Wow! loved the mental picture…Beautiful!!!


(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

Part of Revrlation is past, part, is current, part is future. so the best way to read Revelation is idealistic.Which means reading in context of the immediate passage. The Three Angels Messages are a good example. Part is past, part is current and part is future. Certainly the messages to the seven churches is past with a current application. The Holy City is to us future.


(Henry Carroll Hills) #5

At least part of the messages to the 7 churches must be future. Unless Jesus has spewed the Laodiceans out of His mouth?


(Thomas J Zwemer) #6

Real church in John’s time or time application. who is to say. Recall each was in a real city of John’s day. Of course we need to take the counsel of each to heart. False doctrine is ever ready such was The Investigative Judgment. Imagine E. g. White claims she saw Jesus leave the first apartment into the second.Both Paul and the Writer Of Hebrews write Christ entered heaven and was seated on the Right hand of the Fathet. Is there a more holy place…?


(David Johnson) #7

We need to understand first and foremost that this is a revelation of Jesus. When we focus elsewhere on other minutiae, we diminish Jesus.
We should also take to heart the angels words to John: Fear not! This is not a book of fear…


(David R Larson) #8

Sigve
Beautiful! I understand your first sentence to mean that you will be commenting on this frequently throughout the quarter. I hope that “frequently” means “every week!”
Dave


(Steve Mga) #9

Something no one has commented on are the many Hymns that are in the Book
of Revelation.
The Book [Letter from God, Revelation of Jesus, through John to the Church] is
a Revelation of Jesus Christ to us all.
And that is in the way it needs to be read, interpreted, and understood.


(Henry Carroll Hills) #10

Ellen also states that there will always be 7 churches until Christ returns. If a candle stick goes out, He will replace it.
The focus is Jesus, but the message is a warning to us from Jesus intended to prepare us to meet Jesus.


(Thomas J Zwemer) #11

Of course, each church demonstrates the human elements of pride, perversion, and self satisfaction. Seldom brotherly love.


(Sirje) #12

Something I’ve NEVER understood is how do you “prepare” to meet Jesus. What does a Christian (by definition - dedicated to Christ) do to prepare - give out literature - stop eating sugar and milk on cereal - throw out the TV? Meeting Jesus is a natural culmination of a life lived with devotion, and an acceptance of grace. Is there something more we’re supposed to do?


(reliquum) #13

Revelation for pre-readers is specifically geared to provide comforting confirmation bias.


(James Peterson) #14

The Book of Revelation is one of the easiest books in the Bible.

  1. When John “ascended” to heaven in spirit, He saw God holding a scroll in His right hand and an angel asking aloud, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. Rev. 5:1-3
     
    The fact that no one was able (not even to look at it) means that God was the one determining the right candidate so that even if one were to put himself forward, he would be immediately disqualified. It was NOT a matter of making an attempt to open the seals, a championship of sorts to see who was capable. There was no searching for a particular type of person, BUT a very specific person. And when He presented Himself, God immediately gave Him the scroll to open.

  2. Q: What was in the scroll?
    A: The seven messages.
     
    We know this because when all seven seals of the scroll were finally opened, the seven angels (of the churches) were given seven “trumpets” (i.e. messages) to announce. And as each announced his message in his city, God responded from heaven in judgment against that city, starting from the least (Ephesus) to the most rebellious.(Laodicea).

And that’s all there is to it. Chapter 12 onwards are graphic imagery of the reason why God sent the trumpets to sound in judgement against those seven cities: because of the political climate against His people at that time.

Exodus 10:1

///


(Henry Carroll Hills) #15

The only way to prepare to meet Jesus is to seek to have Jesus reproduced in our character.
IMHO, The rest will take care of itself.

But the time to aggressively seek to have the Character of Jesus is while He is confessing us before the Father and His angels (cf Revelation 3:5)


(Henry Carroll Hills) #16

I would agree that Revelation is one of the easiest books in the Bible to those who understand it. But those who are not grounded in the Holy Spirit, make it confusing for those who have not come to the understanding that God would have them to have.


(Sirje) #17

OK, that’s “Adventist speak” for working for perfection. By definition, a Christian is changed as the Spirit works with us. I don’t get how we can make that happen on our timeframe. It’s a lifetime job that is never completed this side of Jesus’ return.

So what have we beens doing to this point… How does one “aggressively” seek the Character of Jesus that looks any different from what Christians do because they are Christians.

Are we talking about degrees of Christian perfection like rungs on a ladder? That would be a far cry from having the peace that Jesus spoke about. What you’re suggesting sounds like the argument the disciples had about who gets to sit where in the “coming kingdom”. By the time we seraph “Revelation” the rest of the Bible has placed us safely within God’s grace.


#18

What tragic confusion this article is


(Steve Mga) #19

Tom –
Since the Book of Hebrews was written primarily to Jewish persons.
Since the Book of Revelation has a lot of Torah representations in it.
Are these “Word Pictures” and “Descriptions” REPRESENTATIVE only,
or, Are they ACTUAL of Heaven?
When we compare Hebrews to elsewhere in Paul, they appear to be
“representative” not Actual, Physical, and Tangible.
When Ellen says that Satan takes his place on the Table of Shewbread Throne,
she indicates that THAT has actually happened. NOT Representative.
That Jesus HAD to remain on the Table of Shewbread Throne from His ascension
Until Oct 22, 1844. And Only then sat on the Mercy Seat Throne next to the Father.


(Henry Carroll Hills) #20

Jeremiah says to seek with all our heart and we will find.

Satan says…you can put it off till a more convenient time.

Jesus said watch and pray.

The disciples were too tired to pray when they needed the Holy Spirit to keep them as their hour of trial neared. We can repeat the disciples mistake or put some effort into building a relationship that will endure.