Monday, July 31, 2006

Apocalypse Now

I want to thank everyone who prayed for my interview on Fox News Channel. I know those prayers made a big difference.

I also want to thank Justin for posting the video of the interview. Thanks so much! The segment has also been posted on Heartland's website (see the clip "Biblical Prediction")--though I doubt it will be up for long (thus my gratitude to Justin).

I've been swamped by email asking me for my views on the Apocalypse. Here's a brief Q & A session I did that might help. Obviously, all the questions can't be answered here. Look for a coming series of posts on the topic... Of course, you can also order my book. I also highly recommend Scott Hahn's classic book, The Lamb's Supper. In large part, my book simply expands in commentary form on the insights of this book. If you haven't read it, you really need to order it.

Is Jesus coming soon? Is this Middle East crisis the fulfillment of the book of Revelation?
Throughout history, every generation of Christians has seen connections between the events of their day and the Apocalypse. But to really understand the book you have to read it in its proper context. The key to understanding the book is seeing not simply how it relates to our day, but also how it relates to the times in which it was first written and the context in which it is meant to be read.

How is the Book of Revelation meant to be read?
We need to recognize that the book isn’t meant to be read as a news report. It is not so much the work of a journalist, detailing the events of the last days in a purely objective blow by blow account. Its meaning is deeper than that. It is more the work of a mystic than that of a journalist. It shows us the deeper spiritual meaning behind history.

Can you give an example of this?
Sure. It reveals that all history is moving to a goal—God has a plan. The suffering of the present age will pass away.

We also see how the prayers of God’s people affect the course of history. As the angels and the people of God come together in worship—opening a book, blowing trumpets (which back then were instruments used in worship), singing songs, etc.—events on earth are affected.

What’s the lesson here? The power of prayer.

Are you saying that the book does not have to do with specific events in history?
No. Actually the book was originally written to explain the spiritual significance of a specific event that took place in the first century--the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Throughout the book, the reader learns about a “great city” (cf. Rev. 11:8; 17:18)—which is ultimately destroyed. In Revelation 11, we read that this city is associated with the temple. We also read that it is “where their Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8). That’s clearly a description of Jerusalem.

The book ends by telling us about a new Jerusalem. Why? Well, because the old one has just passed away. Much more could be said here--there is some debate among scholars, and I hate leaving the topic without saying more. Suffice it to say, the book is in large part dealing with this event. (Look for posts in the coming week on this).

But isn’t Revelation about the end of the world? Are you saying that it is not about the Second Coming of Jesus?
No, not at all. The theme of the whole book is Jesus’ coming. But we have to read the book as it was meant to be read.

You see, the destruction of the temple is of huge importance—you could say, cosmic importance. For ancient Israel, the temple wasn’t simply a building where you worshipped—the temple was nothing less than a representation of the world. It was seen as the world in miniature. Why? Because the world itself was seen as one mega-temple—we worship God in this world; the world is sacred.

The two concepts are two sides of the same coin: the world is a temple, the temple is a miniature world. In fact, the various parts of the temple were understood as symbols of the various parts of creation. For example, there was a bronze laver, a huge pool of water—ancient writers saw that as signifying the seas. (For more see here).

So what does the destruction of the temple mean?—the end of the world. It points forward to that event. In fact, in the Gospels, whenever Jesus speaks about the destruction of the temple, he goes on to describe the end of the world (cf. Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). The two events were linked for him. Likewise, they are connected in the Apocalypse.

But furthermore, and I think most important, the book teaches us something else. It shows us that Jesus is coming—truly coming—to the Church in worship. In Revelation 3, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus comes to us and "eats" with us—what is that? It is a reference to the church’s worship. It is through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, that Christ is truly coming to us.

That’s what the author of the Apocalypse is trying to show us. The worship of the Old Covenant has passed away—the temple has passed away. But in the worship of the New Covenant we enter into Christ’s presence and worship him with the angels and saints.

So you think worship is an important key to unlocking the meaning of the book?
Absolutely. The book's proper setting is the worship of the church. At the very beginning of the book, there is a blessing on a reader and on the congregation (cf. Rev 1:3). This shows us that it is clearly meant to be read in church, in worship.

Why is the book so confusing? Is it really possible to understand this book?
There are two things we need to keep in mind. First, the book needs to be read within the larger context of the Bible. It comes at the end of the Bible for a reason—it assumes you’ve read the rest of it. If you turned on the movie Psycho and simply caught the last part of the movie, you’d wonder why you were watching a man dressed up like an old lady. You’d be lost because you didn’t know the whole story.

The Bible is also a story—the Book of Revelation comes last because it represents the final chapter. If you don’t read what comes before it, you’ll be lost. The author assumes that his readers know books like Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah. If you don’t know those books you are going to be totally lost. That’s why the book is so confusing to people—they turn to the back of the book and expect to understand what’s going on without knowing the books the author expects his readers will know. And by the way, he expects his readers to have not only read those books--he expects that they know them like the back of their hand.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the book was written for liturgy. It wasn’t meant to be read by individual people in the privacy of their bedrooms. It was written to read as part of the church’s worship. Most people totally miss the importance of liturgy (public worship) in the book. But really, that’s the key to unlocking the book. The key isn't deciphering "666," or the "thousand year reign"--though most people make these images the be all and end all of the book. In fact, these images only occur once ("666"=Rev 13; "thousand year reign"=Rev 20)! What does appear throughout--on every single page--is worship. That's the context and that's the key.

How would you sum up the message of the book of Revelation?
The message is “hope.” Read the last chapter and you’ll see who finally wins—God and his people. The powers of evil are defeated forever.

The message is also that the Lord is with his people. A lot of people simply see the book of Revelation as describing Jesus’ coming at the end of time. It’s true; he is coming at the end of time. But the book also shows us that the Lord is present here and now with his people. Again, look at Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” From the earliest times, Christians have seen this as a reference to the fact that the Lord comes to the Church in their worship—in the practice of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.

The point is, the Lord is coming soon—as soon as we gather for worship. There we are taken into his presence. As we come before his throne we offer prayers--and those prayers are earth-shaking in their effects.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how much time must pass before we see a total abandonment of the "pretribulation rapture" among Christians, especially among American evangelicals such as Falwell, LaHaye, etc. Interesting, articles are now popping up on the web about the bizarre history of that recent view - so recent that not a single organized group before 1830 ever taught or even believed it. For further reading, visit Google and type in "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)," "Pretrib Hypocrisy," "Dispensationalism's Secrets," and "Famous Rapture Watchers." Great reads! Norman

Alan S. Bandy said...

Great post Michael,

Why is it that people typically try to interpret the Apocalypse through the lenses of current events? Thanks for this helpful corrective.

I would question your assertion that,

"Actually the book was originally written to explain the spiritual significance of a specific event that took place in the first century--the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70."

No doubt the destruction of the Temple still weighed heavily on the Jews/Christians, but I do not think that was the purpose of the Book.

J. M. Ford supposes that the vision represents a polemic against Jerusalem and Judaism and therefore reads Revelation as an explanation or prophecy about the events surrounding 70 A.D. If we date the book around 95 A.D., I wonder why Gentile Christians in Asia Minor would still be so concerned about the Temple's destruction.

DimBulb said...

Mister Barber,

Awesome dude. I missed the show itself but will watch the video. I came to the site hoping it would be posted.

My family has been studying the bible as a family since long before I was born. We went thru the Revelation a few years ago. It seemed very strange to me, but then I wasn't very old. I ordered your book the other day (thru the mail, sorry) and hope it's not over my head. I really enjoy studying the bible and hope to be a Scripture scholar some day.

Seven Star Hand said...
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