Growing up, I was taught that the Book of Revelation was a cryptic and terrifying foretelling of the gruesome end that the world has coming before Jesus Christ sets up an eternal reign. Since I was a kid and this was the only thing I was ever taught, I bought it hook, line, and sinker. As I aged, though, I began to question this teaching and presentation of this letter from the Apostle John.
On top of that, most people I knew were literally scared to read the Book of Revelation, fearing that such horrible things, including God’s wrathful judgment, could be right around the corner. Consequently, this was rarely even talked about at all.
I don’t intend to give an in depth study of the letter here. I’m certainly not qualified for such a task. But I have done some reading on this subject and would like to pass on some resources that may be helpful to you if you also have decided that the theology espoused in the Left Behind novels should be, well, left behind. (The idea that all true Christians will be whisked away while those “left behind” will suffer as God unleashes wrath on the world has only been around for a little over 200 years.)
What I consider to be of chief importance is that the letter is a Revelation of Jesus Christ, and this should be the ultimate focus when reading it.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:1-3)
John says right up front that the letter is about Jesus Christ. Not only that, but twice in the first three verses John writes that the contents of the letter “must soon take place”, for “the time is near”. These opening verses alone should give us pause to reflect on how this letter is interpreted and applied.
Another factor that caused me concern was the view that Jesus plans to come back and basically wipe everyone “left behind” out (except the few who are so scared that they believe in Him, because Jesus uses fear as a manipulator…). This led me to want to understand how this extremely violent sounding letter could be understood to have a non-violent message.
If you have also struggled with any of these thoughts, I would recommend you work through the following resources. I recommend going through the shorter blog posts and audio messages, then moving into the books as you feel led.
– Rethinking the Second Coming of Christ blog post by Frank Viola, which is an excerpt from his book Jesus: A Theography written with Len Sweet.
– Also on the rapture topic, and excellent treatment of this is found in N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope.
– Audio message by scholar Jon Zens on an alternate view of the letter. A humble and honest presentation that brings up some good points to consider and reflect on.
– An Evening in Ephesus book by Bob Emory expands on Jon’s audio message above. The information is presented in a creative narrative where John visits the church in Ephesus and explains the meaning of the letter. This is a great and fairly short book. I only wish it had footnotes.
– Revelation and the “Pride Fighting” Jesus blog post by Greg Boyd. This post delves into how to read the letter of Revelation as non-violent.
– Audio message by Greg Boyd expounding on the non-violent topic, and how Jesus overcame as the Lamb in Revelation 5. (Very much worth your time.)
– For more on the non-violent reading of Revelation, see John Howard Yoder’s book The War of the Lamb.
– For a more academic treatment of the Book of Revelation as an apocalyptic letter that reveals Christ as the slain yet victorious Lamb, see Richard Bauckham’s book The Theology of The Book of Revelation.
When one begins to piece together the views found in these resources, what emerges is a loving God who conquers all by laying His own life down through His Son as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth, leading to a profound view of the depth of God’s love for you, and for the world.
The issue as I see it is that a lot of Christian theology, thinking, and practice is potentially derived from a wrong view of this letter. While I don’t feel a particular burden to study the technicalities of this letter academically, I do feel compelled to pass on these alternate views that I have found in my own search.
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Do you have any resources that you would recommend? Leave a note in the comments…
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Disclaimer: Obviously, I don’t agree with everything that each one of these authors has ever written or said. I simply feel that they bring valuable insight into this topic. Your mileage may vary.