Living in the Light of the Book of Revelation

In a 1993 interview for The Door, Tony Campolo said:

“Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that take the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”

Marvin Pate concludes his introduction to Four Views on Revelation with these words, distancing himself from both the overly zealous Dispensational interpreter of Revelation who finds cryptic references to Obama’s Health Care mandate or the events of 9/11 in the metaphors of the seals, trumpets or bowls. He also wants to avoid a totally non-eschatological view of the book, since the author of Revelation really does claim to be writing about a future, eschatological age.

armageddon-comicAs I am preparing to teach a three week intensive course on Daniel and Revelation, I resonate deeply with what Campolo says. I think many students think a class on Revelation will be provide a kind of “end times outline of future events” complete with Clarence Larkin charts and graphs. While I am committed to a belief in the future return of Christ (including a rapture and a tribulation), the sort of thing that passes for “prophetic studies” are quite embarrassing. If anyone was expecting that sort of weirdness in my class, I think they will disappointed.

I usually joke at the beginning of the class the title of the class ought to have been “An Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period.” That is the class I would really like to teach, although not many undergraduates would opt for an elective with that particular title. But Daniel and Revelation must be read for what they are, examples of apocalyptic literature from the Second Temple Period! Revelation is a book  that has a “sense of the immediate return of Christ” and an “urgency of faith.” But also call their readers to challenge their culture, and “come out of Babylon.” Both Daniel and Revelation urge their readers to social responsibility that goes beyond even what Campolo had in mind.

tribulation-mapRevelation is about God transforming the world, beginning with his faithful in the world and culminating with his Son’s glorious return in the future.  In order to live out the theology of the book of Revelation, we must constantly be engaged with the world, evaluating and reforming it. The seven churches were not called to found monasteries, but to constantly be on their guard against any corruption of their faith while they continue to interact with their culture. This struggle will eventually end when Christ returns, but for now, it is difficult, and even deadly.

Nor were the seven churches in Revelation called to create complicated charts mapping out future events. There is a great deal of prophecy fulfilled in the life of Jesus. But no one suggested people could have used the Old Testament Prophets to write a life of Christ 50 years before he was born! Prophecy was fulfilled in literally, but in remarkable and surprising ways. What makes us think the Book of Revelation could yield a “tribulation map” warning people of the times and dates of various judgments?

The warnings in Revelation are against complacency and compromise.  What will happen in the future is certain, but our calling now is to live properly in the shadow of the Second Coming, whether it happens in our lifetime or not.

8 thoughts on “Living in the Light of the Book of Revelation

  1. I would add a hearty Amen to this entire article and particularly the summation in the final paragraph. This is exactly the emphasis I am trying to bring to our study group as we ‘hear what the Spirit has to say to the Churches’!

    Tim

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  2. Two years ago I was one of the students that would be taking your Daniel and Revelation class. I can relate to the third paragraph of this blog, where you talked about students. I felt that this class was going to talk about the end times and maybe even offer dates of what was to come. I found that even though this was not the case, I was not disappointed. This class gave me a sense of urgency of faith, but even more so gave me a sense of social responsibility as you have stated. I agree with the last paragraph and that what is going to happen in the future is inevitable, but we need to act now. We need to live the right way now, whether or not Jesus is coming in our life time. Ultimately, we will be judged for what we do or did not do either way.
    -McKenzie McCord-

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  3. It can be extremely tempting as Christians living in today’s age of controversy and confusion to distance ourselves from the culture around us. I was reminded the other day of Escapist theology, especially in the song “I’ll Fly away”. Instead of being Christians who understand the Bible verbally but do not practice it actively, let us work out our faith during controversial times such as these. There are a vast number of people who try to read today’s happenings into Revelation. Instead of caring so much about the end times themselves, start caring more about those who will be negatively affected by Christ’s return. As the article reads, the churches were encouraged to continue in engaging with the society within they were living. Let us Christians nowadays do likewise, still resisting the urge to conform to the environment around us while actively seeking to bring the lost to Christ.

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  4. One part of the book I rarely hear about is the very first paragraph: the blessing. The book begins with a blessing for those who read the book, or more specifically stating that they are blessed, which is very interesting and something I rarely ever hear brought up. I don’t know if it’s because they find the rest of the book far more interesting or if just slips by, but blessings like that are really cool to hear. I have to wonder just what it means.

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  5. I agree with the warning or Revelation being against complacency. The true calling of the church in this age is to be getting our hands dirty, and be ministering to the world with the urgency that was felt by the apostles that were sent out at the ascension of Jesus Christ.the problem is that as a church we have fallen into the complacency of the world. there is a passion for missions, but not enough. the fact that there are people that walk into a church on a Sunday morning and claim to be living a life of Christ, then work their 9-5 jobs and do not live out their claims is the warning that was given in revelation.

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  6. Revelation is a tricky read. We never can be 100% sure if the author is using metaphors or literal techniques. There is however a way that we can react to this. The quote from Tony Campolo says it all. We have to live in such a way that does not take away from our urgency for Christ, and we need to make sure we stay true to who we are as Christians. We can not become irresponsible to evangelize and help others to see the revelation that is Christ himself. The one thing that has helped me to really start to understand Revelation is to observe those who are in the book. What do they say and do? They warn and urge against complacency and compromise. With that being said we should live in a way that is the complete opposite. Never become complacent because if you are not growing you are dying.

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