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.

18 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’!


  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-

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  7. I definitely think that it can be a bit distracting when looking at many different diagrams of the prophecy found in both Daniel and Revelation. After all, defining everything that is said to happen within each of these books; or even attempting to find out when everything happens. The apostle Paul, as well as Jesus himself, has said that no one on Earth knows when He is going to return (Matthew 24:36, 1 Thessalonians 5:2), so I don’t particularly see the point in guessing, educated as those guesses may be.

    It is true that Revelation was not written for scholars to guess at what God’s ultimate plan is; rather it was written to demonstrate that believers must not grow complacent in their faith. This statement does upset me, as I feel like in America many Christians have grown complacent. Even more upsetting is the fact that some have grown so complacent in the world that they even deny that God exists. There is a mild connection to the prophetic literature here, as the nation of Israel continuously grew complacent with the Torah, choosing instead to give in to their sins, despite constant reminders from God about the coming “Day of the Lord.”

  8. There are two views on what we can do with Revelation: as stated by Campolo, we can live with the “sense of urgency;” however, this can be taken too far in that direction, and you can live into not doing anything that is maintaining your life on earth. On the other hand, it can really help with your evangelism. If you feel that the end is coming very soon, you will live in a constant state of urgency. The other view is that you could also live on the opposite end of the spectrum and not think of the end times as coming in the near future, at all. This will push you to a place of complacency, and lack of urgency. “Revelation is about God transforming the world” (Long). It truly is. About Him transforming others, and transforming us. The prophetic nature of Revelation should truly drive us to a place of zeal for the things of God and the people of God. As you said, the churches were not told to go hide away until Jesus came back; they were told to stand strong in the face of adversity in their societies. As are we. We are called to be bright lights. There is an aspect of evangelism that really takes root in the Scriptures of Revelation. You cannot live in the light of eternity without burning with passion to see the world come to know Jesus. You stated it so well: “ but our calling now is to live properly in the shadow of the Second Coming” (Long). We are to always be alert and ready. Not trying to calculate the days and times, because that is not for us to know (Matthew 24:36), but to simply live as though Jesus is coming.

  9. Yeah this is one thing that I defiantly had misconceptions of the class before starting it. I was not expecting interpreting what all the craziness means and finding out that America is within the book of revelation or learning when the end times are coming and what is exactly going to happen, but I didn’t think that studying the books of Daniel and Revelation would have so much to do with simple cultural literature. I do think it is pretty important to understand that there are clear principles to pull out of these apocalyptic books and they do urge us to live with an expectancy and sense of urgency for the world around us. These things will happen, and they will be fulfilled perfectly, but we just don’t know what it will look like or when it will come. But in the meantime, we as a Church have a job to do. The thing that makes studying these books so difficult is the fact that there is so much we don’t know about apocalyptic literature in the 2nd temple period, so much your average Bible reader would not know. So it is difficult for most anyone to pick of the book and read it for what it is.

  10. When reading the book of Revelation you don’t automatically think that it is trying to discuss anything but end times and what will come when Jesus returns, but if you look deeper you will realize it is a book filled with worship and praise but also warnings and encouragement to be faithful. When reading this book of the Bible we need to realize that what is written is trying to show us the urgency of coming to know Christ and maintaining Christs church on earth until He comes again. Those who are already saved must maintain the church and grow it so that even more people will go to heaven when the rapture happens, but those who are not already saved must realize the sins in their life and the need for Jesus in it as well. This book isn’t meant to necessarily scare us but cause us to realize the power and importance of God in our lives and also causes us to realize all the time we have been wasting so that we will correct it and improve. We don’t know it until it is called out that we are not doing what God truly wants from us. Instead of building unnecessary things and wasting our time, we need to be urgent and use our time wisely because we have no idea when Christ will return.

  11. I really enjoy the point that PLong made within the blog post—the seven churches were not meant to found monasteries, but rather to be constantly on guard against any corruption of their faith going on in the culture around them. This was not only a warning to the seven churches in their time, but also to us for our life right now. The book of Revelation shows us that we must always be on guard when dealing with people outside the faith. When Christ returns everyone will be accounted for their time on earth, and it will be a difficult life until we are in Heaven with Christ. We also are not meant to spend time making and charting maps of the end of times events. Instead of wasting our time on maps and charts, we should be spending our time spreading the Gospel, and making sure every soul has heard the word of God and the truth we have been told. Our life mission is not to try to figure out when the Lord is coming back, but rather we should be living each day as if He is returning, making sure we are doing everything we can to further His kingdom.

  12. I agree with Dr. Longs point saying ” Both Daniel and Revelation urge their readers to social responsibility”. I think there has come a point where there is so much conformity with worldly standards and that is not the case we are here for. Revelation 18 talks about the sins of a beast and 18:4 says “Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues…” We are not to share in the sins of the world, we are to share the Good News and be responsible with the actions that we make. Revelation encourages us to overcome these temptation and trails and worship God in all that we do, with everything that we have. That to me is a social responsibility, to remind others of the Goodness of God through all things to further His kingdom. We are not to have the worries of the world on our shoulders, but to have our mindset on the things above.

  13. When I took Dispensational Theology with Pat McGillicuddy I was taught that dispensational theology really rested on two distinct studies. Dispensation theology rests on both ecclesiology and eschatology. The study of the Church and the study of the end. While “overly zealous” dispensational interpreters can take things a bit too far, they do so because they believe this urgency to be necessary and believe the Church should act accordingly. The difficulty, as mentioned above, is finding the balance between the over-zealous dispensationalist that interprets everything in the current time as a part of Revelation and the lackadaisical idealist who does not see Revelation as something that will take place soon but as a lesson to hold onto about how to live in the moment based on timeless truths of good and evil. Like most things, there but be a balance. It was Aristotle that defined the golden mean. Temperance is the ultimate virtue. I believe that this type of moderation of the two extremes leads to a life of urgency of virtuous living. The goal for ourselves as Christians and as readers of Revelation is to understand how to live the good life or the best life possible as quickly as possible. The urgency lies in our need to present ourselves to the Lord as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable (Rom 12:1-2). We learn these virtues though the Scriptures like Revelation which also gives us the urgency to become the best living sacrifice we can be. The urgency will hopefully be shown in our character, not in our desire to map out the end times or only to understand the timeless themes of the book.

  14. I always thought of Revelation as the book that tells us what the end times are going to look like and that the purpose of the book was so that we know what is going to happen. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on theories of what order the events in Revelation and other Biblical apocalyptic literature will be in. Whenever I study anything in the Bible concerning the end times, I always have an endless number of questions. However, this is not how we are to apply the book of Revelation to our current lives. “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” (Long). We are to live in the world while living for and serving God. This is the struggle of living a Christian life in an imperfect world. This struggle will end when Christ returns “but our calling now is to live properly in the shadow of the Second Coming, whether it happens in our lifetime or not” (Long).

  15. The Revelation of Jesus Christ was given to John by God “to show his servants what must soon tale place.” The book is filled with mysterious about things to come. It is the final warning that the world will surely end, and judgment will be certain. It gives us a tiny glimpse of heaven and all of the glories awaiting those who keep their robes white. Revelation takes us through the great tribulation with all its woes and the final fire that all unbelievers will face for eternity.

    It is colorful description of the visions which proclaim for us the last days before Christ’s return and the ushering in of new heaven and new earth. The prophecies concerning Jesus Christ are fulfilled and a concluding call to his lordship assures us that he will soon return.

    The book of Revelation is connection of the prophecies about the end times, beginning with the Old Testament. The description of the antichrist mentioned in Daniel 9:27. The events in the book of Revelation are real. However, the book of Revelation is filled with encouragement. It is a book that will either inspire our faith or fill us with fear. It will give us great comfort and encouragement if we know the Lord all time and all space.

    We have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. So, we have nothing to fear from God’s judgment of the world as described in the book of Revelation. The judge is our side, our Lord Jesus Christ. We must live our lives like we believe it so that others will notice our joy about our future and want to join us in that new and glorious city.

  16. This issue I find with interpreting the book of Revelation is in finding its relevance to the modern reader. Prophesy (the book of Revelation being no exception) is typically written to a people in suffering as a response calling the reader to look to the future. To the Christians of the early church facing persecution at the hand of the Romans, their future hope was the promised return of Jesus. Considering this, one can arrive at a number of conclusions based on what the individual believes regarding the end times.
    Personally, I fall into the idealist realm; to me, it does not matter how much of Revelation is prophetic of our future or of the early church’s nor am I concerned with exactly what is literal and what is figurative. It is enough for me just to know that in every patch of hardship in my life (no matter how insignificant it may be), God is there for me to look to.

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