This summer I’ve been teaching a post-graduate course on Revelation. My students are great learners and hopefully will be great teachers. Each of them in their own way is getting it.
But this thought has often come to me: why is it that so many Christians badly misunderstand the last book of the Bible?
And if it doesn’t make sense to us, what do we do? We throw our hands up in the air, make a joke of it (uneasily perhaps), and walk away.
What if we tried that with the Gospels or Romans? It wouldn’t leave us with much understanding of our faith, would it? What we need to understand is that our lack of understanding of Revelation affects our ability to understand the Christian faith far more deeply than we think.
For instance, what do you believe about the direction of history? Do you believe things will get progressively better as the kingdom advances, or do you believe things are only going to get worse? How are we to live in the light of which choice we make?
Or what do you believe about the sovereignty of God in light of current suffering and persecution around the world? Or even in light of the latest tragedy like a school shooting?
Or what do you believe about how or even whether Christ establishes his government through the church on earth?
Or what do you believe about events in the middle east? Must they command our focus if we are to discern the signs of our times? What do you believe about the state of Israel? Or Arabic-speaking Christians?
Or what do you believe is the true nature of idolatry? Do you see idolatry as the greatest threat facing the church, even greater than potential persecution, Islam, or anti-Christian governments? And if so, why?
Or what do you believe are the greatest dangers to compromising your personal faith and witness?
Or what do you believe is the connection, if any, between the Garden, the church and the new Jerusalem?
And finally, what do you believe the kingdom of God is, and are we living in it now or not?
All these questions are answered in the last book of the Bible perhaps more effectively and comprehensively than anywhere else.
When I was a young man at seminary in Chicago, a friend made this statement to me: “Your eschatology affects everything you believe.” It took me more than a few years to realize he was right.
Please don’t walk away from the book of Revelation. Misunderstanding it has the potential of warping our faith, twisting our outlook on what is going either next door or on the other side of the world, and leaving us with a lot of big gaps in our understanding of who God is and what he is doing, not to mention where he is going with it.
And don’t say there’s no way of figuring it out. I wrote a simple guide to Revelation (Mystery Explained) because my wife, among others, wanted to understand it as they read it, and it seems to work judging by the response I’ve had. You can read that, or find something else. Or persuade your pastor to do his own study and teach it himself.
It may change your whole outlook on more things than you think. And when you face the Lord, you won’t have to explain away why you walked away from the last book he gave you.