Rethinking Revelation (Part Two)
Eight Challenges for Traditional Perspectives (Part Two)
Welcome back to ‘Rethinking Revelation.’ If you missed part one, be sure to click here to access the first half of this paper.
#5 – Revelation is meant to be understood in a general, not specific, manner.
Many approach Revelation with the idea that God has revealed what is going to happen, and we must figure it out. Some people point to Revelation 1:3 – “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it: for the time is near.” They take this to mean that we should understand what is meant, and know exactly what it refers to.
However, in what sense should we ‘hear’ the words of this prophecy? Perhaps we should take heed to the general instruction and revelation. That is to say, maybe we should focus on the broader themes – what the last days will be like, how Christ will come, and so on, rather than on the specific meaning of the symbolism, or trying to peg down dates and times.
In fact, the greatest argument against trying to view Revelation as a clear prophecy for us to understand lies in the vast number of theories. For thousands of years, men have tried to focus on the specifics – often neglecting the generalities – but with little success. The antichrist has been variously assigned to Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Putin, and Obama.
#6 – Revelation, like Daniel, stands as an eternal testament of God’s sovereignty
Daniel was an enigmatic book that did not make sense to the Jews in their time, but looking back, we see that it clearly laid out the time of the coming of the Messiah. Though it was not understood clearly by the Jews, we can see, in hindsight, that it was the work of God, delineating the exact events before Messiah appeared.
Revelation, in the New Testament, seems to occupy the same place as Daniel in the Old Testament. It is not meant for us to perfectly understand now. In the future, once these events are completed, we will see that it perfectly described what was going to happen!
#7 – Christ’s return is soon and sudden, but not immediate.
Some think that Jesus gave us no clues when he would come back. These people think that he might have come back a second, or ten years, after his ascension. These people are of the opinion, generally, that Paul expected Christ to return in his own lifetime. However, Christ did not teach this, and Paul recognized this. In fact, the Bible mentions certain events that must be fulfilled before Christ returns. (One of the major ones is that the gospel will reach the ends of the earth).
Christ also taught us how we should anticipate his coming: it will be sudden, when unbelievers are not expecting it or thinking about it. But it will not be a surprise to believers. We have been forewarned. We should be watchful, because his coming will be sudden, not because his coming will (necessarily) be soon.
Christ gave a parable that illustrates this well: the coming of the son of man is like lightening which shoots from one side of heaven to the other. Lightening is not so much defined by its ‘soon-ness’ as its ‘sudden-ness.’ We do not know when it will strike – it may strike soon, but it may just as likely strike some time in the future. However, we do know that when it strikes, it will strike instantly; quickly; there will not be time then to set up a lightning rod and prepare for it. It will be a sudden event, though maybe not a soon event; it will cover the sky instantaneously, shooting from one side to the other.
#8 – The rapture does not rescue Christians from tribulation, but it marks the end of the world.
It is beyond the scope of this paper to deal with all aspects of the rapture. However, the common view of the rapture – as an event in which believers are secretly ‘snatched away’ to escape the great tribulation – does not align with Scripture.
Some people point to Jesus’ coming as a ‘thief in the night.’ Like a thief, they argue, no one will know when he is coming. The loot – in this case, believers – will be snatched away in an instant, and then events will occur as normal. But when Jesus is likened to a thief in the night, the emphasis, again, is on the ‘sudden-ness,’ not the silence, surrounding his coming.
In 2 Peter 3, Jesus is specifically described as coming like a thief in the night – and right after this, we are told that the events surrounding his coming will include the heavens passing away with a very great noise! There is nothing secret in that.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 also describes the rapture, when believers are caught up to meet the Lord. Again, there is no ‘secrecy’ in this event – it will occur with a shout, and the trumpet of God! As one commentator noted, “Unless we take the trump of God to be a dog whistle and interpret the shout of Christ and the voice of the archangel to be performed with sign language, the rapture will be quite conspicuous!”
Even the very word for the appearing of the Lord to His saints – ‘parousia’ – carries the idea of a triumphal entry, not a secret mission. As one man observed,
“Parousia was everywhere used in the sense of the arrival or coming of kings and rulers on a visit. How appropriate to the arrival or our Saviour-God, Jesus Christ, when He comes in triumph…”
Another writer notes,
“The early Christians knew very well what was involved in the Parousia of the emperor. They too had a king-emperor whom they expected to come and they were making preparation for His Parousia…They probably witnessed the Parousia of a Roman emperor with all its pomp, and its tokens and trophies of conquest. There was a Parousia yet to come in which they were to be given signal recognition and in the joys of which they were to participate. It is, however, difficult to see how the theory of a ‘secret coming,’ and that only ‘part of the way’ could be based upon the word Parousia, the arrival of the king.”
The secret rapture is a popular idea because it suggests that Christians will escape suffering. But Paul wrote about the rapture to a church plunged in suffering! In light of the immense suffering that Christians have already gone through (inquisition, persecutions during the Roman Empire, suffering today in Muslim countries and China, etc.), it seems laughable to say that the rapture will rescue us from really bad suffering!
As I said, this paper does not try to develop an entire system of theology around the end times. Instead, it focuses on a few key points from Revelation. My purpose in writing is to challenge Christians to think; perhaps we should question our viewpoints more than we defend them. Though we want to understand the Bible today, we will have all eternity to understand the character of God. One day, we will know the meaning of Revelation without any doubt!
It would be good also to reconsider why we want to understand Revelation. As Bernard noted,
“Some desire to know merely for the sake of knowing, and that is shameful curiosity. Some desire to know that they may sell their knowledge, and that too is shameful. Some desire to know for reputation’s sake, and that is shameful vanity. But there are some who desire to know that they may edify others, and that is praiseworthy; and there are some who desire to know that they themselves may be edified, and that is wise.”
For access to the entire paper ‘Rethinking Revelation’ including the Appendices on Daniel 9, click here.
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