Tuesday, July 21, 2009

understanding revelation, really?

In reading scripture there are always "problem passages." There are those texts which just don't seem to jive with what you believe, were taught, or know to be true about God. There are those passages that just don't seem to make sense. These are the passages that baffle commentators and boast a curious amount of debate throughout church history. We hate those passages because they remind us that we are never neutral in our reading of scripture and they remind us that God is a mystery. Instead of embracing the mystery and pursuing it we often ignore these "problem passages." God is bigger than the constraints we put on him. Sometimes, these "problem passages" are a glaring picture of how poorly we have misunderstood the Bible.

I'm currently half way through a ten week series on how to study the Bible. This last week I taught about historical context. One of the examples I pointed to was from the book of Revelation. As we began to dive into the passage a woman asked, "So you think that if we read the book like the original audience then we can understand it?" This is a very intelligent woman who has displayed quite an aptitude for the Bible throughout the class.

I was a bit taken back by the question. But I looked at her and said, "Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying."

"Well, I always thought that Revelation was just kind of a mystery," she replied. "I thought that we would never understand all of what was happening."

I reminded her of the promise of blessing that comes with reading Revelation (1.3) and that the very name of the book means "an unveiling." It is not written to confuse us but to show us the world from God's perspective. It was a new idea to her that Revelation could actually be understood.

After the class was over another woman excitedly pulled me aside and said, "I want to talk about Revelation 12." She is an elderly woman who always wears a smile on her wrinkly face.

"Okay," I accepted. We sat down with our Bibles open and began to talk through the passage.

She explained, ”As I read this passage with the talk about the woman giving birth to a male child who will rule, it sure sounds to me like the birth of Jesus."

"I think you're exactly right. Now look at verses 10 and 11, '[10] Now has come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, the one accusing them before our God day and night. [11] So they conquered him through the blood of the lamb and through the word of their testimony . . .'What does this passage seem to be about?"

She thought for a moment while rereading the text. "It sounds like Jesus' death saves us."

I told her I thought she was understanding Revelation as John intended.

Despite her thoughtful reading of the passage she protested, "But I thought Satan was kicked out of heaven before creation? You're telling me this is the cross?"

I explained that the idea of Satan being booted out of heaven before creation comes from John Milton not the Bible. She thanked me profusely for teaching her about Revelation 12. I reminded her that she had the tools at her disposal to understand it all along. She was only confused by some pop-theology. I wonder how many of our "problem passages" are simply a result of incorporating something into a passage we have always "known"?

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