“Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle book.” Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King
Yesterday in class, as we considered the idea that the images of the beasts described in chapter 13 of Revelation might be better understood if we thought of them as more akin to political cartoons than realistic images of horror, Karen remarked that she had just had an “aha” experience. That is, a light was turned on somewhere and she understood something that had confused her before. That’s worth noting, because that is precisely what is supposed to be happening as we study the scriptures together. While it is true, as CS Lewis says, that most of what we hear in church is what we’ve heard many times before and we go there not to see something new, but to be reminded of what we already knew, it is also true that discipleship is an education. Think of the first disciples and how their fellowship with Christ changed them. Jesus was not merely a teacher, but he was constantly trying to explain to His disciples who He was and the reality of the spiritual world and the battles going on there. He sometimes used parables and it is impossible to think that there were not many “aha” moments as the disciples were gathered around Him, hearing His stories.
Here is the question we need to think about: Is it really possible that we may learn things that will change our lives? That’s a cliché these days. Every pitch you read – whether it is for a new diet or exercise program or some self-help program – tells us that this “new, groundbreaking work” will “change your life.
We might laugh at that in reflection, but it wouldn’t be a cliché if it wasn’t working. Why does it work?
One reason might be this one: Our lives are in need of changing and we – somewhere deep down – know that. We feel like we’ve missed the boat, somehow. We keep waiting for our ship to come in and yet it stays out on the horizon. We are faced with problems and situations that we have no insight into and that we desperately want to fix.
Is the Christian life any different from the lives of non-believers? We well know that we will suffer all that is common to humanity – we are all subject to physical infirmity and decline and “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” but does our faith – and our full embrace of and deep immersion in it – give us anything that others do not have.
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. We start with the overwhelming truth that for the Christian, physical death is not the end. We know that Christ has gone before us to “prepare a place for us” in eternity.
But for now, I’d like to refine the question a little bit. What advantage does the disciple of Christ have in the facing of the daily battles of everyday life? Does our study of the book of Revelation help us at all with the practicalities of life, or is our study mere abstraction – something to take our minds off of the messes in our lives?
We’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: John’s purpose – or at least one of his purposes – in writing this letter to the infant churches in Asia Minor is to give them an understanding – of the world around them – that will help them practically and philosophically in their day to day lives. For my money, those same lessons John imparted to the first-century Christians are immediately and profoundly relevant to us today.
Some have said that everything is in full supply in the modern west except clarity. We are rich in terms of material goods, but we are completely confused about life – about the spiritual and moral realities around us and about how we should order and prioritize our lives. We feel, as did Quick Draw McGraw, that we are “getting nowhere fast.”
John’s message speaks to the very heart of that confusion. It is just the tonic that you and I need to steel our spines and to maintain hope, joy and sanity in the midst of it all.
In the next post, I’ll start considering the elements of John’s message, but let me close for now with this single thought, central to the message of the New Testament and completely ignored in modern thought:
There is a spiritual battle going on right now. It’s being fought in time – that is, in the course of history and in the courses of our individual lives. There are powerful forces of evil at work and for life to be what it ought to be, we must be aware of this battle and equip ourselves accordingly.