Monday, July 06, 2009

Revelation 1-3

For a couple of months now I have been thinking about a way to be a better student of the bible. While a better discipline is being formed in me in terms of daily prayer (involves a lot of bible reading; the Psalms particularly), I have not yet found some kind of rhythm in which I can devote serious time to reading good biblical commentaries. It occurred to me that I should make this a part of a blogging discipline in hopes that it becomes something of a help for my church, particularly, with whom I do most of reading, as well as those few who like to pop over to this blog from time to time. Therefore, I hope to offer some weekly thoughts, a chapter (or so) at a time on books of the bible that I am studying. Since I took a class a little while ago on the book of Revelation I thought I would start there. There is no way I will be able to exhaust this baby. What I hope is that these posts are helpful for gaining insight into how this text moves and not necessarily what it says or means, although we certainly cannot avoid this. We’re going to swing on some of major hinges of the book of Revelation for a while and see if we can’t make some sense of it. For this post, I’d like to reflect on Revelation 1-3, with the masterful guidance of Craig Koester’s Revelation and the End of All Things. And so, in the now immortal words (at least to me) of a brilliant new movie I watched this last weekend… away we go!

We might imagine 1:1-8 as John’s voice-over offer some preliminary narration. At 1:9-20 where the curtain first opens in the drama, John meets the glorified Christ. At 2:1-3:22 are the messages to the seven churches. Theses messages are addressed individually, but they are not meant to be private (56). They were meant to be open letters, someone else mail, written to specific contexts but available for others who share a larger socio-politico-economic reality—the Roman Empire. These messages deal with three overarching themes—assimilation, persecution, and complacency (57ff).

Perspective describes the major movement of this section. The placement of 1:9-20 within the text is significant. Before anything happens, John offers his readers a sustaining vision for what is to follow. This is not the only sustaining vision, as we will see. John is given a number of sustaining visions that guide the readers along the way as they encounter the vision. The first thing we read about is not a future event but a present reality (54). The glorified Christ who is to appear again one day is not absent from His people, the lampstands. This is good news! The glorified Christ is present among His people.

The language John uses to describe the voice that he sees is drawn from the Old Testament. He uses this language in such a way so as to remain in continuity with the ancient people of God, namely no idolatry. With masterful prose, John articulates perhaps the most developed Trinitarian theology in the New Testament. This one who is present among His people is none other than the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of the cosmos. It is this one who is first and last, who touches John on the shoulder. He is near!

The opening chapters in the book of Revelation set the stage for what is to follow. It remains to be seen whether or not the glorified Christ present among His people and in the world is a good thing. It depends on your perspective. This is where the context offered by the messages to the seven churches is crucial for the text. It provides the context in which to make sense of the presence of Christ and the vision that follows throughout the text. Churches that lend themselves to complacency and/or assimilation with the culture might find the judgment of God rather disconcerting, to put it mildly, if they don’t change their ways. Likewise, those who have been about the love and justice of God and are facing persecution of various kinds will find hope in the presence and judgment of Christ. The major movement of this section challenges our perspective of the world. It challenges us to ask: how do I see the world? What’s the overarching framework in which I make sense of things?

So, there’s the first reflection. It feels very inadequate. Much more could be said, but it is what it’s going to be. But ask questions if you want. Or disagree.


Jack said...

When you say: "The first thing we read about is not a future event but a present reality" are you referring to the statements in the first 3 verses where it says: "the things that must soon take place" and "for the time is near"?

Scott Savage said...


Good question. Or should I say good point. This is the problem with trying to write such a concise summery. You are write in the book of Revelation is going to talk about things to come. Of course what that means is an important question that require quite a bit of discussion. I was not heading down that road when I made that statement. I was referring to Revelation 1:9-20 and how that sustaining vision is functioning within the text. Whatever John is going to say about what is to come, the present reality is that the glorified Christ is present among His people and (to lead into the next posts) working things out on earth as they are in heaven. Thus, what is to come only happens because of the presence of the glorified Christ. Thanks for drawing this out. This is, indeed, going to be a challenge for me to try and say what I am learning and reflecting on in so few words.