In my Sunday sermon series on the Book of Revelation called “Apocalypse Now,” we’re about to get the juicy stuff. Many pastors avoid teaching this book either because they themselves are still befuddled, but more often because it’s an exhausting chore trying to confront all the BS interpretations that have persisted for so long.
But I believe Revelation is just the right message for American Christians to grasp at this point in history in the midst of cultural chaos, political idolatry, international unrest and the rise of nationalism in the era of Trump.
Next in our series, we’re moving beyond the letters to the seven churches and into the apocalyptic vision proper. Buckle up! Coincidentally, my teacher Scot McKnight is currently highlighting a helpful resource I’m drawing upon for this series on hisJesus Creed blog hosted by Christianity Today. The following is from Scot McKnight:
This first paragraph by David Mathewson (A Companion to the Book of Revelation.) could change a million mistaken sermons. When we move from the clearly historically-situated churches in chps 2-3 to the heavenly courtroom/throne room scences of chps 4-5 we are not entering into “now” vs. some “way off in the future” time but we are seeing what John wants those churches to know about what is going on now.
JOHN’S “VISION PROPER” BEGINS in 4:1 and extends through 22:5. It is important to recognize that chapters 4-22 do not refer to events and information that takes place chronologically after chapters 2-3. Rather, 4-22 cover the same ground temporally as 2-3. That is, they refer to the same time, events, persons, and places as 2-3, but now from the perspective of an apocalyptic vision. Chapters 2-3 could be seen as a more straightforward prophetic critique of the churches and their situation. Chapters 4-22 will now address the same churches and their time and situation, but in the form of an apocalyptic vision. Chapters 4-5 are foundational for the entire book of of Revelation.
What we see in chps. 4-5 then is the ultimate vision of what God is and will be doing in the world. Nothing more vital for a Christian view of the world than these two chapters.
As we have already seen, the rest of the book of Revelation tells the story of how this scene in heaven, where God and the Lamb are worshiped and their sovereignty acknowledged, becomes a reality on earth.
I encourage you to circle back and read chps 4 and 5 for yourself after considering the following.
That vision in heaven where the Lamb alone is worthy to open the scroll is vital for a Christian understanding of history. What are the major elements? The Lamb is Christ; the scroll is the message of the judgments to follow; the 24 elders (perhaps) heaven’s reps of those on earth; the 4 living beasts represent all creatures
Chapters 4-5 draw primarily on similar heavenly throne room scenes found in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1-2, but probably also draw on Roman imperial court scenes, where Caesar is on his throne,and his cohorts surround him and render him acclamation and allegiance. Johns vision, then, would be a parody of the Roman court scene and will counter imperial claims. It is not Caesar who is at the center of the universe, in control of all things, and worthy of acclamation and wor-ship. God’s throne, not Caesar’s, stands at the center of all reality. Only God and the Lamb who are sovereign over all things are worthy of worship.
Yes, Mathewson I think is right: a parody of the emperor and imperial ideology. John wants the churches to know that God is going to judge, Rome is not the way, and they are called to enter into the Way of the Lamb.