Kurt Willems has begun a valuable study through the Book of Revelation, probably the most misunderstood text of Scripture. We’re so far removed from the context that we end up usually just making up our own interpretations of imagery which was originally very powerful symbols of particularly culturally-relevant things. It looks like Kurt is going to do a much better job than most at looking at this a little more accurately.
Here are his three general principles for reading Revelation:
This book is theopoetic (“worship”), in that it is similar to a counter-liturgy, one that reminds Christians both then and now that the civil religion of Empire must never capture our imaginations. Our version of reality must be informed by our allegiance to the Slaughter Lamb and to worshipping the God and Father of our Lord Jesus. Reading Revelation poetically should shape our imagination as faithful disciples in circumstances where the pressures of Empire attempt to lure us. As we worship God the temptations of this evil age fade as we bring glory to God.
Revelation is also a theopolitical text (it is “uncivil”). The Roman Empire brought various forms of harrassment to God’s people, including John of Patmos, who had been exiled for his representation of the way of Jesus. Revelation upsets the status quo, calls out civil religion in all of its forms, brings peace where there is violence, and summons us to live as an alternative polis in the midst of rampant idolotry, greed, and injustice.
Finally, Revelation carries with it a pastoral-prophetic tone (“witness”). This circular letter attempts to speak truth to various churches in Asia Minor (and to our churches today!) to remind Christ-followers of the radical cost of discipleship. The powers of evil, both invisible and embodied, must not win by pulling the church away from faithfulness to Christ. Revelation 1.3, at the beginning of the letter, set this agenda clearly:
Favored is the one who reads the words of this prophecy out loud, and favored are those who listen to it being read, and keep what is written in it, for the time is near (Rev. 1.3 CEB).
Had this book been primarily about some wild future (of course, with the exception of the renewal of creation in chapters 21-22), the call to “keep what is written in it” would not be so blunt here and throughout the book as a whole. To “keep” Revelation is to walk faithfully with God on the narrow road of discipleship in the face of temptation and to thereby refuse compromise as the church becomes a visible alternative to the powers of the Empire.