I had an appointment with the doctor on November 12th, as I was feeling much more tired, so she asked me to reduce the medication I was on and have a week without any antidepressant before trying new medication. She could see apparently that I was depressed as soon as I walked into the surgery. I started on a different medication and made a note to make a follow up appointment about 6 weeks later.
I went to a theology talk at St Mark’s led by Ian Paul on how and why we should read the book of Revelation. He is an Associate Professor at Nottingham University. He says that if we can read Revelation we can read scripture. It is apocalyptic writing which was a common form of writing for John and his readers. Jesus had spoken in apocalyptic terms of the temple and as such it would have been recognised by the disciples. We need to read any kind of writing by recognising the genre of the writing; we use genre recognition whenever we read bank statements or love letters, but Ian felt that when we seem to lose that ability when we are in church, leaving our brain at the door. It is only by experience and practice that we learn to recognise the genre of writing such as apocalyptic; benedictions; letters; praise or doxology.
Chapter one of Revelation was a mix of genres, prophetic and a letter to make the readers think; it is the report of a vision with an interpretation of who Jesus was and why he was nailed to the cross. Christianity was an apocalyptic faith. It was a letter to the readers, a third century prophecy; a forth telling not significant for the present time. At that time they believed that Jesus would be returning soon, but Jesus emphasised that nobody knows the day or the hour only God; we need to see it in its historical context. It was a message sent to 7 churches of Asia Minor; it was the major trade route at that time; it was written for a particular people at that particular time. Revelation 3 described Laodicea as neither hot nor cold rather lukewarm; indifferent, good for nothing; it was set between hot springs and cold water; calcium carbonate furred up the pipes so water was spat out. It means nothing to us without us recognising the context the letter referred to.
There are a large number references to the Old Testament; in 405 verses there are 676 references to the Old Testament to explain how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament. Jesus died according to the scriptures; for example from Psalms, Ezekiel, Daniel and Exodus with references to rescue, struggle and conflict. Revelation 4 described the throne of heaven; images like jewels; trumpets, lightening, thunder, praise, creatures, throne, lamps etc all showing what worship is like; the imagery draws us in with sights, sounds and smells. Ezekiel had the image of throne and creatures; Genesis had the rainbow image. The images of golden crowns, dressed in white, 24 elders, and the throne room would have been recognised as reflecting the emperor on his throne surrounded by elders in white; the pagan colour of worship of the emperor. Revelation reflected the symbols of authority and power in their culture, and showed how power and authority belonged only to God, which implied not the emperor.
Nowadays we can see that power and authority belongs to God, not to footballers, politicians. Revelation recognised where power was in culture, but that it belonged now to God. We are not good at speaking out against power for Jesus but we will be held accountable. Revelation begins with the vision of Jesus and ekklesia, the church, that is the citizens or congregation not the building is seen in chapters 2 to 3. Chapters 4-5 show the vision of heavenly worship and chapter 6 describes the 4 horsemen; the reality of the world, war and famine, disease and death as would happen in the end times; we have been in the end times since the time of the New Testament. Chapter 7 has a vision of God’s people, that is you and me and chapter 8 and 9 reflect the reality of the world. Chapter 10 showed the vision of the prophetic task and reality of the prophetic task in chapter 11. Revelation chapter 1 talked of the male child and the lamb which was slain. Chapter 12 showed the victory of what God has done in Christ and we continue to be faithful witnesses to it. Revelation 7 encouraged God’s people to be a disciplined army on the march.
Israel in the Old Testament took its census to show how big the army was and what their fighting strength was. Now they were given fighting strength for spiritual warfare, as the people were suffering and not saved from the tribulation. They were called to share everything together, as they did not own anything as everything ultimately belonged to God. We are all Jesus’ brethren, his disciples and if we follow Jesus we too can be sick, in prison, hungry or thirsty as we are not exempt from the tribulations; we suffer with Christ as he suffered. John their brother in the kingdom shares in the suffering and painful endurance; one day God will put things right so they are to praise God for what he will do. They were to gain discipline through suffering and praise.
Chapter 12 draws it all together in the hymn of praise and the woman and the dragon; the woman in child birth symbolises the suffering of God’s people; pregnant waiting to be delivered from the trouble. The dragon pursuing the woman referred to the Emperor, the monster, which would be destroyed by the baby; the prince of peace, Jesus, would bring peace. It was a kind of political cartoon to show that Jesus was the one to be trusted not the Emperor. The emperor, Nero represents chaos and disorder but Jesus is the place of peace. Ian went into looking into numbers and calculations to see that it all pointed to the emperor. John was saying in Revelation that if they colluded with the culture of the emperor they were dealing with the beast; it was written as encouragement for the struggling Christians at that time about the Roman imperial power being the beast.
We can recognise the equivalent dangers in this age as we look for the ‘beast.’ We are invited to participate in the struggles and be lamp stands for Christ in today’s world; maybe by standing with the vulnerable and marginalised in society against the values of capitalism which advocates the increase in wealth for those who have at the expense of the poor in the continued austerity. Ian showed us how Revelation had been written as an interpretation of John’s vision for the suffering and marginalised Christians at that time under the beast of the emperor. We can look for the beasts in today’s world and stand with Christ as a light to make a difference.