Encountering an Apocalyptic World – Part 2

In chapter 9 of his book, The Apocalyptic Literature, Stephen L. Cook states,

Entering the world of the Revelation, readers will immediately notice key differences from New Testament writings in general and even from other early Christian apocalyptic texts, such as 1 Thessalonians and the synoptic apocalypse. Jesus and Paul taught about transcendent reality and its coming on earth, but spoke from an earthly perspective. John of Patmos, on the other hand, is granted the privilege of heaven’s vantage point. Revelation discloses heaven’s perspective on this world.

Revelation 4:1–2 (ESV) — After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.

From this point on, John sees events transpire just as the courtiers in God’s heavenly throne room do.

John’s perspective in Revelation allows him to communicate to readers what is really going on in their world and what its ultimate outcome must be. This invigorates their imaginations with a completely new perspective. Richard Bauckham expresses the point well:

The effect of John’s visions, one might say, is to expand his readers’ world, both specially (into heaven) and temporarily (into the eschatological future), or, to put it another way, to open their world to divine transcendence. The bounds which Roman power and ideology set to the readers’ world are broken open and that world is seems as open to the greater purpose of its transcendent Creator and Lord. It is not that the here-and-now are left behind in an escape into heaven or the eschatological future, but that they here-and-now look quite different when they are opened to the transcendence (The Theology of the Book of Revelation).

God’s sovereignty and cosmic prerogative often appeared distant or unreal to Revelation’s original audience, facing the Roman Empire’s arrogation to itself of divine rule over the world. Today’s readers as well may often see heaven’s rule as distant or ethereal. Many alternative political, economic, and military spheres of concern claim priority. Revelation aims to unmask these claims as false. It unveils, instead the world’s true Lord and argues that the conflicting claims of earth and heaven arise from a spiritual battle raging behind the scenes of daily life.

… Readers of revelation should prepare themselves to enter a new symbolic universe. What they see is neither coded description of ordinary, banal reality nor abstract, ethereal truths. In this imaginative new worldview, earth and heaven appear from God’s perspective. Earth’s pretensions look increasingly bloated and ephemeral. Simultaneously, the celestial realm develops before the reader’s eyes into something sharply visible and fundamentally solid. Above all, heaven appears relentlessly aggressive … God’s new creation is irrupting into the world and increasingly demanding that human lifestyle accord with it …

G.K. Beale describes the pressing relevance of Revelation’s new universe of symbols:

The symbols describing the new world spell out the eternal significance and the consequences of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and the present choices and behavior of the readers. Part of the main point is to motivate the readers not to compromise with the world but to align their thoughts and behaviors with the God-centered standards of the new creation. They are to see their own situation in this world in the light of the eternal perspective of the new world, which in now their true home (The New International Greek Testament Commentary).

The radical new imagination of Revelation confronts human brokenness and reorients human experience. It promotes hard, critical thinking, helping readers discern the elemental struggles at stake in life. It energizes readers to leave passivity and timidity behind and to engage these struggles wholeheartedly. Such engagement confronts all spheres of life, including the political, the economic, and the cultural.

It should be noted that the symbolic universe of Revelation is incomprehensible apart from knowledge of the Hebrew Bible.

Scriptural symbols and images form the very fabric of its visions … The term allusive language is appropriate. Instead of formal quotations, biblical echoes and dictions saturate the book.

Revelation’s many scriptural allusions are key to unlocking its mysteries. Knowing the original historical milieu of John of Patmos helps in understanding the text, but interpreters will gain a more immediate grasp of its literal sense by reading it in the context of the Bible’s own inner world. Innerbiblical cross-referencing gives the interpreter a vital framework for understanding this complete apocalypse.


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