Saturday, January 3, 2009

Principles for Interpreting the Book of Revelation, Part 3

So far I have summarized the first 40 minutes of Rev. Joe Morecraft's introductory sermon to the book of Revelation. In this post, I will summarize the next 10 minutes of the sermon that deals with the time frame of the book of Revelation. Again, I will repost the previously summarized material in red.

Joe Morecraft III -- Interpreting Revelation -- July 2, 1978

Principles of Interpretation:

1. Nature of the Book of Revelation

a. Revelation: Rev. 1:1, 11 (God given through Holy Spirit)

--Thus every thing in this book is relevant through all time.
--To understand, all we need is Scripture (Scripture interprets Scripture) and Holy Spirit
--To neglect study of Revelation, is to be inadequately equipped.
--Revelation means "unveiling"; not an "obscuring".

b. Prophecy: Rev. 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18 (God's word to His people)

--Apocalyptic literature of the time outside of New Testament was characterized by a catastrophic breaking in of eternity at the end of history when evil reigns and the only hope is rapturous escape.

First, over-against that view comes divinely revealed prophecy characterized by an inseparable connection between the flow of history and the consumation of history: i.e., Christ came to rescue human history (not to discard it), to perfect it, and make it more glorious. Thus, what we do now counts and matters: it has consequences (a theme of the Old Testament is God's calling His people to faithfulness and promising them resulting blessing).

Secondly, biblical prophecy is characterized by a presentation of an accomplished, continual, progressive triumph of God over evil, until that triumph is complete and total (Is. 2, 9, 11, 40, 66, etc.).

Thirdly, biblical prophecy is not irrelevant theologizing about what will take place at the end of the world, but it has instead, great ethical value (Rev. 1:5, 16, etc.).

c. Symbolic in Form: The revelation to John was "sign"-ified (written in signs and symbols and figures), Rev. 1:1. It should be taken "truly", but "not literally". Read Revelation with two questions in mind: (1) What is the picture? and (2) What does this picture mean? For the meaning, check the context of other Bible passages where the same picture (symbols, figures, etc.) is used. Other times, John actually stops and explains the meaning of the picture, Rev. 1:20, 12:1-9.

2. Time Frame

When are the things written in the book of Revelation going to come to pass? This question is answered in the text of the book of Revelation itself: Things which must shortly take place (Rev. 1:1); the time is near (Rev. 1:3); must shortly take place (Rev. 22:6); the time is near (Rev. 22:10). Thus, the text tells John and us that "these things" will take place in the immediate future. John lived in the first century. The letter is addressed to the seven asian churches then in existence -- thus "these things" will take place during the life time of these seven first century churches. To be honest with the text, "shortly" actually means "shortly", and "near" means "near", i.e., on the immediate horizon, the latter half of the first century. So, what did the symbols in the book of Revelation mean to the first century readership? Knowing what the text was communicating to the original readers and hearers is vital to a right understanding of the text. Having done this, we can then consider how the message of Revelation applies to us today. Therefore, interpretations pointing to far off distant future events must be rejected. Further, interpretations consisting of only great principles and ideals (ambiguous spiritual ideals and principles), but not specific real historical events must be rejected. We must therefore consider the setting of the seven asian churches that are addressed. They lived in an area of the world where people (non-Christians) were zealous about giving lip service to the doctrine that Caesar is god. The Christian church had grown in this part of the world and was having influence, but these seven churches are having problems. The ideas of the world are creeping into these churches and the Christians are facing pressures to compromise in the midst of tribulation and persecution. Christians in this region are being accused of being atheists because they refuse to worship Caesar. Some are dying the death of martyrs for this reason. Christians in this area of the world also faced mockery, ridicule, and persecution from a blind, hard, stubborn, apostate Judaism, which strongly opposed and attacked the followers of Christ. An understanding of this context is essential prior to any considerations about what all this means for us today.

3. Content, Theme, Purpose

-----------TO BE CONTINUED -----------------

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. This is good information you are posting.

    Personally, I don't know what the first hearer's thoughts would be on Revelation. Many, of course, would think it is happening right away -- but they are also a sophisticated audience and have other thoughts. Many would simply get out of the first hearing what I got when I first heard it, it is going to be hard and difficult, but the saints are going to win. I'm also not sure that the first hearer's mindset is the only lens by which to evaluate interpreting Revelation. When it comes to strictly thinking what does inerrancy mean, it does not mean that the text is inerrant to whatever the mindset set was of the first hearers and what they thought as they first heard it. The words themselves are inerrant as they are intended for us to understand. The intent in this apocalyptic form is not clear to me that we have to go with the first audience's first impression.

    Much of the meaning of the scriptures can be lost in the first generations that hear it, as what seems to have happened with some of the finer points of justification by faith alone.

    For the first hearers, if they hear that the events are going to begin soon, I think that is a correct interpretation. However, it is not necessary for the events to conclude immediately. Another possible interpretation is that the last days have been inaugurated. To me, looking at history and looking at Revelation, it makes more sense that seals, the trumpets, the bowls, except the last of each cycle (the final judgment) takes place throughout the church age. In this case, Revelation is relevant to the first audience as it prepares them for the upcoming persecution. It was relevant for Christians after 70 AD in dealing with Roman persecution. It was relevant to the Arab Christians during the spread of Islam. It was relevant to the middle ages and its close with the apostate Roman church. It is relevant today as we face various kinds of evil. That is why I see the cycles pertain the the entire span of history between the advents of Christ.

    I enjoy reading your posts. They are informative and help me understand Revelation better.


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