Revelation is a challenging word. An historically divisive book in Christian history, it was not initially included in the Biblical cannon, not recognized as “orthodox” or consistent with gospel thought. It has led to division, fighting, violence, death, and polarization among believers. Usually this was over the correct interpretation of the mysteriously metaphorical writing and the understandings of how to live it. Written in the 1st Century of the Common Era, the book is addressed to the churches of Asia Minor (current Turkey). Christianity was a mostly urban faith, practiced in the cities. During this time in the Roman Empire, Asia Minor was a region in which the Imperial Cult (worshipping the Emperor as the lone god) was promoted. It was also a time in which Jewish-Christians (like John) were no longer given the privileges extended to the Jews in the Empire such as the exemption from military service and from obeisance to the Roman religion.
We begin a seven week series on Revelation with this passage. Throughout we’ll be reading the text as a living text, written to a people in a time of challenge, uncertainty and distress. John writes to remind them of their identity. They are the children of God, claimed, redeemed and re-created both by Christ and with Christ. We won’t be reading it as prophecy that we seek to decrypt and deconstruct in order to foresee the future. Historically, most of the communities that focused that have come up short, interpreting wrongly. Think of Jim Jones. Harold Camping. Y2K. Rather we’ll read it eschatologically, looking for the intersections between the time in which Revelation was addressed to the Church in ancient Asia Minor 2,000 years ago and how the Spirit of God is speaking to us as part of the Church today here in Oakland in the year 2018.
English alone translates the title of the book as "Revelation." Most translations use a transliteration of the Greek word "Apocalypse" which means to disclose, to reveal, to draw back the curtain to see what's behind. That changes the way in which we prepare to read and hear the word, moving us from a position of expecting to receive a secret message written in code, to a vision of greater clarity, maturing depth, clarifying perspective. Maybe the book is less about the end of the world than it is addressing and formulating a theology and ethic of resistance: how to live for Christ and the Kingdom of God while living among the nations of the world and facing sovereign leaders who all too often overestimate their power and importance, neglecting the justice to which God calls us. How is the living word in the book of Revelation a word of good news for us in trying times?
Listen (or read the text) of the podcast Communio Sanctorum which covers Church History to get a glimpse of the persecution that emerged and was experienced during the historical period in which John's Apocalypse-Vision was written.
"Up Against Caesar" [LINK] a scholar article on the challenge of the theology of resistance of the early Church articulated in response the affirmation that the Emperor was Lord and Savior. Found in the Society of Biblical Literature. Written by John Dart (an SBL member, news editor of the Christian Century.