Revelation's Message of Hope & Comfort

Out of the 66 books in the Christian Bible, none has been abused and misused more than the Book of Revelation. It seems to be such a hard book to understand. But this isn't a new problem.

Even Augustine of Hippo, writing in the early 5th century, had this to say about the Book of Revelation: "Now in this book called the Apocalypse there are, to be sure, many obscure statements, designed to exercise the mind" (from City of God). Not every ancient Christian believed this highly allegorical writing deserved a spot in the canonized list of authorized writings. But find its way into the Bible it did. And so we now turn our attention to it.

Revelation belongs in a genre of literature called apocalyptic writings. It's a strange world for us in Western society today. We find a few other examples of similar material in the Bible (Zech 9-14, Ezek 38-39, Isa 24-27 and the Book of Daniel), but this style of writing was especially common in the century or two leading up to Jesus.

Apocalyptic writing has been called "crisis literature." It was designed to give comfort and hope to people who were confused and frightened. One key limitation of apocalyptic writing has been the tendency for hearers and readers to take the symbolism and imagery too literally. Unscrupulous leaders have occasionally hijacked this symbolic language to build fear and create followings of blinded believers. This was as common a problem back in the first century as it is today. The expectations fueled by Jewish apocalyptic thought were at least partially responsible for the Jewish revolt of 66-70 AD. That disastrous rebellion against Rome led to the slaughter of as many as a million Jews, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the near extermination of the Jewish religion.

The challenge for us is to return to the authentic message of comfort found in Revelation. The goal is to see the overall vision of hope in the symbolic language without being overly distracted by the details or unduly tempted to apply them literally. Our church will be studying the Book of Revelation through the end of June. I pray God speaks to you and through you as we work together to understand this important material.

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