Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Revelation - a great place to start...

A while back I volunteered to read and blog about Richard Bauckham's book 'The Theology of the Book of Revelation'. The time has come to get started.....

Let me first declare my starting position. Revelation scares me. I don't mean that the prospect of being judged before God when end times come scares me - I mean that the complex imagery and overall different-ness of the Book of Revelation scares me. It's just not like the rest of the New Testament. I can get to the bottom of the Gospels. I'm right there with the Epistles, and hold Paul as my NT author of choice. But Revelation... a whole new ball game.

I'm not alone in this. Only last Sunday, our Pastor referred to Revelation briefly in his message, with the rider 'If you've not studied Revelation, don't worry - the important thing to know is that God wins'. Well that's good, but lets' go a little deeper....

I feel that Bauckham wrote this book for folks like me. I have to confess I haven't read any of his other work (something I intend to correct). But I like the way this book is written. The series is scholarly, but not too scholarly. It's well-referenced, both to other works and to scripture. It assumes an amount of familiarity with an academic approach to study of the Bible, but it's very accessible and shouldn't scare off the serious reader.

So I'm learning about Revelation as I go along - and my hope is that by the end of this journey it will be less scary for me and for other readers.

So where should we start? The beginning.....

Bauckham kicks off with a good exegetical analysis of Revelation. 'What kind of a book is Revelation?', he asks. This piece shouldn't be skipped - before we can determine what Revelation means for us, it's imperative we understand as closely as possible what it meant to the writer and the readers he intended it for. As with much of Revelation, this isn't as straightforward as with other parts of the New Testament. Revelation has the characteristics of three distinct kinds of books - an apocalypse (an ancient genre of revelatory literature with a narrative structure), a prophecy (the word of God as told to and revealed via a prophet, often delivered orally) and a circular letter to outposts of the early Church, much like Paul's letters. Bauckham's analysis requires us to consider Revelation as each of these forms in turn - something which informs later chapters of the book.

Revelation is a work of intense and meticulously-worded literary imagery. John, the Revelation author, is obviously a scholarly writer and his literary style shines through the whole book. His language leads us in to the miracles and revelations he describes, as it must have done for the 1st-century readers. There are themes and patterns running through the book which would have excercised early Christian scholars just as much as they do us.

Those early scholars would have spent much time relating what John writes in Revelation to the writings of the Old Testament prophets. John's prophecies build greatly on what went before, and many of his revelations fulfil or mimic the OT. He is staking his claim to be considered alongside his predecessors, whilst addressing the contemporary Church. He brings the Old Testament prophecies up to date and makes them relevant in a Christian context - a great basis for continuing the story to its conclusion.

There we are - chapter 1 of Bauckham dealt with. It would be great to hear what you think. Don't forget there are, at current count, three other participants in this blogging exercise - now I've written this first post, I'm off to read what they've been writing and will follow up after that. You'll find their blogs here:

- Jeremy Myers
- Anthony Ehrhardt
- Mike Beidler

Feel free to comment here, or over on Google+. Links to followup postings will appear here, too.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great summary of chapter 1.

    I once heard about someone who compiled a list of all the allusions to the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. I guess it was a HUGE list.

    I think that when we are not aware of this, we miss most of the imagery in Revelation.

    I wish I had that list....