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Don’t Write It Off: Seeing Revelation for the Hope It Offers

Don’t Write It Off: Seeing Revelation for the Hope It Offers

Years ago, my husband-to-be and I did a brief Bible study on the book of Revelation. And honestly? I found the experience to be like trying to consume a perfectly cooked porterhouse steak through a drinking straw—difficult and messy. There might have been a lot of flavor and nutrition on the plate, but not a lot was getting through.

In fact, I stopped just short of calling the whole meal inedible: “Revelation is just a MYSTERY! All those symbols, plagues, numbers, and beasts?? Maybe it’s best to leave it to the scholars to make sense of it. I probably won’t understand it this side of heaven.”

I think my reaction is a common one when we encounter challenging concepts in theology, including whole books of the Bible. Our tendency is to brush them away and even call into question their applicability to our lives. When understanding doesn’t come easily, there’s a temptation to write off these parts of Scripture as either dry, confusing, obsolete, or frightening, but we need every part of the Bible in our lives.

I needed a study that didn’t needlessly obsess and speculate about the details, and instead drove home the central message of God’s finished work in the sacrificial Lamb.

When I started a new study on Revelation this year, I expected different results as I’d been shown a better way to feast on Scripture. I knew I needed a study that looked carefully at the text, verse by verse. I needed one that would take into account the genre of apocalyptic literature and the rules for reading it. I needed a study that didn’t needlessly obsess and speculate about the details, and instead drove home the central message of God’s finished work in the sacrificial Lamb. This kind of Bible study had supplied richness and insight beyond my expectations before, and it gave me high hopes this time around.

And my hopes were well founded. In preparation for Revelation’s puzzling prophecies and startling images, we first studied other biblical passages of prophecy. What did they mean to the people of the time? How did they come to pass? And what can we learn for our time? This included looking at Jesus’ prophecies about himself.

When we read Revelation, we can relate to how the disciples likely felt when listening to Jesus predict the future—confused and dismayed. Jesus’ disciples, like most Jewish people living in imperial Rome, awaited the promised Messiah who would victoriously inherit King David’s throne to reign eternally and would rescue his people from their suffering and oppression. So when Jesus—their hope for messianic fulfillment—talked about being betrayed by one of them into a shameful death at the hand of enemies, and being raised from the dead only to depart from them for an undetermined period of time, it’s hard to grasp how unnerving and demoralizing that would have been. As with Revelation, the parts seemed distressing, but the whole revealed something totally different.

From their vantage point, the fact that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the anticipated victorious rescue was beyond their comprehension. Yet he explained to them, “I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe” (John 14:29, see also John 13:19). The followers of Christ would experience hard times, including imprisonment, floggings, dogged opposition, and even martyrdom; yet Jesus gave them what they needed for these core truths to shine out:

  • The Lord is in control.
  • He’s winning even when it looks like he’s not.
  • He is powerful and faithful to do what he said he would do.

Revelation is meant to do the same for us, and it’s bookended with language echoing Jesus’ to the same effect: “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place,” (Rev. 1:1, emphasis added, see also Rev. 22:6). As we await Jesus’ return, we know from Revelation (and from observing life in general) that many followers of Christ will experience hard times, including imprisonment, plagues and wars, institutional oppression, martyrdom, and dogged pursuit by our enemy; yet Revelation gives us what we need for these core truths to shine out:

And it’s clear, we’re not to avoid this book. It is not just for the few top elite of the Bible scholars or for us to only understand in heaven. It’s for every believer here and now, so that we can have fuller hope and encouragement in God’s character and his plan. (This sermon series by Art Azurdia is a great start in understanding Revelation)

In light of this, let’s not shy away from challenging books in our personal Bible study time or in our ministries—but let’s not just slog through them, either. It is worth it to seek out discipleship, carefully consider materials and leadership, and above all pray, pray, pray that the Lord would open our minds and soften our hearts to receive Scripture. In Hebrews 5, Paul makes it clear that there’s a time in every believer’s life to enjoy the milk of the simple, comforting truths of God. Yet there is also a time to put down the straw and dig hungrily into the meat of challenging, robust theology. It’s a way to feast on the fullness of God’s revelation.

Arianne is a wife and mother of four. She and her family recently moved from Colorado to Portland for her husband's work with Humble Beast records. Having always had a love of writing, Arianne hopes to pursue the opportunities the Lord gives her to use this gift.

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