Farewell to the Rapture?

 

(N.T. Wright, Bible Review, August 2001.  Reproduced by permission of the author) 

Little did Paul know how his colorful metaphors for Jesus’ second coming would be misunderstood two millennia later. 

The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated.  Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre[1].  Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.”  This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith. 

This dramatic end-time scenario is based (wrongly, as we shall see) on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, where he writes: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God.  The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be snatched up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). 

What on earth (or in heaven) did Paul mean? 

It is Paul who should be credited with creating this scenario.  Jesus himself, as I have argued in various books, never predicted such an event[2].  The gospel passages about “the Son of Man coming on the clouds” (Mark 13:26, 14:62, for example) are about Jesus’ vindication, his “coming” to heaven from earth.  The parables about a returning king or master (for example, Luke 19:11-27) were originally about God returning to Jerusalem, not about Jesus returning to earth.  This, Jesus seemed to believe, was an event within space-time history, not one that would end it forever. 

The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines[3], and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation.  This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels.  But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account. 

Understanding what will happen requires a far more sophisticated cosmology than the one in which “heaven” is somewhere up there in our universe, rather than in a different dimension, a different space-time, altogether. 

The New Testament, building on ancient biblical prophecy, envisages that the creator God will remake heaven and earth entirely, affirming the goodness of the old Creation but overcoming its mortality and corruptibility (e.g., Romans 8:18-27; Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17, 66:22).  When that happens, Jesus will appear within the resulting new world (e.g., Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2). 

Paul’s description of Jesus’ reappearance in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a brightly colored version of what he says in two other passages, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and Philippians 3:20-21: At Jesus’ “coming” or “appearing,” those who are still alive will be “changed” or “transformed” so that their mortal bodies will become incorruptible, deathless.  This is all that Paul intends to say in Thessalonians, but here he borrows imagery—from biblical and political sources—to enhance his message.  Little did he know how his rich metaphors would be misunderstood two millennia later. 

First, Paul echoes the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Torah.  The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses comes to see what’s been going on in his absence.

Second, he echoes Daniel 7, in which “the people of the saints of the Most High” (that is, the “one like a son of man”) are vindicated over their pagan enemy by being raised up to sit with God in glory.  This metaphor, applied to Jesus in the Gospels, is now applied to Christians who are suffering persecution. 

Third, Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province.  The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city.  Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world. 

Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere. 

Paul’s misunderstood metaphors present a challenge for us: How can we reuse biblical imagery, including Paul’s, so as to clarify the truth, not distort it?  And how can we do so, as he did, in such a way as to subvert the political imagery of the dominant and dehumanizing empires of our world?  We might begin by asking, What view of the world is sustained, even legitimized, by the Left Behind ideology?  How might it be confronted and subverted by genuinely biblical thinking?  For a start, is not the Left Behind mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?  Wouldn’t this be overturned if we recaptured Paul’s wholistic vision of God’s whole creation?              
           

 http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm 

[1] Tim F. Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind (Cambridge, UK: Tyndale House Publishing, 1996).  Eight other titles have followed, all runaway bestsellers.

[2] See my Jesus and the Victory of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1996); the discussions in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, ed. Carey C. Newman (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999); and Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), chapters 13 and 14.

[3] Douglas Farrow, Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

What does Revelation 4: 1-5 mean to us now?

One day, this door will be open to us and we will be there.

The question is, are you ready and have you lived the life He has called you to? God calls us to be earnest in pursuing a serious, deep—rooted, and determined faith. It is a call to persist in our faith and determination, regardless of obstacles—physical limitations, spiritual depression, spiritual warfare, or our circumstances. If everything came to us instantly, there would be no growth, no appreciation, no maturity, and no faith. Faith requires resistance and struggle to make it flourish and grow. God is not the One Who always holds us back; it is usually our refusal to reach out and seize the opportunity. It is we who refuse to exercise our faith and grow. It is we who speak just a simple prayer with no earnest thought behind it, with no zeal or realization of God’s mercy and grace. We get so caught up in our own struggles that we do not look past the crowd to call His Name. We do not realize that He will stop, look, and listen—just for us!

God has given you an open door. What does it take for you to answer and to open it?

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Can you imagine what Heaven will be like? Or, is it so far above your ability to imagine that it is a mere hope?
  2. John, Ezekiel, and Daniel all used images and metaphors to describe this wonder. What do you suppose are the reasons for this?
  3. Why do many Christians today get so caught up in these images that they miss the point of the message? Have you ever done that?
  4. Many misguided interpreters read into a Bible text, stringing together other passages out of context to create a grand theology out of injudicious reading and insert ideas that are not in the passages. What could be causes and motivations for this? Why are we called to read His Word with “exegesis,” or a right explanation and analysis of the text from what is actually in it?
  5. One day, this door will be open to us and we will there. The questions are, are you ready, and have you lived the life He has called you to? What do you still need to do?
  6. What would it mean to your faith and relationships to be better at seizing the moment and taking advantage of the opportunities He gives? Remember, the application is that all who are in Christ are His representatives, both individually, and collectively as the whole assemblage of all Christians who are the Church. How can you make this so in your life and church?
  7. In the meantime, as we wait to see all this for ourselves, how can we fuel our perseverance and productivity by His marvel? What can you do to further persevere with your call and faith?

© 2006 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.intothyword.org

Exegetical look into Revelation 4: 4-5

What would a glimpse of heaven do to and for you?

The point of this portion of Revelation is to motivate us as a Church to get right, and get busy in Him. How many churches do we know who are indifferent, who just get by and do nothing to exercise their faith or show who Christ is in their lives? Such a church is exercising faithlessness to the point that they actually scheme to not grow in Him, revealing their breach of faith and disloyalty. Such a church will not reach out. Their programs are superficial and inclusive to themselves and not available to others who need them; thus, they are not worthy to be called Christians.

  • Encircled the throne…surrounded by is a parody of a kings court, showing his importance. These images can help us see God’s centrality and eminence. These are visions of angelic courtiers as attendants serving in a royal monarch’s court (1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6; 2:1; Psalm 89:6-7; Ezek. 1; Dan. 7:9-10)
  • Twenty-four other thrones. In the art of that period, the image of a few (such as priests) means there are many more than depicted. Thus, the number does not mean an actual number. This applies through most of Revelation. Numbers are symbols, not accounting or actual numbers.
  • Twenty-four. The number 24 can mean many things such as the 24 books of the Jewish cannon, or the 24 orders a Jewish priest at the time took, or the completeness of the 12 tribes and 12 Apostles, indicating all who bow to Christ. These numbers are symbolic and not actual accounting as there were 14 apostles and 13-14 tribes depending on context of the listing. (Joseph was two.) (Deut. 21:6; 1 Chron. 24-25; Isa. 24:23; Dan. 7:9; Acts 1:26; Rev. 5:5-14; 7:4-17; 11:16-18; 14:3; 19:4).
  • Twenty-four elders. Elders refers to those with authority. In the context of a church, they are God’s representatives called to declare and serve Him wholeheartedly and righteously. Referring to God’s “cabinet officials” denoting those “with wisdom” as His attendants who worship and serve Him, there are two theories¾Angels or people, or perhaps an exalted category of Angels. Perhaps, it refers to the Church as triumphant; others say it indicates the ancestors of Christ. However, the passage and context suggest celestial representatives, which can mean the Church¾as those who are redeemed or God’s servants¾or, more precisely, both. This is also suggestive of how a healthy church functions with elders who seek wisdom, serving and worshiping God. The application is that all who are in Christ are His representatives—individually, and collectively as the whole assemblage of Christians as the Church.
  • Dressed in white. White, in ancient times, was associated with good and purity. In contrast, black was associated with bad. The dead were buried in white and priests were dressed in white (Rev. 3:4).
  • Crown refers to victory.
  • Flashes of lightning. Special effects in ancient times indicated an important event. Here, it is pointing to God’s self-revelation. It is the symbolic representation of the awesome majesty and power of God. It refers to God’s Supremacy and Authority and our duty to heed His voice and reverence Him. It is also a symbol of the fake god, Zeus’ authority and vengeance (Ex. 19:16-19; Job 37:5-6; Psalm 18:11-15; Ezek. 1:4, 24; 43:2; Dan. 10:6; Heb. 12:18-29; Rev. 8:5; 11:19; 16:18).
  • Rumblings and peals. An illustration of God’s mighty power coming to deliver His people (Psalm 18:12-15; 77:18).
  • Seven lamps/torches refers to the seven churches that are representative of God’s Temple here on earth, as all churches are. The image that God is Light refers to the Church as the body of believers whose duty it is to be a light and a witness for Christ. This is why some commentators take this as meaning the Holy Spirit; however, the theme is that His character is the Light we follow and proclaim, and refers to the O.T. account of how God’s Glory descended into the Tabernacle. Now, our purpose is to point to His glory, as the Church is the light of the world. Proclaiming the Church as a lamp stand is saying the Church is significant as the true place of reverence to God (Gen. 1:3; Ex. 25:31-40; 1 Kings 7:49; Zech. 4:2; Matt. 5:14-16; 18:20; 28:20; John 1:4-5; 8:12; 14:18; Acts 26:13; Eph. 1:10; 5:8-13; Phil. 2:15; 1 John 1:4-5; Rev. 1:12-13; 2:9; 3:9).
  • Seven spirits of God means an angelic court pointing to God’s Fullness. The word, seven, means completeness, perfection, and its importance is compounded. Some believe this is referring to the seven celestial beings (Rev. 8:2). However, context and word meaning attest to the Holy Spirit and His various roles as Counselor, Bearer of Wisdom, Fruit, etc. (Isa. 11:2; Zech. 4:2-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:1-2; Rev. 1:4; 4:5; 5:14).

Exegetical look into Revelation 4:1-3

This passage is cycle one (Rev. 4:1-8:1) in a series of seven heavenly visions given to John by Christ (Rev. 4:1-22:5). In this first cycle, God is presented on His Throne as the King of Kings, as The Supreme Majesty in sovereign control of all things. He is the One who rules and governs us; we are the ones who are to bow to His supremacy and surrender to His Lordship. The centrality of His Supremacy in this passage gives hope to those who are suffering, and purpose to those who have lost theirs.

  • After this. This is a literary reference to the transition from the epistles to the seven churches over to John’s heavenly visions.
  • I looked. This possibly refers to a vision, or a vibrant dream (Ezek. 10:1; 44:4; Dan. 10:5).
  • A trumpet said. This means God is preparing to give a command or the pronouncement of His Word (Ex. 19:16). Here, many misguided interpreters read into the text a “rapture,” and string together other passages out of context to create a grand theology out of injudicious reading and inserting ideas that are not in these passages, such as 1 Cor. 15:51-54 and 1 Thess. 4:16-18. This is called “isagesis” which is a personal interpretation of a text from our own ideas. However, we are called to read His Word with “exegesis,” or a right explanation and analysis of the text from what it actually says. Also, because the word “church” does not appear until chapter 22, many think this means the church is not on earth during the last days. Again, this is reading into a text our ideas and not God’s. We are never to stretch or construe Scripture according to our whims and/or opinions. Rather, we are to plainly seek what He has for us from what He has clearly revealed to us.
  • Come up here. This phrase is expressed in the same way Moses was called up to Mount Sinai and how Paul was “caught up” in to heaven (Ex. 19:3, 20-24; 24:12; 34:2; Ezek. 1:1; John 1:29, 51; 2 Cor. 12:2; Rev. 11:12-19; 17:1; 19:11; 21:9).
  • What must take place after this. This indicates past, present, and future, and refers to what is referenced in Revelation. It is for the present and future as well as rooted in the past, but not completed as of this writing. Some misguided interpreters find the “rapture” in this phrase, which is again, totally reading into the text what “we want” that just is not there, not only violating the rules of biblical interpretation, but also (and ironically) the plain meaning and point of this passage, which is bowing to Christ and His ways rather than our ways and ideas (Dan. 2:28-29, 45; John 19:35; Rev. 1:1, 19).
  • In the Spirit. This means spiritual exaltation and prophetically inspired¾the wonders of the Lord, giving him this vision and insight for God’s glory and not John’s. This is a state of being sensitive to spiritual understanding, not necessarily “charismatic” worship. The Holy Spirit provided John the visions and took him to places he could actually see. Thus, he is recording authentic images he saw in reality; this was no mere dream. This can also mean that John was caught up or transported to God’s Throne. However, these particulars are irrelevant to the meaning (1 Chron. 25:1-6; Ezek. 2:2; 3:12-14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 24; Acts 10:10; Rev. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10).
  • There before me. The representation of God ruling from his throne in heaven is a standard image from the Old Testament. This is a figurative depiction, not a literal description of our Lord (Psalm 47:8).
  • Throne in heaven. Denotes a throne and refers to the earthly kings pompous dignity and prestige in contrast to God’s Preeminence and actuality of having a throne. This is an image of the Old Testament Tabernacle where the “copy” of God’s Throne Room, made for His presence, was made known. Now, John sees the real heavenly version in a corporal state to condescend to his and our understanding (Ex. 24:9-11; 25 (25:40)-40; 1 Kings 5-7; 22:19; 2 Chron. 2-4; Isa. 6; Ezek. 1; 10:1; Dan. 7:9-10; Heb. 8:5-6; 9:1-14; Rev. 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 14:15-17; 15:5-16:1, 16:17; 21:22).
  • Someone sitting on it. His greatness and splendor surpasses all understanding, as He is supreme and Head over the Church. Either the details are not given to us, or we are not able to comprehend with our human minds in our present state (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:13-15; 5:23; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9).
  • Appearance of jasper and carnelian… emerald… around the throne. This is an image of God’s purity and overwhelming elaborations, magnitude, majesty, and brilliance that is “reflected.” “Precious stones” means precious and nothing else is like it, and that He dwells in unapproachable light “whom no one has seen or can see” (Ezek. 1:26-28; Dan. 7; 1 Tim. 6:16).
  • Rainbow refers to God’s mercy and grace, which we are called to reflect (Gen. 9:12-15).

Revelation 4:1-5

Introduction

“The Throne”

God stands above and opens His door to His Home for us to see. One day, we will see Him there, but for now, we can only imagine how it will be! John gets the great, anticipated glimpse that all people of all times have wondered about¾what will it be like, the wonder of wonders, the layout and look of our eternal home. Imagine what you would see: His awesome sight! Imagine what would you hear: His voice! God tells John to come on in and take a look at what must take place. And John is there, in Heaven. Whether this is a physical transportation or a fantastic vision matters not. He gets to see what only a handful of men have seen while they still roamed this earth. John saw God’s throne and the entire splendor that was there. There are no earthly words, none that even Greek or Hebrew could contain that would adequately describe what God has revealed to him. John is overwhelmed, but manages to grasp what few early images and metaphors existed that could describe this wonder. This passage starts off with a series of heavenly visions (chaps 4-8) as an attempt to convey this marvelous spectacle that is perhaps beyond our ability to even imagine.

God is portrayed as pure and as brilliant as precious, glowing gemstones, and a sea of glass is surrounded by further reverence and majesty. Elders and representatives serve as a house of worship, praising Him, clothed in His grace and presence. Yet, in this serenity are His supremacy, intensity, and power that are overwhelming and glorious. This was more than a foretaste of things to come; it was a show of strength and a demonstration of hope to those in distress and despair. One day we will be called there; but, in the meantime, we are fueled with His perseverance and productivity by the marvel of Him. He is to be our Hope so we can persevere with our call and faith. It is a call to seize the moment and take advantage of the opportunities He gives (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Revelation is a book that describes events that are indescribable to a people in persecution who need hope and a purpose to cling to. It is not a book of mysticism, because the symbols do mean things that we can understand with a little research and O.T. understanding. Because of the subject, John can only use metaphors and word pictures to put it into writing because no mere words of earthly origin can adequately convey it. If we just see this as mysticism, we miss the point of what God is saying!

What would it mean to your faith and relationships to be better at seizing the moment and taking advantage of the opportunities He gives? Remember, the application is that all who are in Christ are His representatives, both individually, and collectively as the whole assemblage of all Christians who are the Church. How can you make this so in your life and church? In the meantime, as we wait to see all this for ourselves, how can we fuel our perseverance and productivity by His marvel? What can you do to further persevere with your call and faith?

Apocalyptic Literature is Not a Secret Code?

Remember, the Apostles and most of the early Christians were fluent in Greek as well as Aramaic and some Hebrew; they fully knew the Old Testament and were immersed in that culture. Paul, John, and others used a good amount of borrowed material for illustration sake, which they knew but that we may not know so well.

Consequently, the inscription key is the understanding of the Old Testament and Jewish customs and thought, not today’s newspaper headlines! So, you use a concordance and look up that word, such as lampstand, and see what it meant in Exodus and then in Zechariah, and you have your key to unlock the “code” of the word.

Remember, the Bible interprets itself, too. For more in-depth research, you can do what we do at Into Thy Word; we use the Old Testament first and foremost and then look in the other first century literature that John and his reader would be very aware of and have borrowed from, such as the other apocryphal Jewish Books. But, keep in mind that these are hints and helps that give us insights to this type of genre and metaphors and their usage to a first-century Jewish understanding, but are not recognized or inspired as Scripture! These works include the apocalyptic books, 4 Ezra, 1 Enoch, 2 Esdras, Profetes, Sibylline Oracles, Petronius, 4 Maccabees, Joseph and Asenath, Jubilees, Simititudes of Enoch, and the Qumran Texts, to name the main ones (there are many more). They are available on CD and online that makes searching them easy (www.ccel.org).

We also need to keep in mind that many of these images are metaphors with meanings that a first century Jew or Greek would clearly have known and understood; we today, two thousand years hence, may not. In conjunction we need to seek the context and word meanings of the passage and image in question, and seek what they meant to the people at the time as well as comparing it to other passages. Thus, we look to the underlying meanings in the Greek, and study Jewish apocalyptic literature and the Old Testament. Our big clue is the Old Testament where most of it resides, but not just in Daniel.

What we do not do is seek what they mean two thousand years later in someone’s fantasy or speculations. For example, in Revelation chapter seven, the 144,000, the context and word meanings tell us that there is no ethnicity, as all in Him are His, and the numbers are beyond measure. The O.T is our code breaker and will help us unveil the clues. God’s Word clearly tells us what the meanings are. It is not today’s newspapers and popular trends that give us the meanings; it is the understanding of God’s Word and the context that does.

Images such as the beast, the mark, or 666 are not to be taken literally; rather, they are symbolic depictions of dire warnings meant to strike terror. These were most terrifying images to an ancient person. They are meant to be a wake-up call to heed the Lord, Sovereign of the universe, and get our lives lined up to His, or else. And, the or else is that you will be judged, not just in eternity, but in this life, too. What does it take to get you lined up to His precepts and yielded to His Lordship? God wants us to make a real, passionate effort to repent, get right with Him, and not lead misguided and harmful lives by trying to serve other things, idols, desires, or trying to choose between two contradictory paths in life (Prov. 24:3-4; Is. 45:7; Jer. 29:11-14; Phil. 2:3-4; James 1:6-8; 4:7-10). God is far more concerned about how we lead our Christian lives, knowing Him, and making Him known than replacing or covering our speculations over our faith.

Let us not get caught up and stuck in meaningless speculations; rather, do as the passages tell us. Be caught up in Christ by your faith. Good exegesis means God has control of what He says; we do not. We are to dig out His precepts, not interject ours. We are to accept what it actually means for us, not what we want it to mean.

More In-depth Information

When we come to an apocalyptic word or book, we need to realize it is not esoteric (meaningless or obscure or too deep and hidden); it also has a meaning for us today, as it contains past, present, and future events. Examples include the many prophecies concerning Jesus in Matthew 24 most likely already have been fulfilled, and there are parts of Daniel and Revelation that will yet come to pass. Prophecy does not always follow a clear, logical, systematic pattern; rather, it often jumps from thought to idea to another point and so forth. It also may jump over large periods of time. Thus, in prophecy, we need to be aware of two essential forms of language.

First there is the Literal (Didactic). This is the simple and direct meaning, or in other words, what it says is what it means. It has a plain meaning. Zechariah, chapter seven is a good example, as are much of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The imagery had a clear meaning to the people to whom it was first presented, so don’t jump to conclusions or read in what is not there. If you get frustrated with it, put it aside. Most Bible scholars debate the meaning, so it is improbable that you will have a clear insight. Some people are not ready or able to comprehend this part of the Bible; if so, that is OK! Focus on the parts of Revelation that are crystal clear.

The second form of language is the Figurative (Predictive). This is the category into which most of prophecy and thus, Revelation falls. We are to always view prophesy with the attitude that it has a plain meaning until we have clear and compelling reasons to place it in the figurative category. Our task is to determine the points and ideas that apply today and point to tomorrow. The bottom line is that it will happen at some point in history, and come to pass in a literal and plain way. We may not understand it until it is right on top of us. Daniel 7-12; Joel 2; Isaiah 11; and Zech. 4 are clear examples of figurative language.

Furthermore, some of the language in Revelation is “word pictures” where John is trying to describe in their language and culture as well as technology, such as Daniel, chapter seven, and many parts of Revelation. For example, if he was describing events we might see in our lifetime, how would he describe a helicopter if he had never heard of or seen one? For most parts of Revelation, John was using imagery from Ezekiel, Daniel, and other Jewish literature that they would have known. Unfortunately, there are few of some so called Bible scholars who write the popular books of today who are even aware that there is an Old Testament, let alone how to inductively read it. The key to the understanding of Revelation is in the Old Testament!

Some Apocalyptic Examples

Revelation uses a lot of metaphors that tend to be “filling” to sensationalists who refuse to look them up; they would rather read in their skewed ideas. What we need to know is that symbols in Revelation had specific meanings for a first-century Jew or Greek, like when we might say “it is raining cat and dogs.” This does not mean to be careful not to step on a poodle. These are metaphors; they are not to be taken literally but at the same time, they are not to be taken lightly. They should be taken as they meant then, not compared to a modern day newspaper. John was in a totalitarian, evil regime under Emperor Nero who was very much an antichrist, as in one who opposes Christ—not just one person but anyone who oppresses someone away from Him (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7). Thus, when he uses 666 or beast in Revelation, it can also refer to Nero and/or someone like a Hitler, a Mussolini, a Saddam Hussein, or someone who is yet to come; more probably, all of the above.

The symbol, 666, was typical of first century Jewish apocalyptic riddles that were usually known to the audience to whom they were written; John’s readers knew who he was talking about. It was not a secret code to the hearers, only to those outside of the Church such as Roman officials who would take away their property, jobs, and even their lives for uttering blasphemy to Caesar or Rome. This was also a common way to express or warn about godlessness or those opposing Christ so they would not have to fear reprisal.

Another example in Revelation is that John also uses the language of the current Greco-Roman figures of speech which contain the succession of visions of spiritual warfare, warnings, and judgments, climaxing with the Second Coming of Christ, and finally a farewell. Yet, the figurative speech and images, although borrowed from the Old Testament, would have been clear to an educated first-century Jew. It may not be a style we are familiar with in our contemporary culture, but it was very popular from 200 BC to 200 AD.

Consider that describing our modern life with cars, freeways, electronics, and computers to a first-century person would be unrecognizable and incomprehensible imageries. What we take for granted, considering what we know and what they knew, does not measure up in the understanding of one another. Revelation and its imagery were real and had application for them as they are real and have application for us, too. Much of the imagery was used to get a response from his readers, to evoke them from complacency to spiritual activity.

These images can be literal events as well as symbols. They can apply to the Church of Asia Minor, and be reapplied to us. Sometimes, John explains them; sometimes, they are vague and we may not know what they mean until that day is upon us (Rev. 1:20).

Thus, there are no real mysteries other than when these events will happen, which ones have happened, and the sequence of events. The real mystery is why some of us Christians prefer sensationalism and false teaching instead of actually learning His real precepts and then growing in faith and Fruit as we are called to! However, time and sequence in apocalyptic literature were not important to a Jewish mind or to our God who wants us focused upon Him as Lord. What we learn in our preparation is far more valuable than what will come about.

Much of what is spoken of in the Old Testament for Israel and the Tribulation is found in Revelation 6-19. Its principle purpose is to reveal Christ as Lord and the end of the age. It also gives us firm instructions on how to live our lives being faithful to Christ and receiving His promises as well as His warnings. In Matthew 24, Jesus’ concern about the Tribulation is for us to be prepared and flee from it when it comes, as the Early Church did. But, what do many modern Christians prefer to do? They come up with all kinds of theories that Jesus is coming back before, in the midst of, or after. Clearly, this is not important, or Jesus would have told us. What is important, which Jesus clearly told us, it is to be ready by growing in our faith, and that He is indeed coming back in His good and perfect time, regardless of our theories and ideas! Thus, it is not about being ready by coming up with more sensationalism and misleading others.

Revelation brings a lot of controversy because it is interpreted so varyingly. We need to come to apocalyptic language without a specific view or we will become construed and constrained to it and miss what God has for us. Each prophecy and image can have multiple meanings and multiple fulfillments. Each view has some ideas that are correct and some that are wrong; none of them are all wrong or all correct. Most of the Bible is very precise, but apocalyptic literature is difficult because God has not given us the final key. In addition, apocalyptic language is about relationships and events in an Oriental logic form that does not have Western philosophical chronology in mind. Hebrew logic is based on “and” and “or,” whereas western logic is “if than” or “either or;” very different. Therefore, we must beware not to read into it our current idealistic methodologies and theological frameworks. Rather, we are to focus on real, authentic, Christian faith and allow God to provide us a framework from His principles. Revelation also borrows heavily from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalms as well as apocryphal literature such as 1 Enoch. Revelation is more about who opposes Christ and His principles and who is faithful and fruitful.