How long has it been?  So many ways to answer that question, although for our present purposes let’s just say wayyyyy too long.

I’ve missed writing.  I’ve missed this blog.  But I have not missed a thing as of late…

Marathon training – check.
Spending time with family and especially Liv before she goes back to school – check.
Work – check, check, check.
Class – see below.
Cleaning the house – she was here this morning;  It’s obviously still Rumspringa.
Wedding – mmmhmmm.  Check please.  Home stretch.  Cue Europe.  (No, not the country).

My last class ended and I was Loverboy Lovin’ Every Minute of It.  Thursday will be Week 3 of the current class, taught by one of the most difficult Professors in the program.  He uses 4-syllable words on his rest day and/or when he takes his kids to Chuck E. Cheese.  I have Siri on standby with strict standing instructions to understand the first time what word I am parroting and expecting an accurate definition of.  Ugh!  See?  Prepositional ending.  Just give me the A- now.  <*@!$>

Anyway, the class is Revelation.  It’s singular.  John had one vision and one vision only.  If you’ve never read it out of fear, confusion, or straight up no clue – that was our week one discussion.  You’re in good company.  But honestly – check it out.  Everything you don’t understand is found in the preceding 65 books of the Bible in some way, shape, or form.  And since we all know how the book ends…why not arm yourself with the intel of how amazing it’s going to be?

Here you go.  Hang on, because the only vision I have now is whether or not I’m gonna be able to keep a straight face walking down that aisle.  Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

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The Book of Revelation as Apocalyptic Literature:  Discuss how important (or not) you think it is to read The Book of Revelation as “apocalyptic literature.” How important do you think it is to read The Revelation in a socio-literary context with other Jewish (and Christian) apocalypses? What is the significance of viewing Revelation as part of this kind of literature?
(What can we learn about Revelation in comparing it to other Jewish/Christian apocalypses? What do we learn about the manner in which Revelation communicates its message through visions, symbolism, metaphors, mythical figures, allegorical representations, scriptural allusions, etc.? What are the limits of comparing Revelation to other apocalyptic writings? In what ways does Revelation modify or ‘break the mold’ of other apocalyptic writings?)

The Book of Revelation as Apocalyptic Literature:
Reading The Book of Revelation as “apocalyptic literature” is important insofar as what we are trying to accomplish.  Bauckham’s opening hits it on the head when he states that our answer to the question of, “what kind of book is it?” determines our expectations of the book and what we expect to find therein.[1]  Assuming we are trying to “accomplish” what we do with any other book in the Bible (i.e. a proper understanding [of what God wishes for us to know of His character and intent] and active application of the message), then it is imperative we read Revelation as it tells us to read it.  And that is, in three ways: as a revelation (1:1), as prophecy (1:3), and as a letter (1:4-6).

John’s work is obviously a prophecy as much as it is a revelation (1:3, 22:7, 10, 18-19).  He even calls his book a “prophetical work” and tells us the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (19:10).  Yet besides being prophecy and revelation, the book is grounded in current history.  It is a pastoral letter written to the church at large – to real, actual people then living (1:4, 11).  And further, since Revelation was at least part letter, it was meant to be read in the churches (cf. Col. 4:16) which we know not only from the “bookends” (1:3 intro; 22:6 conclusion), but also chapters 2 and 3 written to individual churches.  Thus, Revelation is a unique kind of writing in its combination and blending of three literary types – apocalypse, prophecy, and letter.  The question and quite honestly, difficulty, is trying to assuage our brains of which of the three carries more weight – which complex literary element are we supposed to grasp and is it different than what the first hearers of the book were supposed to grasp?  Did John intend to create a liturgy or drama, some cosmic myth, a prophetical book, or “just” an apocalypse?

I contend John, as Jesus’ chosen agent, used all of those genres to construct and exemplify the epistolary schema reflective of his true literary intention, but that we are not as fully equipped as his original readers to understand such a writing.  Our understanding of Revelation is impeded by the fact that they apocalypse as a literary form does not exist in our time as it did then.  John’s original readers knew how to comprehend such a writing, but since it is outside of our experience in 2016, we have more difficulty in cognition.  To that end, not only is the ability to properly correlate The Book of Revelation with OT knowledge imperative to its comprehension, but so too is gaining an intimate understanding of the culture in which it was written.  We must approach it on its own terms as a (socio-literary) writing of its time that was well understood by its original readers…and had a meaningful message for them.
Lastly, that said – it almost goes without saying that the way to up our cognitive game is to compare Revelation to other Jewish/Christian apocalypses so we “get” that whole genre.  Under the adage of “you play like you practice,” there is really no way to fully grasp apocalyptic writing unless you read apocalyptic writing. How many of us felt the immediate blush to our faces when reading Shakespeare aloud in front of classmates?  It was awkward because we didn’t understand that kind of language, not just because we were fifteen and inherently awkward.

Apocalyptic writings usually had certain characteristics in common (i.e. Enoch, Abraham, Twelve Patriarchs, Moses, Ezra, Enoch, Elijah, etc.) and claimed to reveal God’s purpose in history.[2]  A major role of the apocalypse was to explain why the righteous suffered and why the kingdom of God delayed.  Prophecy had dealt primarily with the nation’s ethical obligations at the time when the prophet wrote, and focused on a period of time yet in the future when God would intervene to judge the world and establish righteousness.[3]  The writers of apocalyptic works viewed their days as the worst of times, filled with pain and suffering for God’s people. And to offer hope in trouble times, apocalyptic writings included a promise that God would intervene in human history, destroy evil (thus, pain and suffering) and bring the despairs of His people to an end. These basic threads are woven throughout the fabric of apocalyptic construct and thought.  When we study Revelation, our views are of the same issues and topics: the meaning of history, the suffering of God’s people, and the coming of the Messiah and God’s kingdom – both then and now.

We are a sinful people born into a broken and sinful world.  And what we look for, I think, are “signs” of [the promise of] hope – hope that we can endure all the brokenness and suffering until such a time when it ceases to exist and “everything makes sense.”  Imagery and symbolism constitute such signs in both prophetic and apocalyptic literature.  Whereas the former includes more easily recognizable visuals such as plants, animals, and farm tools, apocalyptic imagery is strange, mystifying, unknown.  Grant R. Osborne comments in The Hermeneutical Spiral, that “the purpose of esoteric symbols in apocalyptic literature is to turn readers from the actual event to its theological meaning.  In other words, readers are expected to see the hand of God in the future but are not supposed to know the exact sequence of events.”[4]

Both prophetic and apocalyptic literature brings readers/hearers to the ideas of repentance and encouragement.  And both share a common goal: to point people to God.  In that way, I don’t see any limitations of comparing Revelation to other similar apocalyptic writings – again, as long as that is the end-game.  If that is not the case, then by definition, the writings limit themselves.
Reading Apocalyptic Symbols as “Reframing the World”:

While there can be little to no doubt that The Book of Revelation belongs in the apocalyptic genre, there are both obvious and subtle differences between it and other Jewish apocalypses.  First, Revelation has decidedly more visual imagery than other apocalypses.[5]  Clearly, symbolic visions are indicative of the genre, but in other Jewish apocalypses other forms of revelation are often equally or more important. [6] 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch share the expectation that the Messiah will appear at the end of time, and it can be seen as their hope in response to the situation of the Judean war with Rome.  Although scarcely the central figure in either text, the Messiah does play a more prominent role in these apocalypses than in other early Jewish writings. There are several passages in 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch that describe the activities of the Messiah with a bit of detail.  Both pieces entail judgment scenes that describe how the last wicked ruler is stripped of his authority and dominion is passed to the Messiah. In 4 Ezra 12:31-35, the Messiah is represented by a roaring lion who appears from the forest.  He confronts the remaining enemy, the last Roman emperor, who is represented by the eagle.  The Messiah rebukes him and his followers, recites all of their offenses, convicts them of their wickedness, and destroys them.  The Messiah will then deliver “the remnant of my people” (12:34), those who live within the borders of Israel.  The corresponding passage in 2 Bar. 39:7-40:4 depicts the Messiah standing on Mount Zion at the end of time (cf. 4 Ezra 13:35).  The Messiah, symbolized by the vine, summons the last Roman ruler and his cohorts.  He convicts them of their evil deeds and puts the ruler to death.  The Messiah will then rule for the time that remains “until the world of corruption will end” (40:3).

So we see the same hopeful expectation (of a new world, sans corruption) within those texts as we do in Revelation.  However, my sense is that Revelation interprets the OT in an almost contradictory way to Jewish apocalyptic writings – and we can construe those [other] writings as a challenge to the church and Revelation as an almost rebuttal.  For example, Revelation transforms the nation of Israel into the church, it postulates the OT prophecies about the salvation of Israel, and does not refer or equate the restoration of the temple (peace of Jerusalem) to the Jews as an ethnic group, but rather to a perfected and glorified church.
The people of God isn’t just a remnant of Israel, but people from all nations who have put their faith in Christ and therefore, the true Exodus is the spiritual and eternal salvation of the perpetual church.  “John’s constant allusions to biblical stories suggest that he composes his book of visions in conversation with the Old Testament.  His message corresponds to the prophetic promise of the triumph of God’s reign within history.  For him, the new Israel has experienced a new exodus from sin and death and has set out on a journey for a new Jerusalem.”[7]

I believe this is paramount to the “reframing of the world,” as Revelation challenged the claims of the apocalyptic writers and their [own] ideas of “history,” who the people of God were, where He was working, and how they would have to deal with the end-time.  To the Jews, the return of the Messiah and his intervention in human affairs (i.e. invasion of Hellenistic cultural influences, Judean war with Rome, Roman destruction of Jerusalem) was the fulcrum period of history.  Yet, Revelation fixes the most important part of history in another place – Jesus.  And that is exactly why Revelation 5 and the vision of the Lamb opening the scroll is the absolute pivotal point of the book…and the most meaningful symbol which/who alone reframes the entire world.

[1] Bauckham, Richard. New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Book of Revelation.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. p. 1.
[2] Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 19.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Osborne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral:  A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991, p. 283.
[5] Bauckham, Richard. New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Book of Revelation.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. p. 9.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Kroll, Paul and B. Palmer. “Revelation, Apocalyptic Writing, and the Old Testament” 1999.  Web. 06 July 2016.