Revelation Introduction

"Few writings in all literature have been so obsessively read with such generally disastrous results as The Book of Revelation (Apocalypse)." Thus begins the generally cautious Luke Johnson in his interpretation. Its symbols have: "... nurtured delusionary systems private and public, to the destruction of their fashioners and to the discredit of the writing".

No wonder. The text begins (Revelation 1:1) by saying it is a revelation from Jesus of what will happen shortly, the realisation of the "New Heaven and earth" (Revelation 21:1-2); and the text's "whispered injunctions to read between the lines (Revelation 13:8; 17:9) invites abuse. Today Christians still use it as an "essential guidebook to determine the time of an inevitable Armageddon Revelation 16:16" and "Revelation is one of those rare compositions that speaks both to the deepest longings of the human heart for health and well-being and to the obscure corners of the human heart that tend towards illness".

There are two constant emphases in its interpretation: first, prophecy is interpreted in its narrowest sense to mean predictions of the future not seen from the standpoint of the author's frame of reference but from that of the contemporary reader in any age; secondly, literal prophecy of future events in its narrowest sense to mean prediction not in the author's frame of reference but that contemporary to the reader; secondly, symbolism is treated as prophetic cryptograms, again seen from the reader perspective. When prophecies do not come true this is the result of miscalculation.

"Exegesis is swallowed up in hermeneutics", Johnson continues "The conviction that God's word speaks directly to every age has not been accompanied by the appreciation that it does so as mediated through its initial historical expression." It is not that it was written for our age but that it is still true for our age. It has to be read within the Apocalyptic tradition which flowered in Daniel 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12 written during the Maccabean period and proliferated in Jewish and Christian writing: "To those wavering in their convictions it counselled fidelity; to those holding firm in obedience to God it encouraged endurance; to those who were losing their life through martyrdom it promised reward; and to those persecuting the faithful it pronounced judgment." In Apocalyptic the prophet ascends above the human condition to see the present and the future with heavy emphasis on symbols. Revelation shares many of these qualities: it is self consciously visionary in the literal sense so that the writer "sees" things happening which he is instructed to write down (Revelation 1:10). (the phrase "I saw" occurs 36 times); "the visions recorded in the book, however, are not the raw experience of mystical states but their literary distillation. The revelation is both from Jesus and about him." O numbers (Revelation 7; 12) Johnson says: "The point of all these numbers, of course, is that there is no pont to them: they are not precise calculations by the writer." There is also a well stocked menagerie and cosmic phenomena.

Taken from

Johnson, Luke T.: The Writings of The New Testament: An Interpretation, Fortress, 2002

KC IX/07

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