Does the Book of Revelation refer to yet future events? Does it use images that are most/entirely timeless? Or does the Book of Revelation have visions that are/were then already past events? We can leave open, of course, a variety of mixing affirmative answers to each of the questions. How the church has read Revelation is the focus of Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, chapter one.
We turn today to what happens to the Book of Revelation when the futurity theme is not so prominent and is replaced by what that text meant to its readers in their day. In other words, the real author with a real audience (John’s churches in Western Asia Minor, or today’s Turkey — beautiful region, I tell ya) in a real world.
Futuristic interpreters tend to read Revelation as if it begins, “John, to the Christians in North America, who live in the twenty-first century,” assuming that Revelation is primarily a book for those living at the end of time. Most scholars today however, note that Revelation begins, “John, to the seven churches that are in Asia” (Rev. 1:4). #sorrytotellyouthis #sometimesthetruthhurts
Assuming that Revelation s message would have been clearest to those who lived in John’s own time, they search for clues to understanding the book not by combing recent headlines or news broadcasts but by studying the language and literature of the ancient world.
When Revelation is read historically it is more like Israel’s prophets. It means we are to look at the systemic evils of our day to see where Revelation’s themes still speak to us.
One major strand of reading Revelation historically is to treat it as apocalyptic literature — like Daniel but also like Jewish apocalypses. It means social engagement, not withdrawal; it means prophetic protest.
Apocalypses are a form of literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation of transcendent reality is given by an angel or otherworldly being to a human recipient. L Usually the revelation unveils a supernatural world and points to salvation at the end of time (J. J. Collins, Apocalyptic Imagination, 3-n). The apocalypses describe revelations coming in various ways, including visions and journeys into another world, and conversations with an angel, who helps the seer interpret what he sees. The seer may also be given a heavenly book. Apocalypses assume that the world of ordinary life is mysterious, and so revelation comes from a supernatural source. They may tell readers about a hidden world of angels and demons, whose activities affect human life, and about a final, future judgment of the wicked.
First, readers today sometimes are intrigued with Revelation because it seems to be a uniquely mysterious writing in comparison to other biblical books. Readers in John s own time, however, would have recognized that Revelation was written in an established literary form that had features in common with other texts.
Second, Revelation s world of thought is not entirely unique but is similar in some ways to the thought worlds of other apocalypses. T These writings typically understand the present age to be dominated by the powers of sin, evil, and death; but they anticipate that in the future the wicked will be defeated or judged by God, and the world will be transformed into a state of blessedness and )oy.
Third, people generally wrote apocalypses to assure readers that God would be faithful, despite conditions of evil in the present age, and to encourage readers to remain loyal to God, rather than giving in to powers that oppose God.
Revelation, however, does not offer a review of history but instead, as we will see, leads readers through overlapping cycles of visions that do not fall into a clear chronological sequence. The result is that Revelation does not disclose future events in a linear fashion, but it gives alternating messages of warning and encouragement that are designed to promote faithful endurance.
The Roman empire figures large in historical readings of Revelation. Including persecution, but how big was the persecution? Was it an empire wide attack on Christians? Koester:
The approach taken here is that the setting of Revelation was more complex, and three important dimensions appear in the messages to the seven churches (2:1-3:22). First, there was persecution, but at a local level. …
Second, several congregations faced issues of assimilation. For instance, to what extent could followers of Jesus participate in gatherings where people ate meat that had been offered to the Greek and Roman gods and deified emperors? Civic festivals, meetings of trade associations, and family gatherings often had religious dimensions. Some in the churches thought it acceptable to share in such meals to maintain good social relationships, but John and others disagreed …
Third, the issue for some readers was complacency. They were prospering in the Roman-era economy and seemingly oblivious to the issues facing other churches.