There is a history of interpretation and re-interpretation in the church’s reading of Revelation. Many American evangelicals, and those throughout the world where American evangelicalism’s pet themes have been exported, have learned to read Revelation through the lens of dispensationalism and rapture theories.
This approach has compelled many to discover a worldview or adopt a social, historical hermeneutic that makes sense of the world in which we live. A good book on how theologians and others in the history of the church have read Revelation is called The Book of Revelation and is by Timothy Beal, and it’s a good and easy read.
But what most evangelicals (of this kind of reading) entirely miss is what Craig Koester, in Revelation and the End of All Things, sketches with utter clarity. (Check out also Ian Paul, Revelation.)
What’s that? Revelation is about the reality of evil, the war with evil, and the defeat of evil, and the eradication of evil. Evangelicals have made this about gruesome end time scenarios filled with Who is Who? questions and answers and speculations (that inevitably prove to be wrong — no the Antichrist is not Henry Kissinger, no Gog and Magog are not communist Russia, no, no, and no). Wrapped up in those scenarios is a lurking “Sure glad I won’t be there because I’m a Christian and will be raptured,” which rapture isn’t even mentioned in Revelation.
No, 1000x No, that’s not what Revelation is about. Revelation is about the reality of evil, the war with evil, and the defeat of evil, and the eradication of evil. Craig Koester totally gets it.
Here’s the assumption that is where Revelation starts as a cosmic narrative:
A basic assumption is that God is the Creator of the world and the source of life (4:11; 10:6). Gods opponents are the destroyers of the earth (11:18).
The narrative focuses on evil and its defeat.
Revelation regards evil as a kind of cancer that has invaded God s world. Cancer cells are malignant, and as they grow, they destroy the healthy tissue around them. As the disease spreads, life is diminished as more healthy tissue is destroyed, and if the cancer is left unchecked, death will result. Accordingly, treating the disease means destroying the malignant cells that destroy life—and the goal is that life might thrive. This is the drama that unfolds on a cosmic scale in the last half of Revelation, where the Creator and his allies set out with the goal of “destroying those who destroy the earth” (11:18), so that the victory will be life for the world.
Evil has Agency.
The plotline traces the defeat of Satan, who is cast down from heaven to earth, and from earth to the abyss. In the course of the action, Satan seeks to operate through other agents, including two beasts and a harlot, but God and the Lamb eventually thwart their efforts. The progression of the plot continues to follow shorter cycles of visions that convey warnings and promises of blessing, but the overall sequence of events is highly stylized and can be outlined as follows [slightly edited with letters added]:
A. Satan is thrown from heaven to earth (Rev. 12)
B. Beast and false prophet conquer (Rev. 13)
C. Harlot rides on the beast (Rev. 17)
C´ Harlot is destroyed by the beast (Rev. 17)
B´ Beast and false prophet are conquered (Rev. 19)
A´Satan is thrown from earth into the abyss (Rev. 20)
The outline shows how John systematically introduces Satan, the beast and false prophet, and finally the harlot into the drama, and how in reverse order he describes the defeat of the harlot, the beast and false prophet, and finally Satan himself. The last piece in the sequence occurs almost as an anticlimax when the Devil is momentarily released, only to be cast into the lake of fire (20:7-10).
In this story of the triumph of God over evil…