Foreword to Revelation Study Notes

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It’s very difficult to believe that the church in the first century, largely still made up of a very significant Jewish community, and still identified with the synagogue and temple in Jerusalem, didn’t consider the demise of Jerusalem in AD 70 a highly significant event in the history of both Israel and the church. This event, this catastrophe that many knew was imminent, would have raised so many fears and questions in the hearts of all the people in the region, not only in Judea, but across the whole Roman Empire.

What would happen to Jewish and Messianic identity in the future?

What would become of the promises of God? What about the massive human suffering? What groups would be blamed for this?

So many more apprehensions.

But today we read the bible like this wasn’t even happening at that time. We read through Paul, Peter and James, as though they didn’t care at all about what was coming and weren’t seeking to help the people of their time to understand the issues involved. We read the bible as though this devastation had nothing to do with their texts and doesn’t figure at all in how we interpret their mind and letters today. The reason we do this is very difficult to understand. If an event of such importance to us was to be on our horizon today, it would figure very largely in our discussions and publications.

The second thing that is hard to understand, is why such an event, as the final judgement of Israel, under the old covenant, didn’t figure at all in biblical writings. The judgement of Jerusalem by iii

Babylon took up books of the Old Testament. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, just to name a few, wrote extensively on the coming Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in their day, and the reasons for it. The judgement coming on Jerusalem through Rome was much bigger and of much more significance. It was far more devastating.

It ruined forever the temple worship Israel had carried on since the days of Moses. It put an end to the sacrifice system of thousands of years, to their priestly class, to their national rulers. And there was no promised reprieve for this from God. Not like the 70-year duration Jeremiah previously promised in Babylon. This was final.

The gospel was the reprieve for the nation.

So, why do no books in the bible speak of the coming judgement from Rome, except a few statements from Jesus? Why do we immediately assume that statements in the New Testament such as “last days,” or “the end,” have nothing to do with the end of the old covenant era? Why do we have such a bias when reading the scriptures? Where did our bias come from? Why do we read the scriptures in the New Testament, which were largely books written to the Jewish people, by Jewish apostles and prophets, just like the Old Treatment was, as entirely gentile believers, as though these books had minimal relevance to the people they addressed in the first church?

When we come to a book like Revelation, why, when it so obviously has such compelling evidence that it was directed to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, do we immediately discount this possibility?

What is so compelling, to direct our attention to other ideas, like assuming that its main purpose is to speak of conditions some 2,000 years later, in our own day, before the world is destroyed by some antichrist ruler? Where did these ideas come from? Why do they dominate our thinking? Is it because we find this more tantalising? Does it excite the congregations more? Is it better “news” for our sermons and ministries, tapping into people’s fears, selling books, raising offerings for our message?

The doomsday message that is so popular, and has been for so long, certainly appeals to many aspects in our human nature. Using Revelation as a speculative source book, for identifying the rogue nations and leaders of our time, is perfect fodder for our baser instincts of nationalism, self-preservation and scapegoating. You can go through almost any tragic event of our recent past, like major wars and revolutions, and you will find that parties on all sides claimed the moral high ground, while using the Revelation to identity others as the antichrist, to excuse their cruel, murderous behaviour towards “the guilty.” People are so vulnerable to be manipulated in this way. We can witness this in our own day, in so many different conflicts around the world. The scriptures, which are meant to produce good fruit of love and care, are so frequently turned to darker, selfish purposes.

Revelation was not written to be a source book for us to identify enemies in our own time. It was written so that we might learn the traits of human nature in our own lives, so that we might serve others and not scapegoat them. In Revelation, we see people who scapegoated the weak, and used religion as their excuse to dominate others. Instead of following this, we are supposed to take heed, and ensure that we follow the Lamb of God, non-violently.

We are called to not love our lives, even in death, rather than to identify others as the enemy and kill them. If we identify others as the antichrist, as Gog and Magog, and seek to bring them down, to improve our own security, then we become Gog and Magog, even if we think we are the children of God.

It is often asked, that if Revelation speaks largely of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, then what significance does it have for us today? It has the same significance as any other book of the bible.

The first step for us, is to read what it meant in the day it was written. The next step is to apply the lessons from that to our lives and times. Revelation has massive relevance for us today. It teaches of empire casting out the weak. Its call is to us, not to v become like this empire, like Israel did. Israel were the lowly, rescued from Egypt. They were supposed to rescue others and love their enemies. If we use religion to lift ourselves up, to become like the empires around us, then we have fallen prey to the beast in us.

Revelation was written for us to negotiate the beasts of our day, as followers of the Lamb, to come out innocently, as people planting the kingdom of heaven, to renew a fallen world.

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