I’m a huge reader: I probably consume about 10-15 books per month, mostly somewhere within the Christian genres. Theology, missions, history, relationships, hermeneutics, textual criticism, biographical stories, discipleship, anthropology, the occasional fiction…I love it all. Books are like my friends (in a non-sad way). I love to learn different things and soak up new ideas.
So, looking over the varied landscape of books that have really shaped me, I’m surprised to find that the one that has changed my worldview the most is this little book:
The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham
Don’t tune me out yet, non-theology types!
I came of age in the Left Behind era. Hungry for biblical knowledge and for special clues about the future, I tore through that fictional series, knowing that the stories themselves were fictional, but believing that the structure of the events were biblical. There is a group of theologians that do think this – called Dispensationalists – and this view is popular in the American South. What I didn’t know was there are several other end-times interpretations of the Bible that don’t include a secret coming of Jesus (“rapture”) or special timelines for a 7-year apocalypse. So if you study Revelation on a theological level, you’ll learn mostly about Amillenialists, Post-millenialists, Historic Pre-millenialists, and an assortment of many others.
Bauckham downplays these relatively insignificant arguments and gives priority to the prominent themes in Revelation – which are life-changing.
Bauckham lines out several major themes that run through Revelation:
The One who is and who was and is to come
The Lamb on the throne
The victory of the Lamb and his followers
The Spirit of prophecy
The New Jerusalem
Within these major themes are numerous sub-themes: the new exodus, Passover, witness, faithfulness, conquering/overcoming, truth and falsehood, the Spirit, the evil parody of the trinity, and others. It’s all fascinating stuff, and a good way to get a handle on many of the symbols (like lampstands, numbers, stones, etc.) that can be confusing for us. He helps you read Revelation like you do the other books of the Bible: to find out what Jesus is saying to the churches.
Here are some ways that it changed my worldview:
1) True victory is acheived through sacrifice. We tend to think that the most powerful people are the ultimate winners. Whoever has the biggest army, the thickest biceps, the most advanced weaponry will squash the little people. And for right now, it does seem that way. Revelation portrays a slaughtered Lamb as a victorious, roaring Lion. John sees an army of redeemed and resurrected martyrs in white robes. The overcomers are those who laid down their lives. The slaughtered Lamb is the One who will bring God’s rule to earth. Conquest comes by sacrificial death – and we will be mocked for thinking such a foolish thing.
2) The true nature of things is not as it appears now. The first really will be last. The martyred who cry out, “How Long, O Lord?” are the victorious and vindicated. The powerful will be brought down and will cry out for death. The Lamb is the Lion. The powerful Beast and his unholy trinity-parody will be overthrown at the coming of Christ (as a side note: there is no epic end-battle. “And then the lawless one will be revealed,whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.” -2 Thess. 2:8, emphasis mine. So Jesus shows up and the battle is over. Boom.)
3) There are those who compromise with culture and are temporarily protected, and those who stand firm with Christ to their temporary detriment. Written during the height of Roman imperial and pagan worship, Revelation shows us that risk of persecution is not a legitimate reason to sin. Revelation was written to both encourage suffering Christians, and to strongly warn those compromising their faithful witness. We would do well to heed the warnings.
Bauckham writes: “The witness of Jesus means not ‘witness to Jesus,’ but the witness Jesus himself bore and which his faithful followers continue to bear. It is primarily Jesus’ and his followers’ witness to the true God and his righteousness, which exposes the falsehood of idolatry and the evil of those who worship the beast. The theme of witness is connected with Revelation’s dominant concern with truth and falsehood (72-73).” Thus, the way we live by faith is a testimony to the truth of who God is. Living in sin or compromise is to side with the lies of Satan.
4) The worship of God is central to Revelation – as it should be to our lives. If you want an incredible picture of an unfathomable God, read Revelation. Take notes on the One on the Throne – He is never Himself described because He is so holy. His throne, His worshippers, the scene where His throne lies – those all have beautiful descriptions. It’s like human words cannot describe the One on the throne. The entire book is theocentric (God-centered) rather than anthropocentric (man-centered). We see through the worship given that the universe is ordered this way. We should order our lives this way, too.
5) The unspoken connection between pagan Roman culture and the current American culture is astonishing. Bauckham himself doesn’t go this far. But he gives enough history and descriptions of life for Christians living in that climate that you begin to see the similarities for yourself. Rome sought to be the world power, and its citizens were just as zealous for it. Rome was the hotspot of prosperity and materialism and technology in the world. The whole-hearted loyalty and patriotism expected of the citizens. Once the Roman Empire became a “Christian nation” a couple hundred years later, Christianity became a nominal thing that you were born into, rather than a radically new way of living and being. What can we learn from this connection?
Such a study of Revelation made me ask really hard questions of myself, like:
Is there anything you won’t give up for the sake of faithful witness to Jesus? Air conditioning? Running water? Respect? A savings account and 401K?
Will you compromise your faithful witness of Christ to protect yourself, your husband, or even your children? Will you really trust in the world’s protection rather than God’s vindication? Of the two groups of Christians that Jesus spoke about in Revelation, which one would you be in?
Are you worshipping a god of your own making, or this God revealed in Revelation? Do you get mad when you don’t get what you want, or are you really seeing this God on the Throne that the whole universe bows before?
Could I bring the Gospel of peace to those deemed my culture’s enemies? Isn’t this a perfect picture of what Christ has done for us, the once-enemies of God? Am I willing to be considered a traitor to my country to be a faithful witness of Christ?
How can I live a life of peace and sacrificial victory?
How can I teach this life to my children when all I want to do is protect them?
And that’s why this book has
ruined changed my life.
I’m linking up today with my friend, Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Need another good book recommendation? Head over to her blog carnival to see what books have changed the lives of others!
What books have changed YOUR life? Why?