Monday, April 20, 2009

The Book of Revelation, Part 1: Issues, Allusions, Contents & Theology

Issues in Reading
Cook believes Revelation to be “the most intricate and sophisticated” of apocalyptic literature. Regarding some of the basic issues of Revelation, Cook notes that it was a “coherent, relevant letter for the members of each [of the seven] church[es in Rev. 2-3]” (p. 193). Whereas much of the NT apocalyptic literature is from an earthly perspective (see gospels & 1 Thess.), this is the view from God’s heavenly throne room. This helps people know the here and now is related to what is happening in heaven and, because God is in control, they can live faithfully today, not just wait for the future. And it is an all-encompassing sovereignty, not just political. So, while it seems heaven is silent, Revelation makes it clear that God is “relentlessly aggressive” and believers should relentlessly live faithfully for God by His values, which may mean unconventional methods like humility, selflessness, and suffering (Rev. 5.5-6, 9-10; 12.11).

Scriptural Allusions
One cannot understand Revelation without understanding the OT and the extensive usage of it in Revelation. Cook underscores the importance of allusions, not careful quotation and notes the locusts in Joel (Rev. 9.1-12), the olive trees in the temple in Zecharaiah 4 and the two witnesses of Rev. 11, and the beast of Dan. 7 and Rev. 13. This is a brief sampling.

Contents and Theological Highlights
Revelation has prophetic elements, but it is a “full-blown apocalypse” that has a deep dimension to all of its parts. For example, the seven churches aren’t incidental; they are “lampstands of God in the world.” These churches also underscore the regular theme of perseverance in a difficult world.

Regarding structure, some dismiss Revelation as having no structure. Cook, however, sees it as interlocking, which makes divisions challenging, but, given that he lays out an outline, he sees coherence and organization in the letter.

In fact, the structure points to the central theme – Rev. 11.15. God and His Messiah will reign forever! Everything prior points to the rise of Satan and the ultimate conflict before God’s reign is established. After this central point, there is a correlation – in reverse order – where Satan’s work is undone and the New Heavens and New Earth are inaugurated. Interludes are also part of the structure and they give pause so people can repent.

He ends this section cautioning us when it comes to reading Revelation strictly chronologically. He holds to a pattern of “recapitulation.” One reason is that there is more than one “radical climax.” Sometimes the language makes it difficult to see the recapitulation because it can be “ambiguous and elastic,” which leaves the book open to varied interpretations (note the history of interpretation!). Many of them seem to be legitimate.

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