Those of us who have read (or tried to read) the book of Revelation would agree that we don’t completely understand it. The last book of the Bible is unique to the New Testament and presents a real challenge to readers.
When it comes to Revelation many Christians seem to take one of two extremes: they either obsess with it trying to use it to predict what is going to happen or totally ignore it.
As I have prepared to lead a Bible study overview of the book of Revelation I have come to better understand why some Christians avoid the book. Here are some selected quotes from a few New Testament scholars and authors that probably contribute to avoiding it:
“For most church members, the book of Revelation is a closed book. They avoid it, thinking it too mysterious for them to understand” (BREAKING THE CODE: UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION by Bruce Metzger, p. 9).
“The average Christian fights shy of the book of Revelation. It seems to him well-nigh incomprehensible. He is perhaps skeptical of some fanciful interpretations he has heard, and he cannot easily accustom himself to the bizarre imagery” (WHAT CHRIST THINKS OF THE CHURCH by John R.W. Stott, p. 11).
“. . . a great deal of what has been written about it, especially at the popular level, tends to obscure its meaning rather than to help the reader understand it” (REVELATION by Gordon Fee, p. ix).
“When turning to the book of Revelation from the rest of the New Testament, one feels as if he or she were entering a foreign country” (HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL ITS WORTH by Fee and Stuart, p. 231).
“People are endlessly curious about the biblical book of Revelation. Yet when they actually sit down to read Revelation they often feel it intimidating and difficult” (THE RAPTURE EXPOSED by Barbara Rossing, p. 81).
Author Chuck Colclasure makes a gentle and important observation that softens these discouraging quotes, “Rather than being intended to frighten and horrify us with its startling imagery, the true purpose of the Book of Revelation is to provide hope, comfort, and encouragement to those who continue to trust in God, even during the most difficult of times—perhaps especially during the most difficult times” (THE OVERCOMERS: Discovering Hope in the Book of Revelation, Preface to the Second Edition).
I hope we all can agree that the book of Revelation is not an easy read. Yet as followers of Jesus and those who want to understand Revelation, let’s read it without obsessing over it. And as we do I hope we all will keep in mind this crucial advice from Fee and Stuart (HOW TO READ THE BIBLE FOR ALL ITS WORTH, p.231), “It seems necessary to say at the outset that no one should approach the Revelation without a proper degree of humility!”
For those who are interested in reading a solid and thoughtful basic book about Revelation I recommend BREAKING THE CODE: UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION by Bruce Metzger.
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