March 12, 2008

Revelation - week 3

As we continue in Revelation, we now come to chapters 2-3. These are messages to 7 churches (and thus, symbolically all the churches) from Jesus Himself. These are His revelations regarding each of their present situations.

The letters are addressed to "the angel of the church at..." and the meaning of this phrase is debated. Some believe the "angels" (Greek: angelos, which literally means "messenger") are human leaders of the churches, such as a bishop, pastor or teacher. Others see this as teaching that each church has its own "guardian angel" and it is this angel that is being addressed (though why this "angel" would be threatened for the sins of the people in the churches makes this extremely unlikely!). Another view, which I find most compelling, is that just as in other Apocalyptic writings (i.e. Daniel), earthly institutions or groups are symbolically represented by heavenly counterparts. Thus "the angle of the church" represents the, for lack of a better word, "personality" of the church as a whole. A way to speak of the church in general, yet to allow for the individuality of its members who may or may not act in line with the larger church (for good or bad, depending on the church being addressed).

Rather than an in-depth exposition on each letter in these chapters, we'll just note a few points of interest and move on. The main reason I'm doing it this way is because there's SO much written on these early chapters elsewhere that I don't want to reinvent the wheel.

ONE POINT before beginning that I find worth addressing...

Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ who read Revelation constantly speak of "just reading it literally" and "taking the literal meaning of the text" instead of looking for any symbolism or dischronologization. Author Tim LaHaye, for instance, in his book on Biblical Prophecy charts and timelines makes the following comment:

"Many teachers today are confusing Christians by teaching that Scripture was never intended to be interpreted literally. Instead, they call for a spiritualizing or allegorizing of the Bible's prophecies. This only leads to confusion! Did God mean what He said and say what He meant? The study of fulfilled prophecy says a resounding yes." ("Charting the End Times", Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice 2001 p.13)
But what I find so bizarre is that for Revelation chs. 2-3, by far the most concrete or historic chapters in the whole book, LaHaye and others immediately read them as "symbolic" of the history of the church up to our present day. This completely contradicts the key tenent of their supposed method of Biblical interpretation, which is to take the text absolutely literally unless it is completely impossible to do so. For instance, in the very same book, LaHaye and Ice make the following claim about Revelation 2-3:

"Revelation 2-3 refers to the program emphasis theirs] of the church (rather than the kingdom). Thus its overview of seven churches begins at Pentacost and ends with the Rapture (as indicated by Revelation 4:1-3). These seven historical churches of the first century provide a pattern of the types [emphasis mine] of churches that will exist throughout church history." ("Charting...", p.48)

They even give a nice colorful chart showing how the 7 churches correspond to world history, timeline and all, on the next page!

My point in this is not to attack LaHaye and others who hold such views (though it is to combat the extremely unbiblical and less than two century old interprative method that underlies such pop-theology as "Left Behind"), for they are definitely sincere and seeking to teach truth and advance God's Kingdom as best they can. However, in the spirit of dojo training, we strike where our training partners are weakest in order to sharpen their defense. In the case of Premillennial Dispensational readings of Revelation, their most glaring weakness is in chs. 2-3.

It's to those chapters we will turn in the next post.

Be blessed, train hard.



Camp Urbanist said...

Hey J.M.

Just checked out your, you really get into it bro! Are you teaching Revelation for one of your classes?

Let me just say that symbolic interpretation in Rev. is one of the easiest ways to theologize the book (theology is a kind of creative mis-reading - heh, revealing my pomo stripes here - but call it "mis-theologize" if you want). Understanding how the revelator (in this case Jesus) uses symbolism in Rev requires patient background in Jewish apocalyptic technique and rhetoric.
You're more or less right about your critique of Lahaye. Symbolism and allegory, however, always plays an important part in the Revelator's message...It's just more sophisticated than we assume. For example, there is no literal prophetess named "Jezebel" in the church (no Jew would name their daughter Jezebel for one), but most certainly there is a "Jezebel". "Jezebel" symbolizes a very literal entity...a city. In this case Thyatira, land of guild-cults, which required all members of its society to participate in guilds - at least, for economic favors and fortune. More or less this is how I've come to best understand apocalyptic technique from my background studies in Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem.

...Looking forward to dropping in on your thoughts! Compared to anything and anyone I've bumped into in Charlotte, you're the total deal bro! Seriously. It's like I finally found an open spigot. I didn't know these existed in this town. ')

Eric (from ski trip)

JMS said...

Hey Eric,

Right on, man. We emphasize exactly this approach you're suggesting in class. Especially the idea that, as you said, "symbolism in Rev requires patient background in Jewish apocalyptic technique and rhetoric."

Just to clarify about LaHaye and literalism, I think what hinders him and other Premill Disps is their false insistence on reading the text in a simplistic and "literal" manner (though allegorizing and eisegeting whenever it fits the preconceived theology one is bringing to the text--such as 4:1-3 being a description of "the rapture").

Anyway, I think we're on the same page and I look forward to future feedback.

Tell your friends about the Dojo and let's get some more sparring partners in here! :)


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