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Approaching the book of Revelation (1)

If I said the book of Revelation is like a jigsaw puzzle I suspect there would be plenty of people nodding in agreement.  On the whole, it is so different than anything else we find in the New Testament (though there are small sections of the gospels that are very much like Revelation).  I know one church that had a survey class on the NT.  When they finished Jude, they just went right back to Matthew and started over.  No sense wasting their time on Revelation --- who could possibly fit those pieces together, right?

But did you know that the word revelation (apocalypse) means "unveiling?" It has to do with making something known that was previously a mystery.  Think of a statue or painting that is covered with a canvas until its public exhibition.  While it's covered, you can't tell very much about it.  You can only get a general sense of its size and shape.  But when the canvas comes off, you can see it for what it is.  This is the meaning of the word the Spirit guided John to use when he spoke of "The revelation from Jesus Christ," (v. 1).  He is writing to seven churches in Asia (v. 3)., and he pronounces a blessing on the one who reads, those who hear it "and take to heart what is written in it," (v. 3).  All of this suggests the very opposite of the obscureness we associate with the book today. 

With this in mind, I’d like to return to our puzzle metaphor and suggest that yes; Revelation is something like a jigsaw puzzle --- but not one that we have no reasonable expectation of ever putting together.   Instead, it is one that is workable.  Furthermore, John offers us the framework by which we can orient the pieces.  What is the first thing most of us do in working a puzzle?  Don’t we find all of the edge pieces and put the frame together?  We do that because not only is it the easiest part of the puzzle, but it also supplies us with the reference points for how the rest of the pieces will fit in.  In the same way, John tells us four things that provide the framework for  understanding Revelation. 
 
We’ve already discussed one --- the meaning of the word revelation/apocalypse.  Not only does this tell us that we can understand what John is writing, it also would seem to dispense with the idea that John is writing in some type of code that only disciples could understand. 

The second piece of framework concerns the time context of the prophecy (v. 3).  Four times (1:1, 1:3, 22:6, 22:10), John tells his first century readers that the things he is writing about will happen soon.  If we’re going to take him and his writing seriously we must respect this.  It’s been suggested that since a thousand years with the Lord is as a day, perhaps John is speaking from God’s perspective of time rather than man’s.  I suppose that’s possible, but is that the idea you get from his words?  Since he is speaking to the people in seven churches, it sure looks like he’s speaking from a human perspective.  I don’t see anything in his words to suggest they shouldn’t look for the prophecies in his letter to find fulfillment in a short period of time.

In addition to this, several have pointed out the contrast between John's words not to seal up the prophecy (22:10), and Daniel's words to seal up the prophecty because it has to do with the "distant future" (Daniel 8:26).  Daniel is given his prophecy in the third year of King Belshazzar (somewhere around 550 BC).  It will be fulfilled by the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, who dies in 164 BC.  That’s less than 400 years, but it is considered far enough off that Daniel was to seal up the vision --- exactly the opposite of what John is told to do in 22:10.  Since Daniel and Revelation have something of a Luke-Acts relationship, we're not comparing apples with oranges here.  If Daniel seals up the vision because it is too far off and that is less than four hundred years, what should we think when John is told not to seal up the vision?  Can we seriously look for a fulfillment thousands of years off when he tells us twice at both the beginning and ending of his letter that the time is near? If we're to understand Revelation as John intended it to be understood, we must look for its fulfillment in a relatively brief period of time.
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