Before you think I’m one of those pastors who is all into reading the times and thinking that they are predicted in Revelation, I’m not.
I subscribe to the school of thought that says that Revelation was written for the early church and about the time of the early church, not some distant time in which we twist events to make them fit into some pre-conceived narrative that we have constructed so that we get to think we are in the end times, making us somehow more special than previous generations. Here’s the deal, Jesus said we don’t know the day or the time of his return. I’ll take Jesus’ word over someone who thinks they have Christ’s return all figured out.
Revelation is one of the books of Scripture that is often misunderstood and misused. I get it. Part of it is the way John of Patmos wrote it – all the fantasy-like creatures and the what sounds like Hollywood effects. Often Revelation is seen as this book of destruction in which God throws a hissy fit and destroys the world. But that’s not what Revelation is about at all. Revelation is actually a hopeful and hope-filled book of Scripture. In the end, God wins, and without fighting. The final battle isn’t even a battle at all. It’s over before it begins. That shouldn’t surprise us – we’re talking about God after all.
So Revelation isn’t some predictor of a dystopian future. Rather it is a guide for how we get through any time the theology of empire rears its ugly head.
All empires act the same way and always have. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a nation, a business, an army, a culture, a church, or anything else that can become an empire. Empires are controlling. They conquerer. They colonize. They steal and make anything they want their own. They kill, destroy, oppress, and exploit. And ultimately, they fall – which is what Revelation is really about – the fall of a particular empire (Rome). But Revelation, and a good portion of Scripture is about the fall of any empire. Because empires can’t last and aren’t God. They fall.
Revelation is the story of empire versus the kingdom of God. For much of it, it looks like the empire will prevail. It is dominant and powerful. It has influence and fools many people in many ways. It tries to make itself inevitable and necessary for life. Much of Revelation paints a picture of death, destruction, oppression, and exploitation. But then the empire falls without a fight. It’s costly though. Many die and are martyred. But in the end the Kingdom wins because it is the Kingdom of God and that’s always what happens.
This is no different today, which is why Revelation is still relevant for us. We have anti-christ figures in positions of power and influence. They are just as narcissistic and deadly as Nero was (which is who Revelation casts as the Anti-Christ). We have plagues. We have wars. We have lukewarmness of faith. Wheat people chasing after anti-christ. We have money as a central part of life. It’s all here. All the same things that Revelation talks about.
That doesn’t mean that we are supposed to take what we experience and fit it into some weird timeline in Revelation. Rather, we take Revelation and look at our current time to see how the faithful are to live and behave. Revelation sounds like fantasy with it’s dragons and beasts. But when you get past all the fantasy type images, there’s a core to Revelation that can be a guide for us today – that evil exists in the world and it is destructive. But it will fall. And that will come with a price. Faithful followers of Jesus are called to faithful living, regardless of the cost. Because God wins.
That’s what Revelation means for our current times.