Historical Approaches to Revelation (Part 3a)
Why did John write Revelation? Here's a look at what was happening at the time. - posted 1/7/2003 12:49:35 AM
Continued from here
Purpose of Revelation
The function of Revelation is the promise of eternal reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked. It is probable that the text was read aloud so that the listeners could participate in the revelation in order to understand them, and during such, the text was a call to change their current way of thinking through a shock-like experience.
There is an overall tension in the text to emphasize on one hand, the belief that the listeners were the chosen people and on the other hand, their suffering and persecution at the hands of their enemies. The visions of God triumphing over their enemies “suppress the distinctions between the flawed present and ideal future” and presents something for them to look forward to during their troubled times.
Rome at the Time of Revelation
The current thinking on the social situation of Revelation is one where Rome did not directly persecute Christians on a massive scale. They were a despised minority and from time to time, Christians were brought to trial. During the second century, Christianity did become a crime. However, Revelation was written towards the end of the first century in western Asia Minor after the fall of the Second Temple, and therefore deals with a perceived crisis. The main questions asked in Revelation are “Who rules this world?” and “What is the meaning of the tragic events we’ve experienced?” or basically, it is a response to “If there is a God almighty who controls everything, why doesn’t he do something about the present situation?” To which the author responds that “He will. But history is a unified story that isn’t over yet.”
This led to a symbolic system by which the author wrote Revelation. At that time, the Roman emperor was considered to be divine, so Christians were atheists because they refused to worship Caesar. Rome also bestowed great blessings upon those who were loyal to it. Revelation flips this so that Christians shall reign with Christ while the blasphemous Roman Empire reigns with the power of Satan. Here, the emperor is the Beast, the symbol of the forces of chaos which threatens the order of the world. He (Domitian and the other Caesars) has usurped the title of “Lord” (kurios) from God “Almighty.”
John the Prophet
John’s position is as a prophet is to interpret history. Like other prophets, the prophet did not have a personal experience of revelation which imparted to him knowledge from the otherworld. There was an immediate crisis in hand in which both the prophet and the people lived. The prophet’s job then was to interpret that situation as an act of God. For example, while the people of 8th century Israel might see their prosperity under Jereboam II as God’s blessing, Amos sees it as an illusory prosperity occasioned by the military advance of Assyria which would soon engulf Israel as the wrath of God. He is then labeled a prophet, then, not because he is better at judging the current geopolitical scene than his fellow people, but because he claims that the information is given to him from God. Likewise, Jeremiah is the prophetic interpreter of the advancement of Nebuchadnezzar, Joel of the locust plague, Haggai with the drought, and Daniel with the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. Moses is also considered one because he attributes the parting of the Red Sea not as an opportunistic wind, but as the saving act of God.
In John’s case, the church is in a historical crisis, one where there was a threat of persecution. This has resulted in John’s banishment to Patmos and claimed the life of at least one person, Antipas. The situation was then that the ones who were faithful to the God Almighty were the ones being persecuted, while those who denounced God were living prosperously.
Unlike the Old Testament prophets, however, John interprets the events in relation to the Christ having already appeared in history, and who will become the anointed king of the Endtime raised up by God to renew the world. Christ would be given the power and wisdom from God to establish the Kingdom of God.