What does the book of Revelation say? (part 2)

Ted Grimsrud

[For the past two years, one of the projects I have been working on is an updated take on the book of Revelation. I have preached a series of sermons at Shalom Mennonite Congregation that is nearing its completion. The next step (between November and next July) will be to expand the sermons by thinking more about how Revelation directly speaks to our present day, especially for those of us living in the United States. I hope to have at least one book that results from this work. As preparation for the sermon finale November 17, I will put up a series of posts that highlight the main points of each sermon. I have been writing on Revelation off and on for a long time. This time through is reinforcing much of what I have seen before, but with some new insights that help me to see Revelation as even more helpful and radical than I had perceived earlier.]

2. A revelation about Jesus (1:1-20)

The book of Revelation forces the reader to answer some basic questions about how to approach it. Is Revelation mainly predictions about the future or exhortation for first century believers? Is it better read in relation to other, non-biblical writings in the so-called apocalyptic genre or read in relation to the New Testament? Are the plagues in Revelation from God or from the Beast?

Maybe the most important choice comes right away. When the first words of the book tell us this is a “revelation of Jesus Christ” do they mean a revelation from Jesus or a revelation about Jesus? Either reading is possible. Maybe we should see both as being intended. But I think we still have to choose which meaning to emphasize more; our choice will be important.

To emphasize more “a revelation from Jesus” may set a tone of distance between Jesus and the visions that follow. This distance makes it easier to see Jesus as describing terrible judgment that God visits upon the earth—and Revelation as a fear-inducing book.

To emphasize more “a revelation about Jesus” may lead to seeing Jesus as more directly involved in the visions; they reveal Jesus, not what Jesus describes. This is my choice: This book is most of all a revelation about Jesus that gives a vision of how compassion might work in our violent world. Such a choice of how to read Revelation will, I believe, open our imaginations to find in the wild and wooly visions of Revelation help for our healing work.

Jesus is very, very powerful

If I had to say it in a nutshell, I think Revelation’s first chapter means to tell us that Jesus is very, very powerful. He is powerful in relation to the nations (“the ruler of the kings of the earth,” “on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail”). He is powerful in relation to the churches with a loud, loud voice, holding the angels of the churches and walking among the churches themselves. He holds the keys to death and Hades. Continue reading “What does the book of Revelation say? (part 2)”