“Revelation for the Rest of Us”: With Dr. Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett

Friday, June 14, 2024

Site Search

Biblical living

“Revelation for the Rest of Us”: A conversation with Dr. Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett

June 26, 2023 -

“Revelation for the Rest of Us”: A conversation with Dr. Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett

“Revelation for the Rest of Us”: A conversation with Dr. Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett

“Revelation for the Rest of Us”: A conversation with Dr. Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett

Scot McKnight, PhD, Cody Matchett, authors of “Revelation for the Rest of Us,” and Dr. Mark Truman discuss the flaws of dispensationalism, Revelation’s message for discipleship, the Christian life as a peaceful political dissident, how to read Revelation generally, and what this means for Christian worship today.

Powered by RedCircle

Show notes:

New Testament scholars Scot McKnight, PhD, and Cody Matchett explain their background with the book of Revelation and why they wrote Revelation for the Rest of Us (2:41). Dr. McKnight explains dispensationalism, its history and ideas, why it fails, and why their reading of Revelation leads to hope rather than paranoia (10:04). They explain what it means to be a dissident disciple, the importance of politics in Revelation, and John’s constant allusions to Rome (24:52). They talk about why this more biblical interpretation makes Revelation apply so fervently to modern Christians. They consider the drama in Revelation’s colorful language and how to interpret John’s vision (30:01). They discuss why John was exiled to Patmos and how Christianity was deemed threatening to the political order (38:19). Revelation compares and contrasts the woman of Babylon and the woman of Jerusalem, revealing to modern churches how to worship more powerfully (47:31).

NOTE: We’ve launched our summer campaign. As a 100-percent donor-supported ministry nonprofit, we rely on believers like you to give toward our calling “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). If our work has encouraged or inspired you, please give today.

Resources and further reading:

About the host

Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.

About the guests

Scot McKnight (PhD, University of Nottingham) is a world-renowned speaker, writer, professor, and equipper of the Church. He is a recognized authority on the historical Jesus, early Christianity, and the New Testament. His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Portuguese. He is the author of The Jesus Creed, The Blue Parakeet, The King Jesus Gospel, Revelation for the Rest of Us, numerous commentaries, and is now writing a sixteen-volume series of reflections called The Everyday Bible Study.

Cody Matchett is the Scholar in Residence at First Assembly Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Cody holds a bachelor’s degree in biblical Studies (Briercrest College) and a Master of Arts in New Testament (Northern Seminary). He is pursuing his PhD at Ridley College, Melbourne. He lives in Calgary with his wife Brianna and his daughter Aleitheia Theodora.


Transcribed by Otter.ai 

Mark Turman  00:11

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Terman, the host of today’s conversation, the Denison Forum Podcast is a place where we have conversations about culture and faith how those things interact and weave together, and how you and I can live as influential redemptive Salt and Light believers in the in the mean world. And the meantime, before we see Jesus face to face, I just have to share with you that as a pastor, and like many Christians, I have at times been befuddled by the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, and today we’re going to have a conversation about that part of Scripture and how it speaks to us in a powerful way today. We’re going to do that through a new book written by Scott McKnight and Cody Matchett. The book is called revelation for the rest of us have prophetic call to follow Jesus as a dissident disciple. The author’s let me give you a little bit of background on them. Scot McKnight is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. He is also the author of more than 80 books, including the award winning book, The Jesus creed, as well as a book called The King Jesus Gospel, and another one called one dot life. He also wrote the blue parakeet and kingdom conspiracy. He also maintains an active blog at Christianity today.com forward slash Scott dash McKnight. He and his wife Kristen live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where they enjoy long walks gardening and cooking. Cody mache. It is a teacher, writer and pastor from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is also a PhD student in New Testament, focusing on Paul and character in the in the Greco Roman world. And he is the co author of this book with Dr. McKnight. He lives in the Beltline of Calgary with his wife, Brianna, and their two children, a son and a daughter. So we’re welcoming them to the dentist’s and for our podcast today, I think you will be fascinated by this conversation. So today, the book is revelation for the rest of us a prophetic call to follow Jesus as a dissident disciple, I’m gonna have to get used to the word dissident. And so we want to welcome Dr. McKnight and Pastor Cody to the podcast. Would you guys like to say hello.


Scot McKnight  02:36

Great to be here. Good to be with you, Mark, thank you for this invitation.


Mark Turman  02:41

Well, glad to be a part of the conversation and just want to get a little bit of background information. Here’s here’s my general take on how I’ve approached the book of Revelation. You. You outlined it pretty well in the opening part of your book, which is we’re all excited as pastors to go and preach about the seven churches and then to skip to the end of the book and talk about the new heaven and the new earth. And we’re excited about that. And we just try not to stir too much of the water beyond that. In my last pastorate where I helped plan a church and stayed for 25 years, I had one what I would call rabid revelation fan who asked me, he asked me at least twice a year when I was starting a new sermon series about something it was always Pastor Mark, when are you going to talk about Revelation? When are you going to preach revelation? When are you going to get into the whole thing? And so we would have conversations about that. So I’m pleading guilt here at the beginning and seeking forgiveness for being one of those but tell me a little bit for each of you. What has been your journey to your own perspective and understanding of the book of Revelation? And and why did you decide to write this book together?


Cody Matchett  04:06

Yeah, I can take the lead on that one. I’ve often said at the beginning of Gordon fees, great little commentary on Revelation. He says, There are really two ways that people come to Revelation, you know, either they avoid it and despair, or they take an exaggerated interest in it. And I probably would have been the avoid in despair camp, and less the exaggerated interest in it. And that’s probably true for people in my age category. The book of Revelation. puzzles and confounds it seems so strange when you enter in it’s not stories like about Jesus or arguments like in the letters, you get beasts and Dungeons and Dragons and bottomless pits, and it just tends to confound and so I think for me, as someone who didn’t grow up in the church came into the church in my 20s. I had no reference point for what this was. And so I knew that there was that good part about the slaughtered lamb and the rest of it. I didn’t know what was going on. And so I tended to avoid it in despair. That’s probably been more my approach. And then as I joked about off air, you know, coming into the book of revelation for me, when Scott invites you to be a part of the project, you say, yes, no matter what, no matter what it is, and so I was delighted that it was revelation. But Scott’s story is much different than mine.


Scot McKnight  05:20

Yeah, I grew up with, I grew up with dispensationalism. My first Bibles that I purchased was a Morocco leather Scofield Bible. And I never paid that much attention to the notes. I guess I read them, but I didn’t know what was going on. And but my church was dispensational pretrib didn’t talk a lot about it. My dad didn’t talk a lot about it. And he was a Sunday school teacher. And but I got rabidly interested in it my senior year in high school. So I was about 17. And read the book that gave rise to how Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth, was by Salem kerbed, called guide to survival. And it was written for those who were not raptured, who were in the tribulation, and it would be a guide for them to know how to live. So I grew up with that. But then I started studying a little bit more in college. And by the time I was doing my PhD in Jewish literature and stuff, I had read a lot of apocalyptic literature, all that was in print at the time that I knew about. And I just became convinced in a sort of passive way that this is not what I grew up with is not the way to read this book. And so I look forward to the day when I could write about it, I only was able to lecture one or two times a year, for an hour or so about Revelation. And so it, I was just always kind of tinkered with it, reading about it, reading the book, of course, and had ideas. And then when I decided to teach a class, Cody was with me, and we began working on it together. So he knows more about it than I do.


Mark Turman  07:16

I’ll bet he’s not going to agree with that statement at all. Well, I’ll paint my own picture as a word of testimony, because it’s not unlike the two of you in some ways, but I didn’t come to faith until I was 17, to a junior in high school, about 1980. And the first time I ever experienced a person open the Bible and show me something in it, they turned to the book of Revelation. Oh, the reason for that was because of what Scott was referring to this, this decades long experience of dispensational theology, but what was happening is I was with some friends at a at one of their houses, we were watching a movie and it happened to be some people will remember the Gregory Peck movie, The Omen, the first iteration of that movie, which is full of themes and ideas of dispensational theology from the book of Revelation. And I didn’t like this movie, The the host could tell that I was scared. And I wasn’t a Christian yet. And he said, Well, you know, all of this is based on the Bible. I said, No, there’s no way that that’s based on the Bible. And it at that point in my life, I’d never even opened the Bible didn’t even own a Bible at that point. So he reached over, grabbed his Bible off the end table, opened it to the book of Revelation, he said, know what the movie is talking about here is referenced right here. And so it’s it’s somewhat of a miracle I ever became a Christian after that experience, indeed. But it wasn’t very much longer that the that same person bought me a Bible told me to start at Matthew one, not revelation one, but Matthew one. And then that began a series of conversations. Now, the other thing, talking about Scott’s testimony is, within a year of becoming a Christian, one of those friends that was instrumental in my conversion said, Hey, we need to read this book, called the Late Great Planet Earth. And and so that was the first discipleship, if you want to call it that experience that I had in a small experience of, of Bible study and biblical themes. And so I’ve lived in that same world. And of course, in our part of the world, at least, we’ve lived in a fairly saturated time of a dispensational the way you describe it in the book speculative approach to the book of Revelation. But for our audience, Scott, could you just give us the thumbnail explanation of what is dispensational theology and interpretation that has become so popular in our culture around the book of Revelation and some other writings? And then how is that different from what you’re presenting in this book?


Scot McKnight  10:04

A thumbnail, huh? Okay. dispensationalism here’s an interesting feature, I’m gonna say this. You have to read hard into the truly academic side of dispensationalism. To hear some of this stuff. But the first element of dispensationalism is a distinction we I don’t even think we talked about this in the book is a distinction between the earthly people of God and the heavenly people of God, the heavenly people of God’s Church, the earthly people is Israel. Well, that that’s an old element of dispensationalism, that just doesn’t really get talked about very much. The second element is to divide the Bible into seven dispensations. And in each dispensation, God works for the redemption of individual people, in a different way. So under Moses, they had to follow the law, under, let’s say, Eden, the covenant was Adam and Eve, they had to not not eat a true tree. And in the New Covenant, you have to follow the redemption that is in Christ, et cetera. So the that’s the, that’s sort of a way of reading the Bible. So the first way is a distinction between the heavenly and the earthly people of God. The second one is a way of reading the Bible, a hermeneutic, is what we call in the seminary. But the third one is what most people think dispensationalism is because most people think of dispensationalism in terms of what is called Pop dispensationalism. And that is we’re talking about the rapture, where everybody will all the believers will be scooped up into the sky to meet Jesus in the air. Which makes if he comes back over Israel, we got a long way to go to get there. But we’ll, we’ll go up and then across the ocean. I used to think about these things. And then then it’s about the tribulation, which is a seven year period of awful awfulness on planet Earth at the hand of God’s judgment. And then there will be, let’s say, a second coming, the victory of Jesus in the battle of Armageddon, the Millennium for 1000 years, and then there will be Satan will be loosed and then there will be eternity. That’s, that’s what most people think of when they think of dispensationalism. Now, how does it distinguish from us? I believe that that approach to reading the book of Revelation creates people who are always speculating about who in our modern world is doing what? Or who identifies with whom, in the Book of Revelations characters. So it’s always about speculation. It’s always about identifying. It’s always trying to figure out who in the modern world fits. So is it peut. Now, that’s the one that people would be asking. Our approach is approach about discipleship. And it asks, how do the seven churches live, faithfully, following Jesus in a world that is controlled by the Roman Empire, which John castigates as Babylon as the Whore of Babylon in Revelation 17? Through 19. So it’s a it’s a book about first century Christian living that is capable of showing believers how to live today in the light of government corruption. So it’s a discipleship manual for what we call this is real seminary language, but I love it. The editors wouldn’t let us use to feel political discipleship. Okay, well teaches us how to follow the politics of God in a world that is not that is out of control, this corral and


Mark Turman  14:07

that’s, that’s what makes this approach so applicable to our time at the at the Denison forum we are. We are trying to mobilize the church, particularly in our part of the world here in the Americas, toward a new spiritual awakening, that we believe that there is a rising tide of opposition to biblical Christianity, and that we need to be equipped and prepared through not only the Book of Revelation, but many other parts of the Bible as well, to what it means to live in an environment where Christianity is no longer simply respected or maybe even considered irrelevant, but is now considered dangerous and living in that kind of, of a world of opposition. But it really is, it was for me in reading through the book freeing to see it through a discipleship lens rather than calendar clocks and maps. Which, which going back, and I’m sure you all have had much more experienced with this than I have. But it’s just interesting how many people try to attach modern day figures and events to things in the book of Revelation. And then when they’re wrong, they go through a revision, and we’ve got a whole new set to work with. And Cody, has that been some of what you encounter? And kind of what caused some despair?


Cody Matchett  15:34

Yeah, I think that’s part of what caused avoidance and despair. That’s certainly true. If everyone and I think we need to take this pretty seriously, if everyone who’s ever made predictions, based on the book of Revelation to this point has been wrong. At some point, we should probably slow down and ask ourselves, is this the right way to read this book? And it certainly is not the right way to read this book. You know, I think, you know, part of what you just said, I think is really helpful. Mark, which is Michael Gorman towards the beginning of his book, reading Revelation responsibly, which is another really great book, he says, who he’s the one who coined this idea of geopolitical, but Revelation is written to control fear, to sort of renew commitment and to sustain the vision. And those three are really helpful, because oftentimes, these, as you said, calendars, clocks and maps, they often induce fear, they don’t help us control our fear. They don’t help us renew our commitment, they move us to try to escape. And they don’t sustain much of a vision, other than a kind of arrogance in the moment of thinking that we’re the ones who are finally going to figure it out. And so yeah, I’ve seen plenty of this, my experience working with young adults in particular, I’m 35. So I’m kind of I’m not young, but I’m not old, you know, I’m kind of in this funny stage of life. But most of the younger people that I pastor, they avoid revelation and despair. They know that clocks, calendars and maps are not the right way to read it. But they don’t know what is the right way to read it. And so they sort of avoided in despair.


Mark Turman  17:02

Right. And that’s, Scott, could you kind of give us a little bit more context, if I understand from what you put in the book dispensational approach and an interpretation is, is not very old. Historically, it’s a relatively recent way of interpreting and reading the Bible. And then could you flesh out a little bit more? What you mean by pop? dispensationalism? What’s the difference between that and more historic dispensationalist?


Scot McKnight  17:36

Now, what was that first question, again?


Mark Turman  17:38

Is dispensational internal nation, is it fairly new when we look across 2000 years of history from the writing of the New Testament?


Scot McKnight  17:48

Um, I guess I could quote Solomon and say, there’s nothing new under the sun. And we could start with that, in a sense, it’s not brand new. But what happened with John Nelson Darby basically was a refashioning of different elements that were not put together in the history of the church. And it started to become a Christian eschatology, that over time, flourished among ordinary Christians who were pious believers, Bible readers, English Bible readers, and, and I would, I would add a little jab here without a clue of the Jewish world. And then, it wasn’t until you get people like Cyrus CI Scofield, who did the Scofield Bible, and was involved in training people to think this way about the Bible, that it became, in a sense, a more intellectual discipline dispensationalism, but it never really became truly academic. Until Lewis Sperry chafer, wrote an eight volume systematic theology when he was a professor at Dallas Seminary, and he was a Presbyterian at the time. So it kind of messes things up, to think about the origins. But when I was in college I bought or I think maybe I was given the eight volume, systematic theology of loose Sperry chafer. And I read quite a bit of it. He was a really clear writer, and everything was put together very well. But it was in the Dallas Seminary, let’s say in the 1930s 40s and 50s. That dispensationalism really took off. And I could be wrong on the dates. I’m not quite sure when Dallas began. But a recent book by Daniel Hummel called The Rise and Fall of dispensationalism has told this whole story I think it is fair to say though, that despite sensationalism, as we know, it is a 20th century phenomenon. It is not an early Christian belief. And it was not the accepted theological system of the majority of fundamentalists or evangelicals. But it became so through pop dispensationalism, which was mediated to us not through Salem kerbed Though he should be given more credit, through how Lindsay’s book which sold 10 million copies in the first decade. And that right there, just sort of, and then you had thief in the night. I’ve never heard of the omen that you brought up. But the thief in the night movie, all these things just made, made dispensationalism both its way of reading the Bible and those ideas that were important, so easy to understand that evangelicalism as a general rule became dispensational. And what many of us grew up with? I mean, the instincts of the ordinary evangelical are dispensational.


Mark Turman  21:11

Right. And that’s, again, another one of the reasons I wanted to have this conversation is just to help people get that framework. In many ways. Cody, let me get you to respond to this. One of the things that you outline, in the early part of the book is that reading the book of Revelation, not as discipleship, but as escapism is a real, real danger. And you hear this commonly, at least I did as a pastor in for churches across 34 years? Well, I don’t know, the general approach would be anytime it came up for most people was, I don’t know about all those things in the book of Revelation, I just know that Jesus went, why is that a very, very poor way to think about this part of Scripture.


Cody Matchett  21:59

Yeah, I would express some sympathy at first, and just probably want to say upfront, as someone who follows Jesus, I think that reading Revelation from the lens that Jesus wins is not a bad place to start. So I’m sympathetic to that from the onset. Yeah, I think that, to put it really boldly, I would say that I think escapist approaches to Revelation, in one sense are Toothless. They’re a little bit spineless. They don’t really move us towards the imperative of the New Testament, you know, for Jesus, follow me. You know, I’m reading through Mark’s gospel in my personal time right now. You know, I’m in the early chapters, and it’s, it’s calls to follow follow Jesus and Paul, he’s, he’s working for the moral formation of the people in the cities that they’re in to be disciples in their context and Revelation, the way we’ve come to read Revelation, it really just says, Hey, all you need to do is pray this one prayer, hold on tight, and eventually you’re going to get skyrocketed out of here. I have a friend sent me a meme recently, that has said, we should stop putting caskets in the ground this way and start putting the upwards skyrocketed out of here, you know. And of course, you know, I, you know, I think at one point in time, people who wrote on Revelation maybe like you, Scott, God said, roadmaps and wacky things, I get sent funny memes from my younger friends about some of these, you know, more wacky readings, Revelation. But I would say to answer your question, if if the call is to follow Jesus as disciples to be discipled, in the way of Jesus in our world, then these readings of revelation that move us to escape, are actually producing the opposite in us. And that’s why there’s such a danger to the church, and why they’re causing so much malformation in the church, because they’re effectively saying, you don’t have any role to play in this world. God hasn’t called you to do anything but to hold on. And the reality is, Jesus actually calls us to be witnesses as we worship here, and for the renewal of our cities. And so I think it fundamentally fails the entire ethic of the New Testament.


Mark Turman  24:01

Do you believe a fifth grade awakening is possible in America, at Denison forum? We’re asking God that we might play a role in his movement in our country. We believe that discerning news from a biblical perspective, and help all Christians stand for God in our increasingly secular culture. If you likewise stand with our mission, Please give today toward our summer campaign at Def podcast.org. Very good, very, yeah, very helpful, Scott, that the found foundation of this book that you and Cody have put together is really in the subtitle of prophetic CALL TO FOLLOW JESUS as dissident disciples. What is dissident discipleship?


Scot McKnight  24:52

Okay? To be a dissident, you have to have something that you’re resisting that you’re fighting again, that you’re at Listen to. And in the book of Revelation. As you begin to read the book, you get it starts out with his amazing vision of Jesus. And then all of a sudden, there’s these so called Letters to seven churches. And that sounds like pretty ordinary Christian stuff. Although it’s a little more formulaic, then Paul’s letters in a whole lot shorter, even shorter than Philemon. But then you get to my amazing vision chapters of the throne room and of the Lamb, the Lion and the Lamb, in chapters four and five, and then all of a sudden were launched for how many chapters 11, six to 16, all about these divine disciplines or judgments that are directed against the evil of this world. And then we get to 17. And suddenly, we get this amazing vision of the horror of Babylon. And it’s just so graphic and descriptive, and it goes on for most of three chapters. And all of a sudden, we realize there’s the problem in this letter, Rome is Babylon, and Babylon is the problem. And, and to be a dissident is to live in the Roman Empire, as someone who will not compromise following Jesus with the Roman Empire with Babylon, but lives as a resistor of Babylon in two ways. First in the public, discipleship life of resisting the way of Babylon, in our ordinary life. And John spells this out in chapters 17 and 18. And we spell it out in seven categories. And then the other way they are dissidents is they resist the Babylon creep in local churches so that when Babylon begins to creep its way into the churches, you know, the seven churches emphasis Laodicea, Sardis, etc. John wants them to be able to see that Babylon is creeping in, as well. So, dissident is a double dissident. It’s a dissident against Babylon, in the public sector, and a dissident against Babylon in the church. But John gives us categories to understand what Babylon stands for. And these are really important mark. They are idolatry or being anti God, he sees this as a major problem. You cannot walk through Ephesus, even today, with all the archaeological stuff that’s there, and not recognize that there was all kinds of temptations to idolatry, or at least the presence of idolatry. opulence is the second one, the woman’s dress is she is full of bling, and high, high level, whatever you want to call it, she’s dressed in the finest. They are murderous, and so the blood of the martyrs is on their hands. And the the woman of Babylon or Babylon is opposed to the people of God and his killing people. Plus Rome killed everybody. There is the image sense is that everything about Rome was about its image, everywhere you went, Rome reminded you that you were there. Now, if we go to Washington, DC, Cody doesn’t have to do this, because he’s a Canadian. You go to Washington, DC, and you go to the major buildings, they are massive reminders of the vision of the United States, the sort of Greco Roman vision, as well as the power of this state. Then, and Rome was did this all everywhere you went you saw Rome, they were militaristic. And they conquered countries to exploit their resources to steal bodies and make them slaves. This is in Revelation 718. And they exploited everything. So in Revelation 18, we have this list of all the cargo that is shipped from around the Mediterranean world to Rome. And that’s all about exploitation. And then the primary characteristic of Babylon is arrogance, the arrogance of domination. So if you don’t mind me making a political statement, they they all wore a hat, a red hat that said, Make Rome great again. It had that sort of mentality of greatness, that they were the greatest country and in fact, they were the greatest country in the history of civilization until that time, they knew it. And the horror of Babylon says that we will never grieve no one will ever touch us. So that’s so that’s what The concern is,


Mark Turman  30:01

so if I, if I’m hearing you correctly, then you’re saying that to be a dissident disciple, there is a personal application of, of pursuing biblical holiness rather than accommodation and compromise on a personal level, kind of what Paul lays out in Romans 12, when he says, Don’t be conformed to this world, there’s obviously the the strong biblical call to personal holiness. But there’s also a congregational call, that you do not adopt the values, standards methodologies of what the culture is doing, what the political economic system that you may find yourself in what they have valued you, you live in stead congregationally, in a different way. And then you live that out communally within the context of whatever geopolitical environment you’ve been put in. Because one things we have to remember about the book of Revelation, and the whole rest of the Bible is it’s for the whole world, whether you’re living in a republic like ours, or you’re living in a communist country, or you’re living in a Middle Eastern country, or China. It’s this, this book, and this part of the book is to be applicable to all believers in all ages, in all of those contexts. Am I Am I on the right page with you? Yes.


Scot McKnight  31:21

Here’s what I would say, though. Yeah. And I totally agree with what you said. But just let me make this comment. Paul’s statement, Don’t be conformed to this world is nowhere near as fun as the Babylon image in Revelation 17 tonight, okay, but I would say Babylon is John’s word that John uses elsewhere, but Paul uses for the world, and for the flesh. That’s what Babylon is.


Mark Turman  31:47

Right? And in love how your book, you skipped ahead of me a little bit, but the idea that, that Babylon is a trope or a figure of speech, for essentially the mentality of the world that is separated from Christ, in my in my saying it well,


Scot McKnight  32:05

yes, stronger than that it is a trope for, let’s say, a city, and a government and a system that is opposed to the to the work of God in this world. So it’s, it’s a corrupted, systemic pull political government that is opposed to the work of God in the lamb in this world.


Cody Matchett  32:32

Yeah. And I think that is seeking to form its own, you know, ideal versions of citizens to habituate those citizens to transform those citizens to create their ideal version of of those who inhabit the city. And that’s reinforced by the sort of propaganda machines that try to reinforce whatever things those might be, you know, whether it be, you know, in John’s context, we see that with the beasts, the land, and the beasts of the sea, but we see that in in various ways, in our own context, as well, the ways in which these systems, the structures that get set up these empires, that their way of living is the way that you want to move with their current, not against their current, or else. And we have similarities to that, and all sorts of places you mentioned mark, of course,


Mark Turman  33:14

well, let’s, let’s get a little bit down into the meat and potatoes of this book. Because one of the things that that you have to do, or at least I have to do is, I think it was Warren weirs be said that you had to read the Bible with imagination. And, you know, I for all of my Christian life, I’ve heard people say that if I could only have one part of the book, I’d read the Gospel of John, and I’ve come to have growing, deeper appreciation for that, but I’ve always leaned much more heavily toward Paul, I just feel like I think in those categories, and in those ways of thinking more, I have this theory, that that John was a musician and an artist. And Paul spent his time in other parts of, of the seminary, if you will, and that maybe one of the reasons I have a hard time is because I’m totally not creative, in that sense, as an artist or a musician. But you make a note in the, as you start to unpack this understanding, that to read Revelation is to see it as a play as as a script with a play, where there are characters lots of different kinds of characters, and undergirding or, or coming through this play, which if you’ve ever traveled, as our audience is listening, you go to the Holy Land, you will visit as you do in Ephesus and other places, these amazing theaters, where they would, they didn’t have movie theaters or podcasts. They had actual live theaters, where you can stand in them today and they can hold 1000s of people and everybody would have been able to hear the acoustic creation that they came up with was magnificent. But this was their entertainment. This was also how they were formed in many ways through story that were being acted out on the stage both, you know, for Roman formation as well as other opportunities. But help us unpack that image for us that when you read the book of Revelation, you’re reading a certain kind of literature and, and you use the idea of a play with a playbill. Can you all kind of unpack that a little bit?


Scot McKnight  35:38

Yeah, it’s a, I think it can be understood as a drama of different characters playing different roles. And to two sides, two teams we call team dragon and team lamb. And each one of them has characters. But the book also has a plot, there’s something going on, as you go through the book of Revelation. There are things happening tau that eventually team dragon loses, Team lamb wins, and they all enter into the New Jerusalem. That’s the big picture of this book. And it’s quite a drama. But it requires, I believe, the ability of the listener or the reader to hear and say, Listen to the words. And let those words stimulate the imagination, to watch the drama unfold before our eyes, it’s so important to do this, because John stops the flow of this book. It’s like, it’s like he’s got a drama on the stage. And there’s a couple other little stages on the side, that all of a sudden the lights on the main stage go off, and he puts us over here on this little stage. And then he puts us on another stage, then we go back to the main stage, then we go to these, it’s all these interruptions, interludes is what they’re often called. And John wants us to see these things happening. And he wants to stimulate our imagination. And if we, this, this is a big, this is big for us. If we start trying to imagine these things happening literally on planet Earth, it gets really wacky. But if we allow these to be drama, you know, I wouldn’t want to say it’s strictly fictional. But there’s a fictional dimension to it’s like reading. It’s like reading The Lord of the Rings, or the Chronicles of Narnia, or heavens, for those who have read Harry Potter, because I’ve not read one word. It it has to do with your ability to enter into that world and let that world shape you. And then you come back into this world like the provinsi children did, when they came back out of Narnia, through the wardrobe and back into the big house. All of a sudden, they’re, they’re different people, because of the imaginative world that they’ve encountered. That’s, that’s how I think we need to read this book.


Mark Turman  38:19

So So in a sense, there are like, like many plays, there are acts and interludes that work their way out, throughout this the story, the telling of this story. And I love the way the book helped me understand that. Okay, well, we’re gonna we’re gonna tell you who the characters are before the play begins before the drama begins, so that you kind of have an understanding of who these characters are. Cody one things that I don’t know why. But this has never dawned on me in my Biblical Studies. The thing that y’all point out there, when John is exiled to Patmos and receives this revelation, that premise is not an it’s not an an isolated, abandoned island where there’s nobody around. So explain that a little bit. And in terms of the context in which in what John was experiencing when he was exiled to this island, and why would he? Why would he choose to use such an imaginative way of trying to call people to a level of total discipleship? Why would he use this methodology to do that?


Cody Matchett  39:32

Yeah, it was almost a year ago, actually, that Scott and I were on Patmos together. And we we went to the cave, where John allegedly had his visions. I mean, those who have done these trips for those of you who ended up getting to go it’s a life life, life changing opportunity to go to these locations to be in these places. But they have lots of stories you know about this is so and so’s tomb and this is the 17 places where Jesus was crucified but we went to the cave where allegedly John had his visions and there was this crack in the ceiling. That was a crack like a triangle crack. And they said, This is a triangle because of the Trinity. And the visions came out anyway, it’s a whole thing. And we came out of it. We came out and Scott said to me, that’s a little hokey. Hey, and I was like, yeah, it’s but it’s, we know, he was somewhere on this island, all that to say, you know, John wasn’t emphasis. We say this in the book, you know, John was, was teaching these ideas. He was a follower of Jesus. And I think looking back, it really does feel like the response of Rome to move John who’s a really prominent Christian figure at the time. It seems disproportionate. I mean, why do you go after, you know, a guy who is helping lead a pocketful of house churches singing some spirituals, they saw what he was teaching is threatening in the sense that they want to, at least move him not not necessarily to imprison him, or put them on a penal colony, but at least to move him to this island. And so John, it’s John says, I mean, he gets caught up in a vision. So the Spirit of God moves in such a way that John has these visions, you know, part of the language of revelation that’s so strong is what John saw. And what John heard, and saw for John is something like in his mind’s eye, you know, he, he sees something he’s, he’s inspired to see what’s really going on sort of behind the curtain, which is what the word apocalypse really means. And so, you know, I’ll turn it over to Scott a second. But one of the things that I’ve realized is, you know, John has these visions. And when you try to move from having a vision, to putting it on paper, it’s a bit of a tough move to figure out what images do you use? How do you best explain it? And it seems like John is all over the place doing two things at once. He’s referencing the Hebrew Bible, which modestly, he seems to allude to the Old Testament, not cite it, but allude to it maybe over 300 times. And at the same time, he’s also using images that would have been really prominent his Roman world. And so that’s part of why it has such a bizarre legacies. There’s so much Hebrew Bible, there’s so much Rome, and John is wetting them together in this genre of literature. That’s meant, as Scott said, to inspire imagination you want to add to that, Scott?


Scot McKnight  42:08

Well, no, I mean, Patmos was not a penal colony. And but you know, he didn’t have Wi Fi, and he didn’t have carrier pigeons, probably, who could carry these things. Back to Harry Potter. What’s Oh, the house? I don’t know about her. Okay. All right. So. So really putting him out there on this island is, is really taking him out of the orbit of these churches. And I have to think that John seven, he was sort of like a bishop of seven churches. And that he was conveying these messages that we have in the book of Revelation in such a way that he was a nuisance to authorities, at least to one authority, who had the power to put him out on Patmos. And so I think that’s why he’s there. John tells us because of the testimony of Jesus, which many people have read, and I do as because he was a witness to Jesus. So he was, in a sense, persecuted. But yeah, I I, Patmos, as I told the group, and we got to Patmos, and I’ve said this every time I’ve gotten there, this is not a bad gig.


Mark Turman  43:26

Yeah, that’s right. It’s not it is a


Scot McKnight  43:29

beautiful place. It is. And the first century it was more beautiful.


Mark Turman  43:34

Oh, and I love what you said, Cody, a minute ago, I’ve had a chance to do a few Bible study tours to Jerusalem, Israel to Jerusalem. And what, what we tell people is, is you have to think in A, B and C, A means that it happens somewhere around here, it might have been within Oh, I don’t know, anywhere from 100 to 200 miles. And somebody put something up here, where it might be a building, it might be a monument, but they put up something to memorialize this thing or person that we see in the Bible, but we’re just within you know, 100 or 200 miles, the level B is okay, well, we know what happened, probably within about 50 miles of here. And then there are some places not large in number, but there are a few places, at least in Israel, where you can say okay, it was here, that it happened. And we try to make that distinction for our folks when they’re there. But when we know this, when we when we take an airplane over there were a whole lot closer to where these things happened. And we are on this side of the world that’s


Cody Matchett  44:38

thinking the same thing. I know my feet are on the same island that John was on, I can say that for sure. Yeah.


Mark Turman  44:45

And that’s pretty profound in and of itself. And when you’re in a few spots in Jerusalem, you can say you know what, I could be standing in the very spot where Jesus stood one day and that’s, that’s pretty profound. Let’s let’s talk a little bit as as you move toward the latter part. The book, somebody is going to be asking, Okay, is New Jerusalem a real place in a real time? Given just just give me the short answer to that, because there’s going to be some people asking me that way. Okay, I’m


Scot McKnight  45:15

going to say no. But just think about it this way. It’s a, it’s a one, it’s a 1400 kilometer, about 1000 mile cube, high as wide, which is basically about the space of the Roman Empire. Okay, so it’s basically saying the Roman Empire has all moved here. And I don’t know what you do with an apartment building that is 1000 miles high. Okay. I mean, it doesn’t make sense. So I think instead of looking at it as literal, I think we should look at it as a symbol of virtual perfection. And it’s, its, or its ornate. It’s got these amazing foundations, these amazing pillars, these amazing gates, it’s got this river flowing through it, and it’s healing the leaves can heal the nations, it’s got gates that aren’t, don’t even have to be closed at night, because it’s so safe. This is a symbol of the fact that someday, God is going to make all things right. And that the way of Babylon, the way of Rome will be defeated. And that the way of God, the way of the lamb will be established and instituted in a place that will be safe for the people of God, who want to live with the lamb. So yes, it’s a place, but it’s not a, you know, I, I just can’t imagine any kind of life inside a 1000 1000.


Cody Matchett  47:09

I think I hear you saying, Scott, we shouldn’t live to realize these images. But they are our Sure hope. And it’s also important to say that all of the promises to those seven churches are about that new Jerusalem. So what God has promised to those churches and to us, we will receive that maybe just not in 1000 foot high apartment building or whatever.


Mark Turman  47:31

Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So let’s, let’s don’t make the the theological error of saying that that seventh heaven that Paul says he was caught up into was what was what John saw when he was having this revelation. Let’s don’t make that linkage if we can avoid it. But as you kind of move to the conclusion of the book, you talk in very profound ways about the meantime, that if you’re reading this book as a disciple, and you’re seeking to become the best dissident Salt and Light disciple that you can be by, by hearing what God is saying, through this book, and through John, you talk about in the meantime, and we live in a very mean time I, I live in a part of the world where the most recent random mass shooting just occurred, you know, five miles from me, and took the lives of eight people, including several children. So we live in a very mean time. And you talk about the significance of worship, and the responsibility and privilege of witness can can the two of you kind of unpack that, that as kind of the real meat of this is how you survive, we thrive, we flourish as dissident disciples through worship, and for the purpose of witness. Talk about that a little bit.


Scot McKnight  49:00

Cody, I don’t think you’ve heard me say this. Three W’s wisdom, witness worship, we use discernment, but you have to discern but I’ll talk about witnessing Cody can talk about worship. Where do you want to talk about okay, I’ll talk witness and the gospel in the book of Revelation has some major important dimensions. One is that Jesus is the ultimate witness. He, he lived the witness, he’s the witness. The second thing is witness is something that we have seen, heard or experienced, to which we verbally make a statement of, you know, we saw it, we heard it, we were there. So it’s an experiential reality. And then the third, the next dimension of it is Is that because we have seen and heard and experienced, we lay our lives on the line, and we become the witness. And that sense of witness can be a martyr, where our bodies embody faithfulness to the lamb. That is what it means to be a witness. So it is, I’ve even heard people say it only refers to our life. And this is just fundamental misunderstanding of the word. The word always is about a verbal witness, to our experience. But it’s the experience of the witness of Jesus that we witness to. And then we lay our lives on the line, and we become, in a sense, an embodiment of witness, by the way our lives are conducted. So that’s, that’s what John wants of his people to have the wisdom to recognize Babylon, Babylon, and to become a witness in this world. And worship is the third W.


Cody Matchett  51:02

Yeah, and for worship, I mean, you know, we point to this and what you know what’s corrupted in the churches that Jesus is critiquing. And of course, there is Scott mentioned a few minutes ago, the Babylon creep has happened in such a way that their, their worship has become tainted, I think, at least in the Western Church, we have a we have a worship problem, and Revelation all over the place, you know, not just chapters four and five, we’re used to seeing those as worship scenes. But those interludes that we mentioned, in our book, what we see in Revelation is a spiral of chaos that’s happening, co 123456. And then John raptures us, if you will, into this worship, full scene of Mount Zion, and hope, and these are supposed to move us to the right type of worship, and to see actually that we worship not alone, we worship with a great cloud of witnesses. And we are being shaped and formed in and through what we worship. You know, one thing about Chapter Four that I’ve always found really fascinating, is, we all know the scene, John sees the throne, and the elders, they’re casting down their crowns, you know, all the great revelation worship songs that have been written because of these lines. And when you see the dragon, and the beasts later on, they they have their crowns, they have not tested any crowns, there is no worship to the lamb that’s coming from them. And I think there’s something in that image that John would want, as a little seed in our minds of are we willing to sort of throw down these grounds because if we’re not, we would put ourselves in league with the unholy trinity, actually. And we’re worshipping things that are pseudo or false. And not the as we worship the land, we become like the land. John wants us to know that. Yeah.


Scot McKnight  52:46

Well, the other thing, the other thing about these songs, the worship is African American New Testament scholar named Brian Blount has pointed out that these songs evoke the African American spirituals, which were at one level songs that they learned from their slave masters. That actually, when you knew what the African American slaves were singing, were subversive. And I think that is so important to these songs in Revelation is that those who sing these songs are not singing such songs to the Emperor. They are, they are songs of resistance, and dissidents. And the true you know, Cody was right, we have a worship problem. If we would worship the lamb, we would become so Thiele politically wise and discerning that we would recognize Babylon in our world and become witnesses. How’s that for a summary? In the back row?


Mark Turman  53:59

That’s a pretty good summary, right there. And so what that says to me, you know, as like I said, my primary context being that of Pastor of churches is how, how can we read this book as a corrective to our worship, and that worship is in this mean time that we live in? It is to be both the gathering of the people to share what their eyes ears, and and soul have actually seen and heard of the movement of God in their life over a seven day period, if you want to, as well as a crying out for it, in a longing for it in the, in the sense of that idea of a spiritual the spiritual song that is, is both testimony and and plea. And how do we, how does this book become a corrective to some of our worship in that way? That’s just the way that hits me initially know why,


Scot McKnight  55:02

and I think it does do that is that, you know I, I’ve often said it this way, if we would worship the lamb, the way the book of Revelation teaches us, we will be more discerning of political corruption and corruption in the churches. And if we learn to focus on new Jerusalem, we will become less and less mesmerized by Babylon. If we love the woman of revelation 12, we will learn not to love the woman of revelation 17 and 18.


Mark Turman  55:35

So well, I’ll give you I give you we’re about to wind up our time together. But one last kind of question for both of you would be, how do you feel like Miss reading the book of Revelation is hurting? We talked about this a little bit already. But how is it hurting the church? And what would you what if anything else other than what we’ve already shared? Would you want people to hear from this conversation?


Cody Matchett  56:00

Yeah, I’ll one of the things that I’ve said often my Canadian context is different than the American context. And I have also been a part of pastoring, lots of young adults. And so I would say, many, it’s easy for many of us to, to have a kind of shot in Florida, as Scott has so eloquently taught me over time, which is a celebration, over you know, a come up in someone else’s, it really getting it from God. And I’m going to celebrate that I think that many of us see ourselves on the side of the victor. And we’re celebrating Babylon that are being torn down. But the real danger, at least in my context, and maybe for younger people is I think that they think they’re building the new Jerusalem. And what they cannot yet see is they’re actually building the next iteration of Babylon. And so they’re celebrating the fall of a former Babylon. And unbeknownst to them, they need vision to see that they’re actually contributing to the building of a new one. And so I think that this kind of worship, seeing revelation, seeing the land as the Lamb, the slaughtered and slain and standing, as John says, witness, will, as Scott said, move us to the right types of worship. But I think it will also cause us maybe to try to see the efforts of our hands and the things that we’re giving ourselves to with more clarity, ironically. So I think that for me that I see this pervasive danger to think that we’re the heroes. And I think that we need to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, as John says,


Scot McKnight  57:33

and I think it will teach us the book revelation will teach us to discern corruption in the church, corruption in society. And it will teach us that following the Lamb is the deepest challenge that any human being can embrace in our world today. And we live in a world where following the Lamb is becoming increasingly difficult. Whether it’s because of opposition, or it’s because we live in such a secular age that we can’t even recognize secularity any longer. And John wants to create for us a completely different vision of what this world is all about. What the church is all about, and what therefore what the Christian life is all about.


Mark Turman  58:29

Wow. Well, thank thanks to both of you, not only for your conversation today, but for this work. You’re making John’s discipleship manual more accessible to a generation of people. And that is a tremendous gift. It certainly, like I said, reconnected me to some of the early beginnings of where the Holy Spirit was getting my attention, and has brought me to a really, really fresh place of appreciation for looking for these principles and truths and encouragement and challenges about how to be a dissident disciple in this Meantime, so thank you both. And thank you for this conversation. I look forward to engaging with you again on other topics want to thank our podcast audience. If you have been blessed by this conversation, go and check out the book by Scot McKnight and Katie magic called revelation for the rest of us. A prophetic call to follow Jesus as a dissident disciple. You can find it at all major booksellers, and please rate review our podcast, share it with others so that they can be a part of the conversation as well. And we’ll see you next time on the Denison Forum Podcast.


What did you think of this article?

If what you’ve just read inspired, challenged, or encouraged you today, or if you have further questions or general feedback, please share your thoughts with us.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Denison Forum
17304 Preston Rd, Suite 1060
Dallas, TX 75252-5618
[email protected]

To donate by check, mail to:

Denison Ministries
PO Box 226903
Dallas, TX 75222-6903