An excerpt from "Revelation for the Rest of Us"

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Revelation for Too Many: An excerpt from “Revelation for the Rest of Us” by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett

June 26, 2023 - and

A Bible lays open to the first chapter of Revelation. © By JavierArtPhotography/stock.adobe.com

A Bible lays open to the first chapter of Revelation. © By JavierArtPhotography/stock.adobe.com

A Bible lays open to the first chapter of Revelation. © By JavierArtPhotography/stock.adobe.com

The following excerpt is from Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett.

Speculation is the biggest problem in reading Revelation today. Many treat it as a databank of predictive prophecy—what one Revelation scholar, Christoper Rowland, calls “a repository of prophecies concerning the future.” Readers want to know if now is the time of fulfillment for that symbol, figure, or event. Speculations about who is doing what, sometimes standing on stilts, has ruined Revelation for many.

I (Scot) have taught about the book of Revelation for decades. While I’ve not experienced every nook and cranny of church people’s reading of this book, at least one thing has been true (in my experience): most everyone reads the book as I first learned to read it. Every time I teach the book of Revelation, students come to me and say something like “I don’t like this book” or “I’m turned off about this book” or “I gave up on Revelation years back, and I’m really hesitant even to read it.”

I (Cody) taught my first class on the book of Revelation last summer to a group of eighty-five eager students through my church. We had students ranging in age from sixteen to eighty-six, coming from diverse cultural backgrounds and theological dispositions. Reactions were largely the same. On the one end we had those who were eager to discuss the book, those whose imaginations had largely been captured by excitation and speculation. While on the other end, there was an even larger portion of students (mostly younger) who were skeptical of the speculators, left only to conclude that the bizarro last book of the Bible should be ignored, removed, or simply ‘left behind.’ On a scale from speculation to silence, most simply wanted silence. In the end, they all came for the class (entitled “Revelation for the Rest of Us”) because they knew something far more important than speculation must be going on in this strange book.

Times have certainly changed since the 70s when speculation was in vogue. Do you know how many pastors and preachers today refuse to open Revelation for sermons? Most either ignore Revelation or choose to preach from safer passages, like the messages, or so-called letters, to the seven churches in Revelation 2–3 or the passage about new Jerusalem at the back of Revelation. Indeed, readings from Revelation assigned for Sundays by the Revised Common Lectionary are the safe texts.

Paradise for Fanatics

Why are preachers afraid of this book? An expert on the Bible’s language and imagery, and especially on how to understand the language about prophecy, G. B. Caird, tells us why: Revelation has become a “paradise of fanatics and sectarians”! That’s why. Add to the language and fanatics America’s cultural history. Matthew Sutton, in his probing of that history, opens with a salvo that puts that cultural history into a tightly woven bundle:

Perceiving the United States as besieged by satanic forces—communism and secularism, family break-down and government encroachment—Billy Sunday, Charles Fuller, Billy Graham, and many others took to the pulpit and airwaves to explain how biblical end-times prophecy made sense of a world ravaged by global wars, genocide, and the threat of nuclear extinction. Rather than withdraw from their communities to wait for Armageddon, they used what little time was left to warn of the coming Antichrist, save souls, and prepare the United States for God’s final judgment.

Many Americans have experiences of Revelation inducing fear of a global holocaust, with the book providing a roadmap of who does what and when. Experts on the history of reading Revelation as speculation woven into culture have shown that in the middle of the nineteenth century the book of Revelation went populist—that is, it became, as Amy Johnson Frykholm put it, the “ordinary person’s game.” All one needed was a dispensationalist framework, the rapture on the horizon, and a Bible in one hand and news sources (or Left Behind books) in the other. Everything “fit”: politics, international treaties, economic trends, moral decline, family breakdowns. East Coast elites and sophisticated biblical interpretation were easily swept out the church door when the experience of personally knowing the inside story became the norm. Such persons supernaturally knew what no one else knows.

In the middle of it all was one’s politics, and you don’t have to be a cynic to track the correlation of Revelation’s popularity with American political parties.

Taken from Revelation for the Rest of Us by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett. Copyright © 2023 by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett. Used by permission of Zondervan. harpercollinschristian.com

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