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I remember when I was pastoring an Old Reformed Church and one of the people who was in charge of giving me the nod of approval for ordination …
(Side Note: I never got ordained. Why? oh,You’ll see.)
… asked me about my thoughts revolving around the book of Revelation.
“My thoughts?”, I asked.
“Yes”, he said, “For instance, are you pre-millenial, post-millennial, or a-millenial?”
(** I was trying REALLY hard to bite my tongue **)
“Well, I’m A millennial”, I said.
HA! (If you don’t know why that’s funny, I’ll tell you in a minute).
Not the response he was looking for.
OK, let me catch you up to speed. In case you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about or what in the world pre, post, or a-millenial means, don’t worry, here’s the quick version.
Some people in the church will say that they’re pre-millenial, which means that they’ve read parts of the Bible (mainly parts of Revelation) and have come to believe that Jesus will return to earth (aka “The Second Coming of Christ”) before the inauguration of His thousand year reign.
Easy to remember, right?
Pre means before and so the thought is that Jesus will return BEFORE He begins His reign.
A post-millennialist, then, would argue from the same book of the Bible, but will come to the complete opposite conclusion – that Jesus will return to earth after His thousand year reign. Again, easy – post means AFTER and so the idea, here, is that Jesus will return AFTER His reign is done.
And lastly, an a-millenialist rejects the idea that Jesus will have a literal thousand year reign on earth and finds the conversation to be completely irrelevant.
OK, so back to the guy who was in charge of ordination. He asked me which one of those camps I fell into and I honestly didn’t know what to say. I thought saying “I’m a millennial” was funny because although he was referring to a particular theological stance, I was referring to the generation I was born into and …
… He didn’t really see the humor in it.
You see, it’s not that I didn’t understand the 3 camps or that I didn’t think that one of them was maybe more right than the other. I remember in college I took a semester long class on the book of Revelation and learned all about pre, post, and a … millennialism, tribulation, the seals, the trumpets, the whole nine yards. I even have books and commentaries on my shelf that go into deep detail about all of that stuff (and more).
I knew exactly what he was asking so it’s not that I didn’t understand.
Even back then, I had this deep feeling that anyone who quotes from the book of Revelation to support one of those 3 ideas about the “End Times” or the “End of the World” or the “Apocalypse” or whatever you wanna call it is reading the book in a way that it wasn’t meant to be read.
And this is where things maybe get kind of controversial for lack of a better word because (to me) it feels like pulling that stuff out of the book comes from reading stuff into the book that’s not necessarily there.
The problem I wrestled with, though, is that that idea goes 100% against what countless theologians have said throughout the course of history, not to mention 1000% against anything I had been taught in all my years of Bible college and seminary.
Even so, none of it sat right with me.
I didn’t really have words and concepts for it then. That was almost 10 years ago, and so I had ideas and inklings and thoughts, but I didn’t really have a way to explain much of what I was thinking. But now that I’ve thought about it a little deeper, read on the topic a little bit more, and talked to some people who are a whole lot more well versed than I am, I’m starting (just starting, mind you) to develop a language to talk about this kind of stuff.
That said, I’m realizing that the pre, post, and a’s all have valid arguments IF the book of Revelation actually has something to do with the end of the world. The thing, though, is that I don’t think the book of Revelation has anything to do with the end of the world, the end times, the apocalypse, etc. Instead, I think that everything (mostly everything, anyways) that’s talked about in the book has already happened a long, long time ago.
The lake of fire.
… I think it all already happened.
I’m not the only one to think this, by the way. So although I might be partially insane, at least I have company. HA! In his piece that was included in the book “Four Views of the Book of Revelation”, Kenneth Gentry Jr. says that …
“John himself positively asserts that the events he describes are NEAR TO HIS DAY. Consequently, they must lie in OUR distant past.”
I’ll tell you more in a minute, but I agree with that. Gentry falls into a category of people who would call themselves “Preterists” – it comes from the Latin word “praeter”, which refers to something that has “past”.
Anyways, I think that …
(1) Most (if not all) of the language in Revelation is poetic (I don’t think much of it is literal).
(2) I think that it all (most of it … maybe all of it?) happened already.
And (3) I think that God saw to it that it was included in our Bibles because the words that it spoke concerning its time has powerful insights about words that need to be spoken into our time.
Oh yeah – read #3 again:
I think that God saw to it that the book of Revelation was included in our Bibles because the words that it spoke concerning its time has powerful insights about words that need to be spoken into our time.
The words that Revelation spoke into its time have powerful insights for words that must be spoken into our time.Click To Tweet
(I’m about to get kind of pushy so get ready.)
When we insist that the letter is all about tomorrow or the future or something that’s going to happen way down the road at some later date, I think we’re just subconsciously not wanting to deal with what the letter is really about.
What’s it about?
So the letter was written by a guy named John. John, you might remember, wrote the letter from the island of Patmos. No, he wasn’t on vacation and no he wasn’t sipping a cool drink with an umbrella in it while he was writing; rather he was put there because the government of his time (namely, the Roman Emperor, Caesar … Domitian) didn’t know what else to do with him and his radical message of love and hope and grace and peace and the need for change … the Jesus message.
And so they left him on Patmos to die, but before he did he wrote the letter of Revelation to his church back home because his church was going through some tough times of their own.
People were being persecuted.
The church was hated.
The government demanded the allegiance of God’s people.
And so John wrote this letter to encourage his friends to keep going, to stay strong, to remember that God is near and is always fighting for His people. It was a revolutionary and poetically infused piece about the need to stand strong in the face of evil.
Why do I think that?
In the letter he wrote about some pretty graphic stuff and said that he saw it all in a vision – he talks about dragons and fire and demons and smoke and the anti-christ and angels and plagues and elders and Jesus on a horse.
All of that begs questions like …
Is the anti-christ Barak Obama?
Is the dragon Donald Trump?
Is the Lake of Fire a literal Lake of Fire?
Is the Mark of the Beast your iPhone?
Is that what John was writing about? Did he fall asleep on Patmos, dream about this crazy stuff, and write it all down for you and me and everyone else on the planet to try and figure out and debate about whether we should be Pre-Milennial, Post-Millennial, or A-Milennial? Pre-Tribulation? Post-Tribulation? To argue whether the Left Behind Series is really going to happen? So that we could point the finger at people we really don’t like and wonder if “they’re the one”, if they’re the anti-christ?
Honestly, if that’s what the book of Revelation is about and if that’s why God put it in the Bible, that’s an utter disappointment and I’d rather not read it.
(Can you see why I wasn’t ordained in the Reformed Church? HA!!)
Was John using horrific images to describe horrific times?
Was he calling the government of his time a DRAGON?
Was he calling the political system of his times the ANTI-CHRIST?
Was he calling Domitian what he was – a BEAST?
Was he talking about how the whole world was falling apart and being swallowed up by a pit of horror that was so hot and so horrific and so terrible and so a-moral an so Lake of Fire-ish … was he using vivid, sci-fi-like language because there are no words in the human language to illustrate such an atrocity and only illustrative, sci-fi-like language would get the point across about just how bad everything had become?
Here’s one reason why I think this is what he was doing. I recently read this in Rob Bell’s book, “What Is The Bible?” and it blew my mind.
(If you haven’t read it yet, you need to.)
When Caesar (Domitian – ruler of the Roman Empire, the one that took such an issue with John and his church) would hold Olympic games, he would begin by addressing the leaders of various countries, telling them what he thought they were doing well at and what he thought they weren’t doing well at, what they should change, etc, etc, etc. All of the leaders were gathered at the event to watch the games and before the kickoff, Caesar would stand up and say …
“USA, you’re terrible at this.”
“China, you’re good at this.”
“North Korea … let’s just not go there.”
“Africa, nice work.”
… He’d go person by person, country by country and give his thoughts and opinions and 2 cents (or 50). He was the most powerful man in the world, so if he had something to say, he could say it.
So knowing this, let’s turn to the opening chapters of Revelation where in chapter 2 Jesus (are you ready for this?) makes an appearance and addresses the leaders of various churches in the region – He tells them what they’re doing good at and what they’re doing not-so-good at and then gives them His advice and commands about shaping up.
(… Just like Caesar would do before the Olympic games would start.)
Ephesus – you have forsaken your first love, REPENT!
He goes through each church and has words for all of them – some revolve around what they could be doing better at while others are more about what they’re already doing well.
What’s John saying?
Is he just writing down something he heard in a dream?
Is he just recalling some crazy words he heard God speak?
Is he cryptically telling you and me what to expect when the world ends?
Was he making a definitive statement? Was he saying that Caesar THINKS he has all the power. Caesar THINKS he’s all that. Caesar THINKS he can just put me on this island and shut me up. Caesar THINKS he can tell every other country in the world what to do. Caesar THINKS he has amazing intellect and advice.
And, NO, I won’t shut up.
Because Jesus is the CHRIST, He’s the One who has all the power, control, ability, wisdom, and excellence.
He’s just the ANTI-CHRIST. He’s the opposite of everything that Jesus is.
His approach to the world.
… Everything. It’s all backwards, it’s all wrong, it’s all evil … it’s ANTI, it’s OPPOSITE. It all needs to be thrown into a LAKE OF FIRE.
Heck, those are just the opening chapters!
Do you see what I mean? Do you see why I think that this letter is MORE than just a prophecy about the end of the world? MORE than some words about what will happen when Jesus returns? MORE than about how we all better shape up before God opens up the fiery pit? AND that when we whittle it down to a prophecy about some later date in some far away tomorrow, do you see why I think it robs of us so much insight for today?
John was a real man.
Living in real times.
Under a real government.
Undergoing real persecution.
Under the thumb of a real ruler.
The pastor of a real group of people.
Who were also undergoing real persecution.
Who were looking for answers.
Who were looking for wisdom.
Who were looking for direction.
… And so John wrote them this letter that poetically described the times and encouraged them to keep going, to keep pressing on, to keep pushing, to not give in, to not cave.
To ANY Caesar, ever.
What if the book of Revelation isn’t there for you and me to debate about? What if it’s not there for us to interpret into a stance on the Return of Christ? What if it’s not there for us to build theologies around? What if it’s not there to stump ministers who are pursuing their ordination?
What if it’s there to inspire you and me to speak into our world and our times in the same way that John spoke into his?
Revelation is there to inspire you & me to speak into our world & our times in the same way that John spoke into his.Click To Tweet
To call dragons, dragons?
To call anti-Christ’s, anti-Christ’s?
To speak out against the marks of the beast?
To speak against atrocities?
To speak against the hells that rage around us?
To warn people to keep their eyes open?
So when the guy who was in charge of ordination in the Reformed Church asked me my position on interpreting the book of Revelation into Pre, Post, or A-Millenialism … I kinda looked at him like he had 6 heads and really didn’t know what to say. I tried to explain everything I just wrote (which sounded a whole lot more confusing 10 years ago when I didn’t really have many words for the many ideas and thoughts I was having) and he didn’t really seem to pick up what I was putting down.
He wanted to debate about theology.
I wanted to talk about how we need to speak out against injustices in our day in the same way that John did in his day and the if we don’t, then we’re really not doing a very good job at fulfilling the mission that Jesus left us with.
And I still do. I don’t think we need more theologies coming out of Revelation and I don’t think we need more debates and discussions about when Jesus will return or what will happen when He returns or who He’ll be taking with Him to heaven or sending into the Lake of Fire or anything like that.
Rather, I think God’s people need to raise their voices, put their pens to paper, put their fingers to keyboards, and speak ever so LOUDLY against the injustices and atrocities of our day – ALL the stuff that disrupts the beautiful and peaceful SHALOM that God longs for His creation … whether they be political things in the governments of the world, spiritual things in the churches of the world, stuff in our own personal lives, stuff in our communities, in our schools, in our families.
Focus on them.
Call them out.
Encourage the people around you.
And press forward.
Even if the world casts you off to Patmos and the people you love are being put down and pushed around, keep speaking and keep believing and keep your eyes focused on the Only One Who can intervene and bring about resolution.
And He will.
The Beasts, the Dragons, the Anti-Christs – they’re no match for the Son of Man, the Rider of the White Horse.
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