Sunday, 30 January 2011

Revelation - beyond our grasp?

When we first announced that we would be starting a new preaching series on the Book of Revelation in the new year, I was very excited at the prospect. That was back in November, and although I am still excited, with just a week to go before we start, not a little apprehension has joined the mix!

My strong interest in the book goes back over 30 years to my days at London Bible College (now London School of Theology) when I chose to study the Greek text of Revelation in my last year, and was privileged to have the late Donald Guthrie as lecturer.
I remember thinking that by the end of the year I would have it all worked out and be clear on the true meaning of this mysterious book! Thirty years, and many commentaries later, I confess to still being on that journey, hopefully with rather more humility in the presence of God’s last words to man.

Does that mean that the Book of Revelation is beyond our grasp? The answer, I’m afraid, is yes and no! Can we understand it in a way that will encourage us, equip us and build us up in our faith? Absolutely! Can we understand the full meaning of all that is written? Probably not, and for that reason, we need to approach the book with a good dose of humility and not be dogmatic on points that are not clear to us.

Vern Poythress in his excellent little book, ‘The Returning King’ puts it like this: ‘Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle book. Don’t try to puzzle it out. Don’t become preoccupied with isolated details. Rather, become engrossed in the overall story. Praise the Lord. Cheer for the saints, Detest the beast. Long for the final victory.’

Following that advice, we will be unpackaging the big themes of the Book of Revelation in the weeks and months ahead. We will be studying it systematically, vision by vision, and with the Spirit’s help, and in the context of the whole of Scripture, expect to hear God speak to us in a way that will radically alter our worldly perspectives and change our lives.
I mention the issue of the context of the rest of Scripture because much mischief has been done by reading Revelation in isolation from its canonical context. Eugene Peterson has done the maths and informs us that.. ‘The Revelation has 404 verses, there are 518 references to earlier scripture. If we are not familiar with the preceding writings, quite obviously we are not going to understand the Revelation.’

We are giving the series the title: ‘Living Life with Heaven’s Perspective’, making the important connection with our daily lives. Why? Because, In Vern Poythress’ words, ‘God gave us Revelation not to tickle our fancy, but to strengthen our hearts.’

In the weeks to come I will be using my Blog to follow up what is preached on Revelation, and add further comments and study aids. Here goes....!