Today I begin a series on reading the Book of Revelation from a Wesleyan perspective. This series will take as its starting point Joel Green's helpful discussion in his excellent book, Reading Scripture as Wesleyans. Joel makes several important points on Revelation by way of introduction:
First, Revelation must be interpreted in its social and historical context, but "its message is not time-bound to the church of the past" (p. 159). After all, the book is about the God "who is and who was and who is to come" (1:4) and about Jesus who is "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (22:13).
Second, the Roman Empire ruled with an iron fist in the world of the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom this visionary letter is addressed. But that's only from the perspective of this earth; for the power and authority of Rome "are neither ultimate nor eternal. God after, all is on the heavenly throne, and he will preside on earth as he already presides in heaven" (p. 160). This is good news for those who remain faithful to the Lamb. It is bad news for those who participate in and benefit from the Empire and its pretentious ways.
Third, Green writes, "Strangely, the more we understand the message of Revelation in its first-century setting, the more we find ourselves at home in its pages and the more we grasp its message for all times, including our own" (p, 160). While we must avoid using the the visions and symbols of Revelation as tools for eschatological weather forecasting for our own time, we also know that the struggles of these seven churches are also our struggles. They were not the last to face the pretensions of Empire nor real persecution, as Christians are today in Syria and Egypt.
Green highlights six themes in Revelation:
1) "Revelation changes the way we see and respond to the world."
2) "Revelation orients all of life around the worship of God."
3) "Revelation resists alternative portraits of world events."
4) "Revelation challenges the church just as it critiques the world-at-large."
5) "Revelation especially challenges the church on issues of faith and wealth."
6). "Revelation's picture of costly discipleship involves risky, engaged resistance."
In the next six posts, I will highlight each one of these themes, summarize what Joel Green has to say, and then add my own thoughts at the end of the post.
To speak of reading Revelation from a Wesleyan perspective is not to suggest that such a reading is unique from other Christian interpretive traditions. It is to affirm that everyone approaches Scripture with assumptions and a interpretive posture. The same is true of reading the Bible from a Wesleyan perspective.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)