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How can we read the Book of Revelation well today?

Last week I visited Vintage City Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, to talk about the Book of Revelation over the weekend and preach in their Sunday services. Vintage City Church is a really interesting place, where the team are committed to engaging with the work of the Spirit amongst them, thinking well about the Christian faith, being deeply rooted in Scripture, and committed to practical care and engagement with the community around them.

As part of my contribution, I recorded this Q and A session on Revelation with Dustin Scott, Senior Associate Pastor for Youth at the church, addressing some key questions about reading the book. Here is a summary of his questions and my answers, though there is more detail in the conversation.

1. If I were reading the Book of Revelation for the first time, where (and how) would you recommend I begin?

First, I would be very glad that you are reading it at all, since many people avoid it—either because they think it is too disturbing, or because it is too difficult to read.

But it is important to read it as a whole book, rather than select either the high points or focus on the dark images. Revelation functions a bit like paintings that make use of chiaroscuro, in which there is a strong contrast between the light and the dark parts of the painting. Its effect is not just found in the dark and light parts, but in the contrast between the two. Revelation teaches us through the contrast between the chaos of the world around us and the sovereignty of God on the throne.

Secondly, it is important to read it with the whole people of God. Revelation is unusual in telling us quite clearly the context of its reception: in Rev 1.3, we read that there is ‘one’ who ‘reads [aloud]’ this book, and many who ‘hear and keep it’. It is being read in the assembly, so that we all hear and interpret it together. We need to read with believers from the whole range of cultures and contexts, including ‘reading with the dead’, those who have gone before us, and those with different insights, including scholars.


Jesus is the true vine in John 15

The Sunday lectionary reading for Easter 5 in Year B is Jesus’ teaching that he is the true vine in John 15.1–8. It is a striking and memorable image that has three different elements of context to consider, and it reiterates themes from earlier in the Farewell Discourse as well as picking up ideas that were first sown at the beginning of the gospel narrative.

The previous chapter ends with Jesus inviting the disciples to ‘Rise, let us go from here,’ which appears to look forward to John 18.1, when together they ‘go out’ across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane. In a previous generation of scholarship, this was seized upon to demonstrate that the final editor was using two separate sources, which he had clumsily stitched together leaving this obvious error, so that the second half of the Farewell Discourse was originally unconnected to the first half. But this assume that editors are stupid, and commentators from 1,800 years or more later are far smarter, and can spot things that the stupid editor didn’t notice! It also fails to take into account that the style is continued seamlessly between the two parts of the material, and even that the second half repeats, reiterates and develops themes from the first half, so they are well integrated together.

There are two common alternative explanations for the phrase at John 14.31. Either Jesus urges them all to leave, but in fact continues in discussion, much as when at a dinner party someone says ‘We really must be going…’ but continues engrossed in conversation. Or they really do leave the upper room, and Jesus’ teaching in John 15–16 and the prayer in John 17 take place as they wander across the city. (Tradition has it that the upper room was located in the south-west corner of Jerusalem, and the crossing to Gethsemane is on the central east side.) This would allow Jesus actually to look up to heaven as described in John 17.1, since they are now out of doors, and it would mean that ‘going out’ across the Kidron Valley in John 18.1 is going out of the city, not going out of the room.