I have just finished writing some notes for the Bible Reading Fellowship. (You can subscribe to Guidelines here.) This is how I ended the series:
Goodness—we have reached the end of our whistle-stop tour of the most exciting, influential, complex and engaging book of the New Testament, and perhaps of all human literature. If you are feeling a little giddy, then that’s no surprise!
But you might also be feeling disturbed by the apparent violence of some of the imagery, especially in the last few chapters. There is much debate about this, and what it means for our appreciation of the book, and there are no simple answers to help us overcome our cultural distance from the text. But we do need to bear in mind some key issues as we continue to reflect.
First, the God of the Book of Revelation is one and the same God who loved us and gave himself for us, who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The text of Revelation makes this claim repeatedly, and as we have explored the message of Revelation, I hope you have felt that this claim is justified.
Secondly, one of the key aims of the book is to both confirm and challenge you in your faith. The drama of its images, the rapid movement from one scene to the next, and the sharp contrast in destinies of the main characters in the narrative all communicate the supreme importance of ‘seeking first the kingdom of God and what he requires of you’ (Matt 6.33). If we invest our time and energy, our trust and loyalty in things that are ultimately contrary to God’s purposes, then these things will be lost and our investment will be without return.
And this calls for both decision and action. None of this is ‘pie in the sky when you die’; unlike the words of Daniel (Dan 12.4), the words of this book are not to be ‘sealed up’ (22.10). We are not to stand still, waiting for something to happen, but to grasp this hope and live it out in our everyday lives.
The final note that Revelation ends on is the generosity of God’s invitation to all. Down the centuries, some readers of this text have used it to confirm them in their prejudices, to limit God’s welcome, and close the door on people who are ‘not like them.’ But Revelation will not allow us to do this. The gates of the city will never be shut. ‘Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift’ (22.17). If Revelation does not make us more committed in our discipleship and more generous in our invitation to others, it has not done its work.
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