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Friday, September 30, 2011

Reading Revelation

Our adult Sunday School class is working its way through the book of Revelation. Last week, we read the fifth chapter.

I came away from the study thinking that John's purpose is showing the Lord Jesus Christ as the proper focus for worship. The angels, living creatures, and elders before Christ's throne fall before him crying, "Worthy is the Lamb!" This is an echo of the doxology sung to the Father in Chapter 4. Jesus Christ, slain for our sins as the Lamb of God, risen and glorified, shares worship with the father, his seven horns (symbols of power) and eyes sending for the Spirit. Few other passages of Scripture underscore that Jesus Christ is God.

Jesus in Glory is not only the Son of Man figure from Daniel 7, whom we see again in Revelation 1. He is also the sacrifice for our sins. John's description of Jesus as the Lamb of God in both John 1 and Revelation 5 cannot have confused his earliest readers, who, as Jews living when the ministry of the Jerusalem Temple was still a living memory, would have known of its animal sacrifices, especially the ritual killing of the Passover lambs. The adored one who is worthy is the one whose shed blood covers the sins of his people and renders them worthy to approach and worship.

Jesus is also the one worthy to open the book with seven seals. What is this book? I take it as a symbol of the whole Scripture. This is because no other book of Scripture is as rich with reference to other portions of the Bible than Revelation. I remember Mormon missionaries during my youth who argued passionately that John's warnings in Revelation 22:18-19 referred only to John's own work. Yet this cannot possibly be true when Revelation shows a heavenly figure measuring the temple and those worshiping therein as in revelation; Jesus describing himself as beginning and end as YHWH does in Isaiah; the reminder of the covenanted community's status as kings and priests as mentioned in Exodus; worship scenes reminiscent of the building of Solomon's Temple and the Book of Psalms; strange beasts as in Daniel; and mention of the death and resurrection of Jesus as in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament. John knew what he was doing: he was putting the capstone on Scripture, and reading the whole through his knowledge of Jesus slain for our sins and triumphant over sin and death.

Perhaps the reason why our witness today lacks power is that our exposition of apocalyptic ignores the Gospel of Christ's finished work. Heaven sings in triumph before Jesus who shed his blood for sinners and conquered death for them. We on earth tremble and quake, as if we have no hope to share with those around us. May God forgive us.

The image reproduced above is the Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck.

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