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Reading Revelation: JCS 3/2 shipping soon.

Volume 3 issue 2 of the Journal of Christian Studies is shipping soon! Below is a list of contributors and an excerpt from the article provided by Ben Witherington III.

Subscribe now to receive this issue!


Allan J. McNicol (Austin Graduate School of Theology, retired; Center for Christian Studies), "The Significance of the Apocalypse."

Ben Witherington III (Asbury Theological Seminary), "The Book of Revelation: What It Is Meant to Be and What It Is Meant to Do."

Garrett Best (York University), "The Old Testament in the Apocalypse of John: Revelation and Ezekiel."

Justin M. Rogers (Freed-Hardeman University), "The Rhetoric of Religious Compromise: Early Judaism, 'Balaam,' and 'Jezebel' in the Apocalypse of John."

Keith D. Stanglin (Center for Christian Studies), "Worthy of Worship: The Deity of Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation."

Jan Fekkes III (Fuller Theological Seminary), "Scorched Earth Warfare in the Book of Revelation and The Lord of the Rings."

James S. Bury (Harding University, retired), "Select Annotated Bibliography on the Book of Revelation."



The Book of Revelation: What It Is Meant to Be and What It Is Meant to Do.

Ben Witherington III

In his usual clear and succinct style, C. S. Lewis once said in his A Preface to Milton’s Paradise Lost: “The first qualification for any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is and what it is intended to do and how it is meant to be used.” As the locale of this quote shows, Lewis himself is mostly concerned with the issue of literary genre, the discernment of what sort of literature he is reading, and what the author is trying to say and do with it. And there is no book in the Bible that is in more need of that kind of literary discernment than the book of Revelation, which has been so abused and misunderstood over many centuries that even so great a commentator as John Calvin, after writing commentaries on the rest of the New Testament, decided not to write a commentary on it.

So, what exactly is the book of Revelation? Sometimes it is helpful to first say what it is not. It is not a tract meant primarily for twenty-first-century Christians to discern their current situation and future in any specific way, other than to say, “Leave the issues of justice in God’s capable hands, and he will resolve them,” and “Yes, Jesus is coming back in God’s time like a thief in the night, which is to say at an incalculable time, and the redeemer of the world will also be the judge of the world, bringing in his kingdom on earth fully as it is in heaven.” The book does not engage in timetables, nor is it about some pre-tribulation or mid-tribulation rapture of Christians into heaven. The Left Behind series needs to be—wait for it—left behind, if one wants to understand this book.

The subject matter of this book is salvation history and how God will bring human history to a proper conclusion in regard to all issues of justice and mercy, holiness and salvation, and, of course, the new creation. The final destiny of Christians is not somewhere out there in heaven; it is right back here on earth after Jesus raises the dead and recreates our whole habitat. God is coming down to live permanently with us. We will not be beamed up for an eternity in heaven in a bodiless state. Material creation—both humans and earth—is to be redeemed, not left behind. And in the meantime, “overcoming” amounts to persevering in the faith faithfully even unto martyrdom, if it comes to that. Christians will not be exempt from whatever persecution, prosecutions, or executions may come our way.  The message of Revelation is not “let’s take up arms and get ready to rumble,” but let’s prepare to take up our crosses and follow the road that the master went down, being faithful even until we, too, can say with our last breath: “It is finished.” Revelation is very clear: no one but Christ himself is worthy of unsealing those seven seals and judging the earth. We must leave that in God’s hands. God will vindicate the saints; it’s not our job as Christians.

As for literary genre, Revelation is a form of apocalyptic or visionary prophecy, which should be read in light of other Jewish apocalyptic prophecy such as Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. It is also like intertestamental books such as 1 Enoch, but, unlike those intertestamental works, it is not history masked as pseudo-prophecy. Those works are attributed to ancient saints like Enoch, Abraham, or Jacob, but in fact those saints did not write those books. It is history retrojected into their mouths to make it appear like future prophecy. Not so with the book of Revelation, which has a contemporary Christian author, John, exiled on the island of Patmos, and writing to his seven churches in Asia Minor.

Perhaps the most important thing to be said about Revelation is that it must in the first place be interpreted in light of its original historical contexts and in light of its intended literary genre. The text had a meaning for its original audiences—all of it, not just Revelation 2–3. They knew it had to be interpreted in light of other early Jewish apocalyptic books in the Old Testament, and they knew how visionary prophecy was supposed to be read. Its subject matter was not cosmology or geography but rather theology, ethics, and in particular salvation history. It is written to a minority religious group, namely first-century Christians, facing persecution, and sometimes even prosecution (as clearly happened to John in exile), and finally execution (as in the case of Antipas). Its major message for them is a message of comfort—persevere in the faith, knowing that God is in control of human history, and in due course justice will be done, vindication will happen for the persecuted saints, and the kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven in God’s good time....


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