What If a Newspaper Reviewed the Book of Revelation?

ephesus-expose

Oh, hey, did you hear that another Left Behind movie is coming out in October? It’s sure to make the book of Revelation extra, super scary. Check out this official description:

“The most important event in the history of mankind is happening right now. In the blink of an eye, the biblical Rapture strikes the world. Millions of people disappear without a trace. All that remains are their clothes and belongings, and in an instant, terror and chaos spread around the world. The vanishings cause unmanned vehicles to crash and burn. Planes fall from the sky. Emergency forces everywhere are devastated. Gridlock, riots and looting overrun the cities. There is no one to help or provide answers. In a moment, the entire planet is plunged into darkness.”

Death! Destruction! Chaos! Terror! End Times Judgment!

AWESOME!

Man, Revelation sounds terrifying… that is, if such events linked to an actual rapture were actually going to happen.

I’ve already shared quite a bit about the book of Revelation in my book The Good News of Revelation. That book digs into the background of Revelation, particularly its audience.

The short version is that John wrote a book in a series of symbols in order to answer a very important question: Why are God’s people killed and oppressed by the Romans if Jesus is Lord?

As evidenced from the movie promotion, the Left Behind version of Revelation can turn God into a violent and angry monster hell bent on destroying the world—or at least the people who weren’t raptured. When I worked on A Christian Survival Guide I found that such violent depictions of God can become a huge barrier to faith.

How do we reconcile Jesus, who said, “My peace I leave with you” and a God who is about to send fire pouring down on the earth?

Well, there are lots of ways we could go about this. We could even look at the Bible, but sometimes a little bit of humor can help cut the tension.

Why not write up a fake book review of Revelation to snap us out of Left Behind terror?

 

Book Review from the Ephesus Exposé

“Sophomore Effort from Fisherman Casts Wide Net in Revelation by John of Patmos”

 

Dragons, beasts rising from the sea, and angel guides add elements of danger and mystery to the latest release from John of Patmos, even if they sometimes fall flat as familiar, pedantic tropes from Jewish “apocalypticisms” and the wildly speculative book of Daniel. John is clearly reacting to the stinging critiques of his previous eponymous release that used painfully simple Koine Greek and dragged over-wrought symbols and signs through each scene. If his microcosm of a “gospel” was too reductive, obvious, and heavy handed, his apocalypse veers toward the obscure and obstreperous with its grandiose literary aspirations and pantheon of religious symbols.

For all that is familiar and overused in Revelation, it’s a coruscating and provocative read that offers a new-age twist from John’s break-off Jewish sect of Nazarenes that reenacts a series of familiar, though sometimes tiring, biblical clichés such as the serpent vs. the woman and the plagues that precede the exodus. His opening epistolary warnings to a series of churches lends an air of urgency that drives home the many symbols of heavenly and earthly warfare that follow. No doubt his readers may puzzle over the identity of the Antichrist, but once again, John’s failure to develop this character only serves to expose his limitations as an author. For all of his faux sophistication, John of Patmos remains hooked on his humble origins and has yet to produce a work of literature that will endure beyond its two-week release period. Fascinating though John’s innovations may be, this humble laborer’s work still smells fishy.

– Flavius Josephus

Read more ridiculous parodies in A Christian Survival Guide—because everyone struggling to save their faith needs a good laugh, right?

Only a Western Christian Would Say the Church Is Declining

The Christian Post’s Cross Map blog has pointed out yet another “gem” in the ever-disappointing prophecy book genre. From the article:

“The Church in Prophecy and History” is a detailed commentary on the Book of Revelation, Chapters 1 through 3. It illuminates Jesus’s own predictions about the future of His church, and explains how the major events of church history fulfilled His prophecies.

Oh, good! Another commentary that reads the book of Revelation like a choose your own prophetic adventure guide rather than a book of sacred scripture. Despite Revelation clearly fitting into the apocalyptic genre of literature and specifically addressing seven historic churches–seven churches that we actually quite a bit about–interpreters persist in turning these historic churches into church ages that just happen to culminate with today’s church.

I wouldn’t normally waste my time even mentioning a commentary like this, but the article notes something that I found quite revealing about the state of American Christianity and how we interpret scripture. The Christian Post added a telling note about this Revelation “Commentary”:

It focuses on the current state of Christianity–how it arrived at its present weakened condition just before the beginning of the end times, and why it still has a victorious future. It issues a call to return to the simple and powerful message of the Bible and envisions a fresh effort to reach those in the younger generations who have not experienced the life-changing power of the Gospel.

Did you see that? Christianity is weakened and in decline before the return of Christ.

If you’re an Anglican in the UK or Southern Baptist Convention Christian in America watching declining attendance, especially among younger generations, such an observation about the decline of the church would possibly make sense. If you used right wing political gains as the markers of God’s influence, perhaps you’re feeling a bit discouraged after two terms under a Democratic president.

Even if the church was in decline, that’s not necessarily a sign of the end times, especially since it’s preposterous to read Revelation 1-3 as a series of “church ages” throughout history. Play connect the dots with the historical record all you want. It’s just not there. John was writing to seven historic churches. However, most importantly, it’s even more preposterous to argue that the church is in decline or is weakened.

Christianity is plenty influential in America still, and its is exploding in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. If you want to find the largest church in the world, it’s not in America. It’s in South Korea. If you wanted to learn from experienced church planters, you’ll learn a lot more from Christians in India, Cambodia, and China.

If you dared to suggest that the church is in decline, you’d have to explain to this global south and eastern Christians that their ministries don’t really count. You’d have to explain that the church only matters in the west. You’d have to tell them that good news for all people is only “really good” if white people in the west aren’t believing it. You’ll have to explain why you’re praying for a rapture to save you from a world that’s clearly rejecting the Gospel while they see new converts joining their ranks.

Only a Western Christian, most likely an American, could be so short-sighted to suggest that the church is in decline.

The church is growing. Jesus is setting people free. The Spirit is descending and changing lives. The Gospel is restoring lives and communities.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, Aslan is on the move.

Let’s join him and rejoice over his work around the world and ask how we can join in.

 

Want to Learn More about Revelation’s Message?

My book the Good News of Revelation recaptures John’s original message to the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and shows how that message continues to speak today about persevering through suffering, God’s triumph over evil, and the future restoration of earth. My co-author, Larry Helyer, is a life-long Bible scholar who specializes in New Testament background studies.

Good News of Revelation