This past Sunday, I concluded at 14 week adult Sunday School class (Listen Here) on the book of Revelation. Prior to teaching this class, I did 13 weeks on the book of Revelation in the Sr High Sunday School class. That means that for the past 6 months (give or take a few weeks), I have been swimming head deep in the Apocalypse. In all actuality, 14 weeks to teach Revelation is simply not enough time. I found myself thinking “I wish I had more time to go back and touch on this passage” more than once. I pray that in the future, the Lord will grant me another opportunity to teach and/or preach through this book, and if that happens, I’ll get the chance to touch on many things that got breezed over for the sake of time. For now, however, I do want to offer up some “closing thoughts” about the book of Revelation; some reflections and final remarks.
Teaching Revelation to the Youth vs teaching Revelation to the Adults:
I expect that teaching youth is a very different experience than teaching adults. But what I did not expect with Revelation was just how dramatically different this experience would be. First, in teaching the youth, it became very clear to me that we are in a post-dispensationalist era of the Church. The first week of both the youth and adult classes I asked, “What comes to mind when you think of the book of Revelation?” The adults were more than eager to offer up their thoughts. I would say an overwhelming amount of our adults were raised in Dispensationalism, knew that the Reformed Tradition is drastically different in that regard, and were eager to hear a Reformed/Historical perspective on the book.
The youth on the other hand? Nothing. They had no thoughts on the book at all other than some comments about how it seems very confusing with all the symbolism. In fact, when I brought up what were once “common thought” in Evangelicalism, ideas such as the rapture, a 7 year tribulation, even the entire “Left Behind” series, most students looked at me with puzzled looks. No one is truly a blank slate of course, but these kids were working with as close to a “tabula rasa” as one could get. On the one hand, this made my job very easy! The students simply accepted the things I was saying (for better or worse…) and the class ended up having a lot more discussion around application of the texts than interpretation. On the other hand, this left me very unprepared for what was ahead of me in teaching the adults. Sure, the first few weeks with the adults went off pretty easily. Then we got to Revelation 7 and the sealing of the 144,000. The next thing I knew, we were spending 3 weeks examining and discussing this passage. I learned after this that if I were to get through the material in the time I was given, I was going to have to do a better job at anticipating questions from folks who not only have been taught Dispensationalism their whole lives, but folks who were taught it very well!
Dispensationalism takes the Scriptures seriously:
I always knew that Dispensationalists were an ally in the “battle for the Bible”, but this class really helped give me a new appreciation for this reality. Whatever else I might say about Dispensationalism as an interpretive approach to the Bible, I will say that I find its proponents to be very serious about the Bible, and for that, I give thanks. As Dispensationalism slowly begins to fall out of favor in the West, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll be losing a powerful ally. I may disagree strongly with men like Charles Ryrie, but he believed that the Bible was the very Word of God, saw the doctrine of inspiration as a “close handed” issue, and was willing to die on that hill. We need men and women like that in the Church today, maybe now more than ever.
We don’t need to figure it all out:
As my teaching time with adults progressed, I found that I was being asked questions about portions of Revelation for which I simply didn’t have answers. To be fair, I did warn the class this would happen! But many of these questions arose from people being taught one thing about these portions of the text from a Dispensationalist perspective, wondering how they fit into a Reformed/Covenantal interpretation. Many times I could find answers. G.K. Beale’s 1500 page commentary on Revelation is extremely thorough! But, I did come to a point where I realized that if I didn’t have an exact answer concerning a certain portion of Revelation, that’s okay! It doesn’t uproot or shatter the interpretive approach to the book that I was teaching. Our understanding of Revelation is contingent upon how we read the whole of Scripture. We don’t interpret the Bible in light of Revelation, we interpret Revelation in light of the Bible. And there are certain things that we’d have to abandon to make a premillennial/Dispensational interpretation to Revelation work. Namely, our entire understanding of the history of redemption, the nature of covenants in the Scriptures, and the identity of the people of God. The only way a dispensationalist interpretation of Revelation works is by believing that the Church and Israel are not one, that they’re two separate peoples with their own sets of promises and covenants, and that ultimately, its all about the Jews. This is an idea that is not only foreign to the Reformed tradition, it’s foreign to the entire history of the Church until J Nelson Darby arrives on the scene in the 1800s. And this is why I say, “We don’t need to have it all figured out!” If a portion of Revelation perplexes us or confuses us, it doesn’t shatter our overall understanding of the book because our understanding of the book is built upon the sure foundation of the entire biblical narrative of Redemption.
The Bible is remarkably unified:
It was no mistake-although it was not planned by human minds-that as I began teaching Revelation to the youth, we began a new sermon series on the book of Genesis. And I can honestly say that almost every week throughout both the youth and adult class, whatever we were talking about in Revelation somehow connected with the sermon series. It was uncanny, to be honest! One of our elders commented to me after one class, “I appreciate how you and Pastor Troy are coordinating your Revelation class and the Sunday sermons”. I just had to laugh and admit that Troy and I weren’t coordinating at all! All this overlap was due 100% to the providential work of God. And for myself and many, it was an amazing testimony to the fact that the Scriptures truly are one great and grand story of redemption. How can we explain the idea that two books of the Bible that were written by two men, living thousands of years apart, one wandering in a desert outside of modern day Israel, the other imprisoned on a Greek Island in the Aegan sea, some 1300 miles away (as a man walks), are so connected with one another, so interwoven, so consistent with each other? No human mind could pull this off. The Scriptures truly are “breathed out by God”!
The main point is the same:
Whether you hold to Covenant theology, to Dispensationalism, whether you’re Pre-mil, Post-mil, Amil, whether you’re a Futurist, a Preterits, whatever your interpretive approach is, ultimately we all end up with the same conclusion to the book of Revelation: Christ wins. And that’s really the great hope for us all, isn’t it? Christ wins. All the enemies of Christ, all the enemies of God’s people-the beast, the false prophet, those who follow the beast, the harlot of Babylon, and ultimately, the Great Dragon are all defeated. Their fate is the same. Meanwhile, whether you believe that Israel and the Church are one people, or two separate brides, either way our fate is also the same-eternity with Christ in the New Creation, enjoying perfect, full and true communion with Christ and with one another, where God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes, death shall be more more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away. And that leads us all to join in the Apostolic proclamation, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”