Is Revelation About the End-Times As Much As We Think It Is?

In addition to being a minister, I’m also a Sheriff’s Deputy, albeit reserve. I receive no remuneration, and I haven’t gone through the academy. I qualify annually with my firearm to carry it on duty. I have a badge, and for all intents and purposes, I have the same powers as full-time deputies with a few exceptions: those being warrantless arrests in domestic violence scenarios and DUI’s, since the latter requires specialized training. Nevertheless, our Sheriff is cautious that we Reserve Deputies are always with a road unit, and in special details, we often are in the background as secondary support. I’ve worked at the judicial building for security, schools as a resource officer, and have ridden along with road units. When I’ve ridden along, there have been a few times that I’ve been with a deputy, and we’ve been in what’s to me a sticky situation. In one particular detail, we were working an area where a party was ongoing. As the party dispersed into the wee hours of the morning, gunshots rang out. I’ve heard gunfire many times, but this time was different. We were facing a possible stand-off. My adrenaline rushed, and honestly, I became a little anxious because I’d never been in that situation before. I won’t lie, I was worried. What gave me comfort, however, was that I was with an experienced deputy who’s also a man of faith and what we might call a hard-charger. He’s a good man dedicated to justice and peace, and if I was ever in a dangerous situation, he’s the guy I’d want nearby. That was comforting.  

Anytime we as Christians enter uncharted, disastrous waters, we can rest assured that we’ve not been abandoned by the Lord. We can face hardship, and sometimes our difficulties may lead us to feel this way. The Christians in Asia undoubtedly must have felt this way. Some were in prison (Rev. 2:10), and one particular saint, Antipas, had already been put to death (Rev. 2:13). History has it that Antipas was a bishop in Pergamum. Remember when I said that the persecution usually began with the leaders of Christianity? This is one such case in point. The sad tradition of his death is that he was roasted to death inside a brazen bull in 92 CE, during Domitian’s reign. This traumatic event would have led many of the Christians to believe they were next since one of their leaders had been put to death for the faith. Jesus told the Philadelphians that they were going to be kept from the trial that was coming upon the world (Rev. 3:10), the beheaded souls cried for vengeance (Rev. 6:9–10), and the harlot was drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs (Rev. 18:24; 19:2). Things were terrible indeed. Comfort was needed, and John would see what the saints needed most to hear.   

A Heavenly Perspective  

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). However, it’s hard to keep this in mind when the battles we seem to face are waged in the flesh. If we as Christians turn our thoughts heavenward, as we should, we will be less fearful and more faithful. First, we note that God is sovereign over time and history. Therefore, anything that occurs on earth at any time does so under the enthroned Lord whose rule supersedes even the kings of the earth, the very officials who afflict you. We reign with Him in His kingdom, and we minister to Him in His kingdom (Rev. 1:4–6). Now, as we cull through Revelation, this won’t be a verse-by-verse, exposition, so while some of the symbols can be explained, my goal isn’t to explain each and every symbol, but to capture the overall message which is one of comfort and hope amid trial.  

Second, what John sees after being instructed to write the book is genuinely marvelous. Jesus is standing, dressed as high priest, alongside a menorah (Rev. 1:12–13). He’s with and among His people in their suffering, and He’s both powerful enough to hold the constellation in the same hand that is gentle enough to comfort a frightened John (Rev. 1:16–17). This Lord lived, died, and is alive to never die again. His resurrection was death’s deathblow, and His ascension and enthronement give Him power over even Hades and Death itself (Rev. 1:18). The horrific things happening right now that are to happen are not so great that Christ the King is defeated. He has already won the victory, and He’s with and among not only His bride but the messengers of each of them (Rev. 1:20).   

It Won’t Be Long 

One thing we all wonder is how long the horror will last. There are always so many questions that arise during struggles and hard times. No one but God Himself knows the answer. All we can do is look at what God told the Christians in Asia. He said to them that “the time is near” (Rev. 1:3; 22:10), these things “must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1; 22:6), and that He was “coming quickly” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). This doesn’t sound like something that’s to occur over two-thousand years beyond the time John gave this Revelation. Daniel was told to seal up his vision because it referred to many days from his time (Dan. 8:26): “Therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.” He was also told that the book was to remain sealed “until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4). As time went on, knowledge would increase as to the culmination of these prophecies. He was urged to go his way because the words of his prophecy were “sealed till the time of the end” (Dan. 12:9). Studying history, along with Daniel’s prophecy, reveals that it was not for another four hundred years that those kingdoms came, which he had been told of (cf. Dan. 2). Therefore, Daniel would not live to see the fulfillment of the prophecies, hence his being instructed to seal the book. So the sealing of a book of prophecy looked ahead to a distant period. When John wrote Revelation, the angel told him to not seal the words of his book (Rev. 22:10). Why? Because “the time [was] at hand.” If Daniel’s prophecy saw fulfillment some four hundred years later, and he was told to seal the book, would not John’s prophecy have been fulfilled long before the same period since he was told to not seal his book? 

A concern arises: “But Christ said He was coming quickly.” Does this mean that Jesus lied? No, because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). What it means is that we’ve misunderstood what Jesus was saying. We’ve always taken this phrase and applied it to His second coming, but Christ didn’t always use it this way. He used it concerning the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in 70 CE (Mark 13:26; Matt. 24:30; Luke 21:27). This particular phrase was borrowed from Daniel 7:13–14, and it didn’t envision the Son of Man coming to the earth, but ascending to the Ancient of Days, God Himself. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is poised against the Temple establishment of the time and often contends with the Temple priests and ways. His foretelling of the destruction of the Temple would be His vindication, proof that He was Lord and Christ and seated at the right hand of Majesty. It wouldn’t be that one would peer out their window and see the Lord descending, but that the destruction of the Temple would be proof of His kingship. Similarly, the soon coming of Christ in Revelation would be His vindication and that of His kingdom, the church.  

Put it this way, just a chapter earlier in Daniel, the prophet was in the lion’s den. He was clearly among beasts for devouring. The next morning when the king came to see if he’d survived, he noted that the lions had not harmed him at all. The king ordered Daniel to be lifted from the lion pit, and once he ascended from the lion’s pit, he was given the status of ruler of the kingdom. Similarly, Christ would ascend to heaven at the right hand of Majesty, and those who doubted who He was would find out that He had in truth been exalted once the Temple was destroyed. That was His vindication. In Revelation, He uses this same turn of phrase from the gospels which derived from Daniel, and it isn’t speaking about His literal second coming, but His vindication among those who persecute His church. This is the language that especially Jewish Christians would understand, and they would know that it derived from Daniel and pointed to an exaltation, not the actual second coming.  To answer the question: Revelation is somewhat about the end times, but not as much as it’s often made out to be. 

How Sophocles Can Help Us In the Age of BLM

One thing the humanities instilled in me was the ability to listen. I’m invited into a conversation, even if I happen to disagree with what’s written. The earliest engagement came from my first semester in my doctoral studies when I read Sophocles’ Theban Cycle, specifically, Antigone. What does a fifth century BCE Greek playwright have to say that could help me be a better listener? That’s a great question.   

The crux of the issue in Antigone revolves around the treatment of the corpse of Polyneices, Antigone’s brother. Contrasted with Polyneices was his brother Eteocles, who fought for the city of Thebes while the former fought against the city, thus garnering a traitor’s status by King Creon. According to law, the burial custom gave honor to the dead and rest for their ghost. What the context of this tragedy reveals is the equal respect for a Grecian citizen regardless of fidelity to the state.

The rebellion of Polyneices against the city of Thebes was undoubtedly a treacherous act. During the rule of Creon, Thebes was defending itself, and during this defense, Polyneices perished. Although, Creon thought Polyneices’ status as a traitor removed from him the honor of a proper burial. Tiresias was careful to point out to Creon that “a dead man’s body left unburied [and] defiled” was a dishonor regardless of the status of patriot or traitor.

The reader can readily sympathize with Creon’s feelings of not wanting to treat a traitor with the same respect as they would a patriot. Creon stated, “Those who are loyal to the city deserve respect when they are alive and every honor when they die.” Regarding Polyneices, Creon pronounced, “His corpse shall be left for carrion birds and dogs to foul and feed on.” His sentiment sounds reasonable. Creon had the authority to “make the laws that apply to both the living and the dead,” a higher law abounded, that of the gods.

Creon reasoned according to what he thought the gods would approve. He said the burial of a traitor was “offensive to heaven” while Antigone maintained that she would suffer “for having shown the laws of heaven reverence.” Creon observed that if the traitor prevailed, he would have likely burned the temples of the gods and their sacred altars. Creon went as far as to swear by Zeus to put to death the one who buried the traitor’s corpse. Therefore, Creon believed he was doing the will of the gods by exposing the traitor’s body.

In religion, the will of the gods always reigns supreme to that of human intellect (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9). Moreover, at times human intuition based upon a perceived grasp of their god’s holiness and will fails because what they understood to be the will of their god was the complete opposite (cf. Lev. 10:1-3; 1 Chron. 13:9-10; et. al.). Had Creon indeed sought to please the gods, should he not have inquired about the disposal of Polyneices’ body? What is strikingly apparent is that Creon acted based on emotion in declaring his judgment while Antigone acted within the will of the gods. What further vindicated Antigone’s actions were those corroborating interpretations of the gods’ will.

Haemon described Antigone’s deed as a “pious action” thus indicating her adherence to the god, Hades. Even Creon acknowledged her reverence for Hades and his laws in his anger. Creon said she should place her trust in Hades or else learn “that all her piety is useless.” What solidified Antigone’s actions was Tiresias’s words to Creon: “You do not rule over life and death. You cannot keep here what belongs to the gods below, a corpse, unburied, obscene … Therefore, will Furies attend you, relentless avengers dispatched from Hades.”

Perhaps the overarching principle that eluded Creon was that once dead, a person belonged to Hades. To reject Hades’ will by refusing to bury the dead was to reject the collective will of the gods in respect to their realms of dominion. Tiresias seemed to accost Creon’s actions in refusing the gods of the dead by leaving Polyneices’ body open to scavengers. While a man is mighty and influential on earth, he does not rule “Hades’ relentlessness,” but “when he honors the gods’ laws, his city stands proud, but when he ignores them, what of his city?”

In summation, the body of the dead traitor still deserved its due honor to please the gods, specifically Hades, since this was his realm. No clear stipulations appear to justify Creon’s actions and prohibit Antigone’s other than Creon’s mandate, which did not supersede the gods’ laws. Therefore, the dead, patriot or traitor, was to receive equal honor in burial rites.

This tragedy allows the reader to be the proverbial fly on the wall. We hear Creon’s frustration and plan for a traitor, which most of us might agree with, and Antigone’s reverence for the will of the gods. We’re privy to a back-and-forth over the merits of each position only to wonder who is right. Is there an absolute truth? Yes, but it depended on the zeitgeist of ancient Greece. Chief above all to the ancient Greeks was the intertwining of the state and its religion. Unlike our modern separation of church and state, ancient city-states in Greece would have thought such peculiar. The gods were responsible for the city-state’s success, and everyone, even the king, was indebted to them. In their time, the will of the gods reigned supreme. 

For us in the era of Black Lives Matter, we’d do well to listen. As for myself, the will of God, the Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, His will is chief among all. Sadly, not everyone agrees on the validity of the complaints from the black community. It’s because they’re either fueled by bigotry, a political party, or a separate ideology that permits dismissing those griefs. Nevertheless, we can all listen, and we should. 

When John Received the Revelation

Years ago, in my first ministry, I was mid-stride of my sermon on a Sunday evening when I noticed that one of my elders, an elderly man, was head-back, mouth-opened, and, to me, looked dead. “What do I do? What if he’s dead? What if he isn’t dead? All these questions ran through my mind as my cadence slowed. What made matters worse, he couldn’t hear thunderclap if it were right on top of him. What was I to do? As I continued preaching, I happened upon a point in my sermon that I could build. Nay, I could crescendo! For those unaware, a crescendo is when in music, the score may start soft, or piano, and build and build. My voice built and built as with passion, I preached the Word! Nothing. “Oh no, he’s died in worship!” I thought. What could be worse? Do I stop preaching and point this out? His wife was right beside him but so fixed on what I was saying she didn’t even notice. “I know: I’ll pound on the pulpit!” As I’d reached the heights of my vocal projection, I worked in a timely “pound!” on the pulpit like a gospel preacher of old. Slowly, he revived. “He’s not dead! Thank you, God!!!”  

You could ask any preacher about the things they’ve seen from the pulpit, and you’ll hear some exciting stories. Some would be funny, others just sad. Imagine, however, you’re on an island in worship one Sunday, and God gives you a revelation. This is what happened to John the Divine, as he’s later called in church history. Tradition has it that John worshipped in a cave which is today referred to as The Cave of the Apocalypse, a popular pilgrimage site for those who would visit Greece. When he received his vision, John is reported to have dictated it to Prochorus, his disciple, and one of the first seven deacons from Acts 6:5What was John doing when he received this Revelation? Was he alone or with other Christians? These are all questions that interest us, and some to which we have nothing but to speculate, so we’ll stick with what we know.    

Setting the Scene  

We know that John was on the island of Patmos when he received the Revelation (1:9). How he came to be there isn’t altogether clear, but the most plausible explanation has been that he was sent to the island due to his evangelistic endeavors, which were perceived as a threat to the Roman Empire. One might wonder how the good news of Jesus might appear to threaten the mighty Roman Empire, but such a query is quickly answered by the fact that preaching Christ as Lord as much pitted Him against Caesar (Acts 17:7). The conversion of citizens amounted to an uprising, so the leaders of Christians, among whom was John, were targeted with the hopes that the movement would be quelled.  

We know that political opponents, or those out of favor with Caesar, were often exiled (Tacitus, Ann. 14.50; 15.71), and many have offered that Patmos was one such island to which they were sent, the Apostle John himself being one.1 That it was the apostle and not some other John that wrote the work is attested to as early as 166 CE by Justin Martyr (Trypho 81.15).2 Irenaeus, in 202 CE, offered that John received his revelation “towards the end of Domitian’s reign”3which was from 81–96 CE. If this is, in fact, accurate as many scholars suggest it is, we have a general time frame in which to set the writing, which may explain much of the material contained therein.4 Domitian was hostile to not only Christians, history records, but to even several senatorial families—murdering and exiling a number of them. This eventually led to his assassination and a formal condemnation from the senate, but, first, let’s back up a little farther 

The first formal Emperor of Rome, Augustus, undertook many religious reforms that resulted in an exaltation of the emperor cult. All first-century emperors favored it too, and Caligula, Nero, and Domitian provoked marks of adoration. Domitian insisted on having the title Dominus et Deus (“Lord and God”). Such worship proved one’s loyalty to the emperor as well as the wellbeing of Rome herself, and where of all places was the most robust center of the imperial cult but in Asia—the very place where John addressed the Revelation. In the ancient world, Asia had been the epicenter of emperor worship since Augustus, and these issues are likely what prompted the persecution and Revelation of John to surface.5  

We know where John was—in exile on Patmos—and we now turn to what he was doing when the Revelation came: he was ministering to the Lord, likely through prayer (Rev. 1:10; cf. Acts 13:1–3). Why do we surmise that he was ministering to the Lord? Because he notes that it occurred on the Lord’s Day or Sunday as we’d call it.6 On any given Sunday, Christians assembled to worship God. Since John was in exile, he might have only been with a small group, so the formal assembly, as we regard it, was somewhat absent. John, nevertheless, was still capable of worshiping God and while exiled and in worship, he likely was facing East as was the custom of the Jews and early Christians, and he “came to be in the Spirit” (cf. Acts 10:10; 22:17). John uses this phrase four times altogether in the Revelation: here in 1:10, when he’s taken to see the heavenly throne in 4:2, the prostitute Babylon in 17:3, and the New Jerusalem in 21:10. These visions follow the motif of Ezekiel, who also in exile received visions (Ezek. 11:24; 37:1).  

 What John Gave Us  

The next question is what John gave us: a blueprint of the end times as some believed? Or a message to those in the first century that they clearly would have understood? I certainly favor the latter. John told us at the very beginning what he was giving us: a book of prophecy (Rev. 1:3; cf. 22:7, 10, 18–19). In the first century, we know that prophets were in the church because they are listed second behind only the apostles who were heads of the church on earth in the Lord’s place (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). John makes reference to the prophets several times in this letter (Rev. 10:7; 16:6; 18:20, 24; 22:6, 9). Since John gave a book of prophecy, though confusing it may be at times, we must treat it as we would any other book of prophecy: historically and literarily.  

On the Western Front during the Great War, the allies were struggling against the Germans. Germany had tapped the allies’ phone lines and was able to break their codes. As American forces are working on a solution, a captain heard two of his soldiers speaking in a strange language. These two soldiers were Choctaw, and they were speaking their mother language. When the captain confronted them, they probably thought they were in trouble because, at the time, such was actually forbidden. They could have been sent to a reeducation program to rid them of using that mother language, but the captain figured that if he couldn’t understand them, then the Germans wouldn’t be able to either. As it turned out, the Germans couldn’t break the code. The war ended not too long after using the Choctaw Code Talkers, and in WWII, the Navajo Code Talkers would take center stage.  

Similar to how the Germans couldn’t break the Choctaw code, understanding Revelation is somewhat of a mystery. Because the visions are so mesmerizing and overwhelming shouldn’t mean that we should make the book say something it doesn’t. John inasmuch told us that these things were “signified” (Rev. 1:1). I know folks hold sincerely held beliefs about this speaking about the end times and the signs of the times, but here’s a reality we must face: we cannot use this book to determine when Jesus will come, because no one knows (Acts 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). What we know with certainty is that Jesus will come, and when He does, we best be ready.  

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