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Understanding Prophecy in the Book of Revelation

Understanding Prophecy in the Book of Revelation

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Published by Lyle Brecht
Discussion of John of Patmos's use of prophecy in the Book of Revelation
Discussion of John of Patmos's use of prophecy in the Book of Revelation

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Published by: Lyle Brecht on Nov 30, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Before we can speak productively about the use of prophecy in the Book of Revelation, wemust understand to what use this prophecy is to be put by John of Patmos. First, John is usingprophecy to
 make known
, Rev 1:1) the details of eschatology – the working out ofhuman history according to divine plan. John’s theology, thus, is founded on the providence of
Lyle A. Brecht 27-Nov-07
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God, as revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only son, Christ Jesus.
But,the filter through which John is experiencing this divine providence is through
: arevelation that perceives that “(1) the present world order, regarded as both evil andoppressive, is under the temporary control of Satan and his human accomplices, and (2) thatthis present world order will be shortly destroyed by God and replaced by a new perfect ordercorresponding to Eden before the fall.”
Not only is the world as we know it coming to an end,but the prophetic message of John’s Revelation is to imaginatively make known what thiscoming
.John paints word-pictures for the listener that
 points to
his revelation. What John is makingknown are the
that the listener
as the end draws near.
Instead of the mythsof the Roman empire and worship of the state-of-being of the dominant worldview determiningone’s experience, John is substituting signs that paint new ‘world-pictures’ to break-through;
 to enable God/Christ, as sovereign, to decide on the real state-of-exception, the eschatologicalin-breaking of the kingdom of God.
In modern terminology, what the persecutors of the people
Lyle A. Brecht 27-Nov-07
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“‘Providence’… has to do with seeing what is before one, looking out ahead. To believe in theprovidence of God is to believe that notonly our individual lives but also history as a whole is under thesovereignty of One who is ‘looking out ahead,’ that Someone is in the driver’s seat of history…. ‘God isguiding history to a final goal.’” See M. Eugene Boring,
, Interpretation (Louisville, John KnoxPress), 35-6.
David E. Aune,
 Apocalypticism, Prophecy and Magic in Early Christianity 
(Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck,2006), 4. John is making known to his readers a
 realized eschatology 
where “events properly belongingto the
of the world are paradoxically experienced as
” (Aune, 1).
Boring, 64. “In their present form the visions are literary compositions based on John’s visionaryexperience, not merely descriptive reports of what he ‘actually’ saw and heard” (Boring, 27).
‘World-picture,’ according to Ludwig Wittgenstein, might be thought of as a frame or frameworkthrough which we look to discern what is real and what is not, and what is important, from our vantagepoint. Ultimately, this looking creates a “picture” of the world that we use to decipher new data. Newdata needs to “fit” this picture. It must ‘make sense’ within our world-picture. Otherwise, new data(ideas, experiences, paradigms) are nonsense, even though they may be ‘real’ in a larger sense.
Giorgio Agamben,
State of Exception
(Kevin Attell, trans.; Chicago & London: The University of ChicagoPress, 2005), 1-3. For John, like Saint Paul, the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the “cosmiceschatological event that separated ‘this age’… from the ‘age to come.’ Thus, the state-of-exception asdefined by the empire has been replaced by a new time, that of God’s “salvific benefits of the age tocome” experienced in the present (Aune, 9-10).
of God, and those who refuse God/the Christ as their sovereign experience is ‘blowback’ – theunimagined and unexpected consequences of their own actions; actions the dominant ruling-class of the day rationalized as
Oderint dum metuant 
(“Let them hate us so long as they fearus” – a slogan of Roman leaders from Cato to Caesar).
Essentially, John’s world-pictures ofthe End calls for a re-examination of the prevailing ethical system of the Empire
that ‘pledgesallegiance to the flag and all it stands for’ and moves towards a “healing of the world, known inHebraic theology as
tikkun olam
For, to John, that is what the purpose of the End is – to healthe world – God’s created order.
Secondly, which brings us to the real purpose of John’sprophecy that is to make known, “what kind of God is God?” exactly as many of the narrative
Lyle A. Brecht 27-Nov-07
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Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying “when the government fears the people, there is liberty; whenthe people fear the government, there is tyranny.” See Chalmers Johnson,
The Sorrows of Empire:Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic
(New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Co.,2004), 285, 298. This was picked up recently in the movie,
V for Vendetta
, a modern retelling of the Apocalypse and the end-time brought on by blowback and misplaced sovereignty.
For twenty-first century North Americans, the equivalency of ‘Empire’ as envisioned by John in hisRevelation is not necessarily a politically-defined place as much as a politically-determined, dominantworld-view that imagines a world where: (1) the individual is autonomous and is self-authorized topursue individual well-being, security, and happiness entirely as he/she so chooses; (2) where one of theprimary ways of pursing well-being, security, and happiness is by consuming resources without restraintor limit, subject to individual wealth,even at the expense of others in one’s community, and (3) a worldwhere it takes force, coercion, and/or violence to enjoy and protect the community of individualsexercising their freely chosen well-being, security, and happiness, and such force can rightfully beexerted without consideration as to the consequences to other communities. See Walter Brueggemann,
Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy 
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 718.
Barbara Miller,
Tell It On the Mountain: The Daughter of Jephthah in Judges II
, Interfaces (BarbaraGrundy, ed.; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005), 53.
John’s vision and prophecy are ultimately ethical in nature, much like many biblical stories where the“emphasis is not the development of moral qualities by following the example of biblical characters, butrather the growth of ethical perception which is produced as a result of entering into” the narrative worldthe biblical author has created for the listener to imagine him/herself inhabiting. See Athena E. Garospe,
Narrative and Identity: An Ethical Reading of Exodus 4
(Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2007), 5.

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