Thursday Morning, May 28th, 2020
“Why bore people with long historical sketches, and not actually say much about the Book of Revelation itself?” A candid friend recently challenged me with a variant of this question.
In response, I will start by saying that the historical stuff does not bore me. In college, I was a history major. Personally, I enjoy doing the historical research and presenting what I learn. It’s fun for me. But I realize not everyone else wants to hear all the history. All the historical stuff might come across as unnecessary and irrelevant. I will try to make it seem more relevant.
A second response is this: A solid understand of Revelation really does require knowledge of what has happening when Revelation was first written and first heard, about 96AD. I do you no disservice by giving you information about evil Emperor Domitian. He sent John into exile. His policies resulted in the difficulties and the persecution loosed upon the seven churches in Roman Asia. Domitian instigated the historical circumstances behind the Book of Revelation.
A third and important response would be this: What happened then is going to happen again, albeit under different circumstances and with a different cast of characters. History does indeed rhyme. We are supposed to be on the lookout for someone like Domitian. We are supposed to be on the lookout for deceivers and imposters. Revelation speaks not just of the past, but also of the future. Revelation points to the past to show us what the future will hold.
Furthermore, sometimes tyrants and dictators do come along resembling Domitian. There are several on the world stage right now. They behave a lot like Emperor Domitian behaved. They make life difficult for the Christians under their dominion. They insist that Christians toe the party line and sing the party’s song — literally. It is happening right now. But if you do not know about Antiochus and Domitian, the significance of it will not register with you. So I do you no disservice by giving you historical information about Domitian. And I intend to tell you more about Antiochus Epiphanes in a future post.
Please stick with me. The temptation you will face is to think I am just an ignorant blowhard bent on rambling. Even if I take tangents and go directions that seem irrelevant, please stick with me. I am going somewhere with it. You will come away with a better sense of how to read both Revelation and history, including today’s current events. It is not irrelevant. Revelation is not irrelevant at all. Many of the prophecies of Revelation are playing out before our very eyes. And if we read Revelation carefully, we will recognize it. And we will be ready for what may come, if we just have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
That does not mean that everything I say will be one hundred percent right. No one can claim that. I may get some things wrong along the way. Revelation requires extensive interpretation. Interpreters sometimes make mistakes. But just because some interpreters mess up does not mean that the study of Revelation is only for crazies and quacks. Revelation actually belongs in the Bible. It is intended to be a blessing to the readers and the hearers. I urge you to listen to it. The Spirit is speaking to the churches through it. We ignore it at our own peril.