Monday, January 25th, 2021
Yesterday I went to a nearby church to hear a twenty-something-year-old pastor preach. His message ranks as one of the best I have heard in a long time. He preached about the urgent necessity of self-disciplined discernment — discernment pertaining to various news sources, including both broadcast news companies and social media. Although I think he may have avoided the actual word gullible, in effect he urged his congregants not to be gullible news recipients. He encouraged them to seek out the most-factual, least-biased news reporting possible, while insisting that there is no such thing as a completely objective source. He also suggested they choose to listen to diverse and contrarian voices, lest they only hear one bias on a given narrative. It was all very timely and wise advice, especially coming from such a young pastor. I thought he was quite courageous to wade into such a potentially volatile topic from the pulpit. My chief regret about his message had nothing to do with him. I mostly regret that more people were not present to hear his message. He spoke to a very small crowd.
If I had been tasked with giving the same message, I would have toyed with whether to talk about how we are to discern the times in which we live. His concern and mine do overlap somewhat, but are not one and the same. In his message, my young pastor friend was concerned about how we hear the news, that is, about what we perceive to be true and accurate news. I am concerned about that, as well. Doubtless, getting our facts straight is crucially important. Yet I am even more concerned about the grander, broader narrative in which we insert the various factoids which we glean from the daily or weekly news.
To make my point here, I will use a river analogy. Imagine you are kayaking or canoeing on an unfamiliar river. Various people along the way shout bits of information to you about your immediate situation or your immediately-impending situation. One somewhat-suspicious character yells out, “Beware! There are lots of hungry alligators just ahead!” Another equally-suspicious person counters with, “The fishing hole just around the bend is absolutely fantastic! You should stop a while and fish there.” Whom do you believe? Should you pause to do some fishing or hurry along to avoid voracious alligators? Obviously, it matters greatly whom you choose to believe. But another, even more important consideration would be the anticipated end of the river itself. What if there are treacherous rapids and a dangerous waterfall ahead? Or what if the river empties soon into a placid lake or a beautiful ocean? Knowing that either scenario is true (or at least likely) will change your kayaking calculus quite a bit.
If the first scenario were believed to be true — if you suspected that treacherous rapids and a dangerous waterfall were soon ahead of you — it might be high time to get to the next dock, regardless of the voracious alligators or the prospect of fine fishing. Neither reputed fact would be as important as getting to the next dock.
Alternatively, if the second scenario were believed to be true — if you suspected that the river soon ends in a placid lake or a beautiful ocean — your one aim might be to push ahead and push through, regardless of the alligators or the prospect of a fine fishing hole.
In either case, your anticipated end can significantly change how you perceive your immediate situation or your immediately-impending situation.
Does the Book of Revelation tell us anything about the end of the river? Does the Book of Revelation help us discern when the end of the river is near? Consider that question carefully. How you answer it might determine how you respond to the news reports you hear.
I argue that the Book of Revelation does help us discern when the end of the river is near. Indeed, I would assert that the Book of Revelation was given to the Church for that very reason. God wants us to be able to discern the End of the Age as it draws near. If that claim comes across as wacky or weird to you, my counter-question would simply be, “Then among the other books of the New Testament, do you believe the Book of Revelation has a unique and distinct purpose? If so, what do you believe that purpose to be?” Again, I believe that the Book of Revelation is in the Bible to help the Church discern the times, and especially to help us recognize when the End is near. To say so is by no means a claim to establish an exact date, but is instead to claim that God has done us the favor of giving the watchful a descriptive and specific heads-up. Otherwise, the Book of Revelation seems to serve little-to-no discernibly distinctive purpose in comparison to the rest of the Bible, other than to perhaps confound and perplex interpreters. If that last sentence is an overstatement, I hope it still carries my point.
Now, to be very specific about the time in which we find ourselves, I wonder if (and even strongly suspect that) we are living in a prophesied period in which the Church appears to be defeated and done. Does Revelation actually teach that the Church will appear to be defeated? That is exactly how I read Revelation 11:1-10. And if it matters to my readers or listeners, a lot of other well-respected interpreters read this passage precisely the same way, which is to say that my interpretation here is not obscure, nor lightly dismissed. Major interpreters understand the Two Witnesses figuratively, just like me. They say the Two Witnesses must be the Church. Immediately before the Two Witnesses are resurrected and taken to heaven, the Witnesses are somehow conquered and killed by the Beast from the Abyss. Do not misunderstand me here. I am not saying that we should all expect to be killed. This is a figurative interpretation, and not a literal interpretation. Not every Christian dies; we know that from other passages in the New Testament, such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. But the Church of Christ will appear so defeated to its enemies that they will exult in celebration over their triumph, and even exchange gifts with one another. The more I see the Church persecuted around the world — persecuted both politically and culturally — the more I wonder if this is all happening right before our eyes. But to come to such a conclusion does require a figurative reading of Revelation 11:1-10, not a literal reading.
If my readers and listeners are willing to entertain the possibility that my suggested reading of Revelation 11 might be correct and may fit our current time, then I would suggest that the practical implications are straightforward. We need to be calling people to repentance, while there is still time for them to repent. Granted, if anyone does run with this interpretation, she or he might come across as “a bit much” to those around them. Therefore, one has to decide how to approach others. I choose to blog about it.