On Preaching Revelation

I am nearing the end of preaching through the book of Revelation, and it has been something of a revelation. First of all, it is far easier to preach than most preachers think it is. Reformed preachers have neglected this book wrongfully. The book is a tremendous encouragement to Christians living in a world where the wrong seems oft so strong. Christians have blinkers on, and they can only see the trouble that is right before them. Revelation lifts them out of that blinkered existence to see how it all turns out. Seeing the end of the story has a profound effect on how we live in the meanwhile.

To compare and contrast with other sections of the canon, I find preaching through any of Paul’s letters to be absolutely exhausting. Paul’s thought is so dense, that unless you take a Puritan-speed approach, you have to decided constantly what you are going to leave out. With Revelation, that is unnecessary. Instead, you help people to understand the imagery. I have found that applying the text of Revelation is generally fairly easy, as well. The application of the main point of Revelation (see point 5 below) is that since Jesus Christ is going to win, we should live as people who are on the winning side (not to mention that we should be on the winning side!).

Part of the joy of preaching Revelation has been helping people realize that Revelation is actually much simpler than most people think it is. Now, if you are a dispensational premillenial interpreter, then Revelation is exceedingly complex indeed. However, for your average, run of the mill Amillenial interpreter, Revelation is governed by very simple principles. 1. The Old Testament controls all the imagery, since the imagery comes from the Old Testament. 2. According to Revelation 1:1, Revelation communicates through the use of symbols (see Beale’s commentary on this point). 3. Therefore, the default interpretive mode should be symbolic, not literal. 4. The reason why Revelation shouldn’t become a wax nose is principle number 1. 5. The main point of Revelation is that Jesus Christ is going to win. 6. Any attempt to apply the text to only one sector of the Christian church, or only one era of the Christian church is doomed to fail. This makes overly preterist or overly futurist views untenable. The text needs to apply to the first-century readers, to the church in the interim, to us, and to the final days. This doesn’t mean that we understand the meaning of the text to be so all-inclusive all of the time. However, it does mean that we should be reluctant to limit the meaning of the text to one time period.

Fortunately for Reformed preachers, there are plenty of excellent resources out there to help understand the text. Pride of place goes to Beale’s magnificent volume. It is the first port of call, especially because no one explores the Old Testament allusions as thoroughly and helpfully as he does. I have then found Dennis Johnson, Vern Poythress, James Resseguie, Craig Koester, James Hamilton, Paul Gardner, Derek Thomas, Doug Kelly, Michael Wilcock, and Steve Wilmshurst to be the most helpful after Beale for preaching purposes. There is no excuse for Reformed pastors neglecting this important book. It ties together all the threads of biblical revelation. It is much easier than most think it is. There are plenty of resources out there to help. To any pastors who have been holding back, jump in!

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