I feel weird admitting that I love John’s Apocalypse.
Everyone knows that crazy people love the Apocalypse, and I don’t want people to know I’m a crazy person.
So it seems reckless to openly admit to a lifelong fascination with the strangest book of the Bible. But when push comes to shove, I really do love the book of Revelation.
Here are three reasons why:
A lot of biblical books have puzzles and such in them—like the book of Proverbs, for example, or the parables of Jesus—but only Revelation amplifies the puzzle aspect of interpretation so that it becomes the dominant feature of the book.
In this way, Revelation is a book largely written for scripture/theology nerds like me, readers and students who are interested in tracking down the obscure bits. It’s a work of careful theology and fascinating structure, not a haphazard collection of mystical dreams scribbled down for later.
But if you don’t look closely, you might come away with the negative impression that the book is just another lunatic apocalypse.
It holds the whole Bible together.
There are lots of different genres in the Bible—wisdom literature, apocalyptic prophecy, normal prophecy, history, gospels, laws, poetry.
Revelation is the lynchpin of the whole thing. It references not only the history and expectations of Israel in the Old Testament, but also affirms the fulfillment of those expectations in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the ongoing activities of the Christian church.
Without Revelation, I suspect that what we call the “canon” would look very different, because it would leave the Church open to an entirely different eschatological vision of the past, present, and future—one that doesn’t revolve around a crucified and suffering messiah.
It’s really, really about Jesus.
And I don’t mean just in a future “he-might-come-back-some-day” kind of way.
For readers who approach the Apocalypse as a collection of oracles about the historical Jesus—his mission in life and his accomplishments in death and resurrection—Revelation has a lot to offer.
Initially, my love affair with Revelation ushered in a personal crisis of faith. It forced me to fundamentally rethink what I believed about Christianity and the nature of the Bible.
But over the course of years, the long-term study of Revelation brought me to a deeper faith in the biblical Jesus. To be honest, I had been unable to approach Jesus in this way until I released my desires and expectations for the Bible, and considered the Apocalypse in earnest.
As it so happens—when it’s grouped together with the New and Old Testament—John’s “Revelation of Jesus Christ” really does reveal that the mysterious and powerful thing we call the Bible actually does revolve around a crucified Jewish prophet from Nazareth.
Thanks for reading! Based on my long-term relationship with the Apocalypse and research conducted at UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union, I’ve written a short commentary on Revelation called “The Apocalyptic Gospel: Mystery, Revelation, and Common Sense.” It discusses these issues and more at greater length, with thorough reference to a wide array of academic and religious authorities. I hope you’ll think about taking a look!