So over the past few weeks, I’ve done a lot of background for studying the book of Revelation as part of my Difficult Passages series. Below I’ll briefly list out what I’ve covered before looking at the actual text this week.
First, I gave a brief introductory note, where I described the overarching views of the book.
Then, I looked at different views of history, most of which fit in the “futurist” view, which led to
Finally, last week, I talked about how John, and other Christian Apocalyptic writers, use language like some rappers, including Jay-Z.
A word of warning
Revelation, even with all this background, can get confusing. What I am going to offer over the next few weeks is my particular interpretation. It is by no means undisputed. It is, however, one that does justice to the book of Revelation within its own particular genre, something which many interpretations fail to fully consider. I happen to think it is correct, but I am not so arrogant as to believe that it must be correct, and agree that, within certain limits, it is something we can (and possibly should) debate (respectfully) about.
With that said there is a helpful graph, done by someone else, for understanding Revelation, available here.
Into the text: Soon is not soon
Today, I’m going to be very brief (as it is something of a re-introduction) with my examination. In chapter 1, John says, in verse 1, that the things he describes “must soon take place,” and, in verse 3, that “the time is near.” What? I though this was about the future. Well, there is the option to take a preterist, or partial preterist view, which I describe in this post, but that isn’t particularly satisfactory, particularly when you look at the last few chapters which can only be describing the end of the world, which would not be close to John’s time. So what does he mean?
I think we need to understand how time worked for the early church. We tend to think of time as a straight linear progression, and I can already hear the Dr Who references coming in, but resist the urge.
Instead, the early church saw time in two distinct ways: chronos, which is how we tend to think of time, and kairos, which is usually interpreted as “opportune time.” However even “opportune time” misses the point a bit. To be sure kairos is the word used in verse 3. Really, it has less to do with “time” as a set of cause and effect events, and more to do with a period characterized by some aspect.
So, for instance, when I am recalling the time I started dating my wife, I could say “oh, back in 2002…” but even then, my timing isn’t precise. I mean I met her in 2001, I did go on an awkward non-date date in September of 2002, we actually started dating shortly thereafter, but I didn’t really date her as my future spouse until 2003 (I mean I was intentional in dating before, but really intentional then). And we were engaged the following year, so she really was externally my future spouse, and we kept dating after we were married the following year. Now at which point could I say I started dating my wife? In chronos time I would need to make some decision was to what counted as “Dating as my wife” and what didn’t. Then I could pin point it. However, all of that occurred when I was in college. So, I usually just say “back when we started dating, when I was at OBU….” Now, precision isn’t as strong here, but accuracy is. Even then, though, I don’t use that language for accuracy’s sake. I just don’t think of the years as much as I do the period of time I was there. That was my “in college” time. We do this frequently, such as referring to when we lived at “that” house, or dating time “BC” and “AC” (Before Children, After Children). Our time was characterized in a specific way, by certain overarching events.
That is how to understand kairos. John is saying these eschatological (that word means “end of time”, and I’ll be using it a lot), things are near, and Christ’s reign is near. He’s not confused or mistaken about the intervening (almost) 2000 years. He’s talking about a different time that is running counter to the time of this world. The kingdom of God is near and will soon occur, and, because it is characterized by Jesus’ resurrection, it is an end of the world (eschatological) sort of Kingdom. Thus Christ’s reign and the end of the world are always “near” in that sense. In many ways, then, Revelation is a call to shift your kairos from “this present evil age” to “the Kingdom of God.” It is near, and not far from you. For you to overcome, these things must soon take place.
Side note: Not every week will be so focused (here only on 3 verses), but I will try to hit the highlights and the overarching trajectory of the book, as well as address most of the more troubling or difficult bits.