There is little in life more refreshing than hearing a level-headed perspective on an issue that most often invites craziness. So reading the second chapter of Michael J. Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly is feeling a bit like an afternoon spent reclining at the beach with an ice-cold Corona in your hand. OK, so not quite. But you get the idea.
Some folks get so worked up about the book of Revelation, reading it as though it were a cryptic road map to the end of the space-time continuum (as if anyone actually knew what that even meant). As if John were locked up in his cell on Patmos hoping that one day his book would lead Tom Hanks to the bowels of the Louvre. Sorry, am I confusing my ancient documents? Whatever. You get the idea. John’s vision had a purpose for his own day and age that would have made sense to his audience. We may benefit from Revelation, but it wasn’t originally written for us, like some cypher for determining a great and horrible future.
So, who’s ready for some doses of sanity?
On the basic function of apocalyptic literature (of which Revelation is an example):
To sustain the people of God, especially in times of crisis, particularly evil and oppression. Apocalyptic literature both expresses and creates hope by offering scathing critique of the oppressors, passionate exhortations to defiance (and sometimes even preparation for confrontation), and unfailing confidence in God’s ultimate defeat of the present evil (15).
On Revelation as prophecy:
Prophecy, in the biblical tradition, is not exclusively or even primarily about making pronouncements and predictions concerning the future. Rather, prophecy is speaking words of comfort and/or challenge, on behalf of God, to the people of God in their concrete historical situation (23).
Whatever the reader makes of the bizarre imagery of the book, the reader must first be grounded on this point: Revelation is intended to encourage oppressed believers with the true strength and goodness of God and to challenge believers who have wandered from honest worship of the Creator.
Up next, chapter 3, in which John foresees the Illuminati plotting the worldwide takeover of the Roman Catholic Church, whose pope may or may not be the antichrist.