Too many readers – and performers – of the Revelation to John reduce the book to a simple linear prediction of the future. Perhaps ‘the shape of things to come’ is more like the architecture of our space-time continuum. Yes, Calvin and others thought that big!
Our tradition proposes that time and space is created tohu va bohu, ‘out of the depths’, shaping chaos into order, separating one thing from another. Perhaps we remain poised in our bubble, beyond which is the abyss below and the heavens beyond. Perhaps that is not simply pre-scientific naivete!
The imagery of garden and city from the first 11 chapters of Genesis is reflected in the Revelation. The former did not happen in 4004 BC and the latter will not happen next Wednesday. A-millennialists, like my Calvinist framework, say it’s always and never ‘the end.’
Millennialism: Linear readings of Revelation imagine a thousand-year reign of Christ which will come either before or after Armageddon, the big showdown between good and evil. Are we already living in that millennium? Does the rapture come, then the 1,000 year reign, those raptured just get good seats?
Are you old enough to remember Hal Lindsey? His 1970 bestselling book, “Late Great Planet Earth” popularized a pre-millennial, dispensationalist version of ‘end-time prophecies’ with current events of the Six Day War in Israel and the threatened superpower war with Soviet Russia. Orson Welles did the voice for a 1976 movie version, with wide release in 1979.
Perhaps you noticed the next popularization, the “Left Behind” series of novels published from 1995 to 2007, with some movies, most recently with Nicolas Cage in 2014. The authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins offer up a ‘pre-tribulation, pre-millennial’ approach to applying biblical apocalyptic texts in this century as predictive plotlines.
Who thinks the language of Revelation is literal? Is it figurative, metaphorical, or what Calvin called ‘typological’? Northrop Frye’s Great Code lays out an analysis of ‘metonymy’ or ‘this is that’ rather than ‘metaphor’, or ‘this is like that’. Hermeneutics keep changing, over the decades that I’ve been reading.
Our own subculture of ‘mainline, now sideline’ Protestantism has forgotten its roots in millennial excitement, from the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century in North America. Revivalism as a pious response to the apocalyptic visions in our Christian bible may embarrass us now, but fueled the early Social Gospel and the liberal dream of ‘brotherhood of man under fatherhood of God’.
The liberal progressive secularized version of a social gospel reduces the biggest issues of our age to solvable problems. We blithely assume that appeal to human rights, technology and democracy will fix it all, with a Rawlsian ethics which rules out of order any appeal to non-empirical religious argument. This neo-liberalism may be ‘warm and fuzzy’ after neo-conservativism. Is it working?
Post-modern ‘turn to the theological’ may bring some of us back to these texts with broken hearts ready for the passion and compassion they offer. This God of love of liberalism is also a God of justice. Ultimate justice clearly does not come in penultimate micromanagement by an interventionist deity. We need a bigger, cosmic vision and narrative to frame cosmic moral conflicts.
Here again are links to the audio over seven weeks, if you don’t want to wait to access online as the study is posted from April 21 to June 09: