I’m getting closer to the day when I will preach through the book of Revelation. It is such a fascinating book, but one about which so many people have such strong opinions. I want to make sure that I can swim before I wade into those waters.
Recently a certain motif, a certain way of looking at the book, has occupied my mind which, if justified, may be very helpful in my trying to understand and then to communicate the sense of the book. John, it seems to me, was a painter.
So much damage has been done to the book by trying to force it into a linear pre-telling of human history. The book does not bear a forced linear interpretation and those who try to treat it as an overlay of current human history are always embarrassed by the result.
We need to think of the book less like a western history and more like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It is a collection of images masterfully sketched and shaded and ordered to convey a grand vision of God for his people, some who are facing severe persecution and others who are in danger of allowing their passion to dry up and blow away. It is a great work of art in which a variety of images come together to form a unified whole which speaks more than the individual images isolated from one another.
I’ve not developed this much further, and would not be sharing it here were it not for some corroborative input from the late New Testament Scholar Donald Guthrie. In his New Testament Introduction he assesses the structure in this way:
The majority of interpreters of this book assume that the action is not intended to be continuously described but rather that successive groups of visions each portray similar events in different ways. (page 969)
Much time spent in the evangelical subculture would lead one to be surprised by this statement. Most, in the evangelical world ASSUME that the book contains history ‘continuously described’, and that before it happens.
I know that seeing the book as a series of images or impressions is nothing new. But I also know that it is not a view often spoken. I make mention of it here as a help for those of you reading the book and as a helpful alternative for those whose thinking is only informed by the linear approach.
I’m hoping that thinking down this line might help us make better sense of a difficult but profound book. I’m thinking I will begin to preach on the book by the end of 2014 should the Lord tarry and I not come to my sensese.
4 thoughts on “John the Painter”
I have wanted to hear this for a long time and look forward with excitement your upcoming sermons on the book of Revelations. I have only heard the linear approach, so I anxiously await to hear it from a different perspective!
Do keep in mind that it will be yet some time before I actually preach such a series. Jesus may return first…
Carter Johnson, pastor of Westminster Pres in Dayton, TN, preached through Revelation and it took nearly a year. They were really good. Unfortunately that was back when they were recorded on tape and are not available online.
A braver man than I, no doubt.
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