There are two Bible studies that are held each week at the Defense Information School. The Tuesday session, if you remember, is dedicated to showing Noomas every week. Thursdays are the more-typical study of a passage of Scripture.
I’ve been going to the Tuesday meetings off and on, and not so much to the Thursday ones. It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation of Scripture, but a couple of months ago the chaplain announced that he would be working through Revelation, the final book of the Bible, which deals with the end times, the apocalypse and all that business.
Revelation is a book that has messed me up for years. There is so much symbolism, historical allusions, borrowed mythology and contested aspects of the book, that it’s hard to get through. Moreover, there are at least a dozen interpretations of how to understand the prophecies. The whole thing just gives me a headache.
And, just like how I start to waiver in my Tuesday attendance after seeing argument take over the discussions on the true meaning of each Nooma, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about wading through the same murky debates concerning Revelation. So, I just never went to the Thursday sessions.
This past Wednesday, however, that trend came to an end. The chaplain was on leave for the week, and his temporary stand in, a Marine major who was an instructor for the officer’s course and a good friend of mine, came to talk to me.
“Hey! Sergeant Salmons, what are you doing tomorrow for lunch?” he asked.
“Thursday? Um, nothing at the moment, sir.”
“I really need you to lead the Bible study for me. I have to brief the commandant and won’t be there.”
“Err…sure. I can do it. What part are we at?”
Yikes! Revelation 12. There are several parts of Revelation that trip me out, and Revelation 12 is definitely one of them.
Why is Revelation itself so troublesome? Some people just tell me to read the “Left Behind” books, a series of novels outlining the events that are described in Revelation. It seems pretty straightforward, and there’s a movie to go along with it, what’s to be confused about?
Problem is, that particular view of Revelation, with that particular interpretation of the sequence of events, is only 100 years old. Many modern evangelicals take the most recent view as THE correct view, plan it out, and go from there.
But there are a lot of other viewpoints, all with Biblical backing. Pre-trib, Mid-trib, Post-trib, Pre-millennial, dispensational pre-millennial, A-millennial, Post-millennial, preterism, futurist, continuous historical, historical background…all have different takes on the book’s meanings.
Then there’s the book itself. Some people think Saint John wrote it. The church has waffled on that for centuries. There is the inclusion of imagery and word-for-word phrases from Egyptian and Greek/Roman mythology (especially with the woman listed in Revelation 12…”clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown with 12 stars over her head” as the same description that describes the Egyptian goddess Isis, mother of Horus, who was attacked by Set, the ancient serpent, while she was pregnant. Horus was destined to do battle and kill Set…eerily familiar).
Martin Luther, the man who began the Reformation and started the protestant movement, hated the book of Revelation. He said he found Revelation to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and stated that “Christ is neither taught or known in it.” John Calvin, another huge Christian figure, thought it should be included in the canon of books making up the Christian Bible. However, it is the only book he did not write a formal commentary on.
…So. All that to say there was a huge weight that slumps on my shoulder any time anyone asks me to “explain” Revelation. And, especially with the extremely varied backgrounds of those who attend the Bible studies at my workplace–students, teachers, Catholics, Mormons, protestants, wiccans, new Christians, old Christians; it’s hard to elicit a discussion on vastly uncertain and symbolic passages without it turning into a shouting match.
…But, I did some prayer time. I remembered the wisdom literature that says “a kind word turns away wrath,” and I arrived on Thursday, quite frankly unsure of how to go about anything.
I started with a simple reading of the passage. I let the students take turns with it. After finishing I rehashed it through, letting the students sit, wide-eyed, tripping out at the strange language. I didn’t go into all the Egyptian or Roman stuff, but outlined how typical Catholics interpret things, how the Jews would have reacted to certain mentioned numbers, and how protestants typically take it.
One younger student had a question, “Sergeant. I don’t see how this helps me on my day-to-day life.”
I could have kissed her. “Exactly!” I said.
That led to a couple of points, which took up a good chunk of the remaining time.
Knowing how people throughout the centuries have interpreted the symbols and tripped-out sayings within the book are one thing, but, ultimately, transmitting love to others with the Spirit of God is hardly influenced by how a person interprets the number 1,260, or ten crowns on a dragon’s head. “Honestly, in the end, to answer your question, there’s not a huge amount that relates to living every day.”
Being compassion, being love, cultivating patience, engendering generosity, learning to be more selfless…that is the work we’re to dedicate ourselves to, if you go along with Scripture.
And ultimately, it’s far easier and more beneficial to humanity to teach kindness rather than dispensational pre-millennialism. It’s how the Messiah did it, and I think it’s a pretty good plan.