The third week of my Revelation class. Hard to believe that's halfway!
Revelation communicates frequently through picture language. Rev. 5: the scroll with God's writing-must be important. John hears the promise of the lion of Judah, but when he turns, there is a lamb. The power of God is unleashed through the sufferings of the lamb. The question is not if God will keep the promise, but how. Beginning in Rev. 5, the most common reference to Christ is as a lamb.
Rev. 6: 4 horsemen. Even the most literalistic interpreters acknowledge some use of symbolism in Rev, the question is what the symbolism means. When you read Revelation, if it doesn't take you to the lamb, you've missed something. The first horseman, on the white horse-conquest is what happens on the border. This raises questions of national security (e.g. did Rome have the largest army because it felt so secure, or because it felt insecure?). The second horseman, on the red horse, gets to violence people do to each other, bringing the insecurities a step closer to home, in your own communities. The third, on the black horse, is economic insecurity and vulnerability, another step closer, into your own home (whether you can put food on your own table/clothes on your family). The fourth, the pale horse, brings all insecurities to a very personal culmination in death. Those were real threats in John's time, and the power of the imagery is that it portrays something real then and now. These visions are designed to unsettle-- who can stand? This is one of the big questions in Revelation, and exactly the question you should be asking if you've been following the readings.
Rev. 7: those who are claimed share the inheritance of Israel. John hears the promise that God will redeem 144,000 from the 12 tribes, but when he turns to see, there is a countless multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation. God promised to save 144,000, but isn't stingy and doesn't stop there. This becomes a great vision of God's hope for the future. Rather than meeting the question of who can stand immediately with judgment, there is an intermediary word of promise, then a word of praise. Revelation does not move in a straight line: it threatens, unsettles, then brings you back to God and the lamb.
Rev. 8-9: They start with incense going up and fire being thrown down- what if the prayers go up to God to be thrown back as wrath- the prayers of the saints become the wrath of God? The plagues did not lead to repentance. Rev. 9:20-21 :wrath alone does not bring repentance. You can't blast the people of the world into repentance.
Rev. 10: it's the same thing again. Wrath, no repentance, he tells John to prophesy again- interrupts judgment yet again. This is why the church is called to prophetic witness, because wrath alone does not bring the world to repentance. God has made space for the church to carry out its place in prophetic witness. This pattern of interrupted judgment is repeated so that we know it is not an aberration and to make sure we get it.
Rev. 11: What does it mean for the church to be the temple, a worshiping community in a world with constant threats to its well being? The witnesses personify prophetic witness throughout Israel's history -like Moses, water turns to blood; Elijah, no rain; Jeremiah, fire from the mouth; Joshua and Zerubbabel, lamps and olive trees; Jesus, killed and resurrected. Even after all that, nothing changes. The great city is many cities combined: this is more like a parable. What does it mean to preach and then suffer like the prophets/Christ? If these witnesses have hope, it's in God's power to give life, which will be integral to their witness and the witness of the power of God- it's what finally gets the world's attention. 11:13- the "rest" give glory to God, and this is what God wants. Read as a vision of the church's vocation, it's what it means to serve God.