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What We Believe About Revelation

Senior Pastor Rev. Daniel Humbert shares context around the Book of Revelation and how The United Methodist Church interprets this Scripture.

For many, the mere mention of the Book of Revelation sends chills up the spine! It is a distinctive and unique book of the Bible—one that is difficult to comprehend. It is often left unread, unstudied, and unknown because of this difficulty. All the imagery, metaphor, descriptions, and even language seem mysterious, overwhelming, dark, and ominous.

I must admit that even growing up in the church, I never remember a sermon, Sunday school lesson, or youth group study on this characteristically uncommon book of the Bible. It wasn’t until I went to seminary that I came to any real understanding of its content or purpose. And even then, it was a superficial appreciation.

It is perhaps one of the failings of The United Methodist Church, that it gives so very little attention to the Book of Revelation. After all, some of the most highly searched spiritual topics on Google are: 

Are we in end times?
W
ho is the antichrist (Obama? Trump? Biden?)
What will happen in the rapture?

And these are just a few. People are interested! Inquiring minds want to know.

That’s why we offered our worship and teaching series, Revelation! We want to offer you insight, understanding, and hope from the Book of Revelation. Yes, I said hope. Revelation is predominantly a book of celebration and hope. Its purpose originally and today was to offer inspiration for persevering through hardship and discovering the ultimate gift that God is in control and Christ has overcome—hope!

It is believed that the Book of Revelation, aka The Revelation to John or the Apocalypse of John, was likely written around 96AD by a man known as John the Elder. He is not likely to be the same John as the author of the Gospel by his name. It is a singular revelation to John from Jesus Christ. Apocalypse (Revelation) means an unveiling or uncovering. The author was likely a political or religious prisoner writing to other believers from the Island of Patmos off of modern-day Turkey. He was writing to seven churches in Asia (Turkey) primarily to invite them to persevere through the persecution of the empire. He wanted to offer them hope and give them ways to celebrate God’s victory for them through Jesus’s reign as the ultimate monarch.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) maintains a highly orthodox view of the Book of Revelation. In fact, The UMC holds the view of the Book of Revelation that has been established since the 4th century commonly referred to as the Idealist view

The Idealist view opposes the more popular, though very recent view, commonly referred to as the Futurist view. In this latter view, the events described in the book are believed to be both literal and determined to be in the impending and undefined future. This commonly held view first came into recognition in the mid Eighteenth century and became extremely popular with both the book, Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey and the more recent Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Though highly popular and even well regarded by some, this Futurist view has little biblical justification.

The Idealist view of the Book of Revelation, held by all mainline denominations as well as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, was first introduced by the theologian Origen (185-254AD) and extended by the church father Augustine (354-420AD) as a way to understand and interpret the Revelation to John. In the Idealist view held by the UMC, it is believed that the language and teachings of the Revelation are symbolic to describe the great cosmic battle between good and evil and that God in Jesus is the ultimate victor in that cosmic struggle. The imagery, symbols, numbers and even some of the characters are not designed to be literal events or circumstances, but rather representing evil and good. And even when the people and events are real they are represented by veiled descriptors or symbols.

Some examples of these include: “beast” as the emperor or empire, “whore of Babylon” as Rome, “Lamb” as Jesus, “throne room” as God’s House, “seals” as ways to  announce a new age or reign, “trumpets” proclaiming all things new, and “666” to identify ultimate evil or Nero Caesar to name just a few.

When we view Revelation through the lens of the Idealist view, we can begin to better understand the symbolism and allegory as hopeful and celebratory. This view of the Revelation also helps us to better apply the message of hope and celebration to our own circumstances. John wanted the followers of Jesus of the 7 churches to believe that they could persevere through the persecution of the empire and have hope that ultimately good would prevail. When we read chapters 19-22 we get a clear picture that God wins, that Christ overcame and that hope prevails.  Those chapters eloquently describe a new heaven and a new earth. They portray a return to the original goal of relationship with God in The Garden of Eden—even giving access to the Tree of Life once again.

When we believe this is true in our own day, then we too can persevere through our own tragedy or travail. The purpose of Revelation is true today, just as it was in the first century. Christ is the ultimate victor. God always wins. Hope conquers fear. My prayer for you and for us together is that we not only believe this revelation, but that we share it with others. Hope is best discovered in community. May this revelation of John be true for you!

Want to learn more about Revelation? Check out Week 1 of our Revelation worship series and join us this Sunday. Learn more at TMUMC.ORG/worship.

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