by Rev. John Farmer
I am amused by the struggling faithful who express a confusing level of Biblical understanding because they have crashed upon the shores of Revelation. To me they will say, “Preacher, I just don’t understand it.”
The first thing that crosses my mind is why don’t they get back into a more understandable area and strive to assess those teachings upon their everyday lives? Hardly would I actually say that to anyone, however.
The late Egowena Dunaway Tignor (1919-2000) used to challenge us by saying that she, “Wasn’t worrying about all she didn’t understand about the Bible. It was what she did understand that gave challenge and meaning. Further understanding and reading would provide more understanding for all of us.”
So, for a few minutes let me add another voice to the fray—about the book of Revelation. One needs to remember that while it was a revelation to the Apostle John, during his imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos, it survived in a circulating collection of letters that eventually became our New Testament.
At home, one of our most important daily chores is to visit the mailbox. Some set their daily clocks by the event—what time is all the mail sorted? What’s in the daily post anyway? Love letters? Bills (yuk)? Good news? Bad news? Might we find a love letter? Has my sweepstakes check finally arrived?
In 2008, Hazel and I, Wayne & Frances Nunnally accompanied by a cadre of other bank customers left the Northern Neck for a cruise around the Mediterranean. Athens, Santorini, Ephesus, were focus spots and day trips. I have to admit that traipsing through Turkey was a little bit disconcerting to say the least.
Let me interrupt this discourse to share our arrival in port at Santorini. The rocky isle has no pier, so ships anchor off and one gets to shore by tender. Arriving there you are given three modes of transportation to access the beautiful heights with its white washed homes, churches and stores. One can ride a donkey, walk up (climb really) or take the tram. Well, the donkeys caught glance of Wayne and I and offered as how we might become allergic to them, so perhaps we’d best do the tram! They also said it would be too jarring for us to return back to port, as such return to harbor was frenetic.
Later, all about the Isle of Patmos plateau we trod where John had built a retirement home for Mary. It was strewn with hawkers of souvenirs, trinkets, mementoes and food. My jitters abated when we went up the mountain to the ancient rock-hewn quarters of the Apostle of John. A mountain hike above the cave in which John resided when receiving the “Revelation” was amazing. All the margins perimeters were overlaid with hammer silver. The cave’s opening on the valley side, facing Ephesus across the sea, was enormous.
It was so challenging to see that far-off Ephesus was no longer a seaport as in Biblical days, rather a miles-wide and deep saltwater marsh.
OK, enough of the tour, now back to Revelation: Humor me, the book of Revelation is a collection of seven letters. The message, interpreted through John, is from Jesus to the folks around and inland of the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Each is a specific message to a particular church. They were written years and years ago; yet retain a contemporary freshness. If that is, we press beyond the sophomoric statements of misunderstanding. So, what if I don’t understand all the images at first?
The late George R. Beasley-Murray (1916-2000; British professor of New Testament, Southern Seminary 1973-1980) called upon us to see Revelation as perhaps a Greek drama played out upon the stage at Ephesus. He thought that some of the perplexing mysteries were stage depictions highlighting the spoken words.
Our life circumstances have conditioned us to instant this and that. The Book of Revelation must be filtered through our lives and allowed to settle upon us. Received, distilled and applied is the way I most think about how the Book relates to me.
Though written to identified congregations, the seven letters speak directly to our deepest needs, personalities, fears, successes, failures and hopes. At the end of each letter there is a plea for the receiver to hear the words of God. We are asked to take the words of truth to heart. Make it personal, by doing so we appropriate the wishes of God, through Christ, as our personal life-changing experiences.