I grew up around charts.
Big. Scary. Charts.
Can you relate?
And on these charts were several pictures accompanied by verse labels and a timeline. Oh, yeah, gotta have the timeline figured out.
These always came with the acknowledgement that no one could truly know the day or the hour. Yet, there was a common vibe afloat–at least in my circles–that the second coming would happen within our lifetimes.
First, the rapture.
Then, the rise of the anti-Christ.
Then, 7 years of Tribulation.
Then, Kirk Cameron…..
Ok, I think you get the picture… or chart… or–whatever…
What we need is a drastic reframe. Many of you are on a journey of deconstructing some version of the theological and cultural ethos of rapture longings, Middle East prophetic inferences from the news, and preparing for the apocalypse.
People get ready. Jesus is coming. Soon we will be going home. That was central to many of our spiritualities.
But in Revelation, we get very little about the “end.”
In fact, we get more about the past–and its ongoing reverberations into the present–in Revelation, than anything else.
The future is in there too… especially in chapters 21-22 (and a few other places), but that future hope isn’t about some sort of end times calamity where the world goes to chaos.
It is about God’s final victory over chaos, the chaos we’ve always known in a broken world, finally coming to bear in the renewal of this world with heaven’s full presence.
The goal of revelation is to provide hope: the hope that God isn’t done with this creation project. God will make everything “new.” (side note: this is likely “re-new” and not “brand new” based on the logic of Revelation and the New Testament as a whole… and based on the Greek word there.)
With hope as the clear goal of the book, we ask another question:
Why did the early Jesus-followers need hope in the first place?
It is this question that opens up the book for us!
Now to the point of this post: the central application verse of Revelation is thus,
Then I heard another voice from heaven say, “Come out of her, my people, so that you don’t take part in her sins and don’t receive any of her plagues…” (Revelation 18.4 CEB)
In a world saturated by emperor worship. In a situation where Jesus-followers were in the minority. In a world where the emperor Domitian was unpredictable and Nero’s chaos was embedded in memory. In a world where evil seemed to be winning.
In this sort of first century reality, the Christians of Asia Minor needed to know if there was any hope left.
Many had forgotten “their first love” and had instead started slipping into the regular day-to-day ways of the Roman Empire and its imperial religion.
Some, it seems, had compromised to the point of spiritual infidelity with the ways of Rome. They had given over their allegiance to a parody-king rather than “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1.5).
They had been seduced by Rome (who is the harlot / whore / city in chapter 17)–or based on the feminine imagery John (the author) uses–Roma. Roma is the goddess persona of Rome, who was worshipped alongside the Caesars, and other Roman imperial gods in Asia Minor.
They may not have even recognized that they had been seduced. But through subtle compromises, they were no longer being “missional” or “relating to culture” (which is certainly a biblical idea!): they had been duped.
They were in danger of allowing the influence of Roman ideals to pull them completely away from Kingdom realities!
To this infidelity, Revelation 18.4 basically says through a sexual euphemism: Get out of bed with her! (Or as I often say, don’t risk getting “spiritual STDs” [John likes the word plague here :-)]). It is a “dirty” image with a powerful point!
This is the message of John’s letter to followers of Jesus in the first century and throughout history:
Do not be seduced by the shiny things of empire. Do not forget that these things come from a satanic dragon. Do not give your allegiance over to false gods.
Follow Jesus. Follow Jesus. Follow Jesus.
You can be part of the solution to a world of evil. Pull out of evil, become members of a renewed creation. Show the world that its destiny involves a God who wants nothing more, than to “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 21.5).
Shiny things aren’t worth missing out on God’s countermovement of love in and for the world.
In fact, what God wants to do through us is more glorious than we can ever imagine.
I hope this was helpful when it comes to your own formation. It is inspired in part by my Revelation Bible Study Cheat Sheet.
Author: Kurt Willems
Kurt Willems is a pastor, author, and spiritual director. His first book, Echoing Hope: How the Humanity of Jesus Redeems our Pain, releases in March 2021. Kurt is also the host of the Theology Curator podcast. He has a master of divinity degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and a master of arts in comparative religion from the University of Washington.
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