1. The Book of Revelation is a long letter that was not written to me. As long as I keep this in the back of my mind, as I should when I’m reading any New Testament letter, I can benefit from treating it as if it were.
2. John the Revelator (who may or may not have been John the Disciple) wrote it to seven nearby churches. He drew upon visions he had experienced on Patmos Island. He also drew upon his detailed study of the Old Testament.
3. Most of the members of these churches had his letter read to them. They did not need prophetic charts. Neither do I.
4. John began with wise counsel for each church’s distinctive needs. At any time when my circumstances are similar, I can apply to my own life what he wrote to any or all of the churches. Other people and groups can do the same thing.
5. Speaking analogically, many of my Seventh-day Adventist friends say that we are all members of the Church at Laodicea. I know that this is not completely true. At this stage of my life, I am a member of the Church at Ephesus.
6. John gave them all something else in addition to good advice. It was not a code book. It was not a road map. It was not a package of pinpointed predictions. It was a story.
7. It was a big story. It was about our entire cosmic epoch. It was about contests between right and wrong, good and bad, truth and error. It was about competing pictures of God. It was the story of all stories. It was the Grand Narrative.
8. Although it was symbolic and complex, most of those who heard this story understood its message. It was that the narratives of their lives, as well as the narratives of powerhouses like the Roman Empire, were parts of the Grand Narrative. This gave them meaning. This gave them stamina. This gave them justified hope.
9. John asked his hearers to decide what roles they would play in the Grand Narrative. I can aim the question he asked them at myself. I can make the choice he wanted them to make.
10. Making this choice means more than having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It also means opposing evil in my own life and in institutions and customs that benefit some by hurting others. This is not sentimental. It is serious. It is brave. It is joyful!
11. It does not mean believing and doing everything those who made this choice in previous generations did. It means plotting the direction in which God is leading and moving further in the same direction. It means refusing to be prisoners of nostalgia.
12. Sometimes there is a difference between what even those in Bible times did and the direction in which God is leading. We do not choose the deed. We choose the direction.
David Larson is an emeritus professor in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University.
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