Sooner or Later, The Time is Near…Or Distant

I guess it depends on who the audience is

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Context, genre, author, audience–it’s  quite a bit to remember. However I have found that the more I read the Bible, the more it becomes second nature. In fact, when reading the Epistles, even the book of Hebrews whose author is unknown, most of the information is given to us, we simply don’t consider it. For example: The beginning to the book of Romans reads, “Paul, a bond servant of Jesus Christ, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…To all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints.” We know the author and the audience. Most Epistles are written is a similar manner. The biggest exception is Hebrews. Yet we can still know things about this unknown author and this information can help us better understand the context. When reading chapter thirteen we notice that the author desires to be “restored” to them. He tells them that the brethren in Italy greet them, and highlights the fact that Timothy has been released from prison. We now know that the epistle was written by someone who knew them but was estranged from them. We now better understand why he wrote–“exhortation.”

If Hebrews is the the epistle of which it is most difficult to discern the author and audience, Revelation is the antithesis. Revelation’s author and audience is clearly and repeatedly recorded.
“John, to the seven churches that are in Asia:” Yet ultimately the author is the Lord; “”Write what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” As we continue reading Revelation, In chapter 2 it begins, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:” Each letter, to the specific churches, follows the same pattern. The intended audience is crystal clear–the seven literal churches that existed at the time Revelation was written, that were in Asia, namely, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and last and certainly least, Laodicea. Revelation was written to them, we must understand this to fully understand the content and context. Was it written for us? Of course but it was specifically written to them, and although, to, and for, are very small words, there is great distinction.

Since Revelation was written to the seven churches, both pragmatic logic and theoretical reasoning indicate that the book of Revelation would be understood by these seven churches. Therefore, to take imagery such as we find in Revelation nine and make a bold claim that what John saw was, in fact, 20th century attack helicopters, is playing loose with the context. John recorded what he saw; “Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.”

“The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months. They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.”

Honestly, I cannot fathom how one could see 20th century attack helicopters in this imagery, but many do–most likely because it’s what they were taught. If you are not learning for yourself, you only know what you’ve been taught. I thank God that we are now in the 21st century and attack helicopters are becoming obsolete and drones would be a more likely candidate for mass destruction. I’m sure someone has already thought of that and claims drones look more like locust anyway. Either way, wrong is still incorrect.

Revelation was written to seven ancient churches, yet we, mostly in the west but our ignorance is spreading, try to contemporize the content. I have heard it said, by pastors smarter and more godly than I, that “John was doing his best to describe implements of war far beyond his comprehension.” Then why didn’t he just say that? One exercise I always would do with my Bible study students was to read the text and have them draw what John described. Guess what, none of them looked like 20th century attack helicopters or 21st century drones.

Yes, Revelation was written for us but it was written to the seven churches in Asia. They were meant to understand. We need to see things from their point of view, not ours. John told the seven churches that “these things must soon take place” and that the “time is near.” I ask a question we’ve answered several times, to whom was John writing?

 

 

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