Mike Cope's blog

Friday, February 03, 2006

Here are the Cliff Notes to the book of Revelation: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) That's one way to say it. Another way is with a zoo (lamb, horses, eagle, locusts, leopard, bear, lion, beast), numbers (3.5, 7, 12, 1000, 144,000, 666), symbols (seals, trumpets, thunders, bowls, plagues, horns, eyes, stars), and cosmic catastrophes. It is the way of imagination. And it's critical for people who are needing to be faithful in the face of persecution and the temptation toward accomodation (i.e., the temptation to try to fit into the culture a wee bit too easily in order to blend in -- see the letters to the seven churches). Revelation has little to do with Hal Linday's The Late, Great Planet Earth and not all that much to do with the Left Behind series. It is not a cryptogram of all things that will break forth in history. It is a word that speaks to those who feel like all hell has broken lose. Yesterday in class I asked our students if some of them had been there. Heart-breaking stories were shared for about fifteen minutes. Such young lives. Such great pain. So we ask with John, "Who can stand?" (Rev. 6:1). With our view "from below" it seems like no one can. But the answer comes immediately with the view "from above": "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree" (7:1). Who can stand? The angels of God! It may appear to us that all hell has broken lose, but it hasn't. God, despite all appearances to the contrary, is ultimately in control. The middle section of Ben Witherington's excellent The Problem With Evangelical Theology is on the relatively recent, misguided interpretations of Dispensationalism. Here's part of the introduction to that section: "Unlike the case with Calvinism [which he explores in the first third], the Dispensational approach to the Bible did not arise after profound study of the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures or detailed scholarly exegesis of the text. It was a system that apparently arose in response to a vision and as a result of a pastoral concern about unfulfilled biblical prophecy, and was promulgated by various ministers and evangelists and entrepreneurs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More recently, it has often been wed with the all-too-American gospel of success and wealth, not to mention the belief that America is in some ways God's chosen instrument, though of course the Bible says nothing about America. Sometimes, in addition, one is dealing with a double problem because some highly influential Dispensationalists (e.g., Jerry Falwell) are also Calvinists as well, which makes things even more exegetically problematic. Then too, there is the problem that many if not most Messianic Jews are also Dispensationalists." I've read Revelation many times, of course. But it was a different experience this week to hear it on my ipod while working out. Part of my mind was trying to absorb the apocalyptic language, pregnant with symbols and imagery. But another part of my mind kept hearing this: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).


  • I know that I know that I know that NOTHING can separate me from the love of God! Those verses in Romans make me want to shout "Bring it on!"

    And Revelation is so beautiful in it's imagery. Fajita just had a post on Art in the church (or lack thereof!) Revelation is the best example of wonder & awe for me.

    By Blogger Beaner, at 2/03/2006 05:28:00 AM  

  • Now that’s an “advertisement” I can live with.

    The words of Paul in Rom. 8 take on a whole new “power” for me when I think about how they were written in the face of the most powerful empire in the world at that time.

    Side bar Mike – We have a member of our church in Cocoa, Sue Pinch, who went to Harding with you. I don’t know what her maiden name was but she said you used to call her “Sue-bob.” If you remember her, she says to tell you “hello.” I guess she would still say “hello” even if you don’t remember her.

    Have a good day brother.

    By Blogger cwinwc, at 2/03/2006 06:09:00 AM  

  • "It may appear to us that all hell has broken lose, but it hasn't. God, despite all appearances to the contrary, is ultimately in control." All I can say is whew! and then stand on this truth - that HE is in control. Like they say, "there is a God and I am not him." Hallelujah!

    By Blogger Candy, at 2/03/2006 06:17:00 AM  

  • "God, despite all appearances to the contrary, is ultimately in control."

    I believe this on my best days. It's just that those are few and far between.

    By Blogger jch, at 2/03/2006 06:25:00 AM  

  • I"m not sure if this is what you were getting at Mike, but the way I see it, there is still good in this world. Sure, maybe time are difficult with no end in sight, but I can tell you from personal experience, God is not keeping an eye on the world from his lazy chair in heaven. He works every day through his marvelous creation, humans. My wife and I have more than we could ever need in this world because Jesus Christ is alive and well in this world and in the people that inhabit it. Praise God that nothing can EVER separate us from His love!! Not even our extremely limited view of the here and now of this world where "hell has broken loose".

    ps-do you know when Randy Harris' lessons will be available on podcast?

    By Blogger Logan and Katie Brown, at 2/03/2006 06:29:00 AM  

  • If Ecclesiastes is the yin, then perhaps Revelation is the yang.

    The Preacher cries, "all is vanity," from his world-weary "under the sun" perspective.

    John cries, "Yes, true, but a rider on a white horse rides forth from 'above the sun' to make all things new."

    By Blogger mike the eyeguy, at 2/03/2006 06:55:00 AM  

  • Mike-

    For another exciting reading of Revelation, you may want to check out "Can I Get A Witness?" by Brian Blount, Professor of NT at PTS. It situates Revelation in a way that makes it applicable to our current cultural context. If you have access to (and time for!) the ACU library's resources, you may want to look him up in ATLA or some other religion database. He has a number of article and sermons on Revelation that are quite instructive and challenging. Thanks for this post.

    By Blogger Krister, at 2/03/2006 06:56:00 AM  

  • Great post, Mike.
    I think a lot of people are scared of Revelation, because of all the symbolism and whatnot, thinking they won't be able to figure it all out, when ultimately the overall message is very simple.

    Sometimes we spend too much time trying to see what every little detail means instead of stepping back and looking at the big picture. Common human flaw.

    By Blogger Matt Warren, at 2/03/2006 07:01:00 AM  

  • Mike--this is good. I appreciate your thoughts on this. I know that John Collins and many (since the Upsala convention in Sweden--1970s) has found that all apocalyptic literature haves 3 basic themes. 1) Crisis in the community, 2) divine authority, 3) comfort or consolation. I have my students look for these themes in Revelation and then find ways to apply it to those who are suffering in this world.

    The 3 cycles (Rev 6-17) begin and end at the throne? In some ways this provides comfort by stating that God is still in control (like Candy mentioned). I think the frightening thing in the book is 13:10--"you may die, be faithful."

    Its a wonderful message but one that demands courage.

    Thanks for the thoughts on Revelation Mike.

    By Blogger KMiV, at 2/03/2006 07:08:00 AM  

  • Your post is the perfect thought to start this particular day--thanks.

    By Blogger Vkls, at 2/03/2006 07:30:00 AM  

  • Mike, I am a dispensationalist. I have come to this conclusion after 30 years of study, starting with Hal Lindsay's "Late Great Planet Earth" back when we were 19-year old classmates at Harding. I haven't read the Left Behind series, and don't plan to, so I can't speak to those. I don't take everything in Lindsay's book to be gospel, and he has posited some things over the years which did not pan out. But over all, I agree with the big picture outlook he has on things--that we are very late on the time clock for this earth, that there will be a rapture of the church to join Jesus in the air, and we (the church) will be with him forever from that point on; and then there will be a 7 year period of time (the time of Jacob's trouble) in which Israel will be set upon by the entire world, and will be miraculously saved by the return of Jesus to set up his kingdom on earth.

    This is based on not only the revelation given to John, but on visions given to Ezekiel and Daniel, and the Olivet Discourse given by Jesus in Matthew 24-25, which I believe was given to the Jews and has to do with the second coming and not the rapture.

    It is also based on promises given by God to Abraham which have not yet been realized, and must at some point be realized if God is true to His word.

    What you have stated in your blog is all true, but I believe not the entire story. I think Revelation is written (and to be read) on several levels, having to do with the 7 churches and their immediate future, but also having to do with our own personal lives and the different seasons we may find ourselves in, AND having to do with the way they refer back to images in Ezekiel, Daniel, Matthew, and the way they are being fulfilled to the letter in today's newspapers (The Gog-Magog alliance; the kings of the east with 200 million man army; etc)

    We have this discussion ongoing in our office, with one of the participants being a minister who has written a book on the subject, and whose viewpoint agrees with what you have said here. (As I said earlier, I am used to being in the minority.) The other day, we were both explaining our positions to DU, and he (Dan) said that there is no one single theory that doesn't have some holes in it, or something that we need to reconcile in some way. I think this is accurate. If not, they wouldn't be theories and no faith would be required. In addition, a disagreement over this issue is not something that is going to cause me to break in fellowship from anyone. God will do what He will do, whether I understand it or not. The important part is to have the relationship with him and with his children so that I am ready when the time comes, whether that is in the next couple of years with a rapture, or if it comes at the end of my days on this earth through my own death.

    By Blogger don, at 2/03/2006 07:39:00 AM  

  • I think the church has learned (and IS learning) a lot about how to read this Bible we've known all our lives. I look forward to re-reading Revelation with missional eyes. It all seemed rather blurry before. What will it look like next time and isn't it exciting that we can see the Word afresh with every reading?

    Thanks for the heads-up on the podcast. I got to listen to an excellent message on God's call as preached by Jesus from Isaiah 61 on my way to work this morning.

    By Blogger Thurman8er, at 2/03/2006 07:42:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I feel that so much of the controversy over the Book of Revelation has to do with how one views the principle of audience revelance. What did the first to receive the book understand? But regardless of one's approach, the bottom line is a powerful message that "WE WIN IN HIM"!

    By Blogger Lee Hodges, at 2/03/2006 08:06:00 AM  

  • It is interesting how, in a complex and difficult time, simple words can bring such peace and hope. Thanks

    By Blogger Clint, at 2/03/2006 08:13:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    The seven blessings scattered throughout Revelation have been a source of understanding, comfort and elation in my study of this magnificent book. They, at times, seem to be almost the bones on which the book's flesh is hung and developed.
    How I love this book and rest heavily on it's first blessing in chapter 1:3. The worship scenes in chapters 5 and 19 bring me to my mental knees during communion and prayer so often. Again, how I love this gift from our LORD! Thank you and bless you for bringing it to us this morning!

    By Blogger Kathy, at 2/03/2006 08:53:00 AM  

  • There's a great scene in the second episode of the X-Files where Mulder, the obsessive alien hunting FBI agent, speaks with an "inside" informer who is part of a government conspiracy . At the end of the conversation, he asks the informer: "They're here, aren't they?" His contact smiles knowingly back at him and says, "They have been here for a long, long time, agent Mulder."

    Thats the way I feel about these horsemen of the apocalypse that appear early in the book - death, conquest, famine, war. Everyone is looking around asking if they're here yet and - as far as I can tell - they have been here for a long, long time.

    The message of the Revelation isn't to clue us in on when the apocalyptic will happen. Its already upon us. Instead, the Revelation (a) assures us that a glorified, risen Jesus is ultimately in control and (b) calls us to live bold, pure lives in the midst of the apocalyptic, testifying to Christ's Lordship, and anticipating the renewal of creation.

    Also... Mike the Eyeguy says Ecclesiastes is yin and the Revelation is yang. "Under the sun" and "beyond this world". I like the way he puts it.

    By Blogger Matt, at 2/03/2006 09:32:00 AM  

  • Why weren't you teaching this class when I was in ACU? Although I think Dr Brecheen (maybe?) probably did a great job. I'm not sure my 19/20 year old mind was ready for revelations back then. Wish I lived in Abilene and could audit some Bible classes. They always were my favorite.

    By Blogger SG, at 2/03/2006 09:35:00 AM  

  • Your comments about persecution got me to thinking about the ending of the book of Mark. The book was obviously written to a community of believers who were under great stress and persecution. The original ending of the book has Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome all going to Jesus' tomb only to find it empty. An angel appears and tells them that Jesus has risen. The women flee the tomb scared and confused. That's how the book ends, the women scared and confused, searching for Jesus. Of course the ending was re-written later. "We just can't have the story ending there!" the early church fathers said. So they added the rest of what we now know is chapter 16 of Mark. I really wish they hadn't done this. The people Mark was writing to were alone and afraid, dying, wondering where Jesus was. I think that Mark was trying to provide comfort to them by saying what he did about the women. We know the rest of the story now. Even though the women didn't understand what happened to Jesus, we do. Ever wonder where Jesus is when tragedy strikes? He's not in the tomb! He's risen. Now that's hope!

    By Blogger Joel Maners, at 2/03/2006 10:15:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Robyn, at 2/03/2006 10:15:00 AM  

  • *had to repost, i forgot to put my name*
    Mike-reading Revelation all the way through has always been something I avoided. Until you and Randy assigned it to us last week. I wasn't looking forward to it, and after I was done I felt the same way about it as I always did-it scared the livin daylights out of me!!! But after the classes we have had on it this week I see it in a completley different light and that it's not entirely scary after all. I'm quite thankful to be in yours and Randy's class and look forward to learning even more from you guys. --Robyn

    By Blogger Robyn, at 2/03/2006 10:17:00 AM  

  • (off the subject, related to Robyn's comment)


    It is hard for me to imagine calling our professors at Harding by their first name. "Jimmy, Jerry, Neal, Conrad, JD...." However, if the professor is for it, it is cool with me!

    By Blogger David Michael, at 2/03/2006 12:18:00 PM  

  • Do you think people will ever understand that Rev 21-22 is not about heaven? The New Jerusalem is the "bride, the wife of the Lamb", and that be us, not a place.

    By Blogger Brad, at 2/03/2006 01:04:00 PM  

  • Excellent words Mike. I can't even pronounce dispensationalist - so I'm guessing I'm not one. Continued daily prayers for Joe Hays and his awesome family.

    By Blogger KentF, at 2/03/2006 01:25:00 PM  

  • Its not even, who can separate us from Christ, It says who can separtate us from the LOVE of Christ.

    By Blogger Beverly, at 2/03/2006 01:28:00 PM  

  • Brad,
    I think you are right--our songs and stories all make Rev. 21-22 heavend (isn't it interesting how materialistic we are about heaven--gold, jewels, etc.).

    I think that the last few chapters make a comparison of two cities. One, Rome, is a whore with cheap gaudy clothes and injustice. The other, bride--God's people, is a beautiful virgin adorned in royal clothes. People are told to come out of the whore. People are told to go into the bride.

    I think that the eternal message of Revelation is that all people are called to come to the church. Revelation seems to be a book about evangelism (how long will we continue to call people to "come to the church").


    By Blogger KMiV, at 2/04/2006 07:17:00 AM  

  • I have a question..

    Why don't more people teach in church that Revelation has nothing to do with the end of the world but its a message of VICTORY for God's people?

    Are we as Christians just afraid to stand against a majority that believe otherwise? I believe we must teach truth I think that is equipping the saints for ministry..

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/04/2006 01:51:00 PM  

  • I know I'm not the only one who is wandering this, so what is dispensationalism?

    By Blogger JenniferS, at 2/05/2006 02:03:00 PM  

  • (Not the previous Keith ...) Why must Revelation be only about one thing and not another, bro? Why can't it be about the end of the world AND still be a message of victory?

    I just this morning began co-teaching a Sunday morning class about Revelation with one of my elders who is willing to try to approach it without a lot of preconceptions ... but with a lot of curiosity.

    We expected about 10 students in the class, and have twice that many.

    Dispensationalism ... jennifers, I think it's pretty much dippy sensationalism for the idea that God neatly divides history into different ways of relating to mankind - as creator; through patriarchs; through law; through prophecy; then through Jesus (but not through His Spirit anymore); and finally through an earthbound kingdom limited by a literal thousand years. Did I get that right , folks? (See also Wackypedia.)

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 2/05/2006 06:07:00 PM  

  • I'm not the final expert on the subject, but I think Keith is about on the right track. The idea is that the way God "deals" with humans can be neatly divided into different "dispensations": thus, a dispensation of law, a dispensation of grace, a future 1000 year dispensation of God's Kingdom, etc.

    I am more fond of a covenant-oriented approach, which says God made certain covenants with Abraham and (before him) Noah, and all of scripture - together with history following the end of scripture - can be seen as a continuous narrative in fulfilment of that covenant.

    I'm also like Keith - I think a danger in approaching the Revelation is to assume that one, single approach is the best. I can make the most sense of the book when I read it as an amalgamation of past, present, and future... It reaches its first century audience, making obvious references to the threat of widespread Roman persecution of believers. But it also looks to the "end" - so to speak - where creation is renewed and evil destroyed.

    Of course, Christians have wondered at the mystery of this book for 2000 years or so, now. There doesn't seem to be a lot of agreement on many of the specifics, and there never has been. So - in the end - I also think its important to be generous and charitable toward those who hold different views from my own.

    By Blogger Matt, at 2/05/2006 07:47:00 PM  

  • Sorry - I haven't had internet access for a couple days. So thanks for that help. Yes, Matt's given a good explanantion of dispensationalism. It's relatively new to Christian teaching, starting in the 19th century and coming to popularity through the Left Behind series.

    By Blogger Mike, at 2/06/2006 06:38:00 AM  

  • There's a concept in philosophy (some of you professorial types will correct me if I'm wrong) called Occam's Razor. The quick version is: The simplest explanation that accounts for the most evidence is most likely to be correct.

    This really is the basic problem I have with premillennial dispensationalism. True, it's a gut-level reaction (although I cite Occam to show I have some high-falutin' support for the basic idea), but I just don't trust what seems to me to be a terribly Rube-Goldberg-ish theological system.

    I realize that it's important to get a complete biblical picture of a given doctrine and that one can't assume that any one passage sets it all out. However, dispensational premillennialism seems particularly open to the objection that it utilizes Scriptures from hither to yon and pieces them together into an arrangement that is by no means self-evident.

    Another problem: I get the distinct impression that a great many people see this interpretation of the end times to be as clearly biblical as, say, the virgin birth or the atonement. Sorry, but I just can't see it.

    You would be hard-put to find a halfway knowledgable person who would deny that the Bible teaches that Jesus had no human father and that he died for our sins; whether you believe it or not, that's clearly what the book says. To me, premillennial dispensationalism simply does not belong in the same certitude category.

    On the other hand, speaking as someone who has been paddling in the Churches of Christ Lake for his entire life, I think I'm safe in saying that Restorationists (at least those on our side of the divide) have historically spent a lot more time shooting down the eschatology of others than in elaborating on our own. All those fundamentalist Baptists have at least stepped up to the plate and gamely taken a swing at some of those strange passages in the Old Testament prophets, Matthew and the Pauline epistles, not to mention the Big Kahuna at the end of the book. But maybe I just haven't been sitting in the right pews ... ;^)

    However, if I end up being completely wrong about all this and there is indeed a 1,000-year earthly kingdom, etc., I certainly won't be balking.

    By Blogger alan-in-arlington, at 2/06/2006 06:28:00 PM  

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