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).