Revelation is the most challenging and confusing book of the Bible for most Christians.
People have difficulty reading and understanding that admittedly strange book. Once you get past the seven letters to the seven churches, things get weird. So people tend to stop reading it.
Then, they either never think about Revelation again, or they fall for the pop interpretations – though, in my view, misguided – like that found in the “Left Behind” series written by Jerry Jenkins and the late Tim LaHaye.
But there is another part of me, perhaps an even bigger part, that is reluctant to wade into those apocalyptic waters.
Revelation has a great message, one that needs to be heard, but it’s a less-entertaining message than the “Left Behind” interpretation. The real message of Revelation will never get made into a movie.
You know that old saying about not talking about politics or religion in polite company? Revelation talks boldly about politics and religion.
People today don’t seem to know how to be polite when it comes to politics or religion even when we keep those subjects separate. When we put them together, people tend to get rather apocalyptic about it all.
Is it possible to study apocalyptic literature like Revelation without getting apocalyptic? I’m not sure.
The truth is that the Bible itself is about both politics and religion. It speaks of personal faith, but does so within the context of the world stage.
In other words, the Bible is about more than my life or my personal relationship with Jesus; it is about those things as they relate to what God is doing on a much larger playing field.
The book of Revelation takes place on a truly cosmic stage, alternating between events on earth and events in heaven. All the while, it has a very personal message to Christians.
To the Christians suffering under Roman persecution, the message is “stay faithful.”
Though popular theology proclaims that being blessed means having good things happen to you, and that bad things happening are a sign of unblessedness and unfaithfulness, Revelation declares that it is just the opposite.
“Those who are blessed by the Empire are the ones who have bowed to the Empire. Those who are persecuted by the Empire are the ones who are unfaithful to the Empire. But that means that you are faithful to the true King of heaven and earth. You are the real blessed ones.”
To the Christian who is not persecuted, which is pretty much anyone who is reading this, Revelation is a warning: Do not put your hope in any political system or party, whether that be Roman, Jewish or American.
Jesus is Lord (which, in New Testament times, was a political statement), not anybody in Rome, Jerusalem, Washington, D.C., or any other center of political power. There is a savior who will make things in the world great again, and his name is Jesus.
Revelation is also a warning not to give up on this world, as messed up as it seems.
Don’t withdraw into a private world of personal religion and faith; don’t fall into the belief that the only thing God can do is scrap the whole enterprise of a good and just earth and just get ready for a bodiless experience in a spiritual heaven.
Revelation is about seeing things through, not giving up; it’s about renewing all things, not tossing it all out as a good attempt gone hopelessly wrong.
God will not be dragged down into our political and religious fights as if he has chosen sides, declaring one side righteous and the other unrighteous. God calls all sides to account.
No earthly power embodies the Kingdom of God. Indeed, Jesus is a threat to their power, which is why they always oppose him even as they try to invoke him in their cause.
Christians are supposed to know where their hope lies. But sometimes I wonder.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.