Apocalypse as a Message of New Creation

                Yesterday the Bible Study group I lead concluded our ten-week study of the Book of Revelation (we have a bonus session next week with Ron Allen, the author of a preacher’s commentary on the Book of Revelation titled I Will Tell You the Mystery, Cascade Books, 2019). At times the Book of Revelation is a rather bleak and even violent book, but then apocalyptic literature can be rather bleak. Since it often is designed to encourage those who are suffering from oppression, apocalyptic literature can picture the destruction of enemies, usually at the hand of God (or God’s angels). So, it’s no surprise that the words apocalypse and apocalyptic take on an aura of dystopia and destruction. We might think here of movies like Apocalypse Now but it’s part of the message of the Left Behind books and movies that are so popular with certain segments of the Christian population. But is that all there is to apocalyptic theology? Or do misread it?    

                There are endings and even destruction present in such apocalyptic texts as the Book of Revelation. Nevertheless, that isn’t the last word of the Book of Revelation. So, perhaps we would be wise to follow the lead of Greg Stevenson who writes: “In essence apocalyptic is about creation not destruction” [Stevenson, A Slaughtered Lamb, p. 213]. He goes on to say:

 An apocalypse may envision an ending, but when it does, that ending inaugurates a new beginning. Within the apocalyptic worldview destruction is never an end in itself but a prelude to new creation. In this sense the term “post-apocalyptic,” which often refers in the popular lexicon to a struggle for survival or for rebuilding civilization in the aftermath of some devastation, becomes a misnomer when applied to a biblical context. This is because apocalyptic itself is as much about what follows destruction as what precedes it. Apocalyptic is about the interplay between despair and hope, pessimism and optimism. [A Slaughtered Lamb, p. 213].

Stevenson, correctly in my mind, connects this idea of new creation present in apocalyptic literature to the idea of resurrection, and in this case, he connects it with the resurrection of Jesus. He writes that “the concept of resurrection lies at the heart of Revelation’s apocalyptic theology because resurrection is all about new creation. As with apocalyptic, resurrection involves both an ending and a new beginning. It is death leading to life; the destruction of the body ushering in a new creation body” [A Slaughtered Lamb, p. 214].

                So, the message of the Book of Revelation isn’t just that the imperial power of Rome has been overthrown (cast into the lake of fire), but that something new is emerging. That is because, as the one seated on the heavenly throne declares: “I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). If this is true, if apocalyptic theology speaks to God’s ongoing work of creation, then perhaps it offers not a pessimistic message, but a rather optimistic one. As Stevenson again notes, “Revelation asserts that the creative activity of God is not an accomplished fact of the past but very much the basis of our hope for the future because creation is not simply what God once did but a component of who God is” [A Slaughtered Lamb, p. 214]. That is something to celebrate. In the Book of Revelation, the promise is this, a time will come when the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven and God will dwell among the people, and everyone will have face-to-face access to God (Rev. 22:3-4).  When the throne of God is present in the New Jerusalem, out from it will flow the River of the Water of Life. Alongside this river will sit the Tree of Life, producing twelve kinds of fruit. Thus, life abundant and eternal will be ours as we live in the presence of God and the Lamb (Rev. 22:1-2).  

Image attribution: Klimt, Gustav, 1862-1918. The Tree of Life from the Stoclet Frieze, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46730 [retrieved May 26, 2021]. Original source: www.yorckproject.de.


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