Heaven Doesn’t Matter

Yellow (gold) Brick Road, heaven doesn't have one of these, but I'm sure you'll need the high heels to dress for the occassion

Yellow (gold) Brick Road, heaven doesn’t have one of these, but I’m sure you’ll need the high heels to dress for the occassion

I mean who does care about heaven?

We care so much about heaven we speak of it as often as we speak about hell. (see my previous post Why the Hell does Hell Matter? wherein I describe the banality of this idea more academically than my approach here to heaven)

Equally we spend as much time trying to keep people out of hell as we do get them into heaven…makes me wonder if we really believe in either one. We spend precious little time doing either.

At least I’m honest about this. Why keep giving attention to irrelevant concepts that don’t help me love, live and embrace beauty around me?

These are theological buzz words that define your camp. They are not words that mean a damn thing for any of us when we start each morning.

Heaven, and its corollary hell, are nice ideas in church on Sunday, but when I’m running my business, playing with my kids, talking with my wife or hanging out with my band of brothers, heaven and hell might as well be the man on the moon. Is he there and if he is do any of us care?

A friend of mine likes to say that most Christians are practical atheists and Christian only by confession. I think he’s right. Heaven and Hell are ideas we feel the need to acknowledge but nothing that constitutes our attention daily.

By practical atheism he means that we do not really embrace, or incarnate, a theocentric worldview, one that would rely on the deity for our very sustenance.

To the contrary, most of us live very secular lives for very secular reasons. We just participate in religion because we are scared of the man upstairs. We are scared of the opposite of heaven…and because there is a “hell to shun, there is a heaven to gain.”

Yet this idea of shun and gain, has little import on how our worldviews are constructed or how we attempt to orchestrate divine responses from the heavens.

We no longer NEED it.

We know God doesn’t really supply our food. Dirt, water and agro-manipulation allow us to eat. God doesn’t shelter us from the heavens. Our air conditioned and heated homes do that. God doesn’t bring the rain. Weather patterns of the globe bring us rain. Etc.

I could continue the list, but generally speaking we are all practical atheists because we can be, and when our atheism runs dry or hits a space of unknown geography, our God comes in handy. We then give him control by saying he’s in control, but in reality, we will practically live into tomorrow as we have lived into today: very independently, ideologically and self-sufficiently.

We believe in Moses and manna from above, but not that much.

Our lives are NOT centered on these grandiose eschatological schemes any more than our lives are centered on other solar systems. They simply do not matter. And neither does heaven or hell.

Just because we think we have to believe in something, doesn’t make believing in that something a constitutional priority over how we regulate our daily activities.

If this were the case, then all the Christians who are consequently good capitalists would quit their jobs and invest in “eternal” matters because the “matter” of matter really doesn’t matter. Right?

At least until Monday morning when heaven doesn’t matter and the material world is more valuable than any hymn we hypocritically sung the previous Sunday morning.

Heaven doesn’t matter, and neither does hell, at least not as much as we think it does.
But they do matter as much as we act upon them, which means never.

As the psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Zizek is quick to point out, we are not the sum total of our beliefs. We are the sum total of our actions because our actions embody what we really believe, even if you want the preacher and fellow cultural Christians to think otherwise.

Heaven doesn’t matter because it doesn’t matter, affect, how we live in the world. Maybe we can be good Platonists, or Neo-Platonists, and adopt a bizarre dualism that history challenges with each passing day, but otherwise, heaven doesn’t matter.

(And if it did matter, even a little, I bet it matters to you for wholly different reasons than it mattered to Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t worried about what happened to him.  He was crucified.  Us?  We like our bodies and our souls a little too much than to volunteer them for a cross or the great unknown of the grave.  Buncha Christian narcissists confusing heaven with ideal ego.  I digress.)

But we should take heart. We can be honest about this and not fret the hell fire of a God that lives to be right. We need not worry about a God that longs to be holy and can’t wait to tempt us with neat little things such as trees and gardens, all the while knowing what we will do, so that he can then provide a way of redemption for us, you know, so God can feel good about being God. A prearranged ideal foreordained for the faithful. We need not worry about this or that heaven doesn’t matter.


Well, because the Bible doesn’t seem to care a whole lot about heaven either.

Heaven is not the reason Jesus came. The coming of God into creation was the reason Jesus came. This seems to be at least a little what Jesus might have meant about the Kingdom of God arriving with him, in him, through him, and remaining after him.

Jesus didn’t spend any time talking about heaven the way preachers today talk about heaven. Sure, go read the Gospels. There are some cryptic sayings one might deduce to be the heaven we all know and love, the same heaven that matters very little on a daily basis, but that is only because we are reading the Gospels through the Book of Revelation.

Guess what? Jesus never read the Book of Revelation and his view of heaven was not redacted with images of Johns Revelation.

Jesus’ idea of heaven was not hijacked by the scariest book of the Bible, one so scary that not even the scariest of Reformation theologians, John Calvin, could write a commentary on it.

Jesus used Jewish eschatological concepts in his preaching and there is very little Jewish theology that would look anything like disembodied spirits floating at the feet of Jesus.

I think of this and I’m reminded of that scene in the Little Mermaid with all the damned souls floating in Ursella’s abyss…only our idea of heaven is the opposite. That’s just weird and if your Christianity makes you believe something like that, go right ahead but it’s not what Jesus came preaching and it’s not consistent with St. Paul either.

But it would make you a good heretic in the early church and that’s pretty cool.

And check this, not only did Jesus not read Revelation for a clue about heaven but Revelation isn’t even about going to heaven!

Seriously, it’s not.

Revelation is about God restoring justice in the world and bringing redemption to the nations. That’s why in this apocalyptic letter the New Jerusalem (the place where God is) comes to us and dwells with us.

We don’t go to it.

Sound familiar? Well it is. Jesus. Incarnation. Gospel of John. Jesus came and dwelt among us.

Revelation is not interested in a literal picture of heaven anymore than heaven matters to us on any given day. Revelation is using metaphor, simile and symbolism to create an apocalyptic vision of what the dwelling of God looks like through the lens of a finite creation.

The Streets are not literal Gold. The gates do not have real gems. The measurement of heaven is not an exact geometric line with plane and circumference.

That’s why phrases such as, “And I saw something LIKE…” or “and it APPEARED AS…” I mean come on people! We get this all the time in movies and books and never take it literal, but when these words are used for the Bible they becomes EXACT?!?

All of these things are simply portrayals of the place where God is and how fantastic that place is when all that is good comes into the realm of all that is wrong, God taking up permanent residence with us in this vision.

John in the Book of Revelation is not interested in talking to us about heaven and hell or the devil or Rosemary’s Baby.

John is interested in giving us the story of God via a unique apocalyptic literary genre that employs Old Testament imagery to tell the story of God in Christ as such unfolds in the face of Empire and anti-christological forces.

Therefore, it is not a map, a literal description or a future prediction. It is a letter to Christians that lived 2000 years ago and needed a good word from their preacher. Revelation is that letter.

I’m sorry you’re reading someone else’s mail and misunderstanding it.

No, I’m not surprised.

So heaven doesn’t matter for us. If it doesn’t help us organize and structure our daily lives or cast us into the world unabated by financial necessities, than it doesn’t matter. It’s a belief we hold out of obligation and guilt, not one we hold because it matters one iota.

If it doesn’t matter for Jesus, at least not the way we like to think of it as evangelicals, than the idea of heaven we hold certainly doesn’t matter because it didn’t even matter to Jesus.

And it doesn’t matter to the writer of the Book of Revelation, chapter 21 being the chapter that tells us EXACTLY what heaven is like. If even the chapter on heaven doesn’t think heaven literally matters…then I guess we are in good company.

It’s OK to be practical atheists and have a faith that doesn’t shape how we live, at least its eschatological contours and end doesn’t enjoin us to act as if it did.

It’s OK to continue living like practical atheists when it comes to heaven. We are in good company. Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor the Book of Revelation seems to care much about either.

That’s an abbreviated reason I don’t believe in heaven. The Bible doesn’t ask me to believe it and it wouldn’t matter even if it did because it’s never a matter that mattered anyhow.

I actually like that heaven, and hell, doesn’t matter because now I can be Christian for a plethora of reasons that doesn’t involve saving my own soulish ass.

It’s called The Book of Revelation, not “Revelations”

Revelations End

The most popular and feared book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, suffers a thousand deaths every time someone gets this wrong. You can hear it at any coffee shop (at least in my town), church parking lot, or casual argument at work when a co-worker is trying to convince you of all the things they have learned from Hal Lindsey or John Hagee. Heck, you’ll probably even hear it around the Thanksgiving dinner table or around the Christmas Tree of Baby Jesus. As with many arguments, this phrase is often used to win, to be right. The Bible is the ultimate trump card to win all arguments; and let’s face it, it’s not really being used for much else nowadays. The Bible functions apologetically as the proverbial ace up one’s sleeve…and as the ace begins to get slammed on the table in defense of a particular end time scenario this quaint phrase rears its ugly head and becomes the second incarnation of Jesus the Christ as someone says, “Well, the Book of Revelations says…”

Stop. The. Presses.

There is no Book of Revelations. Sometimes this reference to the scariest book in the Bible is just shorthanded. People get lazy, so instead of calling it “The Letter of Revelation,” “The Apocalypse of John,” or even “The Book of Revelation,” we have given it the shorthand name “revelations.”

Perhaps you’ve heard it said like this. As you try to defend the idea that maybe the secular State of Israel is not the same as the ancient historical reality of Israel and then build on that nuance for a deeper appreciation of the complex geopolitical situation of the Middle East, your conversation partner may halt you mid-stream and say, “Well, in Revelations is says…”

Again, there is no “revelations” in the Bible. This may seem like a minor point of contention, something that those of us obsessed with semantics would find amusing while the rest of the world is concerned with praxis and scriptural applicability to our lives.

Not so fast. You see, the language we use builds the worlds in which we live. We construct worlds with our language…our language is not just constructed by our worlds. The same is true for our biblical understandings. The bible doesn’t just shape our language; our language about the Bible also shapes how we understand it. And in this case, confusing “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ,” or “The Book of Revelation” with “revelations” plural creates a gross methodological starting point wherein we have already begun to read this book incorrectly by our very naming of it wrongly.

Let me quote the first verse of the Book of Revelation, which is also a historical letter to 7 historical Churches. The following is my own translation.

John writes, “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave to his servants concerning what must quickly come into being, signifying the sending of its message through his messenger and servant John.”

John does not call the following Letter a series of “revelations” about Jesus nor does he title his message as one of multiple meanings or purposes. His point is clear. He is writing A (singular) Apocalypse about Jesus.

Now, unlike popular parlance would have us believe, the word apocalypse does not mean end of the world, mass destruction, fiery balls of molten rock falling from the sky, visions of John Cusack and the Movie 2012…Apocalypse means none of this. The language of apocalypse has taken on a ton of baggage because of the Book of Revelation for sure, but such has happened not because Revelation warrants it, but because we are reading it as a book full of disasters rather than reading it as The (singular) message of the resurrected Christ we call Jesus and the work God has begun in his ministry.

Apocalypse is the Greek word that means to “reveal,” “to disclose,” or “to make known.” The word does not mean to hide, to puzzle or to cause massive destruction. What John is telling us at the very first sentence of this letter filled with apocalyptic imagery, revelatory imagery of ONE revealing, is that he is about to tell his readers who the Christ is. He is about to define him. He is about to disclose him to the world, not hide him away in some Bible code that only experts with massive book sales can unlock for the rest of us. Revelation is about disclosing the story of God in Christ working to redeem the world and bring about its new creation. It is not about giving John a secret message that his Churches would not understand…a message that would be locked away until 2000 years later when the world is on the verge of economic collapse, Russia and Iran are in cahoots and Israel is now in jeopardy of losing the veracity of its longest standing peace treaty with its very historical neighbor: Egypt.

NO! John is not interested in any of this. He is interested in giving us a vision of Jesus that is grounded in the imagery of the Hebrew Bible in such a way that the story of Jesus is simply the contiguous reality of what God had begun in those ancient stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is interested in Revealing Jesus to us! He is not trying to hide the Christ or his workings! And he is busy doing this in a literary type and genre that was used by oppressed peoples who felt as if the only way their worlds could be redeemed was for God to physically break into their present and alter their future.

Apocalypticist’s, such as John, are negative people and they have historical warrant for their lack of prophetic optimism one might find in older prophets such as Isaiah or Jeremiah. Apocalypticist’s use dark imagery, but only because they understand the nature of humanity and they witness to a strong historical track record in which humanity does not come around as it should, it does not follow the message of Christ and it is in love with power and the trappings of the worlds empires.

The people that write letters such as Revelation, Enoch or Esdras are feeling the sledge hammer of evil and they are sharing in the oppression and persecution of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They are writing with inspiration from an oppressed minority that has suffered immeasurably. They are labeled as atheists that wish to subvert the State and are accused of eating their children and drinking their blood in a ceremonial meal we now call Eucharist…for these kinds of people, who have seen their own brothers and sisters used by Nero as human torches to light the Roman skies at night…for these kinds of people, and for a person named John that is in Exile on a remote Island known as Patmos BECAUSE of his faith…for them the only language that will suffice is that of the literary type we now call apocalyptic because there is no other form and positioning of words that is able to not only capture their angst and despair but also provide them hope in a world full of beasts that are getting drunk on the blood of the saints!

But Just because it is a negative literary type that is employed by people of faith from around the years 200BCE to 200CE doesn’t mean that the letters or books that contain these images are trying to hide anything. Indeed the opposite is the case…what they are arguing is that the only way to see reality and the world is through this apocalyptic lens. It is the REAL world, the real picture of what is going on…not the picture of what will happen 2000 years after the writing of the document. John is speaking a word to the present. He is revealing Jesus in the present. He is not hiding Jesus under the Bushel of history awaiting his full disclosure to the enlightened ones amongst us in the year 2013 who have the ability to change all of their interpretations to fit history and to correct all of their previously bad interpretations’.

John is writing to reveal. He is not writing to hide and he titles his letter this in the very FIRST sentence if we will simply stop to read it. Let’s not read this Letter with all the expectations of the people who can’t read Greek…or they do read Greek and just skip the first sentence. You’d think they would have learned something in Elementary School English about context clues and following directions. John is giving us directions before we start reading…and he is telling us he is writing A (singular) revelation (disclosure) of who Jesus the resurrected Christ is as he opposes and destroys evil. He is not trying to hide anything.

Quit trying to play connect the dots…there are no dots to connect. Save your $ and quite buying all those “Left Behind” books and their historical revisionist counterparts that are now making their way on the scene.

So John is writing about A revealing of Jesus that is not convoluted but thoroughly dependent upon the story of God that is told throughout the Hebrew Bible and he is telling it in a singular kind of way.

In other words, it’s called Revelation, not Revelations.

People often confuse all the many images and plot lines that are developing within this mysterious letter with mini-revelations, mini-visions that constitute a larger whole. To a degree, this is correct. John, however, is not writing to give us snippets of historical details that can be understood apart from the resurrection of Jesus…apart from the Lamb of God who rides on his White Horse. There are many images and visions in the letter because the story of God in Christ is long and tedious. It is not easily flattened or easily summarized…it has been building as a metanarrative for at least 2500 years. History such as this that is melded together with a cosmic Christ event cannot be reduced to a mere retelling. It must be poetically and beautifully written so as to captivate its hearers and bring those of us as readers into its world, which is ironically our very own. These images are part of a coherent whole meant to disclose the meaning of Christ and the direction of the world…they are not meant to be read as mini-revelations that all have theological meaning apart from Christ.

All of these visions, chapters, characters, numbers, seals, bowls, prostitutes, angels, witnesses, etc., all of these work harmoniously together to tell the story of God in Christ. To tell the world that Christ is Lord, not Rome. To tell the world that Christ has defeated death, it has not defeated him. To tell the world that Rome is not the new creation, but God is busy about building a New Jerusalem. To tell the world that Jesus we call Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end…the I AM. This is the SINGULAR revelation (revealing) of the Apocalypse of John.

The way we talk about this letter profoundly affects the way we read it…and sadly, many people read it as if it is a 22 chapter encasement of multiple revelations rather than a part of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ that is attempting to show a singular revelation of this One whom the world crucified but whom God saw fit to resurrect.

Revelation is not meant to be confusing and it’s not meant to scare the you know what out of your you know where. It is meant to cast a vision toward the incarnation of God in Christ and tell ONE story of revealing to a world that is sadly mistaking the Pax Romana, or the Pax Americana, with the Pax Christi. Christ is king, Christ is Lord and he is such because of the work he has done…and John wants us to know of this work. This is why John writes his letter. He wants his churches to know the risen Christ in relation to their world…and as a part of our canon of Christian scripture the Church has said we confess we continue to need it to do so.

So next time you are tempted to skip the first sentence of Revelation, or you get in that discussion at church or with your neighbors about the bible and the last days and they tell you what it says in the “book of revelations,” just remind them that the work of Christ is singular and it is powerful. Confusion is not of God, it’s of the other guy.

And the Apocalypse of Jesus is not so much about destroying the world as it is redeeming lives. You might be surprised that in the face of such Good News, aka Gospel, you may just render them speechless.



The Pope is NOT the Anti-Christ: Tips for reading Revelation

pope antichrist

Let’s get straight to the point: The Pope and his election has absolutely nothing to do with the end of the world. Further, this recent papal election has absolutely nothing to do with a pope that will become the ever allusive “antichrist.” If that’s how you read the book of Revelation, please close your Bibles… now open them and start again. Perhaps read the entire Old Testament before again trying to read the final book of the Bible…a book that is theologically predicated on not only the New Testament that precedes it, but also the theological motifs of the entire Hebrew Bible that precede the New Testament. If you haven’t done that, and Re-membered what you’ve read, then chances are Revelation will prove to be quite a conundrum.

I have some very simple reasons as to why I do not proffer nor correlate papal politics with the Book of Revelation. There is literally a litany of reasons. This blog would not be able to contain all the reasons for not reading the Book of Revelation in such a way that one would deduce the presumed prophetic facts that the Pope, and his hilly city of Rome, is the very larval environment from which a super-human known as Anti-Christ will emerge. Much finer minds and scholars have written entire books on how to read the book of Revelation in responsible ways; ways that do not primarily feed our bizarre appetite for destruction, but rather offer the world and the church hope in one the New Testament called the Christ.

I understand that it is en vogue, at least within conservative evangelical circles (and Baptist circles), to believe in the Rapture and to be able to “plainly” see this in the biblical text. Even in my own ministerial context, most folks polled would say “yes” if asked if they believe in a future rapture and “yes” they believe that Rome has something to do with the antichrist and the last days. The question is not one of whether many people believe something. Indeed if enough people believe something long enough then for them it becomes the truth, even if no one else shares that belief. Another way of saying it, we don’t know what we don’t know. The real question is whether such belief is warranted through biblical, historical, traditional, theological and philosophical grounds. I would contend that the idea of “rapture,” and then all the premillennial theological baggage associated therewith (such as popes and antichrists), is absent any viable reasons for believing in the system of interpretation that is required to hold such a worldview, let alone call it the Christian reading.

Before I give my reasons, let me first say that this will not answer all detractors nor will it seek to define in entirety all of the following concepts. The most common form of remainder will be in particular interpretive questions, such as the meaning associated with particular concepts with which rapture theorists have made their most hay. Concepts such as: the mark of the beast, the tribulation, the great whore of bablyon, white throne of judgment, the destruction of satan, etc. But let me be clear, under a responsible form of biblical interpretation all of these ideas will make sense and do have answers; they just won’t have the very “literal” answers that we are so used to receiving.

Let me further add that I am a recovering premillenialist. In other words, I used to believe that in some strange way the pope, Rome, and the antichrist were all intimate parts of the end of the world that would play out during a 7 year period…3 ½ of which would be very bad for people who did not love Jesus. Until I was 19, I was a card-carrying member of Tribulation Force Christians. I was raised on the ideas of John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, Hal Lindsey and your local evangelist who specialized in the Book of Revelation. I have heard more sermons on 1 Thessalonians and its rapture teaching than most folks could probably ever care to hear…but I loved them. I loved hearing those sermons. In fact, when I first began preaching I even preached the idea of “rapture” and all the dispensations associated with it on more than one occasion. Yet…these ideas also tormented me. I have been left behind, personally “left behind,” at least a half-dozen times.

So at 18 I started asking questions…questions to which those preachers whom I respected where unable to give sufficient answers. I still held to my childhood faith, the faith I was raised with, but the more I pondered and asked questions, rather than just believe something because some old guy told me this is how I was supposed to read the Bible…the more I began to be open to a different view of scripture. I was looking for a reading that made more sense and made the dark pages of Revelation less opaque.

I personally believe this quest was led by the Spirit. And after this quest, for the first time I was able to actually read Revelation not fearing its content, but actually allowing its words to feed my spirit in the present. It was no longer a word about future destruction; it became a word about present hope and grace in my life and the life of the world. For this I am thankful.

So here’s a little of what I have learned, why I don’t believe in the rapture as its usually taught, and therefore do not fear the new Latin Pope who will, according to some, be the very material appearance of the son of perdition.

First, Revelation is apocalyptic literature, which means it should be read as apocalyptic literature. In the Bible there are many literary forms: poetry, narrative, mythology, law code, history, letters, prophecy, gospel, apocalyptic, wisdom, etc. All these literary mediums are to be read in particular ways, ways consistent with that genre if we are to understand their messages. If we read all literary types the same we will find that nonsense begins to emerge.

For example, do we read the newspaper or online news articles the way we read a poem? Of course not. To do so would mean to miss the point of the poem or the prose. We understand that one is about conveying information and the other is about captivating our imaginations and reinterpreting our worlds. Both forms of communication are true; they mean something, but they communicate differently and with different intent. We know that HOW they are written matters…and we take this into consideration when reading them.

Another example, would we read a history book the way we read L. M Alcott’s Little Women? Of course not. One is a story in history that is fictional with freedom to create another world; the other is a non-fictional biased observation on events that have happened in the past. They both use words, both can be read “literally,” yet we know to read one like the other would confuse them and distort meaning.

Yet we do this ALL THE TIME with the Bible. We read every book like its every other book. We never consider that the wisdom literature is different from the exilic prophets or that the Gospel of Matthew is different than the Book of Revelation…and as a result we read Revelation incorrectly. Or worse, we do make distinctions but do so unconsciously and therefore unintentionally coming up with interpretations that may be totally foreign to the text we are reading. We come up with crazy ideas like popes, antichrists and beasts that arise from the ocean in some weird version of Alien vs. Predator. We do this because we are reading apocalyptic poetry like it’s a newspaper article or a Pauline letter. We do not approach it as a work of APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE and then attempt to interpret it. We approach it as a flat literal text that can be read like all the other books in the bible. Next time, write your sweetheart a love letter and tell her to read it the way you read this blog…see if she’s able to understand the medium of your words.

So Rule #1 about biblical interpretation: If you do not understand the genre type you are reading and how its medium of communication functions on a literary, and therefore, historical level, you will not understand much of scripture and you will continue to read INTO the Bible what you believe because of what you have been taught. The Bible will never become strange; it will never become new; you will always see the same Bible because you read all of the Bible the same way. So Rule #1: know what kind literary genre is being used and then read it in ways consistent with that genre…

This is one reason I can say without doubt that this Recent papal election has nothing to do with the end of the world.

Second, to read the Book of Revelation in a purely futuristic way…as a book that does NOTHING but tell us the future is to question the very reason it is incorporated into the Christian canon. I struggle to understand why, why, why, a book would be included in the Bible that was ABSOLUTELY USELESS to every Christian who has ever lived, and every Christian community that has ever believed Jesus was the Christ, until the present. In what way is the Book actually inspired if it was worthless to every reader until the present? I thought all scripture was inspired and worthy for instruction?? But when we say that this book tells us all the above about Iran and Russia and the Papal antichrist, we are saying exactly this…that the Book of Revelation was useless until OUR generation arrived on the scene. I wonder what the preacher did when he came to this text say in the year 400 or 1000 or 1530 or 1776?? Did communities simply say, “Well guys, the Book of Revelation is not for us…we don’t live in the last days, so we will refrain from using it as instruction for our Christian lives because we are not the ones who can understand it.” What would be the point in having a book lie dormant for nearly 1700 years in our Christian canon and how would it be inspired?

In fact, historically the opposite was the case. Communities have always used the Book of Revelation to describe their relationship to the world and Christ’s victory over the enemies of God. Augustine used it when Rome was sacked around 400, the Catholic Church used it around millennial fervor in 1000, Martin Luther used it as allegory to say that the Roman Church was the Great Whore (he thought HE was living in the last days), the Reformed used it as a book that helped them make sense of differing shades of Protestants in 1600 and the American Revolutionaries used it as a paradigm for interpreting their relationship with Great Britain…and this to name a few. This text has always been appropriated by believers as a source of hope and to orient the way they worship. It was not relegated for use by the ENLIGHTENED ones in the 21st century that would finally KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS.

We have to be some of the most prideful Bible readers to assume that all that came before us were idiots and now we have the answers…but that is what a Rapture belief does. It assumes that now we have the answers, we know why it is inspired and we are able to use it better than any other generation because we have acquired the right form of interpretive knowledge. Well, that sounds a lot like Gnosticism and it is not very holy, because holiness is not typified by self-righteous knowledge.

A further point here is that this Book of Revelation was historically a Letter to Seven Churches. Why would John write them a letter that was not really for them? Why write a letter to people, the contents of which would not be helpful as they engage the world? I think it much more likely that John wrote words to them that would empower them in their contexts and give them hope in Christ…and that the content of the letter, (as all letters we write to one another), would have been understood by its recipients. A letter written to people that would not be able to understand every detail and all its symbols, metaphors, etc., is a useless letter…both today and in the First Century. And if this is the case, we should not ask the question, “what does revelation mean for US here today?” before asking the primal question, ‘what did the Letter of Revelation mean to those Seven churches and what might that say about our present?”

So this is reason #2 I do not fear the new Latin pope is Spanish Antichrist spoken about in Revelation 26.66

Lastly, we must also understand that to read the Book of Revelation in a literal fashion and to do this under a premillennial paradigm is a VERY new Christian thing to do. In fact, there is no historically Christian warrant for reading Revelation in this way: raptures and trib forces and literal bottomless pits and all.

This idea was germinated in the thought of John Nelson Darby in the early 19th century. Darby did not have any formal theological training but a zeal for the work of the church. He was not the first to interpret history across time periods, but he was the first to develop an entire dispensational system from the biblical text. He interpreted all of scripture within what he called 7 “dispensations” or time periods of history. Each dispensation was a different epoch of history and linked with a unique covenantal event in scripture. He then read scripture as being revealed across these epochs. His reading of scripture was very literal and did not take into consideration literary, historical and canonical issues when reading the Bible.

His ideas were popularized by one Cyrus Scofield, an evangelical leader in North America who was won over to his ideas through Darby’s work in America. (Darby was British of Irish parents) Scofield published his own KJV reference bible and interpreted all of scripture in Darby’s dispensational way. His Reference Bible was the key to engraining dispensationalism in the evangelical psyche as its study notes were alongside the pages of scripture so that the pious believer could have easy reference to this interpretive system (you can still buy a Scofield Reference Bible at most bible retailers). It was published in 1909 and was widely used in churches and Bible schools. Though it was rarely used by Universities or seminaries it became the most influential bible in North America during the 20th century (a century begun by Pentecostal end times fervor if you will). This bible became so influential that it was the main source for resolving disputes or matters of interpretation across many areas and it remained popular among conservative Christians, evangelicals and Pentecostals. It is because so many folks read the Bible in the shadow of Darby and Scofield (none of which were academically trained or biblical scholars to any degree) that people read the book of Revelation literally and think that this recent papal foray is the foreshadowing event of Armageddon.

So let me say this another way: no one of Christian note, until Darby and Scofield, interpreted the Bible in a full blown dispensational way and worked out an entire system of interpretation predicated thereon. Not Jesus, Not Paul, Not Polycarp, Not Tertullian, Not Augustine, Not Aquinas, Not Gregory, Not Luther, Not Calvin, Not Arminius, Not Wesley, Not Whitfield, Not Edwards, etc., etc.,…NO Christian thinker prior to Darby would have understood anything Darby was doing with the Bible. It was not historically Christian, it was not biblically literate, it did not make philosophical sense, it disregarded the literary genres of scripture, it usurped a full version of inspiration…AND last but not least, it was a liberal modern reductionistic way of reading the Bible by harnessing all the mystery of divine text into a model or system that could contain its truth. Conservatives eat your heart out and hate modernity, but there is nothing more modern than the latter. The very ones who accuse liberals of reasoning away text have beaten the Bible to death with Reason…and yet claim to not use it in their interpretations.

These reasons do not even begin to scratch the surface of why I do not think that the recent Papal election has anything to do with the end of the world…meaning, I have not scratched the surface of why I don’t read Revelation as a literal book about literal future events. I could go on to talk about how interpreters of Revelation often pick and choose what texts are literal and what are to be understood symbolic…often making these decisions arbitrarily. I could go on to talk about how reading this book literally as a future map does nothing to edify the church or make Christians. I could go on to offer a liturgical critique, asking why so many modern readers who believe in this “rapture” and all the stuff that necessarily follows it…like concern of papal politics is missing entirely the general usage of the Book of Revelation as a book of prayer, praise and adoration. Some of our greatest hymns are found within its pages…I could go on…but I won’t.

When I come to the Revelation I read it for its beauty; I read it for is power and its promise; I read it and never cease to be amazed at how John gives us the story of God in Christ in such captivating ways that challenge our view of the world, of good and evil, of salvation and sin, of redemption and judgment. In short, I read it as a good word to us in the NOW and any interpretation that fails to demonstrate how scripture can be incarnated into the community of faith is an interpretation of which we should all be suspect.

So Popes, Vaticans, and hairy scorpion monsters come what may…The city on a hill from which evil is performed is always performed within the shadow of another hill in which evil was already defeated.