I'm writing about Revelation now...

...because i told you I would. So I am, but I'm not completely in the mood. Of course, I often start posts thinking that I'm not going to write much, but then they end up flowing right out of me. So here goes.
I'm talking about the book of the Bible, folks. The End Times. Mark of the Beat and all that rot. And, no, I'm not using "all that rot" in a twee sort of lazy way, I mean it. It's rot. Garbage. A load of crap that I've been sold most of my life, and I'm angry.

I was raised to take Revelation very literally, or at least to take what certain preachers, authors, and movie makers said about it very literally. I was told that things were very clear: the world was going to get worse and worse. There would be pressure on Christians to get the Mark of the Beast, and the government or corporations were going to be very sneaky about it- it could simply be your debit card that you used in the future cashless society, but it would most likely end up being a barcode or something- always including 666- that was tattooed or somehow implanted in your arm or forehead.

Debit cards weren't around back in the '80s, so the idea seemed much more sinister. Of course, we were also told that it will all make sense- the one world government, the cashless society. It would all be logical and seem to be for the best of society, but we faithful few must remain vigilant! We would have to refuse to get the mark or else we weren't going to heaven. I mean, you could possibly repent at some point, and as long as you chopped your arm off or otherwise maimed yourself to get off the offending mark, you could go to heaven a proud sufferer.

So I was always questioning whether or not I was Ready. Ready to not deny Jesus, even if someone held a gun to my head. Ready to run- across rooftops, over water, wherever we needed to hide from the Anti-Christ and his minions who wanted to get us for not getting the Mark. Ready to scavenge for food and shelter because we couldn't buy anything anymore without the Mark.

And what if I wasn't taken in the Rapture? You see, there is variety on when, exactly, the Rapture will happen. Before the Tribulation? In the middle of it? After? Who knows? Well, some people really think they do. But just in case, I needed to be ready for some rough times ahead. Get my game face on. Don't be afraid of torture and guillotines. (Yes. Guillotines.)

Why, do you ask, have I chosen to shed my hopes for this triumphant future? My answer is eleventy-fold, but I'll just share a couple with you:

  • People who promote these beliefs talk as this sequence of events is all quite clear in Scripture. NOTHING IS CLEARLY LITERAL IN REVELATION. John's language even shows us that he's not providing us with a snapshot. Most of his descriptions are really just comparisons where he's trying his best to paint a picture of things he couldn't really describe. "A loud voice like a trumpet," or "the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald..."
  • This is the same sort of language found a)throughout the OT and b)in Apocalyptic literature. Yes, there is a genre of Apocalyptic that existed centuries before Tim LaHaye got in the game. This genre was usually written in a time of persecution or crisis and was meant to encourage whatever group was targeted to stand up and be strong. It stirs up hope and belief that God sees and is truly in control. Look back at Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example. Do you take what they say to be literal, word for word truth? Did the stars fall from the sky at the fall of Tyre?
  • Revelation is also prophecy, which does NOT always mean that it is predicting the future. Prophets have the role of speaking God's words, calling the people back to obedience, and explaining God's point of view on matters. Revelation could very likely be showing God's point of view on the persecution under the Roman Empire that was taking place at the time it was written.
  • Rome. Much of what is in Revelation can quite easily, with very little decoder-ring action, apply to Rome. The woman sitting on 7 hills is clearly Rome, the number 666 would have very clearly referred to Nero to the recipients of this letter. Hmm, I wonder if Roman money had a picture of the Emperor on it?
  • Revelation is a letter. A letter written by someone who knew the situations in these churches and was writing to chastise some and encourage others. If the entire thing was meant as a riddle that only we geniuses in the 21st century could figure out, how would that have helped the early Christians being killed for not worshiping the Emperor?
  • In the parts that are clearly addressing the 7 churches, many of the things that some take to be code are really just inside jokes. Laodicea had their water brought downhill via pipes from the hot springs of Heirapolis. It was lukewarm by the time it got to them and got stinky, sulfury, and sick-making when it was stored in their cisterns. "Satan's throne" in Pergamum refers to a gigantic, frigging altar built to Zeus on a hill above town. It's in a museum in Berlin. It would be like referring to the Sonoma Aroma when writing to us here.

It was in my Systematic Theology class a couple years ago that I realized that many, many Christians don't take Revelation literally. And I was floored. I couldn't believe that there were other ways to look at The End Times and, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had permission to be optimistic. Like it's not naïve of me to want things to change for the better, or to work for peace, or to not be afraid of a charming world leader.

Does this mean that Revelation has nothing to offer modern readers? Not at all. The lessons for the 7 churches are still valid for us today, and it is important to remember that God has a different perspective on life in the world than we do. We get caught up in our daily problems or blessings, not always realizing that there are strong spiritual ramificatons to our actions or that things are very different for people down the road or across the globe. Revelation reminds us that God will wipe away every tear and that we will overcome not through violence and fighting but through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.

eta: Of course, since it is so ingrained in me, I reserve the right to keep one eye open and freak the hell out if things start lining up as predicted by Kirk Cameron. I rail against manipulation, fear-mongering, and much authority, but I'm not completely stupid.