Introduction – Revelation in the Pattern of the Exodus.
There is probably no book of Scripture that has been as much studied and as much misunderstood as the Revelation of John. Many books have been written and many charts drawn up, only to be contradicted by other charts and books from other points of view. During my youth, I remember that the study of Revelation tended to divide believers into camps battling against one another. This surely was not the will of God in giving us the great Revelation of John.
One of the difficulties, it seems, has always been that the Revelation of John has been treated differently than other books of Scripture. We have tried to understand the entire book through an interpretive grid taken from one controversial chapter (Revelation 20), rather than seeking to understand this revelation as a part of the larger whole of Scripture.
Imagine trying to interpret Ephesians without any reference to or understanding of the work of Christ as contained in the Gospels. This analogy seems absurd to us: how would we understand what Paul was talking about when he mentioned the cross of Christ or our upward calling in Christ Jesus. Yet this is exactly the kind of thing that we have done in our attempts to interpret John’s Revelation. We have blinded ourselves to the images of the Revelation by failing to look back into the OT images of the Law and Prophets. We have blinded ourselves by putting our own, man made, interpretive grids on the Revelation.
There are two main premises that I use in my teaching on Revelation…
First, that the images of Revelation are images that come from the pages of the Old Testament – and have been expanded and given fuller meaning in Revelation. There are images from the Jewish Exodus and from the Exile. This idea is certainly not original with me.
Second, that the Revelation of John follows a very definite pattern – the pattern of the Exodus. Let me explain.
Revelation was written to a church in suffering. God spoke, and John wrote to a church that was suffering. The church’s experience was like that of the Hebrew slaves who had been in ancient Egypt…
~ They were God’s people suffering in a world and a land in which they did not belong.
~They had no power.
~ Their faith made them odious to the surrounding world.
~ They were people who were living for and hoping to receive the promises of God – the return of Jesus Christ, much like the ancient Hebrews who were waiting for God to fulfill his promises to Abraham.
The Revelation of John is much like the coming of Moses to the Hebrews to tell them that God had heard their cry and has had compassion on them. The Revelation is a call to the seven churches to get ready…
~ God is going to show great signs and wonders (like the plagues of Egypt)
that will call the world to repentance.
~ God is going to lead his people out of bondage – out into the desert.
~ God is going to confront and judge the nations of the world
~ God is going to gather his people to himself as a bride – and bring them
into the promised land.
This is the pattern of the book of Revelation. It is a pattern that follows that pattern of God’s great deliverance of his people in Exodus. It is a way of thinking that would have made sense and been familiar to Jewish believers in particular. In other words, in the book of Revelation God revealed himself in a way that his people could understand, in a pattern or language, if you will – the language of Exodus.
God used visions and symbols of events from the Old Testament, but expanded and changed them to show that this final Revelation was going to accomplish what previous visions and revelations had only partially accomplished, because of the weakness and sin of man.
Consequently, this Exodus is the final Exodus. This conquest of the promised land is the final conquest of the promised land. And this is so, not because we in the church are so much better than the Hebrew Slaves, but because Christ is the one bringing everything to pass – so that everything in heaven and on earth and in all creation will be subject to him.
There is one more think to say about the paradigm I am using to teach through Revelation – it is a Gospel paradigm. Very often teaching on Revelation focuses on the spectacular and the frightening. There are frightening images in the Revelation – and any time one talks about the judgement of God and the end of the world the subject matter is likely to be unquieting.
Nevertheless, the message of the Revelation to the church is meant to be a message of deliverance and hope for God’s beloved children. Revelation should never be taught without attention, and even prominence, given to the Gospel of grace and favor.