Tag Archives: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Revelation: The Most Misused and Misinterpreted Book in the Bible

The end is near. It’s true. For those of you participating in Daily Bible Conversations with us, we are almost done. Twenty-three days to go. For me it’s been a fabulous journey.

But that’s not what I mean. Today we begin reading the most misused, misunderstood, and misinterpreted book in the Bible: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Revelation, the last book in the Bible but the first book in the library of those predicting the end of the world.

Predicting the end of the world has always been a popular past-time. But does Revelation actually predict the end of the world or does it have a larger more hopeful message?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Joel 1:1-3:21

Revelation 1:1-20

Psalm 128:1-6

Proverbs 29:18

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

At first disturbing glance, Revelation does seem to predict the end of the world. Near the beginning of the book John of Patmos reports that, “the time is near,” though he doesn’t say exactly what time. Then a few verses later, John continues, “Look he [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him . . . .” From there, as Eugene H. Peterson writes in The Message, a “rush of color and sound, image and energy leaves us reeling.”

We read of scrolls and seals, censers and trumpets, angels and devils, dragons, destruction and doom, judgement and, finally, a new Jerusalem. Many have connected these vague symbols and metaphors to current events and in so doing predict the end is near.

Hal Lindsey became famous (or infamous) doing this. He reported there was a three-story computer (this was 1974) that could give a mark to every human on earth, a code, the equivalent of 666. The computer was supposedly nick-named “The Beast.” It turns out the computer was pure fiction. Using this system of turning symbols into literal events, people, or things, Lindsey predicts, “Within forty years or so of 1948 [when Israel became a nation] all these things could take place.” If he was right, we’ve all been “Left Behind.”

But to be fair, Lindsey was not the only one to read Revelation as a literal prediction of the end of the world. Also the symbolic language of Revelation is complex and confusing. It is easy to get lost trying to interpret them and miss the bigger themes of the book.

The most powerful theme is worship. John is in worship when he receives his vision and from then on every person, nation, and creature in the book ends up bowing down, voluntarily or involuntarily, in worship. Praise, adoration, and servitude fill the book. “Holy, holy, holy,” all heaven sings. Maybe many of these symbols are not to be wrestled into literalism but rather are there to show poetically how all of God’s amazing creation will fall before him in worship.

If so, Revelation is not so much a prediction about how and when the world will end but rather a description that when the end comes, God will be triumphant over all. And our response to that great victory will be to rejoice and worship him.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured this truth in his Christmas poem written during the seemingly endless pain and evil of the Civil War. John Gorka musically rearranged this hymn/poem as a more modern Christmas song:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good will to men.

 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep:

The wrong shall fail,

The right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

 

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A Voice, a chime,

A chant sub-lime,

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It may be by God’s design we are reading this difficult book at Christmas when our hopes our supposed to soar. Because, though the world seems to be spiralling toward a horrible and destructive end, Revelation is a vision not of a fearful end of the world, though there are terrifying visions there, but a picture of the culmination God’s powerful redemption that began on Christmas Day. Revelation envisions a hopeful end of pain, fear, death, sin, Satan, and all that opposes God. But it is not the end of the world. Rather Jesus proclaims from his throne, “I am making everything new.” Let’s celebrate.

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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