Releasing the Hostage: Giving the Apocalypse Back to the Church -- By: Thomas N. Smith

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:2 (Spring 1997)
Article: Releasing the Hostage: Giving the Apocalypse Back to the Church
Author: Thomas N. Smith


Releasing the Hostage: Giving the Apocalypse Back to the Church

Thomas N. Smith

There are two equal and opposite errors about the devils into which our race can fall. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” 1

What Lewis said about devils is equally opposite to the book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of John. Obsession and skepticism reign.

I ought to know. I have been an example of both. My own relationship with the Revelation has been a pilgrimage from smug arrogance to doubt, from questions to skeptical know-nothingism, from renewed interest to renewed study, from reexposure to cautious confidence. The only alternatives in Christian faith and life are not, after all, smugness and skepticism. There is such a thing as a careful, studied, self-doubting faith, what someone has aptly called “proper confidence.”

The Apocalypse Held Hostage

My own renewed interest in Revelation began out of a pastoral concern, or, rather, several pastoral concerns. Let me explain these.

In the twenty-three years I have been a pastor I seldom, if ever, have seen any profitable discussion surrounding the book of Revelation. Inevitably, discussion of the book ends up on speculative questions, rather than on matters that deal directly with the faith and life of Christians within Christian churches. And not only so, but often discussion of the “issues” involved in the interpretation of the book results in acrimonious arguments; I have even had people leave my ministry because it was not “sound” regarding the book of Revelation. A book which uniquely pronounces God’s covenant blessing on those who read, hear, and keep

the sayings of the book (Rev. 1:3), has become the source of much to the contrary. This has made me uneasy. It has made me walk away from all such discussions with the thought, “Somehow, we don’t have it right.”

And this creates yet another serious concern. This book is meant to be read, heard, and kept (Rev. 1:3). Yet, the most popular understanding of the book sees it lacking any direct application to contemporary Christians. An interpretation that makes large portions of the book irrelevant to its current readers has to be suspiciously lacking. And this became even more apparent when I began to inquire into the attitude of Christians to the book. Most Christians do not read, let alone study, the book of Revelation. To be sure, I have always known one or two p...

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