The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant, John; Revelation 1:1 NASB
The End – There is hardly a single book in the Bible subject to greater contextual folly than The Holy Revelation of John the Divine. To prove this point, all that is needed is a quick review of the number of generations who determined that the end of the world was at hand by reading Revelation in their own context. Of course, that means ignoring the context of the author and treating the book as if it is some mysterious code about political intrigue, nuclear wars, the rise of Communism or Islam, and the dominance of some earthly super-evil power. What great fiction this produces! Tim LaHaye cashed in on our paranoia about the end of the world, but I am quite sure that his novels will sit on dusty shelves while the next generation decides that Revelation is really about extraterrestrial invasions or sunspot radiation or Chinese economics or something else.
What Christians have forgotten (or perhaps never knew) is that John’s vision is part of a genre of literature called Apocalyptic. It isn’t the only book making veiled claims about the future. In fact, it is only one among dozens written during the end of the apostolic age. If we look at the rest of these manuscripts, we just might draw different conclusions about the purpose and the nature of John’s addition.
It’s useful to note that the Greek text begins with apokalupsis. There is no definite article here. This is a disclosure, not the disclosure. The word means an uncovering and an interpretation of that uncovering. In other words, it is event plus meaning. This is a significant problem since no one seems to actually know what all this means. Maybe the reason we find it so difficult to interpret is that we are looking at it from the wrong perspective. Maybe we are looking for answers to the wrong questions.
David Frankfurter points out that other apocalyptic literature of the era is very similar to John’s revelation. The common themes are a picture of the heavenly world, deep Jewish (yes, that’s right) traditions, concern with prophetic authority, typology based in the Tanakh and Jewish priestly purity. Frankfurter points out that “Jesus Christ” really has a subordinate role in John’s work. The central issue is priestly purity (cf. The Ascension of Isaiah 3:21 and 28). In fact, Christ’s authority is derived from priestly purity and obedience. What Frankfurter demonstrates is that the book of Revelation fits comfortably within a Jewish view of life – here and in the hereafter. Revelation can be seen as “the work of continuous communities of halakhically-observant Jewish groups . . . that incorporated Jesus into their cosmologies and liturgies while retaining an essentially Jewish, or even priestly, self-definition.”
What does this mean for us, the average people concerned about what is coming over the event horizon? Perhaps it means some of the following:
1. Revelation needs to read as Jewish, as a description of the concerns of the Messianic Jewish congregation in the first century. We must resist the nearly ubiquitous temptation to treat it as a hidden code about the end of the world.
2. Revelation is part of the literature of hope. Its themes are Jewish themes – obedience, trust, purity, submission and sovereignty. As such, they have meaning within the culture of the author. The questions we need to ask begin with understanding that culture.
3. Revelation is not alone. It is not an unusual piece of literature, a one-of-a-kind view into the world to come. Before we can speak about its meaning, we need to understand its genre.
4. Revelation offers great insights into the place of prophetic authority which stands in radical contrast to the organizational hierarchy adopted by the Church in subsequent centuries but foreshadowed in conflicts within the Messianic community. We need to ask if we are not the product of the very thing Revelation opposed.
5. Finally, Revelation is about the deeply Jewish idea of God’s utter reliability. It is about trust in spite of chaos and confusion. Perhaps more than “signs of the times,” we should be looking for validations of emunah [truth, faithfulness].
Buy Left Behind if you wish, but it is fiction, through and through.
Topical Index: revelation, apokalupsis, Revelation 1:1, priest, purity
 David Frankfurter, “Beyond ‘Jewish’ Christianity” in The Ways that Never Parted, p. 137.
 Ibid., p. 135.