About a month ago, I was asked to co-teach a four week class on the last book of the Bible, John’s Revelation of Jesus. Basically, this is what is referred to as apocalyptic literature. It’s one of several types of writing in the Bible, in addition to narrative (most of the Bible is written in this style), poetry (think Psalms, etc.) and wisdom (think Proverbs and Ecclesiastes).
Apocalyptic literature is usually considered the most difficult to understand. That’s because there are many ways that people choose to read the words of the book and there are at least four different perspectives that one can take in assessing this book. Futurists look at Revelation as something that has not happened yet, and on the other end of the spectrum we have Preterists who believe that this book is historical and the events happened, and ended, by about 70 A.D. Two other positions fall between these two end points. Just for the record, I am a Futurist.
I think that the apostle John was given an extraordinary opportunity to see the future and then write down his vision to give hope and understanding to others at the end of the first century – approximately 70 years after the ascension of Jesus. But, to be sure, there are many different views of the events that are recorded and even the most learned of scholars vehemently disagree on what the truth is. To be sure, this side of heaven we will never know.
Normally, I teach in an exegetical style. That means that I go verse by verse and present the various views on what is going on in the text. However, this class is not about specific verses as much as it is about the historical context and various ways to look at John’s writing.
Clearly, I have spent many hours of study hoping to present the material in a way that is consistent with the goals of the class. And illness has played a role as well. First I got Covid and then the Senior Pastor, who is lead teacher of the class, also became sick. So we are having to modify things on the fly to get the material presented the best possible way.
This experience has been a real blessing to me for two different reasons. First, I have had time to reflect on my classes in eschatology while I was in seminary (the study of the endtimes) and it is refreshing to recall those moments in class that were so very special. We had wonderful conversations about ways to look at Revelation and Dr. Branine, who led many of my theology classes, was a real icon of the faith and a scholar who studied literally every day until the day he passed away several years ago.
Dr. Branine was one of those people who always had time to answer questions and spend time with us to help us improve our ministry areas. I was blessed to study under him for three years during my master’s program. My classmates were another incredible blessing. Those days in class were truly some of the best days of my life and I miss them. Thankfully, I had had the chance to reach out to classmates and former professors to check certain aspects of Revelation for my teaching assignment. It brought back such wonderful memories!
On the other hand, the second thing that I learned was how much I still don’t know about the Bible. One would think that after years of study, more than eight years of seminary and twenty five years of teaching the Bible, things would be easier. But that’s not the case. Dr. Branine taught us to constantly study and throughout the years I now understand why he was so steadfast in his desire to learn more about God’s word each day. I have tried to follow in his footsteps.
In fact, I would have to say that the more I learn, the more questions I have to ask when I finally arrive in heaven. In the meantime, I choose to trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate God’s word so that it becomes the vehicle through which I can fulfill my calling to teach God’s word.
Tonight’s verse comes from Paul’s second epistle to his young pastor friend, Timothy. Paul is basically reminding Timothy that pastors and teachers are to be trained and to be careful to handle God’s word with care. He admonishes his friend, in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
My encouragement this evening is to affirm that we are to look for ways to grow closer to Christ throughout our lives by reading and studying the Bible, in addition to sitting under God inspired teachers. Those who pastor or teach have a special responsibility to lead others to a deeper knowledge of the living God. My prayer is that the Lord will bless our efforts to become more like Him and that the Holy Spirit will guide us and open our hearts to a deeper understanding of our mission in life – to worship and lead people to a deeper relationship with God. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…