Reading the Revelation

Alright, some of us have been reading the book of Revelation. I thought that the Idealist view was very helpful the last time I did a concentrated study of this book. At my suggestion we are using Leon Morris' commentary along with a book that emphasizes the parallels called "Unlocking the Mystery of Revelation" by James Knotek. the approach found in these commentaries has some pretty big speed bumps in it for those of us who are in the habit of reading it as referring to future events. We may have been better off using something like the "Four Views.." book by zondervan as a companion to our reading the text..but oh well.

A different approach to the book sounds so odd if we are used to reading it as a timeline with chapter 4 through 22 applying to events that will begin only at the last seven years of tribulation which will end of this age. I am convinced that the timeline with chapter 4 to be inaugurated at some future date is not the most fruitful way to understand this book.

The timeline-in-the-future approach has the advantage of maintaining a literal feel to the way we read some of the imagery in Revelation. This feel is naturally attractive to those of us who stand against reading biblical narrative like the flood account as if it were Myth. Yet I still think the time-line approach gets in the way of much that God intends to reveal to his people in this rich book.

Here are a few lines from Robert Mounce in the NICNT commentary that touch on timing and symbolism.
On Rev.1:1-3 he notes:
The most satisfying solution is to take the expression "must soon take place" in the straight forward sense, remembering that in the prophetic outlook the end is always imminent. (In biblical prophecy temporal judgements are regularly expressed against the backdrop of the final eschatological events. This is a profoundly theological view, in which everything God does by way of judgement is to be understood in light of the final events.) Time as chronological sequence is of secondary concern in prophecy. This pespective is common to the entire NT. Jesus taught that God would vindicate his elect without delay (Luke 18:8), and Paul wrote to the Romans that God would soon crush Satan under their feet (Rom 16:20).

who has universal authority?

"I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." -Jesus (Revelation 2:9)

You and your local church do not need a more convincing claim to church authority than what you have in Christ. We have no access to universal authority except by our access to Jesus -the one to whom all authority has been given. He has said that we abide in Him by abiding in his word. Since New Testament times many congregations of Christians have recognized their responsibility to abide in Jesus without an authority-claiming-organization above them. God gave the prophetic scriptures to the churches through men who claimed Jesus as the universal authority. Jesus exercises His authority personally as he interacts among and over those individuals and churches who, by fidelity to him, abide in him. The true vine is Jesus and the branches are those who will hear and do the will of God.
If you were transported to the New Testament period and you were more impressed with the religious glories of man over against the true glory that comes from God, then you would miss the Messiah. If the organizational glory of a great tradition shined brighter to you than the glory of being a faithful son then you might have overlooked the glory of Jesus.
Those who faithfully recognize Israel’s Messiah have a “gospel authority” which supplants both bloodline and organizational claims to “universal authority.” Faithful recognition of Israel’s Messiah can be assumed by men, but it is measured by God. The exhibited behavior of the people of God will be a faithful recognition of Israel’s Messiah. Christians should discard man-made distractions and substitutes.
God did not put the authority to create a multi-congregational organization into the hands of men. And he did not give authority to any organization or society of churches to hold an exclusive authority as “The Church.” In the New Testament period it would have been incorrect to think “The Church” was a reference to the majority group claiming Israel’s God. Rather, when used universally “The Church” was that remnant for which the spiritual and active authority of Jesus was all-sufficient. We should count it presumptuous, for any man-defined organization to claim to be “THE church” or “THE congregation of the Lord.”
There are several organizations which claim that God has given them this kind of universal authority. A claim that says: “Our organization has exclusive authority as the Church of God,” is made among Roman Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to name a few.
When the leaders of The Roman Catholic Church claim to be “the catholic church,” they are claiming that their particular organization has universal authority as “the people of God” or “The Church.” The vast majority of people who will say “Jesus is the Christ” are members of the Roman Catholic organization. And many among the minority of non-Roman Catholic Christians today err by grasping for a part in the kind of universal-authority-claim which Roman Catholicism makes.
Early in the Reformation the reformed state-church institutions of Europe would claim absolute authority over the regions governed by their sponsoring state. In time this sort of claim to absolute authority over various regions by Protestant “Churches” has been softened. Popular appreciation for religious tolerance, the secularization of the state, and further splintering of organizational authority, have led to the development of a more variegated denominationalism. Some still claim agreement with a portion of Roman Catholic teaching as if the organizations dogma were a buffet line to pick and choose from. By this sort of reasoning many Protestants count their newer organizational structures as if they were branches within the Catholic claim.
Today a “branch” type claim to Catholic authority is held by many Protestants. They would like to inherit the Catholic authority by a vague and romantic notion of belonging to “...one bible, two testaments, three creeds, four councils, and five centuries...” or some similar notion, without submitting to the Roman Catholic organization. It is as if this minority of Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are calling out to Catholicism saying, “Hey, we are part of the majority too.” This more modest branch claim is dependent on a consensus or majority idea of “The Church” which many thoughtful Christians have eventually found unsatisfactory.
Christ did not grant hierarchical authority over congregations to any organization. Those seeking an historical justification for such authority over the congregations must trace Catholic authority back to the Council of Nicaea. But the Council of Nicaea does not merely establish a secondary doctrinal authority in the creed, it also establishes a bedrock authority in an organization.
What kind of “authority” is it? The Council of Nicaea was called together by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Emperor was taking a huge step in having the common Christians lorded over by someone other than Jesus. The “clergy” who attended were not faultless. They were forming a policy to exalt the leaders to a distinct class over the people and building a hierarchical system above many of the local congregations. Lording over the people through an organization or society is most undeniable when it is accompanied by a claim of “universal authority” as the people of God. This organization of church leaders under the authority of the Roman Emperor also produced the doctrinal statement known as the Nicene Creed.
Many claims of authority are accompanied by doctrinal statements, not because we need new official doctrine, but because it is difficult for would-be-lords to make new claims of “universal authority” if the old Lord and the old authority is all that is necessary among the people of God.
Modern Christians hear much about the theological debate at the Council of Nicaea. These were philosophical debates taking place among clergy who were jockeying for primacy in their developing organization. The questions of who has authority, and what kind of authority it is that they have, are more important than the debates and the new doctrinal statements.
On one hand, if we are supposed to have a convincing claim of universal authority for an organization above our local church, then those who have inherited protestant or denominational organizations should feel that their claim is deficient in the presence of Roman Catholicism. On the other hand, if we do not need an organizational claim to “universal authority,” then we should be satisfied by our direct relation to Jesus Christ. And then, both the arrangement of authority, and the kind of authority, we see in the New Testament is sufficient. The sufficient authority of Christians in the New Testament is one that is contingent upon Gospel fidelity. It is an authority commended by love and service not by compulsion and the sword. It is an authority worked out by the Lord among individuals and in various congregations.
In the past many Baptist teachers like J.M. Carroll in his “Trail of Blood” lectures have emphasized an appreciation for the independent government (autonomy) of every individual congregation. These older teachers have also emphasized the likeness of modern Baptist Churches to those independent congregations that have existed throughout history since apostolic times. The similarity has been emphasized even though these older congregations were called “heretics” by Roman Catholic officials.
But a different approach has gained support recently among respected Baptist teachers. In his 2007 Page Lectures at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Timothy George, a leading Baptist thinker, teacher, and historian spoke about the modern Baptist view of catholic authority. He would like the modern Baptists to move away from identifying themselves with those independent congregations of Christians which through the centuries were not under the authority of “The One, Holy, Catholic Church.” He reckons that a better understanding for Baptists would be to think of themselves as having the authority of a branch on the tree of Catholicism. He would like wider acceptance of the idea that Baptists are “Reformational Christians of Ecclesial Renewal” who are within the authority of “The One, Holy, Catholic Church.”
Some may become tired or dissatisfied with the spiritual authority that belongs to the “Israel of God” through real spiritual union with Jesus the Messiah. The Epistle to the Hebrews is written to shore up such a weakness. However, those who mistakenly start out expecting an organization that will claim to determine or guarantee entitlement to fellowship with God will be easily misguided.
We can understand how Jesus’ invitation to fellowship might appear either too humiliating or too distant. We can understand how people become dissatisfied with the weaknesses of a branch type claim for denominational authority. And so we can understand how thoughtful Christians may finally submit their loyalty to presumptuous claims of “universal authority” commended by compulsion and the sword. But Jesus Christ is not calling us to compromise the Gospel through a split loyalty.
In Holy Scripture “The Church” is not the title of an organization that attempts to stand over the congregations with a universal-authority-claim. The Bible word is generally used for a gathering of people or for those who were gathered (i.e. in Jerusalem) and subsequently have been scattered. This gathering-of-people-idea in the word “church” is why Paul used it in the plural when he said he was writing to “the churches of Galatia.” In the region of Galatia there were several distinct gatherings, or congregations, of Christians.
There is, however, a larger meaning for the Greek word ekklasia (church or congregation) within Holy Scripture. It can refer to all those who are gathered in spirit to Jesus Christ. But it would not be fitting for any organization to claim a hold on these boundaries. The title of “The Church” is used in Holy Scripture to highlight a contrast. The remnant of Israel, which is restored to God through the Messiah in the New Covenant, stands in contrast to the broader congregation of the Old Covenant. This is the Church which worships God in Spirit and Truth. Just as the Old covenant people of God congregated at the Temple, so under the New Covenant, the People of God congregate to Jesus Christ. By individual adherence to Jesus as the Christ, this heavenly church is found in fellowship with Jesus, exhibiting their nature as the true Congregation of the Lord.
Therefore, all Christians should concentrate their energies toward submission to Jesus, the Son who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. The authority given to the faithful may look like no earthly authority at all, but Jesus calls His little flock to persevere.
'Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie--I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. 'Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. –Jesus (Revelation 3:9-10)