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Interpreting the images of Revelation - more or less!

Revelation is a book full of images.  As we mentioned previously, an important key to understanding them is to refer to the Old Testament (much more than a contemporary newspaper).  However, they can also be confusing.   For example, some images seeming to suggest that all Christians will be martyred while in other places, John writes as though there will be faithful Christians alive at the parousia (second coming) (eg Rev 16:15).  Richard Baulkham says:

This suggests that, on this issue as on many others, Revelation has suffered from interpretation which takes images too literally.  Even the most sophisticated interpreters all too easily slip into treating the images as codes which need only to be decoded to yield literal predictions.  But this fails to take the images seriously as images.  John depicts the future in images in order to be able to do both more and less than literal prediction could.  Less, because Revelation does not offer a literal outline of the course of future events - as though prophecy were merely history written in advance.  But more, because what it does provide is insight into the nature of God's purpose for the future, and does so in a way that shapes the readers' attitudes to the future and invites their active participation in the divine purpose.  (The theology of the book of Revelation)

So when we read the images, we need to ask, what is the point that is trying to be conveyed (considering the Old Testament references and allusions) and how might God want us to respond.  However, while we do that we must not lose sight of the powerful and vivid impact of the images.

David Wanstall, 17/04/2012