Reading Revelation According to the Four-fold Pattern of Worship
Problem 1 in reading Revelation: its strange and bizarre imagery that most of us have learned to misinterpret to our loss and frustration, ultimately leading to our giving up on the book as a resource for faith.
Problem 2 in reading Revelation: no one has figured out the structure of the book. Since what something means is integrally tied to how it is written and put together, this is a serious difficulty.
Problems 1 and 2 are related. Confusion and perplexity wrapped in opacity results. For some, wisdom is to avoid these visions. For others, they become happy hunting grounds for every manner of exotic, gnostic, and idiosyncratic readings based on ideological premises drawn from outside the text.
I have a suggestion. Born from the failure to date to develop a consensus about the structure of Revelation, my proposal is to look for a structure or pattern for reading it from the experience of the Christian tradition. A widely-shared historical pattern of understanding and experiencing Christian existence to at least anchor our understanding of this book in something other than individual idiosyncracies or ideologies drawn from outside the text. In short, the intractability of discerning a structure or pattern to Revelation in its historical setting drives me to look at our end of the process for one.
I propose we engage and interpret Revelation according to the historical fourfold pattern of worship used through much of the church throughout its history. This pattern is:
1. Preparing to worship
- Celebrating the Word along with a response
- Celebrating the Lord’s Table along with a response
4. The dismissal
This is a desperate and, to a degree, fanciful strategy, I grant you. But if it enables us to engage and experience Revelation as a vital resource for faithfulness, it is perhaps worth the effort to try experiencing it within the movements and dynamics of Christian worship. You will have to make that decision for yourself.
Play along with me, if you will, and imagine reading or hearing the book of Revelation unfolding like this. I will lay it out in the form of an Order of Worship for The Lord’s Day.
The Lord’s Day Isle of Patmos Mid-90’s AD
(Epistolary Introduction 1:1-4a)
WE GATHER IN GOD’S PRESENCE
CALL TO WORSHIP (1:4b-8)
INTRODUCTION OF THE PREACHER (1:9-16)
CONFESSION AND PARDON OF SIN (1:17-18)
THE PREACHER GREETS HIS PEOPLE (1:19-3:22)
HYMNS OF PRAISE TO THE ONE ON THE THRONE AND THE LAMB (4:1-5:16)
WE HEAR GOD’S WORD
SERMON “Surviving in the Belly of the Beast”
“Seven Seals” (6:1-8:1) “Seven Trumpets” (8:2-11:19) “Visions of the Vocation and Destiny of God’s People” (12:1-14:20) “Seven Bowls” (15:1-16:21) ”Visions of the Fall of Babylon” (17:1-19:10) “Visions of Final Judgment” (19:11-20:15) “Visions of Consummation”(21:1-22:5)
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD
WE OFFER OURSELVES TO GOD (22:8-16)
INVITATION TO COMMUNION (22:17)
WE PREPARE TO DEPART AND SERVE THE LORD
Benefits of reading Revelation in this odd way include:
1. It keeps us focused on our lives as followers of Jesus and the self-involving nature of that vocation (as opposed to calendarizing speculation)
2. Worship is the ultimate goal of our lives
3. Casting the visions as Jesus’ sermon reminds us that the goal of Revelation is obedient faithfulness and these visions must be heard as addressing a message at least potentially fully understandable in that first century context rather than that 2000 years later
4. If my speculation about 22:17 serving as an “Invitation to Communion” is plausible, it highlights the Word-Table structure of Christian worship.
What do you think? What other benefits of this way of reading have I missed? Could this be a helpful way to engage Revelation?