Tuesday, October 5, 2010

casting crowns, etc.

This post will be kind of a potpourri of thoughts on several subjects found in the book of Revelation. When we think of "casting our crowns" at the feet of Jesus, I would guess that most of us get an image of an event that will happen when we all get to Heaven. It is an act of humility and gratitude expressed by all the saints simultaneously, showing our love and devotion to the One who saved us from our sins. At least that is what most of us believe because that is what most of us have been taught. We see this image in Revelation 4:10. In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright suggests that this is a metaphor for our present reality as Christians, not a literal picture of a Heavenly ceremony. I am not enough of a scholar to say for sure, but it makes sense. When we yield to Christ, and his love and grace, do we not take our crowns off and place them at his feet? What an effective image capturing the moment of conversion.

As an aside, the idea that Scripture contains literary techniques rubs some of us the wrong way--I know it did me for a long time. The idea that Jesus would use hyperbole to make a point is tantamount to blasphemy, but how many of us are blind and handless because we took his admonition in the sermon on the mount literally? This past Sunday, Chris Dolson spoke about Paul's use of sarcasm in his first letter to the Corinthians. Read 1 Corinthians 4:8-13 and see if you detect a note of sarcasm in Paul's words. It is quite obvious. So, Revelation contains much symbolism--read "metaphor."

Continuing on in Revelation . . . Most of us are aware of Revelation's use of numbers. Seven lamps, seven churches, seven angels, seven spirits of God, seven trumpets, seven vials, etc., and 12 tribes, 12 pillars, 24 elders, 4 creatures, and the list goes on. Some have even gone so far as to find a seven year period of tribulation in the pages of Revelation. Of course, it never mentions a seven year tribulation, but if you add up some of the time periods mentioned you can come up with something close to seven years. When I was studying Revelation, I discovered something that to me was significant. If seven is symbolic for perfection or completeness, then what is one to make of the dragon pursuing the woman in chapter 12 for 1,260 days? Well, 1,260 days is approximately 3 1/2 years. If the dragon is Satan, and the woman is the church (as I believe), then we have a picture of futility and frustration. Satan pursues, but he is never able to complete his goal (3 1/2 is half of 7) of capturing and destroying the church. He is frustrated in his efforts. We should be encouraged by this--the first readers would have been.

I hope these last few posts have challenged your paradigms related to Scripture, and specifically to the book of Revelation. I offer these thoughts not to confuse, but to hopefully help us stop and examine how we read and understand Scripture. And perhaps we can find encouragement in the biblical interpretations taught by those not in our particular camp.

One last thought: too often we Westernize or Americanize the Bible. We see everything through the lens of 21st century American evangelical fundamentalism. We don't realize how insulated we are from the rest of the world, and for that reason, how arrogant we become in our views. Dr. Wilson asked us, "How bad does tribulation need to get for it to be 'great' tribulation?" He noted that the last 100 hundred years have seen greater persecution of Christians world wide than any century before. He showed us a video put out by the Voice of the Martyrs. I remember sitting there feeling my self-righteous paradigms of what it meant to be a "true Christian" begin to crumble as a young African boy testified how he had stood strong for the name of Jesus. He was not of my faith camp. Men had come to his village and forced him to build a large bon fire. While the fire was blazing, the men told the boy to renounce his faith in Christ. He refused. They threw him on the fire. In the video, he took off his shirt and showed the scars. I had a lot of thinking to do. Would not Jesus tell this young man "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into my rest"? I think so. Who am I to think I can tell this young man something about what it means to "live for Jesus." I am the one that needs to be taught by him. I have never had to sacrifice like that. Truly, we are sheltered in America. Thank God for the freedom and protection we have. But our little place in the world does not define 21st century Christianity. And it certainly does not set the standard. God bless you as you continue to open your eyes to the treasures to be found in Christ and his Word.


  1. Jon

    It's interesting that you and I share so many opinions regarding Scripture (try to eliminate one's "wetern" viewpoint, use of metaphore and other literary devices, Paul's use of sarcasm, the problems with common pre-trib theology etc) yet I think we've arrived at very different places regarding the meaning, and meaningfulness, of Revelation. For instance, in your last post you reference contemporay use of the same symbology by other writers and suggest that John was copying those other sources rather than giving an eye witness account of a vision. The key point your current post states that the "casting crowns" event described as taking place in heaven is merely symbolic. I do understand symbology, but I also understand language. When John states "I saw", he either did or he didn't. If he did, there's more than symbology involved, if he didn't, he's lying and therefore we ought to throw the whole book out (which was suggested at various times thru church history). My own view is that much of Revelation is both symbolic and literal. In some cases, I think John probably used the best words he had available given his experience in life to describe things totally outside his experience. For instance, I think (that's a weaker statement than believe), that his description of the woman who sits on may waters could possibly be a vision of the statue of liberty (think thru the ramifications of that interpretation!) But whether that's the right picture or not, John says "I saw". He did or he didn't.

  2. Hi, Ken. I enjoy your responses--always challenging. I hear what you are saying, and I can understand that viewpoint. However, the flip side of taking "I saw" literally is that if the images he "saw" were part of then "current" Hebrew and mythological stories, then it brings the authenticity of his vision into question. In that case, either God literally showed him images that other people prior to John had only made up to create their mythologies, or John is being disingenuous with not divulging his sources. Another way of looking at this (rather than "he did or he didn't") is that John was using a literary technique by putting himself in the stories he is relating. I am not saying that needs to be the answer, but it is plausible and takes into account the existence of the images he "saw" before he "saw" them. That's one explanation that gets around the "he did or he didn't" scenario. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  3. OOPs, probably didn't make my point with clarity. Assume for amoment that John really had a vision, but that the images he saw were far beyond his experience (imagine seeing a helicopter flying and fighting when your experience is with infantry and light cavalry) How would he go about describing what is essentially indescribable? Possibly by using things within his knowledge and experience?
    So, to describe something he doesn't know how to describe, he uses known descriptive language--contemporary symbolic imagery. And, he wouldn't have given a single thought to crediting those sources; the idea of plagarism is a relatively recent academic notion, so there is nothing disingenuous about revealing or not revealing sources