So, I’m getting everything together for my visit to the 7 churches of Revelation in current day Turkey (Oh, and also 3 days in Istanbul!). My wife was a little worried seeing that it was the top news on the BBC at lunchtime – but looking at the FCO website its really only the Syrian border that they tell you to keep away – and any demonstrations.
I’ve been looking through some books about what I should expect and reading some articles as well – all looking great.
But what about the original work that I am basing this trip on? The book of Revelation in the New Testament is one of the strangest books in the Bible. Indeed some churches such as the Orthodox church won’t read it out in church. It was one of the last books to be accepted into the Canon of Biblical books. The book has also tended to be used at times of great social crisis and upheaval and to have been read through their mindset. You only have to think recently of Harold Camping and his (mis-)use of the book of Revelation amongst other pieces of the bible. It’s imagery have been used in art and literature through the centuries. But there is always something on the edge about it, it pushes the use of language and faith and imagery to the limits. Who can forget how many times the number of the beast, 666, has been applied to some situation or other (just google it)or indeed the mark of the beast on the forehead. It’s because it’s such a compelling picture – it’s just you need to be careful how to use it.
Most scholars believe that the book of Revelation was written at a time of great upheaval for the church under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Domitian. If this is right then this would make sense – a church under persecution trying to stay faithful to their Lord, Jesus. The image of sacrificial lamb and the triumph of Jesus over the forces of evil even though evil appears to have the upper hand are themes of the book and have been used to apply to many different periods of history especially in times of upheaval.
The traditional view has been that the Apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos and wrote the book in response to a revelation of Jesus. The set of churches that he writes to are all churches within reach of Patmos. The problem is that there is a large difference between the book of Revelation in style and language to the Gospel and letters of John. This problem was identified by some of the earliest parts of the church such as Dionysius of Alexandria in the third century. In addition John doesn’t call himself an apostle or brother of James or Apostle. So, we’re left without hard facts but it may well have been that John the Seer who wrote the book of Revelation was part of the Johannine community. Whoever John was he was obviously a respected elder of the church and Patmos may well have been a prison camp where people who displeased Rome were sent.
So, in the midst of persecution John writes to the seven churches that he is connected with in Asia Minor. And towards the beginning of the book are seven messages – one to each church – which give a broad brush view of the health of the church. People have always recognised that the pictures of the church have been linked to the geography and the industry of those local communities and I am very much looking forward to seeing something more of what was written and why.
I’m also looking forward to seeing some of the places that helped to birth and nourish the Jesus movement and look at some of the reasons why unless we decide to join in the work of the Spirit we too in this country can be reduced to a pile of stones.
It has always worried me that too many people are so sanguine about the state of the church with either people saying “God won’t let his church go” or “revival is coming”. Both are head in the sands approach and I suspect will be born out by my trip to the 7 churches and Istanbul.
You can read about the trip here: http://bit.ly/13FEaSO
I feel a series coming on……..