Revelation & the Transformation of the Imagination

I’m lecturing on Revelation Thursday night and, as always, am enjoying dipping back into Richard Bauckham’s brilliant book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation.  A snippet:

John’s work is a prophetic apocalypse in that it communicates a disclosure of a transcendent perspective on this world.

John (and thereby his readers with him) is taken up into heaven in order to see the world from the heavenly perspective.  He is given a glimpse behind the scenes of history so that he can see what is really going on in the events of his time and place.  He is also transported in vision into the final future of the world, so that he can see the present from the perspective of what its final outcome must be, in God’s ultimate purpose for human history.  The effect of John’s visions, one might say, is to expand his readers’ world, both spatially (into heaven) and temporally (into the eschatological future), or, to put it another way, to open their world to divine transcendence.  The bounds which Roman power and ideology set to the readers’ world are broken open and that world is seen as open to the greater purpose of its transcendent Creator and Lord.  It is not that the here-and-now are left behind in an escape into heaven or the eschatological future, but that the here-and-now look quite different when they are opened to transcendence.

The world seen from this transcendent perspective, in apocalyptic vision, is a kind of new symbolic world into which John’s readers are taken as his artistry creates it for them.  But really it is not another world.  It is John’s readers’ concrete, day-to-day world seen in heavenly and eschatological perspective.  As such its function, as we shall notice in more detail later, is to counter the Roman imperial view of the world, which was the dominant ideological perception of their situation that John’s readers naturally tended to share.  Revelation counters that false view of reality by opening the world to divine transcendence.  All that it shares with the apocalyptic literature by way of the motifs of visionary transportation to heaven, visions of God’s throne-room in heaven, angelic mediators of revelation, symbolic visions of political powers, coming judgment and new creation—all this serves the purpose of revealing the world in which John’s readers live in the perspective of the transcendent divine purpose (pp. 7-8).

6 thoughts on “Revelation & the Transformation of the Imagination

  1. Jerry Goodman

    I have recently found your blog to my great joy. The joy of God speaking to me through you (The Spirit) to challenge my ignorance. For example: when new in as a believer I could only surface walk with the “Fig Tree” and as God is so patient with seekers, did I really begin to understand or discern in my blind heart/mind. So I have joy with being radicall changed!

  2. Bobby

    I love this book! In the summer of 2008 I was invited to teach at a Bible College in Khartoum, Sudan. One of the classes that they asked me to teach was Revelation and Daniel. So Richard Bauckham’s book was one of the resources I relied upon heavily as well as Greg Beale’s Commentary on Revelation.

    1. timgombis

      I had been intimidated for so long by Revelation, having been trained in a tradition that used it as a roadmap to the future. Bauckham’s work is so clear and makes Revelation so powerful and compelling.

      1. Bobby

        Yes, I also come from a similar tradition so I know the feeling. In fact, where I was in Africa those futuristic interpretations where imbedded in theological culture. Thankfully, with the help of Bauckham and Beale, I was able to challenge them and bring a different perspective to the table which brought forth fresh readings of the text. It was both an exciting and frustrating time. I hope you enjoy your lecturing.

  3. S Wu

    I’ve been reading Michael Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly. It’s good! (And Bauckham is of course great.)

  4. Allen Browne

    Thanks for posting, Tim.
    When I had to teach an intro to Rev recently, I started with an imaginary narrative about the pressures you face as you live in first-century Ephesus. Then we broke into 7 groups, and let them figure out the message to the 7 churches. It got people thinking from the perspective of the original readers.
    (I probably should read Longenecker’s “Lost Letters of Pergamum.”)

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