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The Ultimate of Revelation

MANY issues ago, I wrote:

“As much as the rank and file of the church might like to make the book of Revelation into a forecast of events to come — and thus, believing that they can beat Nostradamus at his own game — Revelation insists that it is of far greater importance to know who the God who will bring about the desired future is.

“With the book’s structure, its unique titles for God and its concentration on a profound and yet elegant portrayal of God, Revelation sends the message to churches of all ages that they can only understand the shape of things to come and their actual significance if they start with the doctrine of God. Consequently, to understand the book of Revelation, we must start with God and must constantly and finally return to God.”

I have since tried the patience of many readers by taking them through a long trek — full of words and fury — exploring the beauty of the doctrine of God in Revelation. But it is time to sum up the things learned along this journey.

At the heart of the message of Revelation stands a sophisticated form of monotheism or the belief in one God. This monotheism is presented in the following manner:
1. God as transcendent on the throne, as the sovereign Lord of history;
2. God as the slaughtered lamb, redeeming His creation; and
3. God as the Seven Spirits sent out into all the earth, actively involved in the world although this may be often unseen.

onegod

This sophisticated presentation of monotheism draws together the various motifs and themes of the book. It elucidates the character of this one God and announces that how, being truly Himself, certain divine actions will follow: deeds of judgment and redemption. Judgment will come because God is just and He loves His creation (Rev 11.18). However, judgment is not the last word. There is redemption. What must not be missed in this connection is that this redemption is not wrought by any agent outside the being of God. No, it is done by His very own self. Thus, God is not only creator. He is also redeemer.

As the redeemer, He is also the telos or goal of all things. Most importantly, He is the architect of that great denouement which will usher in the new creation. The chief feature of this new creation is the presence of God, which will be utterly and eternally present in it. It is this God that makes the new heaven and the new earth so worthwhile of which to be a part. But we are not to sit around and wait passively for it to happen.

The work has already begun, and the Spirit is continuously at work to incorporate the people of God into this grandest of projects, and enabling them to accomplish it. Seen from this angle, we will realise that the rejection of this God and the alternatives which are set up in place of Him make idolatry and false worship so destructive and damning.

The theocentric (or God-centred) nature of Revelation is already sounded at the start of the book, which also announces that it is at once a revelation and a prophecy (Rev 1.1-3). It is a revelation because the very heart and will of God are revealed. We see a God who does not hold back but gives Himself totally to the coming into being of a new world where justice, righteousness, holiness, truth and love will reign. This is not done with the wave of a magic wand or with the snap of divine fingers but through the self-giving of God.

The price of creation and redemption is high. Only the mightiest person and the greatest lover could pay it (Rev 5). This revelation also shows us things as they really are from the divine perspective. What humans prize most may be that very thing which destroys them, and the world along with them.

The book is also a prophecy because it challenges the church to live out its holy calling in the midst of an idolatrous world and in the light of what is to come (Rev 2-3). The church bears witness to the one true God who is not a boring monolithic being, sitting on His throne and mulling over how He is to keep himself occupied for all of eternity, and breaking into tears at the prospect of an eternity of loneliness. No, He is the one dynamic being in creative and loving interaction with Himself and with the world He has created.

All other things set up by devils or humans for worship are cheap and perverse copies of the real thing. Consequently, the people of God in Revelation are summoned to leave idolatry and to embrace the true worship and knowledge of God (Rev 18.4).

We may then construe Revelation as asking the following question: “What really is ultimate?” Status, wealth, health, looks, earth, or perhaps me? The ultimate reality according to Revelation is God. This is not just any God deduced by philosophical reasoning but the one who has revealed Himself in trinitarian fashion. This reality, in turn, demands a state of affairs which will chime ultimately with it.

Consequently, the eschatology of Revelation may be known not so much as the doctrine of last things but as the doctrine of ultimate things. It is this which Revelation is designed to describe and explicate for the benefit of a church beleaguered by opposition and tempted to commit idolatry.

Ask not how history will unravel and end. Rather, seek He who rules over all and is ultimate. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.


Dr Tan Kim Huat, Chen Su Lan Professor of New Testament at Trinity Theological College, is the Dean of Postgraduate Studies.

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