Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mission in the Book of Revelation, Part 2

When we come to the book of Revelation, we cannot neglect its place in the canon. Of course this is true of every book of the Bible, but especially true of the book that brings the grand narrative of redemption to its completion. Considered canonically, the book of Revelation unfolds for the reader the culmination on God’s missional activity and the missional activity of his people.

Calvin famously wrote that the world and history are “the theatre of God’s glory”. Revelation brings us to the final act in history. More than a century later, Edwards wrote, “God having professed this end [His glory]…the principal means that he adopted was this great work of redemption.” Again, Revelation brings us to a climactic manifestation of God’s glory as the redemption of all things is completed.

God’s determination to be glorified in the redemption of all things is a central theme of the prophets’ message and the apostles’ understanding of Christ’s work. Yet, it is the book of Revelation that brings this theme to culmination, weaving together lines of Old Testament prophecy, connecting them to the person and work of Christ and extending them into the future New Creation. Beale comments, “The portrayal of the new covenant, new temple, new Israel, and new Jerusalem affirms the future fulfillment of the main prophetic themes of the OT and NT, which all find their ultimate climax in the new creation. The new creation itself is the most overarching of these biblical promises…”

The drama that began in the shalom of the garden culminates in the perfected peace of the New Jerusalem. Beale explains, “The Edenic imagery describing the city-temple in Revelation 22:1-3 also reflects an intention to show that the building of the temple that began in Genesis 2 but was abandoned will be commenced again and completed in Christ and his people, and will encompass the whole new creation.”

Revelation cannot be considered apart from this context. As the book that most fully envisions the culmination of God’s mission through Christ and his people, mission lies at the heart of a proper understanding of John’s Apocalypse. Genesis and Revelation provide the bookends to God’s covenantal self-revelation. The mission of God and of his covenantal people is introduced in the earliest chapters of Genesis, carried on through the historical narratives, given new life and meaning in the prophets, peaks in the person and work of Jesus Christ, continues on through the apostles and the nascent church, and finds completion in the last chapters of the book of Revelation.

Revelation’s placement within the Christian canon alone highlights the theme of mission. Moreover, John gives good indicators that mission is not merely the background to his writing but also essential to it. He is writing to strengthen, encouraged, and equip the church to continue being (or start being) faithful participants in the mission God has created them for. Next week I'll offer three posts on three different but related missional themes in the book of Revelation.

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