Revelation emphasizes that God, not Caesar, is Lord of the world. The splendor of God's heavenly throne room shows that the pageantry of the Roman court is but a mockery of the true sovereignty of God (4:1-11). When the Lamb opens the seals on God's scroll, a mounted bowman appears, resembling the Parthian warriors that threatened the borders of the Roman Empire, and another horseman takes away the "peace" that Rome claimed to provide (6:1-4). The beast that persecutes the saints seems to be another Nero, while the beast's chief ally promotes idolatrous worship like that of the imperial cult (13:1-18). The harlot that rides upon the beast is the city set on seven hills - clearly Rome - and it is called "Babylon," since Babylon destroyed the first temple and the Romans destroyed the second temple (17:1-18). Yet Revelation warns that the Roman "Babylon" will fall, and Christians are called to separate themselves from it in the confidence that God's purposes will triumph (18:4). (Pg. 31)
Koester points out that this is the sort of context in which first century readers would have lived, and it is this context which was part of how this letter to the seven churches would have been read in the first century. He hammers home again and again that this was a book written to a specific people, and the meaning which we must seek from the text must be a meaning which the first century audience would have drawn.
We will take Revelation contextually, as a book written by 'John, to the seven churches that are in Asia' (1:4). Accordingly, instead of first asking how Revelation relates to the headlines in today's newspapers, we will ask how it relates to the situation of the Christians of John's own time...Revelation is not a coded collection of secrets that will finally become intelligible at the end of time, for from the beginning it has been an open book that was designed to communicate with Christians living on earth.
Koester's interpretation of Revelation distinguishes itself from the traditional historicist approach in two ways:
- An increased emphasis on the fact that this book "addresses a number of different issues, not just one issue, and that there are valuable analogies between first-century life and modern life."
- It "considers how Revelation's imagery evokes associations that fit multiple periods of time, not only one period of time.
Revelation as a Non-Linear Whole
- Revelation must be taken as a whole. He contrasts this with the premillennial approaches which "assume that verses of the Bible are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle." This means no jumping around from Daniel 9 to 1 Thessalonians 4 to Reveation 6, for example.
- Revelation moves in a non-linear way. Koester, taking his cues from Victorinus, points out that Revelation moves in a series of loops. Each loop consists of seven distinct visions:
- Loop 1: Seven messages to the churches (Rev. 1-3)
- Loop 2: Seven seals (4-7)
- Loop 3: Seven trumpets (8-11)
- Loop 4: Unnumbered visions (12-15)
- Loop 5: Seven plagues (15-19)
Other characteristics of each loop of Revelation.
- In the middle of each loop, there are images of horsemen "that represent conquest, violence, hardship, and death."
- This feature of each loop always gives way to the top of the loop, where we find visions of heaven, of the presence of "God, the Lamb, and the heavenly chorus."
Now that we've seen Craig R. Koester's basic approach and outline of Revelation, we're ready to move on to the major themes in the text itself. Therefore, in our next installment, we'll look at the specifics of the first cycle of Revelation, Chapters 1-3. Presumably, this means that there will be five more installments to this review, since I want to at least give a cursory glance at how Koester understands each cycle. I do foresee a greater emphasis once we get to Revelation 20.