- indoubt Podcast ·
- October 24, 2022
Ep. 305: The Mystery of Revelation
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Decoding the symbolism and imagery that make up the book of Revelation is challenging. What does it all mean? What is God telling us in this book? This week we are joined by Nancy Guthrie, author and Bible teacher, to discuss her book Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation. Nancy walks us through some of the common mistakes we tend to make when reading scripture, and the importance of understanding the Bible as a complete story. She also unveils the message we are to take away from the book of Revelation and emphasizes its importance and relevance to young adults today.
Welcome to the indoubt podcast, where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week, we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life, and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s word. For more info on indoubt, visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com.
Hey, welcome to indoubt, this is Daniel Markin and today I’m joined by Nancy Guthrie. She’s joining us on the program, she is a writer and a speaker and a lot of her work is helping local churches and individuals to study the Bible better. And so we’re going to be talking a little bit about her book called Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of The Book of Revelation.
But before that, we spent a lot of time speaking about the Bible and how to study it well and maybe even some of the mistakes that we are making right now as we sit in our own Bible studies. Maybe you’re in your dorm room, maybe you are in a local church and you get together with some friends, we can make mistakes. And so you’ll find this episode helpful because it’s going to help you sharpen your Bible study skills. But also, it’s going to help us dig a little bit into the book Revelation as well.
Hey, welcome to indoubt, this is Daniel Markin, and today I’m joined by Nancy Guthrie. Nancy, why don’t we begin here by you telling us a little bit about who you are and maybe some of what brought you to write this book in the first place. Because I can see you’ve also written many other books and so we’re going to be talking about your book, Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation. But maybe to start, why don’t you just introduce yourself, say hello to our audience and then we can begin discussing?
Sure. I’m Nancy Guthrie, I live in Nashville, Tennessee, but I have to tell you for your audience that all of my father’s family came from Canada. My grandfather worked on the oil fields in Canada and so my dad and all of his siblings grew up in places like Peace River and I still have cousins in Calgary and Edmonton, so I love Canadians, so glad to be with you. I do love Nashville too, I live here. People think of Nashville, usually they think country music, but actually Nashville’s a little bit more than just simply country music. In fact, my husband is in the music business. We both work here at home, my husband publishes kids musicals for the church for a business called Little Big Stuff Music. So they create little musicals, they create two a year, a Christmas musical and a nonseasonal musical that kids at a church or a Christian school can put on a program and singing and act and dress up and make their parents and grandparents laugh.
And so he’s got lots of Canadian customers for those musicals, which is really fun. I work here mostly preparing for teaching, I travel around the country and internationally, a great deal teaching. Mostly these days, in 2019, I started a thing called the Biblical Theology Workshop for Women. I’m on a mission, Daniel, my mission is to infiltrate Bible studies and most specifically, women’s Bible studies in the local church with biblical theology. And by biblical theology, I don’t simply mean theology that is biblical, rather, I mean a way of approaching the Bible that understands that the Bible is one story centered on the person and work of Christ. So that means from Genesis to Revelation, we trace its story and that the Old Testament is all pointing toward the person and work of Christ.
But certainly from the Old Testament, we’re headed toward the climax of this story coming in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And we find ourselves still in the midst of this story. We’re waiting for the resolution of this story which will come when Christ comes again to establish the new heavens and the new earth. So I love to teach women to help them get a good solid handle on that central storyline of the Bible and to also introduce them to the idea that the divine author has written into his book a number of central themes. And that when we know what those themes are, we’re better able to grasp the message that the divine author is intending to communicate to us through his book. So I spend my time planning for and preparing for a lot of those workshops and writing books and teaching at my own church. And I do a lot of walking in the park with my friends because it’s a beautiful place to live.
That sounds amazing. As you look at the ways people have been studying the Bible, whether it’s a women’s ministry or maybe even people in their home studies, you get a small group of friends in the college dorm or whatever. What are some of the main mistakes people are making when they study the Bible? What are some that you notice? It doesn’t matter the country, doesn’t matter the region. What are some of the same mistakes that are popping up over and over again, things that we’re not quite getting right?
Such a good and important question, Daniel, I’m so glad you asked me that question. A mistake that I have made most of my life and I think it’s just the ethos of most Bible studies, is that we read something in the Bible and we tend to then immediately jump to, how do I apply that to me? What does that mean to me? And it’s not that we don’t want to get to, how does that apply to me? Or what are its implications for me? It’s that there are two places we have to go first so that we know how to rightly apply to ourselves.
First of all, we’ve got to ask the question, the writer of this passage, what was their intended message for the original recipients, the original readers of this book? So in the Old Testament, you read the books of Moses and you’re thinking about those people in the wilderness or after they have entered into the land under Joshua and we’re going to think first about, what does this mean for them? So we go to what I would call them, then, go there first. But then we don’t want to go directly from there to, what does this mean to me? Because you and I live in a different era from them, we are not the covenant people of the nation of Israel living in that particular place and time and era of biblical history. And so there’s somewhere else we have to go first then next.
From there, we go to, what difference does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus make in how I understand this passage? So we go there and we say, okay. For example, when we read the law, you got the law written on stone, those 10 commandments, but then you’ve got the rest that aren’t really on stone, they’re applying the 10 commandments to those particular people. And so we don’t jump from there to, how do I apply this to me? Instead we think, what difference does the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus make?
And first of all, we see His righteous life, that He fulfilled the law in our place. And then we look at His death, He died to take upon Himself the punishment that you and I deserve for being lawbreakers. And then He has risen and sent His Holy Spirit to give us His spirit, to give us the ability to love God’s law, to delight in it rather than be crushed by it or condemned by it. And see, that then enables us to figure out, how does this apply to me? But we’ve got those first couple of places first. That’s probably really biggie, is we jump too quick to application and I’ll just give you one other one in terms of, how do I wish Bible study and the typical church was different.
The second thing is, we tend to want to set the agenda for what we’re going to study in the Bible. And our agenda is usually centered around felt needs or our own curiosity. Now, I am all for approaching the Bible with a curious mind. In fact, at these biblical theology workshops for women that I do, I’m constantly telling them, are you bored with the Bible? Well, bring your curious mind to the Bible, don’t just be spoon fed by somebody. What’s something you want to figure out from the Bible? And then set out to do it because that makes Bible study engaging. But sometimes we decide what we think is important that we get out of the Bible, we pick a particular topic and we say, I want to hear what the Bible has to say about this. And once again, that’s not a terrible thing, but it’s us setting the agenda based on what we think we most need to know.
And the thing is, if you and I set the agenda, we’re probably never going to study Leviticus and we’re never going to study Lamentations and we’re never going to study Obadiah because we think those things have nothing to do with us. And so when we let God set the agenda in what we study, I think what we actually find is that he’s answering the questions that we most need to know the answers to, we just didn’t know enough to ask the right questions.
Absolutely. Well, that’s the whole debate in churches between topical preaching or expositional preaching, where if it’s topical preaching, we’re going to just teach on this topic, maybe it’s dating in the church or we’re going to do a whole series on money or something like that and you hone in on one spot. I think there’s a time and place for that and I think you can actually do it expositionally, where maybe you take that theme you’re saying, well, here are these passages and you deal with the whole passage.
But I do agree with you, I think sometimes we can … when you come in just topically, it’s pretty amazing. And I’ve been in Bible studies like this and I’ve been guilty of early on even doing this, where you just quickly deviate from what you even intended to address in the first place. Because you just lose focus because there’s not a set structure that you had set out and placed in.
You can tend to start giving good advice that maybe has wisdom and it’s maybe all really true and really helpful, even consistent with biblical teaching. But not necessarily could we look at the text and we would say, that’s what the Holy Spirit intended for us to get out of this text. And I think that’s what you and I really want to try to find.
Let me press you here because I agree with you. But then what if someone says, but why is that bad? We came to this passage and we actually ended up talking about God, we ended up actually having a really fulfilling time, we were edified and the Lord was glorified in our time together. Why is this so bad? Because people will say, why are you critiquing the way we ran our Bible study? Did God not speak to us through that Bible study? How would you address that question?
Well, you might have been helped by it, but the goal of Bible study is to open up God’s word and hear Him speak. And we don’t want to put a filter on that, we don’t want to deviate from … we don’t want to assume that what we need most is good advice from the Bible. Maybe we need conviction, maybe we need correction, maybe we need encouragement, maybe we just need a deeper understanding of God’s character and the way He works in the world. And some of those things that are there in the text, they might require something of us in our listening and in our responding that we don’t particularly enjoy. And maybe today we think, that’s not really what I need, I’ve got this big issue over here that I need some help with. And we want the whole counsel of God and so that’s why we want to open up the whole of the Bible.
If we really think God is speaking to us, which by the way, Daniel, is that not amazing? That the God of the universe, He condescends to speak to us in human language. And we don’t want there to be parts of what He has said to us that we say, you know what? I don’t think I really need to know that, I don’t think that’s something that’s really important to me. What a grave error to think there is something God has said to His people that we just don’t need.
Now, you’ve written this book, Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation, why this book? And why would you tackle a book like Revelation? Because that can be a pretty loaded book.
It can, can’t it? Some of the times as I would just think, what am I doing? But here’s the thing, and it really connects with what we’ve been talking about. I believe God has spoken and I really believe that I need to hear everything He has to say to me and that we as the church need to hear everything He has to say to us. And I think Revelation, in many ways, has been … well, it’s both sides, Daniel. Some people are obsessed with it to a problematic degree and other people have avoided it to a problematic degree. A lot of people have avoided it because they know that it can be interpreted different ways and so it can be controversial. But mostly, people have avoided it because they have assumed, I’m not going to be able to come to any confidence sense of what this book is saying. I’m not going to be able to understand it, so why even bother? But I believe in what I would call the purpose squinty of scripture being that it is understandable.
And the other thing that really challenged me personally, Daniel, when I first opened it, is the third verse in Revelation 1:3, it says, “blessed are those who read the words of this prophecy, those who hear and keep what is written in it.” So here’s this promise of blessing for those who hear and keep it. Well, that means I need to hear it if I’m going to have any hope of keeping it. And so I tried to create a resource that really worked its way through the text of Revelation that didn’t infuse it with controversy. Some people might find it problematic that I don’t present, here’s all these different views. But I actually think for the typical person in the church, especially where we are in 2022, when there are so many things people are arguing about in the church, so many things that divide us, I really tried to create a resource that people could dive into this neglected book and absorb what I think is actually a very clear message.
I started in thinking the hardest thing about this project is going to be understanding revelation. And I quickly discovered, no, that’s not the hardest thing, the hardest thing is living in light of it. Because if you ask me what revelation is all about, here’s my answer, Revelation is a call to patient endurance of suffering for your allegiance to Jesus Christ as we wait for his kingdom to come in all of its glorious fullness. It is a call to refuse to compromise with this world as we wait for his kingdom to come. And honestly, those are pretty challenging calls for us, it’s really hard. I love my comfortable life and so to be willing to suffer marginalization even, but in many parts of the world, outright persecution, because of my bold allegiance to Jesus Christ and what he teaches, that’s a huge challenge. But I think for me, it’s even harder just to have eyes to see and then the will to forsake compromise for the cause of my own comfort. And that’s the huge challenge it presents to me and I think to all who read it.
Half of the book, I know specifically, seems just so out there. There’s a great meme floating around and us millennials, we love our memes. But it was with all the craziness in our world last couple years, it’s like my parents in their twenties, they’re like, we should settle down and buy a house. And then it was us in our twenties and it’s like, which chapter of Revelation is going to be fulfilled today? And I thought it was pretty funny.
But people have been looking at that book and they’re like, well, what’s happening, is this the end times? And they completely miss the challenge of the first half, which is all letters to the churches. And Jesus, in some ways, like you said, He’s calling them to this endurance, but He’s also calling them out. And I even think about the letter to the church in Laodicea, where He’s basically saying, you guys, you either got to be all in or just accept that you’re not, but because you’re lukewarm, I want to spit you out of my mouth. And it’s like, we as churches need to be hearing that.
The whole of the book, you were talking about the letters in chapters two and three, we can see ourselves in practically every one of those letters. It’s the letters to seven churches, but in a sense, that’s communicating letters not only to seven churches in Asia in his day, but even that number of seven would indicate, this is to all of the church and in fact, in every age. And as we see all of the different ways, some of them are actually persevering quite well and staying quite faithful that maybe we would see some of that in our modern day churches.
But also, some of the things we see there in terms of sexual immorality, idolatry, compromise, love of comfort, we certainly see those things in ourselves as well. And so the whole of the book though, what just keeps coming back, is to endure faithfully, endure in such a way that you will receive everything that God has promised to those he loves and calls his own.
And people don’t change much. And so those words, and that’s the thing I’ve learned through … I did a history degree and what you see over and over again is, people didn’t change much. We just have iPhones now, but we still are walking in the same mistakes, the same sin, and still need to walk in the same place of repentance and wholeness before God.
Maybe as you’ve been studying this, if you could tell us what was the most challenging part of writing this book? And then after you finished the book, what has been the most satisfying part of writing this? Where you look back on it, you’re like, I’m so glad that I wrote this. What has been the most challenging part while writing it and what was the most satisfying part upon finishing it?
Well, I think one thing that’s really hard about Revelation is, it’s filled with the wrath of God towards sin and the very real judgment that is coming to all who reject his promise of grace and mercy, so dealing with the reality of judgment.
Now, what’s so fascinating to me about the judgment in Revelation, is the attitude toward that judgment. That actually, we get to hear saints in Heaven who are seeing the judgment of God and here’s how they respond, they celebrate God, they worship God for His judgment because they say it is just and true. So they look into the judgment of God and they see, first of all, vindication. God, you promised you would set things right. And as they see it, they say, God, you are doing what is right, you are finally setting things right. And so they see this perfect justice of God. Whereas, I think sometimes the judgment of God, we feel a little bit embarrassed by. We’re just not really sure it’s that just, we think maybe it’s going to fall on some innocent people, some people who don’t deserve it. And so actually, I think Revelation helps us with that, but I think that’s a challenging part of Revelation.
In terms of what I loved, gosh, it doesn’t get any better than Revelation 21 and 22. It’s such a beautiful picture of what all of history, you say you love history, this is where history is headed. History is not headed merely toward you and I living a lifetime here and then going to heaven when we die, that’s an incredible promise. However, what history is headed toward is the return of a victorious Jesus on this white horse, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And Him exercising this final judgment against everything that has caused so much pain in the world and He’s going to deal with it for good. And He’s going to establish what is this ultimate marriage with His people, this ultimate community made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, this city that’s going to be completely secure, this face to face communion with the one who made us.
That is where history is headed and so to get to present to people through this book or when I teach it in person to get to present, this is where history is headed. This is why it matters that you have become united and joined to Christ. This is why that is essential, urgent, and why it’s so beautiful and so good because it’s being joined to Christ that’s going to lead us into that incredible future in His presence.
Just like any good movie, we’re so satisfied at the end and this is why we like the fantasy genre. There was a paper written by JRR Tolkien called, On Fairy Stories and we all know he wrote Lord of the Rings, but he said, the reason that we love fantasy stories so much is, there’s the struggle and this fight, but at the end everything resolves and everything is made right, all the evil is undone.
And we just keep coming back for that, every movie, we just love the satisfaction of the enemy being defeated and we literally get that promise in this life. It’s not a fairy story to say that Christ will return, but it’s reality. And that is a story that I think more and more people need to hear and be allowed to get behind and enjoy. You can enjoy the fact that this is a promise that this is going to happen. So that’s an amazing piece of it as well.
We’re running out of time here on our program, but maybe give us a last word. As you think about our young adults in Canada, in the United States, those of us who are growing in the faith, some of us are young married, some of us are maybe dating or just looking into that, you name it, all the things that young adults want. What is some counsel you would give to us in this day and age and what would you say to us to encourage us in the faith?
I would say, take hold of the only things and the only person that will last beyond this life. When we’re young, we just think we have this enormous long future and it can be about building a comfortable, enjoyable life. And I think the countercultural message of the book of Revelation is to encourage believers to recognize that, actually this life is very brief and that the greatest joy in life, this blessedness, think of blessedness that’s being promised here. Seven times in the book of Revelation, it tells us what people are blessed and it is so countercultural. And that’s why we as someone who’s 60 years old like I am or someone who’s in their twenties or early thirties needs to hear and that is, this life is brief and what the good life really is, is life in Christ. And for some of us, life in Christ is going to mean experiencing, sharing in His suffering in profound ways.
But what you can be sure of, is having taken hold and becoming united to Christ in this life. You can be sure that this life is not all there is and that actually this life is a blip on the screen of all eternity. And one of those seven blessed statements is, blessed are those who die in the Lord. Now, that sounds like a huge bummer, especially to a young person and you can just think, man, that is so far away. But let me tell you, here’s what it takes to die in the Lord, what it requires is that you live in the Lord right now and tomorrow and next year and over the years to come and to believe that the good life is not all to be had here and now.
Babylon, that’s the way Revelation would describe life here. A materialistic life, enjoying all of its wealth and power and privilege. It would say, Babylon is falling away, but what’s going to emerge is the new Jerusalem. This community of all of those who have been transformed and protected and made completely new by their connectedness to Jesus Christ. And so that’s the most important thing about your life, that you would be connected to Jesus Christ in a meaningful and what will prove to be an eternal way.
Amen, that’s so good. Nancy, thank you for your time, thank you for being on the program with us and we look forward to speaking with you again.
You bet, thanks so much.
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