Preaching Apocalyptic Literature
January 4, 2012
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
<![CDATA[I recently taught a class at Wheaton College on the subject of preaching apocalyptic literature, and we looked at two particular types, Zechariah and Revelation. As I begin a sermon series Sunday on Revelation 2-3, I thought I would share with you what I discussed with the class. I will do this in two parts today and tomorrow, first by looking at preaching apocalyptic literature, then by looking specifically at Revelation. PART I: First, what is preaching? JI Packer said that the Bible is God preaching. If that is the case then the task of the preacher is to ‘re-preach it.’ This approach is sometimes called expository preaching, expositional preaching, or explicatory preaching. Expository preaching is understood in terms of content, not method (expository preaching does not = ‘going verse by verse’, or ‘three points and a poem’). The aim of the preacher is to let God speak through His Word and address us today by the work of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God. When the Bible is taught God speaks. The best preaching is one that has a ‘prophetic edge’, that is, there is a sense not only that this is an academic lecture but that there is a spiritual dynamic whereby it seems as if God is speaking directly to us (for He is). This approach to preaching is not ‘modernistic’ or ‘enlightenment captivated’ but the same approach that was used by Jesus and the apostles (see Greg R. Scharf, “Were the Apostles Expository Preachers? Old Testament Exposition in the Book of Acts,” Trinity Journal, Volume 31 NS, No. 1, Spring 2010, pages 95-113). Should you preach apocalyptic literature? If you like ‘graphic novels’, surrealist paintings, Batman: Dark Knight, and want any answers to the angst of a post-911 world, apocalyptic literature is for you… Apocalyptic literature has something of a confused reputation because of the sensationalism accorded to it by various popular media and Christian teachings. In reality, apocalyptic literature is saying the same thing as the rest of the Bible but in a different way. In particular, its way of presenting truth, appealing to the poetic, and speaking to feelings of oppression or exile, is potentially especially helpful for people today. There are many different kinds of apocalyptic literature in the Bible so to avoid preaching it at all would be challenging if a preacher has any ambition to preach the whole counsel of God. Apocalyptic literature is not only found in the book of Revelation, but the second half of Daniel, Zechariah, parts of 2 Peter, Jude, end of 1 Thessalonians, second chapter of 2 Thessalonians, the so-called Olivet discourse in the gospels (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). What is apocalyptic literature? Apocalyptic means ‘revealing’, ‘uncovering’, or a ‘laying bare’. Biblical apocalyptic literature is not as distinct from prophecy as it might at first seem (the book of Revelation describes itself as a prophecy, Revelation 1:3; dissertation by Kathleen M. Rochester, St John’s College Durham, Prophetic Ministry in Jeremiah and Ezekiel). Revelation, and other New Testament apocalyptic literature, should be read less against the background of intertestamental apocalyptic literature (which most think tended to be pseudonymous and projecting prediction by appearing to have been written before the event) than Old Testament prophetic and apocalyptic literature like Daniel and Zechariah. Apocalyptic literature has the same message as the rest of the Bible but presented in different ways. Apocalyptic literature tends to be more poetic, colorful, less prosaic. It deals with symbolism and numbers with certain symbolic meanings. For instance, the numbers 7, 4, and notoriously 666 (7 is the number of perfection due to its connection with the 7 days of creation; 4 is perhaps the number of the whole earth due to its relation to the four rivers that ran out of Eden to water the garden; 6 is the number which almost makes perfection; and 666 therefore is God saying that humanity has not made it but has fallen short of the required standard). Apocalyptic literature has a sense of wanting to communicate the unseen reality of the spiritual realm all around us, the vision of Isaiah 6, or Daniel’s Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, or the throne room of Revelation 4 and 5. How do you preach apocalyptic literature? Bob Fyall, Senior Tutor in Ministry at Cornhill, Scotland, gives five principles on practically preaching apocalyptic literature in a church context:
- Fit apocalyptic literature into the Big Picture of the Bible
- Deal with apocalyptic literature faithfully and imaginatively
- Link the present with the eternal
- Link apocalyptic literature with other genres in the Bible
- Preach Christ
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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