A Crucial, Alternative Approach to Revelation
A Review of
Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple
Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett
Hardcover: Zondervan, 2023
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Reviewed by Kevin Wildman
The book of Revelation may be the most controversial, debated, divisive, abused, and neglected book of the Bible. I am not an expert or scholar on Revelation, and like many, I have found myself overwhelmed and confused by its imagery and contents. If you’re anything like me, the temptation is to avoid Revelation, other than the obligatory reading for a reading plan. However, as the late Dr. Robert Lowery (Revelation’s Rhapsody) points out, Revelation is the only book of the Bible with a promised blessing for those who read its words aloud.
I have long struggled with reading Revelation because while I disagree with the rapture theology popular in our culture, the prominence of that theology has made reading and understanding Revelation more difficult. Even when rapture theology is not one’s stance, it can be hard not to read rapture into much of the text because that theology is so prevalent.
Revelation for the Rest of Us: A Prophetic Call to Follow Jesus as a Dissident Disciple, by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett, is a refreshing work in a sea filled with books on decoding who and when questions surrounding the text of Revelation. While the subtitle is long, it is crucial to comprehend McKnight and Matchett’s approach to understanding Revelation.
“Dissident” is so crucial to this work that McKnight and Matchett twice explain what they mean by the word. First, “A dissident is someone who takes a stand against official policy in church or state or both, who dissents from the status quo with a different vision for society” (12). A few pages later, they continue, “A dissident is a person of hope, someone who imagines a better, future world, and then begins to embody that world. It’s someone who speaks to promote that better, future vision and against what is wrong in the present” (17). Understanding this word and the authors’ use of it is essential in processing what is shared throughout the book.
There is some warning needed before diving into a study of Revelation for the Rest of Us; you will probably be offended. What is important is that you push through the pain of offense and continue; we need the stretching this work provides. Whether you disagree with the authors’ perspective regarding interpretation and meaning, especially regarding the rapture (or lack thereof). Or if you are offended by some introspective observations made as they examine “Babylon” and the implications of Babylon today. Either way, we need the words and observations they make, and we need to pay attention lest we neglect the discipleship to which we are called.
Admittedly, I can’t entirely agree with every conclusion or example presented by the authors. However, the Church needs to be asking the questions they raise. American Christians need to be alert and aware of the inherent dangers to which we are often blind.
Regarding the question about the millennium, the authors write,
“We are frequently asked what “our” view of Revelation is, and the question is often framed in terms of the millennium: Are you premillennial, or millennial, or postmillennial? We answer back: Why is the so-called (literal, physical) millennium the interpretive framework for reading the book of Revelation? The millennium, regardless of your view, is a sideshow in this book (at best). Three verses are the grand sum of verses about the millennium in Revelation” (143).
This paragraph left me speechless. I have lost count of the times I have heard the interpretation of Revelation argued about, people even seeming to make one’s view of Revelation a condition of salvation. And while I have read Revelation numerous times, I did not remember that three verses is the “grand sum” of writing on the millennium. Whether one agrees with the conclusions made by the authors about the millennium or not, we need to take heed of this observation. They continue with the assertion, “The bigger issue is that Revelation should never be read through the framework of the millennium. Doing so is a colossal example of missing the whole point of the book” (143).
One of the many things I appreciate about this work is that the authors don’t just say what not to do when reading and interpreting Revelation; they provide suggestions for a better way. Regarding the view of Revelation and that question typically revolving around the millennial viewpoints, they write, “A better question is, “Ignoring the millennium entirely, what is your view of the book of Revelation?” Our answer is: It is an apocalyptic-prophetic book revealing the evils of the empire and summoning readers to a discerning, dissident discipleship as we live in the new Jerusalem” (143).
Structurally Revelation for the Rest of Us is broken into five parts. Part 1 is entitled “Reading Revelation as if for the First Time.” In this section, the authors focus mainly on the context surrounding the writing of Revelation and a couple of general principles for reading Revelation.
Part 2, “The Playbill of Revelation,” has the focus you would expect; it works through the major players in the book, helping to understand who they are and how they fit into the narrative. I think this section alone is worth the cost of the book.
In Part 3, “The Dramatic Narrative for the Characters,” the authors go beyond just who the players in the book are and help understand the events, symbols, interludes, judgments, numbers, visions, and more. Like Part 2, this section alone is invaluable to comprehending Revelation.
Finally, the book concludes with Part 4, “Living in Babylon,” and Part 5, “Discipleship for Dissidents Today.” Each of these sections has multiple chapters, and they are what make this book such a unique work. Revelation for the Rest of Us is not merely a commentary, a theological work, or a superficial Bible study. This book is a work that helps the reader read and understand the book of Revelation and live faithfully in light of Revelation.
Discipleship is the heartbeat of this work by McKnight and Matchett, and even in the sections on hermeneutical approaches, discipleship is the undercurrent. It seems appropriate to include a couple more lengthy quotes to help understand the value of this work.
“Though we have said it before, it cannot be said often enough: too many interpretations of Revelation miss its message of discipleship because those interpretations are obsessed with speculations about who and where and what. They barely recognize the message of dissident discipleship, and readings of the book become an exercise in comparing newspapers to the so-called predictions of the end times. This approach fails the church, especially the evangelical church” (220).
Regarding the purpose of eschatology, they write:
“Christian eschatology is the alternative to Babylon’s eschatology. Christian eschatology formulates hope in the midst of lament, petition in the face of the dragon, and it knows from the incarnation of Christ that God is with us all the way to the hideousness of crucifixion. Christian eschatology enables us to grow through resilience and allegiant witness into the shape of the Lord who is the Lamb” (231).
One of the problems with popular approaches to Revelation is that the text is made meaningless to the seven churches to whom the letter was first written. In Revelation for the Rest of Us, Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett present a hermeneutic that honors the first-century context in which it was written and makes it understandable and meaningful for discipleship today and forever until Jesus does return.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Press on with an open heart and mind when you disagree or are uncomfortable, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you see the connections you need to see.
Scot McKnight’s weekly podcast, Kingdom Roots, regularly has helpful content for better understanding Scripture. On February 9, 2023 an episode was released called “Revelation for the Rest of Us.” This episode offers a brief introduction to the book and is an excellent way to hear a little of McKnight’s approach in preparation for reading the book.
Kevin Wildman lives in west central Indiana with his bride and their five children. He is a pastor and football coach, as well as an alum of Lincoln Christian University (B.A. Preaching 2008 and M.A. Spiritual Formation 2014). He enjoys running and has completed two full marathons. When it comes to reading Henri Nouwen is his favorite author.
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