Preaching workshop untangles book of Revelation
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Nearly 200 local church pastors and seminary students were challenged to overcome their fears of preaching through the book of Revelation during Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop, Oct. 7. Professors at the seminary provided insight and tools into the apocalyptic conclusion of the New Testament and exhorted workshop participants to preach from the only biblical book that promises a blessing for those who read, hear and keep what is written in it.
Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, who wrote the commentary on Revelation in the New American Commentary series, spoke during two sessions of the workshop. He noted that Revelation can be a great source of encouragement to churches during difficult days.
“I know of no book in the Bible, maybe other than Job, that will assure the average parishioner more of the prospects for God owning the future and the present and nothing being out of His control,” Patterson said of Revelation.
“The book of Revelation focuses on how bad the world is. You can’t imagine anything as bad as the world of Revelation. But not only does it tell how bad the world is, it also tells how great the Savior is and how His providence extends to all portions of our world.”
During his first session, Patterson addressed the genre of the book, which has been debated but, if understood correctly, sheds light on interpretation. He recognized that the book actually contains multiple genres, including letters, prophecy, and apocalyptic tones.
“It is a prophetic letter written at the end of the apocalyptic period by a fisherman who had acquainted himself extensively with Jewish literature and consequently knew about apocalyptic literature and borrowed some of the devices of apocalyptic literature because he knew that people living in his day would understand and comprehend it,” Patterson concluded.
David Allen, dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern, discussed the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, which he said offer counsel and encouragement to churches today.
“Though these are clearly seven local churches,” Allen said, “there is universal application to all churches everywhere.”
Allen noted that if churches in Revelation are representative of all churches, then at least five out of seven have problems that need to be addressed. Often, he said, the solution is repentance.
“Chronologically,” Allen said, “the last word of Jesus to His church is not the Great Commission, ‘Go ye …’ The last word is Revelation 2-3, and it’s ‘Repent ye …’”
Steven Smith, vice president for student services and communications, addressed the overwhelming Christology within the book of Revelation.
“The book of Revelation is not explicitly a book about prophecy; it’s not a book about figuring out the end times; it is a book about Jesus,” Smith said.
Smith shattered common misperceptions of Jesus, saying that too often Christians focus solely on the Jesus during His earthly ministry and neglect who He is today.
“Jesus Christ is not a baby. Jesus Christ is not a hippie wandering a hillside. Jesus Christ is not a 33-year-old Jew dying between two thieves,” Smith said.
“That’s who He was. Revelation teaches us who He is. The truth of the matter is that if we don’t preach the book of Revelation, people don’t have an accurate view of who Jesus is.”
Smith explained that Revelation presents Jesus in his present, exalted state. The book reveals “how Jesus wants us to think about Jesus”—a glorious judge, a warrior Messiah, and a reigning King.
Executive Vice President Craig Blaising, a noted scholar in the field of eschatology, presented an outline of the book of Revelation and identified the central, recurring theme as “Jesus is coming.”
“No matter how dreary things are, no matter how bad they become, no matter who rises up, and no matter how deeply entrenched evil is,” Blaising said, “He is coming, and He is going to change everything.”
Patterson concluded the one-day workshop with an exposition of Revelation 17. While 16th-century Reformers like Luther, Calvin and the Anabaptists identified the woman in the chapter as the Roman Catholic Church, Patterson takes a different approach.
“I’m going to argue that he was talking about Southern Baptists … and Presbyterians and Episcopalians and anybody else who has the doctrine of Babylonia,” Patterson said. “Babylonianism is present in churches of all kinds and denominations.”
In defining what he means by Babylonianism, Patterson pointed to Genesis 11 and the account of the tower of Babel.
“Babylonian religion replaces Christocentric faith with anthropocentric faith,” Patterson said. “It replaces salvation by grace with salvation by human works.”
“Anywhere you find a works-based salvation, you have found Babylonianism, and there’s a lot of it in the average Baptist church, where it is still believed that somehow what I do is going to make me acceptable to God.”
As churches battle against this spirit of false faith, Patterson said, they must not lose hope.
Summarizing the book of Revelation, Patterson said, “Don’t you dare give up. Our God wins this battle in the end.”
In conjunction with the preaching workshop, Patterson’s sessions also doubled as lectures in the seminary’s annual Northcutt Lectures on Preaching. He concluded the lecture series during a chapel sermon on Oct. 8, where he preached on Revelation 12.
Audio of the workshop can be accessed at www.swbts.edu/AEPW13.