COGaIC’s David Hulme and the Apocalypse

“Orthodox” 16th Century Representation of the “Apocalypse” 

In the latest edition of its Vision magazine, COGaIC’s David Hulme wrote an article titled Apocalypse Now, Later or Never?  In it he states:

Of what value is the book of Revelation? Does it foretell the cataclysmic end of the world? Is it a historical record of events long past, or perhaps a call to moral responsibility? Or should it be read merely as first-century literature aimed at a first-century audience? 

The Apocalypse, or book of Revelation, is a puzzle to most people who take the time to read it. Filled with strange visions, blood and smoke, terrifying warfare, fearsome beasts, and evil rulers, it reads like a nightmare of the worst kind. It was set down by a man named John as a result of his extraordinary experiences on the Roman prison island of Patmos, near the coast of what is today western Turkey.

The Greek term apokalypsis, from which the book’s titles come, means “the revealing” or “the unveiling”—in this case, of things to come. Yet most people’s reactions suggest that, far from uncovering the future, the book’s contents remain little understood. The one exception concerns the massive confrontation between God and unrepentant humanity near the close of “the present age.” Thus apocalypse has developed the variant meanings of “overwhelming catastrophe,” “cataclysm,” or even “Armageddon.”

Perhaps there’s a good reason for this general lack of clarity—something to discuss as we proceed.

In the preface to early editions of Martin Luther’s New Testament translation, the reformer famously said of Revelation, “Let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him.” He judged the record of John’s visions to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic” (though over time he came to a different view). English Bible scholar J.B. Phillips expressed similar misgivings…

Not everyone has felt that way…

Harry Maier is a Canadian scholar of German extraction, whose Lutheran parents fled Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe following the Second World War…

Maier eschews the gloom and doom approach of fundamentalists who focus only on the catastrophic end of human society. He takes the second of Kovacs’ and Rowland’s approaches and emphasizes concerned action in the present.

A similar view comes from New Testament scholar Craig Evans, for whom the Apocalypse is primarily a call to Christian responsibility and responsiveness…

Like Maier, Evans is not enamored of the “end-time” approach. He told Vision, “People get into the type of interpretation that I don’t like. It involves taking Bible passages and comparing them to newspaper headlines and trying to draw inferences about eschatology. I find it reckless and irresponsible. And though it seems to meet a lot of needs for a lot of Christians, especially in the West, I find it frankly deplorable.”

David Frankfurter is a scholar who represents the third approach. He is interested in Revelation from a different perspective: “I think this is very important as historical literature, and I think it has had a tremendous impact on the history of art, the history of literature, the history of culture—and I think it should be studied for that. I would be afraid of talking about this as having a helpful message, either for people who are in difficult straits in this world or for people who are hoping for a better world, because the violence that is committed—against, not oppressors, but those who are unclean in this text—is quite extreme.”

Yet a complete reading of the Apocalypse cannot avoid the conclusion that while there is certainly the call to moral responsibility, there is also a clearly defined cataclysmic end to human evil. What Kovacs and Rowland have defined as either/or approaches in Revelation’s reception history are not the only way to read the book. Nor is Frankfurter’s purely historical view the only alternative. We can have all three, without the pitfalls of fundamentalism…

As the book’s opening verse clearly states, Revelation’s initial audience was limited to the servants of God. It was not a public message. Today, of course, it is public in the sense that it appears in millions of Bibles in hundreds of languages and dialects. But that does not necessarily mean that it is understood by a wider group than originally. In fact, as we have seen, its reception throughout history tells us otherwise. Despite its ready availability, it is poorly understood by the majority.

The reason is bound up in a seldom-grasped biblical truth: most people will not understand God’s purpose and plan and respond positively to Him in this lifetime. In fact, the very negative reaction of most of humanity is itself part of the story as the book of Revelation unfolds…

It is clear that so many parts of the Bible are interconnected and consistent with each other. When we connect the dots, it becomes obvious that one day God will intervene to resolve human problems. Earlier we saw that, broadly speaking, readers have adopted one of two perspectives on the book. Harry Maier is one who takes the view that action in the present is the appropriate response to the book’s themes, rather than belief that the end of the world is in sight…

While we cannot know exactly when the present age of human self-government will end, nor the precise moment of Jesus Christ’s return, the Apocalypse does unveil the kind of world that will precede His coming. It also teaches those who have ears to hear, how they must distance themselves from the way of man—the “government of Caesar”—and anticipate, by their way of living, the coming sovereignty of God and His Son.

One of the many problems with how David Hulme writes is that while he brings up subjects and worldly perspectives, he rarely provides clear answers as to what he is teaching (COGaIC is light on prophetic understanding as far as I have been able to tell, more information is in the article on the teachings of the Church of God, an International Community (COG aic)).  Of course, this may be intentional to not offend those inside or outside his church.

But he is correct that Martin Luther did not care for the Book of Revelation–he also did not care for 17 other books of the Bible either(please see the article Sola Scriptura or Prima Luther? What Did Martin Luther Really Believe About the Bible?).

The Roman Catholics tend to minimize the prophecies of the book (and oppose its teachings on the millennium).  And the Apocalypse is the only book of the Bible that the Eastern Orthodox never read in their church services.

And most Protestants either discount it because Martin Luther and many of the early “reformers” did, or they misunderstand it and teach a rapture concept that allows them to ignore what it shows (although there are a minority of people who consider themselves Protestant that have not fallen into either of those ditches and some few of them are seeking to understand it).

The truth is that the end is coming, the Book of Revelation itself gives a variety of details on it, and David Hulme is correct that by connecting the dots a fuller picture of end-time events can be understood.

And, although he did not mention it, many current world news events are occurring that show that the prophecies of the Bible, including those in the Apocalypse are soon coming to pass.

A couple of articles of possibly related interest may include:

The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 Do they matter? Most say they must, but act like they do not. This article contains some history about the Church of God (sometimes referred to as the continuation of Primitive Christianity) over the past 2000 years.
Did The Early Church Teach Millenarianism and a 6000 Year Plan?Was a 6,000 year time allowed for humans to rule followed by a literal thousand year reign of Christ on Earth (often called the millennium or sometimes chiliasm) taught by the early Christians? Is this time near?
Do Certain Catholic Prophecies About Antichrist Warn Against Jesus? Will the final “Anti-Christ” be Jewish, insist on Saturday, be opposed to the trinity, and bring in the millennium? Catholic writings indicate this, but what does the Bible show?
Who Are The Two Witnesses? What is their job? What does the Bible reveal? What has the Church of God taught on this subject? Might even Roman Catholic prophecies give some clues here?
Is There A Secret Rapture for the Church? When and Where is the Church Protected? What does the Bible really teach? Who really is left behind?

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