Shane Wood on Why He Loves Revelation
Shane is a husband and a father of four kids. His Phd is from the University of Edinburgh. He’s a professor at Ozark Christian College and scholar on the book of Revelation. He’s also the author of three books. Recently, I got to talk with Shane about his studies in Revelation, as well as about his latest book, Between Two Trees. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
What got you interested in studying the book of Revelation?
What got me into Revelation initially was the intrigue. I wondered why we Christians typically aren’t talking about it. Revelation is usually one of those books that people either try to stay away from as much as they can, or they abuse it to no end. Once I began to study it here at Ozark Christian College, I began to realize it was a book that offered a lot more than just prediction. It was a book that offered transformation. So for me, the reason why I’ve kept returning back to Revelation is what it has challenged me to do and to be in Christ. It’s been a book that’s been highly transformational for me. We should talk about Revelation more if we want the church to continue to transform into the beautiful bride that Christ longs for her to be.
What are some of the main principles that help to interpret Revelation rightly?
When it comes to the Book of Revelation, we kind of throw out all principles of interpretation and I don’t really know why. It’s one of those books where it’s like, we don’t talk about context. We don’t talk about genre. We don’t talk about the way language works. We just dive in and immediately begin to predict. Context is essential.
If you take the Bible out of context, you can make the Bible say whatever you want. Just the very simple fact that Revelation was written to a real people at a time going through real issues is an important starting point.
By God’s grace, it still applies to us, but it applies to us by us being able to overhear the richness of their conversation and revelations. It was written by John, the minister, the pastor of the seven churches of Asia Minor that are going through real struggles, caught in real tension.
I would definitely press genre analysis because this isn’t an unfamiliar way of writing in the ancient world. It’s unfamiliar to us. Apocalyptic literature is striking to us with all these dragons, etc., but there are multiple examples: 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Book of Enoch. These are Jewish texts written around the time of the Book of Revelation. It was a common way of describing how to deal with difficult situations in their setting, difficult situations. A lot of times they are even dealing with an oppressive entity or an empire of some sort. So once you start putting these pillars into place, for me, it gives us kind of the guardrails, the parameters from which our questions actually start to make more sense.
Do we have a tendency to jump straight to immediate relevance to our lives, jumping straight over interpretation to application?
First of all, that intuition I understand and actually I appreciate because within that intuition to jump straight to application, there’s this belief that God cares about us today. And so I appreciate the heart behind what people are doing. However, skipping steps is never a wise idea. Each of the steps of a process is just as important as the end of the process because it’s within the process that there’s an unearthing, a patience that ultimately gives the best fruit. And yes, to jump immediately to the question of “How does this apply to me today?” in any biblical text is dangerous. Not because the question is bad, but because the order within which the question comes allows us to be the center of the text as opposed to be a beneficiary of the text itself.
Do you have a favorite part of the Book of Revelation?
I always struggle not getting misty-eyed when I read Revelation 21:1-4 with the new heavens and the new earth. God actually seems giddy in verse 3, where He’s like, “Look, God’s dwelling place is now with the people and He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God himself will be with them and be their God!” Like it seems like I’m like talking to one of my kids. They’re just like, “And then I did this and this” and then they’ll repeat the same thing over and over. I love that image of God. Excited about where we’re headed.
But I will say my favorite verse right now in Revelation is 1:17 which I think summarizes the whole book, where it says, “When I John saw Jesus, I fell down at his feet as though dead. But then he placed his right on his right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’” And then it goes on to talk about how He’s alive. And I love that. I love that image that in our deadness, God reaches across the chasm and touches us and whispers those beautiful fatherly words that “you don’t have to be afraid. I’m here.”
So is Revelation practical for the 21st century church, and is it in the same way that most people think it’s practical?
That question is near and dear to my heart. Matter of fact, in the introduction to my new book Between Two Trees, I am honest with this. It’s like I sat down to write a book called How to Read the Book of Revelation. That was my goal. And it ended up becoming a book on how the book of Revelation reads us. I feel that way about Bible study as a whole, that actually there’s this interesting interaction when we come to a text.
Because just as much as we’re trying to unearth the meaning of the text, it’s trying to unearth in us the different things that the Holy Spirit longs to transform.
I take seriously the first five words of the book. This is the revelation from or of Jesus Christ. It’s both about Him and from Him. This image of Christ is what we need most starkly. I think in the 21st century, especially in the American church, I feel like the picture of Christ is becoming progressively cloudy. Revelation has some of the most vivid pictures of Jesus that challenges us to be someone different. Ultimately all the scriptures’ goal is to transform the recipient and not merely just educate.
Revelation 1:3 promises blessings for those who study the book of Revelation. How has your studying blessed you?
The book of Revelation just refuses to let me stay the same. It has unearthed things in me from arrogance to anger. It’s an interesting practice to read through the letters to the seven churches asking yourself the question, “Which one of these do I reflect most today?” For a while, I’ve been caught up on Ephesus. Ephesus was this church that, man, they got the truth, right? Like they just didn’t miss the truth. One iota. Any false prophets, they routed them out and Jesus is like, well done. And then He threatens to remove their lampstands, which is crazy because I’m like, well, wait a minute. They got all the answers, right? Yeah. But Jesus looks at me, and He says, but you’ve forgotten your first love. And it’s led me on this journey of asking, do I love the truth more than I do the people?
We are only worthy to speak against the culture that we are willing to be crucified for.
So for me, Revelation has been this book where it’s blessed me because it’s revealed me to me. The positives and the negatives calling me to something deeper.