Have you wandered an art gallery and attempted to ‘read’ the art? Recently I enjoyed Nigerian art at the house of a congregational member. We discussed together the ‘message’ of the paintings. None of these paintings were simply aesthetic. The artist had something to say. Given my scant knowledge of Africa, I had some insight into its meaning. My friend could see far more as this was from his homeland. He knew its history, architecture, challenges, daily life. The artist was illustrating from the same canvas of life.
Reading Revelation is akin to viewing an art piece. As Miranda indicated through chapters 4-5 it is to be experienced to be understood. The challenge for a preacher and modern reader is we are inclined to explain, not experience. We have after all the phenomena of the professional explainer – the ‘art critic’. If the art is abstract, we ask an artist, ‘what does it mean’? To enjoy the art, it seems we must understand it. But the explanation is always less than the art itself. In too many ways it reduces art instead of enlarging our imagination.
As with Nigerian art our apprehension of Revelation may be richer through some explanation. It can help to know the history, challenges, scripture which informed the vision. But the explanation is less than the vision itself. We can explain the dragon, but do we ‘see’ the dragon? We might explain the Lamb’s glory, but will we worship this Lamb? That is the invitation.