The darkness and the light
Of all the books in the Bible, Revelation is popularly held to be the darkest, the most difficult, the strangest book of Scripture. Bible classes spends years attempting to unravel its mysteries, but many Christians react to its puzzles in just the opposite way by throwing up their hands in exasperation and forgetting the book they never knew. Its reputation is far, far greater than the knowledge of it, so that Gösswein can speak of Revelation as a “nest of chiliasts,” and in his day as in ours, specific Christian pastors and teachers spring immediately to mind.
Is misuse of Scripture a testimony to Scripture’s darkness and perhaps Scripture’s uselessness? If no one can agree on what Revelation means, why try? Extending the same question one step further: if no one can agree on what Scripture means in so many places, why try? This mass of disagreement, fanatical opinion, skeptical disdain, and textual obscurity is daunting. But Gösswein neither throws up his hands nor insists with idiotic vehemence. He does not think the problem with Revelation is the book of Revelation. The problem with Revelation is who reads it.
Scripture is not a book like other books that just anyone can take up and read. A person who reads Revelation apart from the Spirit of God reads only darkness. Gösswein:
All divine revelation is to [the unspiritual reader] concealment and growing darkness, because the flesh has no enlightened eyes of understanding for the things of the Spirit of God.
Scripture is not unclear because its divine Author is not Himself unclear, uncertain, or unable to express Himself in human language. Scripture is found to be dark by those who are in the dark. Scripture is distant and inscrutable to those who are distant from the Lord.
This only appears to be tautological until one connects it to a point Gösswein makes about the importance Revelation has for chiliasts, those who read the book in what he describes as a “fleshly” manner. One will find in Revelation either chiliastic puzzles or nothing comprehensible so long as one reads without the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Gösswein himself “grew up among chiliasts and imbibed chiliasm with my mother’s milk.” He knows what it is and how it is that people find in Revelation fantastic schemes of earthly kingdoms and Jesus reigning like David from a throne in the city of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jews. That fleshly longing for earthly glory and power Gösswein even identifies with “state-churchliness (Staatskirchentum) and the ‘Christian state,’” connecting chiliastic dreams of earthly power and military strife with the church’s longing for earthly validation and support apart from God’s Word.
As he makes the point that Scripture must be understood on its own terms, so that the one who would understand Revelation should above all read the biblical prophets, especially Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel, Gösswein explains that there is only one way for man to receive God’s light so that he can read and understand Scripture. There is only one “cure” for chiliasm or any other fleshly way of reading Scripture and of understanding the Lord. He says it is the same way David was shown the light: the “terrors of the law must go through the whole body,” and then the “Sun of Righteousness in the gospel must rise, so that the gospel becomes everything.”
Scripture must be understood on its own terms, and its own terms begin with the reader’s knowledge of God’s law and His gospel. That dynamic makes the reader a wholly different person than he was before, enlightened by the Spirit with the knowledge of Christ. Only the one who knows the gospel can find Scripture profitable to him as he searches out Scripture’s treasures, and they are opened to him, clearly and beautifully with the Spirit teaching the reader from Scripture what Scripture itself means. Scripture is clear to those with eyes to see. Scripture in every part is glorious and endlessly rewarding to those with eyes fixed on Christ.