The actor Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest and lost. True story.
Why did Charlie Chaplin go unrecognized? Surely it was because we see what we expect to see. No one expected the real Charlie Chaplin to show up, so no one saw him when he did.
Even so, it was quite an oversight. It’s not like Charlie Chaplin was unknown. At the time, he was the most recognizable person on earth. Along with the other contestants, he would have been scrutinized to see how much like Chaplin he was. Yet nobody saw him.
The same principle applies when we come to the scriptures: We see what we expect to see. Or to put it another way, what you believe determines what you see.
If you believe the Bible is full of rules we must keep to please the Lord, you will find rules whenever you read the Bible. And if you believe we must work hard or avoid sin to please God, you will find tasks to complete and sins to avoid on every page. Our beliefs filter what we see.
Me? I expect to see Jesus on every page and in every book from Genesis to Revelation.
Is this not why the Bible was written—to reveal Jesus? Is it not his story? All the histories, poems, laws, songs, and stories of the Old and New Testaments point to him. To paraphrase Augustine, “Jesus is in the old concealed; Jesus is in the new revealed.” Or to quote The Jesus Storybook Bible, every story whispers his name.
How to read scripture in context
Any preacher worth their salt will tell you that we need to read the Bible in context, but what is the proper context? Jesus is. He is the Living Word who gives meaning to the written word.
The word context means weave together. We take the words and weave a story. Try and weave a story from scripture without the central thread of Jesus Christ and you could end up with a bad story. This is why we need to wear Son-glasses when reading scripture. We don’t read the Bible to find principles for success (although it has plenty) or rules for living (ditto); we read it to connect with the Author of Life. We read it to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
This seems obvious, no? But it is not common practice, particularly when it comes to reading the letters from Jesus.
Some interpret Christ’s letters through historical, cultural, or linguistic lenses. Others prefer a prophetic or dispensational approach. A lens, or hermeneutic, to use the proper word, is a tool for constructing a story. If your lens helps you to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, it’s a good lens. But if your lens distracts you from Jesus, it’s a dud.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus interpreted “all the scriptures,” from Moses to the prophets, through a Christocentric hermeneutic (Luke 24:27). He said, “This is all about me.” If the entire Old Testament, from Moses to the prophets, is all about Jesus, then so is the New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation.
With that in mind, let’s consider the first four words of the Book of Revelation:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ… (Revelation 1:1a)
What is the Book of Revelation about? It’s about Jesus. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Sure, it’s about other things as well. But like the rest of scripture, it is principally about Jesus, who has come and is coming again.
The New Testament was written by people who saw Jesus, and this is true of John’s Revelation.
“I saw one like a son of man,” said John, “and his face shone like the sun,” (Rev. 1:13, 16). The old apostle saw Jesus in all his glory and was told to “write what you see” (Rev. 1:11). When we read Revelation, we are reading what John saw. If we see what John saw—Jesus—we are reading correctly. If we see something else, such as a projection of ourselves and our shortcomings, we are reading it wrong.
It is tempting for us to study the scriptures to find stuff we must do, but a healthier approach is to see what Jesus has done and is now doing. For instance, in one of the seven letters, we find Jesus walking among the lampstands. It sounds mysterious, but it’s a powerful revelation of Christ-with-us. The lampstands, Jesus explains, are the churches. Jesus is walking among the churches.
How does this help us? It sets us free from the false image of an aloof and distant Lord. Jesus is among the lampstands meaning he is with us and for us. It’s good news for those who feel far from God.
We are changed by beholding Jesus, so my purpose in writing Letters from Jesus is to help you behold Jesus. In his letters we see aspects of Jesus that are found nowhere else in scripture. And we hear him say things that are recorded no other place.
In his letters we encounter his heart. While the Gospels record the words and actions of Jesus, his letters reveal his thoughts towards us, and they are good.
Extracted and adapted from Letters from Jesus: Finding Good News in Christ’s Letters to the Churches.