Why Martin Luther Rejected the Book of Revelation
(Picture copyright by Jacob Schriftman. Do not use without permission.)
The Book of Revelation contains one of the longest quotes of Jesus Himself—a quote, furthermore, that was supposedly written down only moments after He uttered it.
The Gospels were composed decades after Jesus’ life. It would be a mistake to read them as transcripts of Jesus’ teachings, as if the authors based their records on tape recordings rather than oral transmission. The author of Luke, for instance, simply said that he had done his proper research; he did not claim to transcribe Jesus verbatim.
John’s Revelation, on the other hand, does make that claim. Jesus appears in awe-inspiring power and tells John to write down what he is about to receive, and then He launches into a lengthy monologue. Here we have Jesus actually dictating part of the Bible to a human secretary.
Yet, what kind of a Jesus do we meet in these messages? Is it the same Jesus whom so many Christians have grown to love by reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? The Jesus who upset the religious purists by reaching out to sinners and rejects? The one who usually reserved His reprimands to legalists who thought it terribly important to eat kosher food and keep the Sabbath, while ignoring that God’s commandments were meant to help people?
It can be argued, and many Christians in fact have argued, that the Jesus of Revelation is quite a different Jesus than the one in the Gospels and in Paul’s letters. In the Gospels, Jesus condemns an overemphasis on purity, kosher living, as well as misguided religious zeal. In Revelation, He condemns the lack of purity, kosher living, and religious zeal. Legalism seems to have suddenly disappeared as an item on His list of concerns. In the Gospels, He wins over the sinners by accepting them with open arms; now He attempts to reform them by saying that they make Him sick and He will throw them up.
In a word, you could say there is a lack of grace in Revelation. Here, grace is reserved for those who deserve grace, which really makes it no grace at all. Grace means to get something you do not deserve—a theme that runs like a golden thread through the Gospels and Paul’s letters. In Revelation, some say, this golden thread breaks off. Now we are back to the concept of reward rather than grace: getting what you deserve.
That is why Martin Luther, the man who sparked the Reformation, said that Revelation is no prophecy from God at all and that “Christ is neither taught nor known in it.” He later changed his mind, but it seems that such was his view at the time when he distributed his ninety-five theses, which set the greatest shift in the history of the church in motion.
Are Christians today still at liberty to draw the same conclusion about Revelation as Martin Luther did? Or would they be then labeled by many of their fellow Christians as unbelievers, or at least as people spreading false teachings?