People seem to be obsessed with Apocalyptic themes. Hollywood never runs out of ideas for movies exploring some end of the world plot. But the world is not going to end with a zombie take-over or a destroyed environment. Nor will the world end with Hillary or Trump or an increasingly anti-Christian America. Instead the Bible definitively says the world is going to end with Jesus Christ. He is God’s end-game. He is the great finale, the climax of history. And nowhere do we see this more clearly than the book of Revelation.
Today we turn to the book of Revelation – not “Revelations” – and embark on a study of this remarkable Scripture. The word revelation comes from the Greek word “apokalupsis” where we get our word apocalypse. The word literally means “to take the cover off”, “to uncover”, “to unveil”, or “disclose”. So the book of Revelation is God taking back the veil on the future of this world.
This book does not need a lot of help to be interesting. It is a fascinating thing to read. Of course, when it comes to the book of Revelation we find two extremes. The first extreme is fear. For many the book of Revelation is just as scary and mystifying as the world around us. Many never read this book, writing it off as too cryptic or too frightening – its pages filled with intimidating events and creatures (Four Horsemen; Locust beasts from the Abyss; Strange angelic beings; Seven-Headed Beasts ridden by a Prostitute). Some say it just can’t be understood – as I heard one pastor say. Actually, for a time in Church history, during the 4th century into the Middle Ages, the Greek Church which was of the Alexandrian school of allegorical hermeneutics, did not allow the book of Revelation to be part of the canon of Scripture.
Then of course you see others going to the other extreme of fear: obsession. Some people today, intoxicated almost by the bizarre, act as though the book of Revelation is the only book in the Bible. This too is an extreme. The balance is found in giving the same aggressive and vigorous study of this book that we would give to any other and let it do its work in us.
Then we ask a question: Should we study the book of Revelation? Why? Well, let me offer 4 reasons why.
- First, because it is God’s purpose that you know the things in this book. The very first verse says, “…” God gave this revelation to Jesus, who gave it to His angel, who gave it to John the Apostle, who was to give it to the servants of God (Christians). In other words, this chain of communication ends with God’s people. This book is from God to you and I. Ignoring it is the very opposite of God’s purposes in giving it.
- Second, because by reading and heeding this book you will be blessed – guaranteed. Verse 3 says, “…” Let’s say it this way: you don’t want to live your Christian life never having possessed the blessing that comes from reading this book.
- Third, because you will become a more holy Christian by reading and heeding these words. Holiness is the byproduct of this book in several ways. We learn from Jesus’ warnings to the 7 churches in chapters 2-3. We see very clearly that God is Judge and therefore we want to live to please our Judge.
- And fourth, because the book presents hope. In spite of a collapsing, chaotic world we see a sovereign God in control powerfully working out history to the ends He has decreed. It is divinely controlled chaos. Tragedy, calamity and suffering in this life is not the end. That is why this book “stokes hope” – what is now will pass and very glorious things are coming beyond this life and beyond this age.
There is some disagreement of how we ought to interpret this Revelation of Jesus Christ. Four main schools of thought have developed.
- First is the Preterist view. The Preterist view sees all the events in the book of Revelation as having already occurred within the 1st century. There is nothing in the book that is predictive or future for us today. John wrote the book with so much symbolism because he was hiding the meaning from the general public but the believes would have known what he meant.
- Second is the Historicist view. The historicist view sees the book of Revelation as a panoramic view of Church history from the 1st century to the 2nd coming of Christ. In other words, all the events and creatures are symbolic of some event and person during the age of the Church.
- Third is the Symbolic, or Idealist view. This view says that nothing in the book has any historical meaning and nothing refers to any real figure or event in the past or the future. The entire book is one big allegory of good versus evil and the triumph of God over evil.
- We at EFC do not approach the book of Revelation with any of these 3 views. Each of these views apply too much allegory and do not deal well with passages that evidently foretell far off future events. So, we come with the fourth view: the Futurist. This view takes seriously the prophetic portions of the book and understands everything from the 4th chapter on as still coming in the future.
What was the occasion for writing the book of Revelation? What was going on? Understanding some things up front will help us as we go along. First of all, John the Apostle, the beloved disciple, is the author. Three times in the first chapter John is identified as the author (1, 4, 9). This is his 5th book in the canon of Scripture. The others include the Gospel of John, and the 3 epistles of John (1 John, 2 John and 3 John).
John was the last remaining Apostle of the 12 Apostles at the time of writing this. He was a young man just starting a fishing career in his father’s business when Jesus first called him in the Gospels. Now, around 90-95AD he was a very old man, banished to the island of Patmos (1:9) just off the coast of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea. Under Domitian – one of the cruelest Emperors Rome has ever seen – John was exiled to Patmos and sentenced to hard labor in the mines for his unrelenting preaching of Jesus Christ. So, this aged man, revered by all the churches as the last living Apostle, even more so he was the last man alive on earth who had seen Jesus while on earth, John received a vision of the future from His Savior whom he had not seen in over half a century.
He writes to 7 churches in Asia minor (1:11) and the context we find them in is the same as John’s: suffering. While reading these letters to these churches very quickly we realize his audience is bigger and includes the Church at large.
Today we are going to look specifically at 3 points from the first 3 verses.
ONE: JESUS CHRIST IS CENTRAL (v1)
Point number one today is this: Jesus Christ is CENTRAL. Notice the first words in verse 1, “The revelation of Jesus Christ…” This entire book is about Him. You cannot make the mistake of missing Him because you’re too busy looking at the bizarre, supernatural phenomena taking place. All the creatures and all the events orbit around One Person: Jesus Christ. He is both the Source of the revelation given to John and the Substance of that Revelation. We see this in His Central place, His preeminent place throughout the whole book.
He is preeminent in chapter 1 when He appears gloriously to John. He is preeminent in chapters 2-3 when the 7 churches are addressed because He is speaking to them. He is preeminent in chapters 4-5 because He is worshipped as the only One worthy to take the scroll from God’s hand. He is Central in chapters 6-19 as the One who authoritatively unleashes GOd’s judgment on the world. He is central in chapter 20 as the King of kings in His 1000 year kingdom upon this earth. He is central in chapters 21-22 in the eternal state of the universe.
Application: Keep your eyes on Jesus. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus Christ, John 5:39, “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that by them you have eternal life yet these are the Scriptures that speak of Me.” In this life we keep our eyes trained on the Lord Jesus Christ.
TWO: THE BLESSING FOR BELIEVERS (v3)
Second we see the blessing for believers. Notice verse 3, “….” In all there are 7 such blessings found in the book of Revelation and this is the first we encounter. Again, this whole book is written to the Church – to believers. This is not a script for movies but a revelation to believers to encourage, strengthen and purify them. God gave this revelation and attached to it a blessing for all who read it and heed it.
Application: Don’t pass on this blessing!
THREE: ALL IN DUE TIME (v1)
Lastly we see that it is ALL IN DUE TIME. Notice verse 1, “….” In the Greek, this does not mean that these things will happen soon, or immediately. It is a Greek phrase which means “suddenly, with speed and swiftness”. In other words, these things may or may not happen immediately, but, the when they do happen, they will happen suddenly, and they will occur quickly in rapid succession. Imagine all the events described in this book are lined up and when the starting gun is fired they will all happen one right after another very quickly.
Like a woman is pregnant for 9 months but it isn’t until the end when she goes into labor that the contractions happen one right after another. Or, it’s like watching special operations soldiers jump out of a plane. THey get all lined up single file in the plane and when the signal is given they quickly jump out of the plane one after another. That’s what these events are going to be like.
Application: We need to live with readiness and anticipation. Read Luke 12:35-40
Revelation is not meant to be a frightening book, but, the opposite. It is meant to encourage believers and strengthen their outlook on the future because above a tumultuous world is an unchanging, all-powerful Creator holding it together and bringing it to His finish line. So do not fear, but, by faith, stand firm. Let yourself be purified by the words in this book. Be blessed by it as God has promised you will if you read and heed its contents. And always keep your holy anticipation of the Savior’s Return in the front of your mind.