THE BOOK OF REVELATION – “An Introduction”
If you are complacent, comfortable, over-fed, and ‘fat’ as a Christian, then the Book of Revelation is not for you, and you won’t appreciate it nor understand it. It was not written for ‘armchair theologians’ or fair-weather disciples who enjoy having a good time at church. It is a letter of encouragement from Almighty God himself to a persecuted church, struggling to the death with the forces of evil – political and spiritual – and suffering persecution from an uncaring world. Revelation’s central message is this: “They (the forces of evil) will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (Revelation 17:14). Christ and his Church have the victory and will have the victory over Satan and his helpers!
Written by the Apostle John in around 95 AD from his place of exile on the island of Patmos – a penal colony where he had been sent for refusing to worship the Emperor Diocletian, the true author of this truly astounding set of visions is Jesus Christ himself. The day that John had received all these visions is called ‘The Lord’s Day’ in 1:10, but should maybe more correctly be called ‘Emperor’s Day’, the first day of each month devoted to ceremonial worship of the Roman emperor, and the requirement to call him ‘Lord’ or ‘Son of God’. In the New Testament, the phrase “The Lord’s Day” is never used of a Sunday; in the Old Testament, the nearest term would be “The Day of the Lord”, but that cannot be what John was referring to.
My conclusion, therefore, is that John was suffering for his failure to bow down and to burn incense to the emperor, so it is highly significant that the true Lord would reveal himself to John as a direct challenge to that human counterfeit! Jesus wanted to assure John and all his faithful, suffering people that things are not what they seem to be superficially, and that victory is assured to those who faithfully stand firm. Their prayers are influential in the world affairs; God sees their tears; their death is indeed precious in his sight; their blood will be avenged; their Jesus lives and reigns for ever and ever; and He governs the world in the interests of his beloved Church.
In my own opinion, the finest commentary on the Book of Revelation is entitled ‘More Than Conquerors’ by William Hendriksen, which is still available today from Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/More-Than-Conquerors-William-Hendriksen/dp/0801057922/ref=sr_1_1/277-6800716-0983504?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388249450&sr=1-1&keywords=william+hendriksen). It helpfully provides a coherent explanation for the whole Book of Revelation, explaining how it is not a series of random visions, but a unified message that is relevant to persecuted believers of every generation between the First Coming and the Second Coming of Christ – what I will call ‘The Gospel Age’ from now on.
Theologically, there are four common interpretations of the Book of Revelation:
1 – It was entirely based on First Century events from beginning to end
2 – It is a chronological prophecy of the ‘history’ of the entire gospel age
3 – It is almost entirely a futuristic prophecy that focusses on the very end of the End Times
4 – It does not relate to any particular historical event but provides spiritual ‘principles’ that apply in every time during the gospel age. For example, the ‘Beast from the Sea’ (chapter 13) might symbolise nations and governments that fight against the Christian faith and persecute believers in every age.
None of these interpretations are entirely satisfactory alone; for example, if it was true that Hitler and the Nazis featured in it, how would that be of any relevance to those suffering believers at the end of the First Century, for whom the book was first written? If, on the other hand, it was only focusses on First Century events, then it means very little of value for us today! Hendriksen believes that whilst the book is rooted in First Century history, it clearly has imagery and symbolism that is intended to apply to all generations of Christians, with powerful messages that come from these symbols. Nearly every number (e.g. 144,000) in Revelation is symbolic rather than literal. Hendriksen considers that Revelation is subdivided into seven sections, each section covering the entire gospel age, but moving the emphasis more and more towards the Second Coming of Christ as you go from one section to the next one. It is a story repeated seven times, each time with a different emphasis to make.
To understand Revelation more, a familiarity with some Old Testament books is an advantage, in particular: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Genesis. Matthew and 1 Peter from the New Testament are also referred to obliquely. Many of the pictures and numbers obviously had an historical significance back in the Old Testament, but the Holy Spirit has given them new life in the form of metaphor, freeing them to describe wider and more important spiritual principles in our time.
Now let’s read this wonderful book! “Revelation” means “an unveiling”, bringing to light things that have been hidden from the beginning of time. Most of all it reveals Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, now no longer the suffering servant or the sacrificial victim, but portrayed as the all-conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords – soon to return in triumph to take us, his people, home to the heaven and earth to which we belong – which by grace we are to inherit. Unlike a human will and testament, we don’t inherit as a result of death, but in the context of the new life that Jesus brings us into.
Read and be blessed!
This is Christ’s revelation, not John’s. It is for all God’s servants – all of us – to show us what must soon take place. “Soon” in a New Testament sense is a rather relative term and it also depends on who is reading it. When the God who regards a day as the same as a thousand years says “soon”, we may need patience as well as a sense of urgency! But the certainty is present on every page. There is also a promise that whoever reads this book of prophecy will have a guarantee of blessing from it – as long as they also take to heart its contents. This is the first of seven blessings promised to the faithful disciples of Jesus (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14).
John writes to seven churches in “the province of Asia” – these would be modern-day Turkey. Geographically, they form a circular loop, beginning with Ephesus and moving in a clockwise direction, ending with Laodicea. The sequence of the letters in Revelation follows the same order. The entire Book of Revelation was sent as a copy to each of these churches. They are probably symbolic of all local churches the world over, and we can probably see in the Seven, aspects of our own local churches today.
Then we hear from the complete Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in complete unity. The Son is now called “The Faithful Witness” (or “Martyr”), “Firstborn from the dead”, and “Ruler of the kings of the earth”.
His relationship with us has the following outcomes:
He loves us
He has freed us from our sins by his blood
He has made us a kingdom and priests to serve God the Father
He is returning for all of us at the end of this age
God is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of all things, the First and the Last – the Eternal One. (1:8 and 21:6). Jesus also applies this title to himself in 1:17; 2:8; 22:13.
And so, on The Lord’s / The Emperor’s Day, the true Lord of All appears to John, dressed in dazzling robes, with hair as white as snow, eyes like blazing fire, a face shining like the sun, feet like bronze, and a voice like rushing waters, represented visually by a share double-edged sword. His first words were: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (1:17-18). We should no longer be afraid of death and the afterlife, since He is fully in control, He is working in our best interests, and He will make everything right in the end.
We see images of golden lampstands, stars, white hair, blazing eyes, feet like bronze and a voice like rushing waters – not to mention that long, sharp, double-edged sword from the mouth of Christ. All are powerful symbols – not to be understood literally – and which amplify and accentuate the message being delivered. And so, we turn to the Seven churches…