A JOURNEY THROUGH THE BOOK OF REVELATION
In chapter 1, John relates the circumstances that led to the writing of this book (1:1 - 20). In chapter 2 and 3, Jesus gives special messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor (2:1 - 3:22).
Suddenly, John is caught up into heaven, where he sees a vision of God Almighty on his throne. All of Christ's followers and the heavenly angels are worshipping God (4:1 - 11). John watches as God gives a scroll with seven seals to the worthy Lamb, Jesus Christ (5:1 - 14).
As the first four seals are opened, riders appear on horses of different colors: war, famine, disease, and death are in their path (6:12 - 17) . On the other side, multituds are before the throne, worshiping and praising God and the Lamb (7:1 - 17).
Finally, the seventh seal is opened (8:1 - 5), unveiling a series of God's judgments announced by seven angels with seven trumphets. The first four angels bring hail, fire, a burning mountain, and a falling star-the sun and moon are darkened (8:6 - 13). The fifth trumpet announces the army of warriors on horses (9:13 - 21). In 10:1 - 11, John is given a little scroll to eat. Following this, John is commanded to measure the temple of God (11:1,2). He sees two witnessroclaim God's judgment on the earth for three and half years (11:3 - 14).
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Finally, the seventh trumpet sounds, calling the rival forces of good and evil to the final battle. On one side is Satan and his forces; on the other side stands Jesus Christ with forces (11:15 - 13:18). In the midst of this call to battle, John sees three angels announcing the final judgment (14:6 13). Two angels begin to reap this harverst of judgment on the earth (14:14 - 20). Following on the heels of these two angels are seven more angels, who pour out God's judgment on the earth from seven bowls (15:1 - 16:21). OPne of these angels from the group of seven reveal to John a vision of a "great prostitute" called Babylon (symbolizing the Roman empire), riding a scarlet beast (17:1 - 18). After the defeat of Babylon (18:1 - 24), a great multitude in heaven shouts praise to God for his mighty victory (19: 1 - 10).
The final three chapters of the book of Revelation catalog the events that finalize Christ's victory over the enemy: Satan's 1000 year imprisonment (20:1 - 10), the final judgment (20:11- 15) and the creation of a new earth and a new Jerusalem (21:1 - 22). An angel then gives John final instructions concerning the visions John has sen and what to do once he has written them all down (22:7 - 11).
Revelation concludes with the promise of Christ's soon return, an offer to drink of the water of life that flows through the great stree of the new Jerusalem and a warning to those who read the book (22:12 - 21). May we pray with John, "Amen Come Lord Jesus" (22:20).
The Bible ends with a message of warning and hope for men and women of every generation. Christ is victorious and all evil has been done away with. As you read the book of Revelation, marvel at God's grace in the salvation of his people and his power ove the evil forces of Satan, and remember the hope of his victory to come.
Why Study The Revelation?
The book of Revelation is packed with lessons for today's reader and brimming with prophecies concerning the future as well. A thorough study is a worthy endeavor and full of blessings for those willing to pursue a studious investigation. To understand the entirety of the book in light of current world events requires an exhaustive and expository study of the book and it is to that end that this effort will precede. This snapshot review of the 22 chapters of the book will take the reader on a stimulating journey intended to whet the appetite of any curious bible student.
The apostle John, the scribe and writer of the vision, was a prophet and traditionally has been identified as John the apostle, the son of Zebedee. During his day, Rome made debilitating demands against Christians to recant their faith and accept the cult of emperor worship. Theologians propose that the height of this intense persecution occurred during the reign of the emotionally warped Domitian who rule from A.D. 81 - 96. This position regarding the dating of the events is consistent with the one held byh the renowned church father Irenaeus and other early Christian writers as well.
Furthermore, this era of time in church history is known for its loss of vitality and for spiritual complacency in the churches. Such spiritual lethargy is revealed in the descriptions of and warnings to the seven churches to which John referred in chapters two and three of the Revelation.
Virtually everyone is concerned about the future and what it holds for us. Our human curiosity is piqued as we consider the future in light of current events unfolding on the world scene. Those who write concerning the future and those who claim to have predictive powers attract hungrty and eager audiences. The predictions of the future has become a marketable commodity that is subject to abuse.
Many people consult the horoscope longing for comfort. Others pursue the signs of the zodiac and astrological predictions to give meaning and hope. Cold comfort is the unfulfilling result. Discovering the realities of the future and personal hope for the present does not lie in the stars, but rather is to be found in the last book of the Bible that authoritatively and accurately reveals the future and points us to the Lord Jesus, the hope of glory. The book reveals the great climatic events that will bring the world to the brink of the close of human history when time shall be no more.
No book is as important in light of the days in which we live as the Revelation. In this prophetic and inspired work, we see light and darkness opposing one another. We read and envision God and the Lamb, Christ Jesus. We are literary witnesses to the greatest bloodbath and the greatest carnage the world has ever known. We read of the fire as it falls from heaven consuming all of which stands in its path. We witness the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit who moves us toward the personal revival that will come in the last days.
The book also contains the graphic description of a river of blood extending two hundred feet in breadth and measuring six feet in depth and ten miles in length. In the Revelation, we will be witnesses to the climactic and victorious return of Christ in person to the earth gloriously predicted within these prophetic pages.
For what reason should we study this literary biblical masterpiece? The Church as a whole simply disregards the book as too vague and therefore not worthy of a serious look.
The first three verses reveal the reason for a contemplative study. Revelation 1:3 promises, "Blessed is he that readth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy." Those who dersire the blessing must take heed.
Four primary views concerning the appropriate method of interpretation have emerged in the Christian community. The preterist view purports that the events of Revelation are now past tense and therefore are not to occur in the future. The events of the book are seen as a reporting of the past persecution of the early church under the oppresive hand of the Roman Empire. Lessons abide within the book but one is to assume that no predictive components is to be found.
Others prefer the panoramic view of Revelation, also known as the continuous historical view and suggest that Revelation is a merte summary of secular and c hurch history in total. The primary downfall of this perspective is that it is too inclusive and attempts to include all historical events, a virtually impossible task and one that certainly does not fal into the logical pattern of the Revelation.
Third, the parabolic or allegorical viewpoint maintans that the Revelation is written in symbolic language, a claim that is certainly true, and that is certainly true, and that the book does not necessarily depict actual and literal events. Further, as the Bible speaks of the stars falling from heaven or refers to the moon turning to blood and the sun to darkness, it is not recording literal occurrences but rather symbolic events as representative of spiritual truths. This view further maintains that the writings are primarily representative of the struggle between good and evil. Few serious conservative scholars, if any hold this view.
A fourth view is that the Revelation is toi read prophetic, the view from which we will proceed. First, the writings of the book primarily deal with the future as God has so ordered it. Multiple times in the first chapter, the book is referred to as prophecy. As an interpretive rule of thumb, prophecy often include a double meaning that involves current and futuristic events. For example, as Isaiah the prophet spoke to the nation of Israel concerning the coming of Jesus Christ and His incarnation in Isaiah 9 and 53, he referred to the One coming who would be the "wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace." He came and He is coming! Further, Isaiah stated that Jesus would sit upon the throne of his father David and that He would reign forever, a message of encouragement packed with future implications as well referencing His time on earth as the God-man and a fu;ture appearance as wel. Jesus came-but will come.
A second reason to recognize the prophetic nature of the book is that many events predicted therein are yet to occur. Countless events foretold in the book are unprecedented in human history. Revelation speaks of a time when a third of the earth's vegetation will be consumed by fire. It refers to a futuure time when the oceans become so polluted that sea life will cease to exist, and to a time during which fresh waters we know and enjoy will be contaminated and without practical use. The sad conditions of our modern ecology and the destructive effects of modern industry on the environment make such prophecies even more believable.
Third, the prophetic nature of the Revelation is further underscored by the claim that the consummation of the events must occur for the prophecies of the Old Testament to be fulfilled. Jesus boldly said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away", and further said, "But My word shall never pass away." Obviously, such a dramatic event as the passing of the heavens and earth from the scene has yet to occur but is clearly predicted in the book. To view the scriiptures as the infallible and inerrant word of God requires of the honest interpreter that he or she see the Revelation as prophetic in nature in order to be consistent with revelatory nature of our Lord.
The Promise to be Received
Verse three of the first chapter clearly promises that a blessing is in store for the believer who reads, hears, and obeys the words of the prophecy. What blessings are in mind, one might ask? To be blessed in this context means to experience high favor, to be congratulated, or to experience true happiness. The benefit for the faithful readers of these profound words is the encouragement of our faith, the deepening of our prayer life, and the unique ability to interpret all of life in light of the current and coming victory that is ours as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Our perspective changes as God adds to our lives that which cannot be received other than supernaturally.
To activate this blessing as we read and obey, we must apply the truths found in the pages so that the accumulation of knowledge is behavioral in its impact rather than merely academic. Truth, fully received, p[enetrates the heart and leads to behavioral change. Little profit is received from a mere cognitive understanding of thje beast of chapter 13, the great harlot of chapter 18, or the four horsemen of chapter 6. Faith requires feet and is intended to impact our lives.
THE PERSON WHO IS REVEALED
The Revelation centrally concerns Jesus the Christ. To attempt to remove Jesus from center focus is akin to removing the heat from the fire, or the blood from the cross. While physically existing on earth, Jesus was fully God and simultaneously fully man.
His deity was veiled in His humanity. Once only in his earthly ministry while on the mount of transfiguration did God allow His cohorts Peter, James and John to see Him in full glory. As they saw Him, they fell face down as though dead. In Revelation, the veil of Jesus is finally lifted and we will see Christ in His glorified body.
We look to the day when we as believers will join heirs and will reign with Him for all of eternity with bodies like His. His long awaited appearance will be the grand consummation of our faith.
The prophecy opens with these words, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John" (1:1). The word revelation is derived from the Greek compound "apa-kalupto" meaning to take away the cover. Revelation is essentially the unveiling of Jesus for the faithful reader.
THE PREPARATION THAT IS REQUIRED
Verse one reminds the reader that God gave the revelation "to shew his servants things which must shortly come to pass."
As we believers begin to understand what is to come we are more effectively motivated to make spirtual preparations for that climactic day. The result of such awareness is to increase our love for others, to pray as never before, to share Christ's message of eternal life with passion, and to study His word with more determination. The word "shortly" in this Greek context is derived fom the word tachos, English for tachometer referring to the speed of the rotation. The implications of John's foreboding words is that the events herein described will occur speedily when they begin to unfold. For example, the raising of the dead will occur in the twinkling of an eye, or in the fraction of a second, referring to the brevity of time required to accomplish such a supernatural feat.
Consider the rapid and historical fall of the Berlin Wall. Who would have predicted that the events of 1990 would have touched off a chain reaction resulting in the demise of communism in Eastern Europe? It has been said that God's sovereignty moves the hand of time. As the events on the prophetic calendar begin to unfold they will transpire with blinding speed.
Revelation 1:3 also states that "the time is at hand". The apostle is again reminding the reader of the imminent return of Christ. Such a reminder is to spur the believer to take action and make diligent preparations for His return. The book of Revelation was written to prepare churches in existence in that day for the coming events and to provide encouragement that Christ could come at any moment and remove the persecution from their battered lives. His coming will be unexpected but not unpredicted.
The time has been at hand for two thousand years, one might comment, and yet the return of Jesus has yet to occur. The majority of the predicted events of the book do not require fulfillment for the rapture of the church to occur. Many events described in the book, such as ecological calamities, will occur after believers have been vacated from the earth. Some bible students today propose that the Church will experience three and a half years of tribulation, be purified by persecution, and then the return of Christ and the rapture will occur. This interpretation is widely known as the mid-tribulationist view. Such a notion seems to deny the imminent nature of His return and is therefore invalid. The believer must live as though Jesus died yesterday, rose again this morning, and is coming back today!
As Jesus breaks open the eastern sky in a dramatic reappearance. He is coming not to suffer but rather to reign. He is coming not to be mistreated but to reign in majesty. As He is unveiled in the manner described in the book of Revelation, we will see Him not as He was but rather as He is. The last time that our world saw Christ with the naked eye was on the cross; we will see Him the second time wearing a crown.
Such a magnificent words must have been soothing grace to the early Christians as many of their fellow believers were thrown to the lions as mere sporting events, doused with torches, and burned alive at the stake. It is within these prophetic words that readers today as well may find hope.
COURAGE IN THE MIDST OF DIFFICULTY
The writer John makes crystal clear his intention of dedicating the revelation that was given to him to Jesus Christ. Using words in adoration of his Lord such as "unto him who loved us" John the apostle lovingly dedicated his writings to Jesus as would a writer to his or her spouse in an effort to express honor. John dedicated these apocalptic and revealing words to Jesus who is the One progressively unveiled in this biblical drama.
The scribe who recorded thse inspired words and the identity of the recipients are clearly delineated in the opening words of verse four, "John to the seven churches which are in Asia". He remindfed the reader that the message of the book is primarily to the churches that were in existence in the first century.
Bearing a common name in that day, John was an honored man and is consistently identified as an apostle of the Lord Jesus and the recipient of this final book in the biblical cannon written in approximately A.D. 95. He is also the writer of the brief letters of I, II, and III John, and the Gospel of John. John was further identified as the "disciple whom Jesus loved". Scholars have dubbed him the beloved apostle for it is John who by deed and word has given us a beautiful portrayal of the beloved nature of our Lord.
John's fame was such that the mention of his name immediately identified him in the seven churches about which he wrote. Scholars remind us that he was the sole remaining apostle alive at the writing of the Revelation. According to church history and tradition, the other apostles had met their demise or had been mercilessly martyred for the cause of Christ.
In A.D. 69 70, the city of Jerusalem was viciously ransacked and destroyed in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus.in Matthew 24. The result was a massive dispersion of the Christian Jews who resided there. John was among those who rapidly dispersed and relocated in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. The area of Ehesus has the marvelous statues and sculptures that highlight the landscape. It is an amazing reminder of the sights and sounds of the New Testament world. John became pastor of the believers in Ephesus and functioned in that role until his forced exile to the Isle of Patmos at the hands of the Roman authorities.
Due to his unwavering stand for his Lord, John was also a hated man. The scripture points to the Word of God, to John's adherence to the Word and to the testimoney of Jesus as reasons for his forced exile to a neighboring island. The Roman authorities attempted to silence his witness and thus curtail the growth of the Christian church that found itself in direct competition and in an adversarial relationship with Rome. The first massive persecution of the Church occurred under the neurotic emperor Nero. The secon wave of hatred from the government came at the hands of the emperor Domitian. Persecution is not an option for the fully devoted believer. Believers are twice born people in a once born world whose ethical code based upon the words of Jesus often comes into sharp conflict with the dominant worldview. America has her faults, but as of this writing, owning a copy of the scriptures is not an illegal act as it once was in the nation of Russia.
John's new home on the Isle of Patmos was located in the Aegean Sea. It was small in size and rocky terrrain jutted from the landscape. The island had little vegetation. Scholars believe that a cave tucked away in the island is the location where John sat as he penned the version of the Revelation he received from God.
REASONS FOR PERSECUTION
John suffered persecution but not without cause. Had God in His sovereignty not allowed for the exile of the beloved apostle He might have chosen another method for the recording of these prophetic words. Secluded and along, John wrote profound words that continue to impact our society and world today. Sales of prophetic literature soar to incdonceivable levels as world tension increases. The terrorist attacks on America in September 2001 mushroomed the sale of prophetic literature by a whopping 80 percent.
Why are believers persecuted today? Why did God allow persecution of such fierce intensity in John's day? In part, early believers were persecuted because they were evangelistic. Hundreds of thousands of citizens turned to Christ and their allegiance to the Roman emperor became suspect. Conversion to Christ irritated the authorities and spurred Satan to rise up against the Church. Churches today who do not realize the conversion of people to faith in Christ are very little threat to anyone.
Early believers experienced intimidation because they were also exclusive in their refusal to bow to Caesar as lord. Roman authorities insisted that citizens of conquered countries verbalize the mantra, Caesar is lord. Rejecting the mantra and choosing not to offer a pinch of incense to Caesar resulted in intense governmental retaliation and often imprisonment or death. Believers were often subjected to killer animals in the arenas of Rome as sporting events meant to entertain the masses and force future believers to recant their faith and worship Caesar. The emperor Domitian was bent upon destroying every believer on the face of the earth.
Believers were also harassed because they were enthusiastic in the practice of their faith.; The fire of the Holy Spirit burned brightloy in their hearts further irritating Caesar and his henchmen. Enthusiasm is derived from the two root words en and theos, signifying "in God". True heartfelt and outwardly expressed enthusiasm is not contrived or manufactured by human emotion but rather is rooted in the work of God in our hearts. Believers today are often depicted by the media as lacking in intellect and duped into emotional frenzy. Our faith is not founded on groundless truths nor is it simply the emotional expressions of a simplistic and gullible mind. The truth of God rightly understood produces an emotional response guided by the High Spirit. Knowledge and zeal rightly practiced complement one another.
A MESSAGE FOR THE CHURCH - CONTINUED
John further reminds the reader that Jesus is coming soon, and as He does "ervery eye shall see him", a quotation taken from Zechariah 1:7. The Bible does not indicate that every eye will see Him simultaneously or in the same manner. Scripture mention the second coming of Jesus an astounding three hundred eighteen times underscoring the validity and importanc of His coming event. The Church will see Him as He removes believers from the world in the rapture or in the snatching away while the rest of faithless humanity will see Him come in judgment. When He comes in the Battle of Armageddon as described in chapter 19, the masses will wail and cry in distress due to their failure to believe the claims of Jesus and follow Him.
THE CORONATION OF JESUS
Verses seven and eight prophesy concerning His coronation. Here Jesus is idntified as the "Alpha and Omega", the beginning and the end referenced by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The implication is that Jesus is the sum total of the person of God and the beginning and end of human history. He defies and transcends human history. He occupies history but initiated it as well. He is indeed the dominating character within the purview of human history-but in reality, He is history as well.
As a kingdom of priests, our Lord has given us the ability by His Spirit to endure and conqurer the difficulties we may encounter as aliens on this earth. This world is truly not our home.
THE ONLY PHOTOGRAPH OF JESUS Revelation 1: 9 - 18
The word revelation refers to the unveiling or uncovering of Jesus Christ for others to see and worship. Due to the intensity of the presecution to which believers living in the first century were subjected, God offers in Revelation the gradual but sure unveiling of Jesus as a means of encouraging believers and motivating us to keep the faith.
The writer John, exiled to the Isle of Patmos received a specific vision from God while imprisoned on the island. His exile was due in part to his faithful and effective proclamation of God's word, a powerful word that served as an irritant to the Roman emperor Domitian who wanted to obliterate its message. Absolute rule by the Roman authorities was enforced by any and all means necessarty. John's claim that Jesus was the only Lord sent shock waves throughout the Roman political system. John proclaimed that the true Lord was not Caesar nor the mythoogical Zeus or Apollo but was Jesus and Jesus alone. Such public rhetoric bought John an unceremonious transfer to the remote island located southwest of Ephesus as a means to silence his influence.
The message of the cross of Jesus Christ and its accompaning ethical and behavioral implications will forever run counter to the prevailing worldview of the day and will result in volatile conflict. The cross is a message of offense, the scriptures claim, and is often a stumbling block of those refuse to receive it. Believers should experience no surprise when the cultural tide washes over them in an act of retaliation. Jesus said, "Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). John was subjected to the full brunt of the prevailing Roman worldview and was tossed onto an abandoned island as a result. He was exiled there as well due to the testimony of Christ and the fact that he bore no shame to be called a follower of Jesus Christ. Along in exile, he was away from friends, family, and the flock of God to which he had been assigned. In that solitude he received the most breathtaking and influential vision man has ever received.
ONE MAN-TWO LOCATIONS
God does not forsake His people. John was no exception. John described the circumstances surrounding reception of the vision, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (1:10). Theologians have long debated the experience of living "in the Spirit." Essentially, John was caught up in an experience of spiritual ecstasy in which the cares of this world diminished in their aability to control his emotions, and he began to live and flourish in another world, as it were. Theologically, this state of being is known as walking in the Spirit. Christians are citizens of two worlds-alive in the flesh on planet earth and spiritual residents of heaven. Believers live with a sense of alienation from this temporary earthly residence. A careful balance of these two spheres of existence leads to spiritual health.
The long-used phrase, "some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good" has a ring of truth. Some people think in spiritual terms to the extent of ignoring the needs of the body of Christ while others become materialistic and therefore miss the life of the Spirit. A life of worship and a life of work may not interconnect and therefore our lives become dangerously compartmentalized, to use the modern vernacular. John lived in the natural world but was caught up in the supernatural, a realm that provided the setting for him to hear and record God's magnificent vision.
LIFE IN THE SPIRIT
John is a fitting illustration that believers have the privilege to know the Spirit and to be led into all truth, a concept that John claimed in the gospel that he authored. In solitude on the island, John was transported in the Spirit from earth into the portals of Heaven. He was informed during the midst of the vision concerning details and predictions of the future. Revelation concerns a first century man who envisioned twenty-first century events such as thermonuclear war, global mass destruction, and massive starvation. His recorded vision is breathtaking to readers as we investigate the accuracy of the prophecy and its implications for the future of our planetary system.
John was in the Spirit "on the Lord's day" (1:10). &