It is a shame that the book of Revelation is either ignored or read in a hyper-literal way. Christians seem to either be scared of it or obsessed with trying to “decode” it. I think we should simply heed the admonition at the beginning of the book by reading it aloud, hearing it, and keeping the things that are written in it. Revelation blessed its original audience and it can continue to bless the church today if we will heed its encouraging and timeless message.
When reading Revelation, we should notice the similarities with other books in the Bible that use similar types of images, symbols, and metaphors to convey their messages; books like Daniel and Ezekiel. Apocalyptic literature pulls back the cosmic curtain and allows us to see what is going on behind the veil. As humans, we naturally see wars, famine, death, and persecution, but apocalyptic literature allows us to see that there are actually spiritual forces at work, both evil and good. Apocalyptic literature is meant to give hope to God’s people in the midst of horrible situations.
It helps to understand the symbolism; like understanding that a beast represents a world empire or a horn on that beast represents a king or ruler. However, even if you don’t understand the specific symbols, you can still grasp the big picture of the book. And with books like Revelation, the big picture is the most important part. If you get bogged down in any of the fine details, you will likely miss the whole point.
The main point of this book is that the Lord is in charge of the world, is working to bring about his will on the earth, and will ultimately be victorious over all the forces of evil. And because these things are true, God’s people should be faithful and not afraid.
The Seven Churches
Many of us have probably spent a lot of time reading and thinking about the specific messages Jesus gives to the seven churches in Asia. We tend to like these messages because they seem practical and not dependent on the rest of the book. However, there is much about these messages that a reader might miss by not finishing Revelation.
For instance, in the messages to the seven churches, Jesus constantly describes the future blessings and inheritance of those who remain faithful and loyal to him. This inheritance is hinted at all throughout the book, and then in the wonderfully climactic scene, the inheritance is revealed and received.
Jesus promises those who conquer, things like this:
- They will not be hurt by the second death
- They will receive the hidden manna, and a white stone
- They will receive authority to rule with Jesus over the nations
- They will be clothed with white garments
- They will have an important place in the temple of God in the New Jerusalem
- They will sit with Jesus on his throne
These promises to the faithful, that they will live and reign with Jesus, run like a thread throughout the book. One of the dominant themes of the book is this, if you are faithful to King Jesus, you will be one day be glorified and will reign with him. The Lamb is praised, “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
So, when you read the messages to the churches in Asia, be sure to note the descriptions of Jesus, the warnings to those in rebellion, and the promises to the faithful. All of these ideas and images are expounded upon throughout the rest of the book.
Beasts and Babylons
Sadly, Christians have spent the last 2,000 years arguing about how the book of Revelation should be interpreted, “Which kings do these ten horns represent?” Or, “Who is the beast or the harlot?” Certainly, I believe John had specific cities, empires, kings, and people in mind when he used apocalyptic language to figuratively describe them in this book. These kingdoms and rulers existed in his day and his audience would no doubt have understood to whom he was referring.
However, the book of Revelation isn’t linear. It isn’t written to be followed like a chronological timeline of events. Revelation is cyclical. It describes cycles of evil empires and nations rising up, and when their wickedness is complete, having the wrath of God poured out on them.
If the prophets and apostles had wanted to simply say specifically, “Such and such nation will fall,” they could have said that. However, they gave us something far more valuable. These apocalyptic books help us to understand that at any given moment, there is far more going on in the world than meets the eye. There is a spiritual war between good and evil waging in the world. Countless beasts and Babylons have risen up (and will continue to rise up), but when their wickedness is complete, Jesus brings judgment upon them.
In the midst of wars and conflict upon the earth, God’s people are continually reminded about the one “who is, who was, and who is to come.”
The Great Wedding Day
There is absolutely no better way for our Bibles to close than with this great climactic scene at the end of Revelation. Our Bibles began with the forces of darkness leading humanity astray and the world coming under a great curse, but our Bibles end with that curse being completely undone.
The last couple of chapters of Revelation are all about the final destruction of all evil, wickedness, and even death itself. God’s rescue plan, that he carried about in Jesus, will finally be complete when heaven and earth are joined together. The final moments of John’s vision are like a wedding, the place of God and the place of man reunited, reconciled, brought together in perfect harmony.
That’s the story of the Bible, if you haven’t picked up on it in the posts previous to this one, Jesus is rescuing us so that when the city of God comes down out of heaven and is joined like a bride to the earth, we will have access to the tree of life and will live forever in the presence of God. This is the “new heavens and new earth” that the prophets and apostles promised. In that place and time, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Because we believe these things, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
I love you and God loves you,