In June of 2017, three friends Nick, Ian and Arman, were hired to paint the home of a prominent Muslim citizen in Marawi Philippines. This routine job turned into a nightmare when ISIS went on a door to door “cleansing” of the city. Christians and Muslims have long lived side by side in peace in Marawi, but the spread of Islamic extremists had finally arrived in their city. On May 23, a group of militants declared their intent to make an Islamic caliphate in the Philippines. As the persecution and violence intensified against Christians, these three believers were forced to cower and hide in the basement for weeks. Imagine the thoughts of these three young men sitting in that Philippine basement wondering what would be their future? Would the constant barrage of gunfire fall upon their heads? Would they survive to see their families again?
After weeks of worrying and praying for their survival, they decided to escape. They ran throughout the city hiding in thick shrubs before making to the river. As they approached the water, they heard bullets fired by nearby snipers whizzing over their heads. They dove into the rushing water and eventually climbed out on the other side safe from harm. They recalled their thoughts to a NY Times reporter saying,
We said we’d try to get rescue for them if we made it out. We also told ourselves that our fate was with the Lord. We told each other, whatever happens, happens. If we get hit and die, that’s our fate. But we had to escape. Or at least die trying.
For years these men lived at peace with Muslims friends and coworkers, but persecution had come. Their fate was with the Lord. Now imagine if I this didn’t happen in the Philippines, but in Columbia, SC. How would it change your perspective of hearing the story? Our ears usually perk up if we believe that what is being said is relevant to our life and our situation. Many of our brothers and sisters face intense persecution for their faith. This story happened only a few months over this summer in 2017. Persecution and violence against Christians may be closer than we think. What would the Lord say to encourage and strengthen the resolve of persecuted believers who were in constant fear of their future? We do not have to wonder because God has already spoken. The book of Revelation was written to strengthen and encourage the hearts of believers facing intense persecution in the first century.
Revelation can be an enigma for Christians. There are some who are fascinated by the prophecy and symbolism in Revelation and spend most of their Bible study trying to discover the hidden meaning of the book. There are others that ignore the book altogether because it of mystery that lies in its message and how confusing and challenging the message appears. Most pastors are terrified to preach through it because there are so many different interpretations and incredibly strong convictions of the book. And yet, God wants us to read and study and meditate on this book because it is part of his holy, precious, perfect Word. As we approach this book, let us understand that this book was written to encourage and strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ. I pray as we study through Revelation that you will understand more of the prophecy and that your heart would be resolved to follow hard after Christ.
The Definite Future Reality
One of the main purposes of the book of Revelation is to show that there is only One who is in control of the future. Our fate is in the hands of the Lord. Revelation 1:1-2,
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
The book begins with its title “revelation” from the Greek word “apocalypse.” The use of the word is to communicate the unveiling of things that have been previously hidden. Many approach Revelation as mysterious, but the intent of the book to “reveal” the things that must soon take place.
The source of the prophecy is Jesus Christ himself. God the Father gave this word to Jesus who then gave it to his servants through his angel. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, received this word and bore witness of this word to the church. (John’s other writings will be important to help us interpret this book.) The revelation is from Jesus and about Jesus. We know that all Scripture is ultimately about the person and work of Jesus Christ. On the road to Emmaus Jesus said, “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) Revelation is both from Jesus and about Jesus. The full of title of Jesus Christ is found three times in the prologue and does not appear in the rest of book, but simply the name Jesus.
John writes that this revelation was to show us, “the things that must soon take place.” Soon could be interpreted in the sense of suddenly or without delay. It could also be interpreted from of standpoint of certainty of the events in the book. Many scholars view the idea of soon from the perspective of the Lord. 2 Peter 3:8, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Others believe that the events that must soon take place were the coming persecution of the church which indeed happened quickly from the completion of this book. The most compelling perspective is to place the concept of time in a prophetic outlook. In prophecy, the end is always imminent. This is a common theme through the New Testament. Jesus said that he would give justice speedily in Luke 18:8 and Paul writes that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. If we approach the idea that the end is imminent we will be ready for that day. Jesus wants us to be ready for his return. Are you ready? Are you obeying Jesus today as you look forward to that day?
The Blessed Obedience
There are seven blessings in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, 22:14). The number seven is an important number in the Bible and especially this book as it communicates wholeness and completeness. The seven blessings of the book point to the complete and comprehensive blessing of God for his people. We would do well to pay attention to these blessings, Revelation 1:3,
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
This blessing is very familiar with word Jesus in the gospels about the blessed of both hearing and obeying the Word of God. The concept of the blessing of obedience should show us that the book is not merely meant to teach prophecy, but to provide moral instruction and practical implications for our daily life. Revelation is not meant to only be read as we look into the future, but it is relevant to our lives today.
Are you obeying Jesus today? Do you desire to hear the Word of God and obey? What areas of your life are in contrast to the word of God? Blessed can be translated happy. Do you want to be happy? Obey Jesus. Your struggle with happiness and joy today may be a result of living in a fallen world, but it also may result from a lack of obedience to Jesus. The concept of hearing and obeying the word of God is a theme that is prevalent throughout Revelation. The letters to the churches end with the repeated admonition, “Let the one who has an ear hear what the Spirit says.” Keeping and/or observing God’s commands are found ten times in the book (Rev. 1:3, 2:26, 3:3, 3:8, 3:10, 12:17, 14:12, 16:15, 22:7, 22:9). As one scholar notes the purpose of the book, “is not merely to outline the future intervention of God or to portray the people of God symbolically in the light of divine reality but to call the saints to accountability on that basis. This is a prophetic book of warning as well as comfort to the church.”
Allow this book to affect your heart. Are you comforted with the truth that you will be blessed as you are obeying the Lord Jesus? Or are you convicted with your lack of obedience? Beloved, the time is near. Be ready. We are only blessed when we hear the Word AND when we obey the Word.
The Trinitarian Promise
Revelation is written to the seven churches that are in Asia. The seven churches are listed in chapters 2 and 3. These aren’t the only churches in Asia but represent groups of churches. John strategically again uses the number 7 to communicate that this book is not only written to these seven churches but to all the church of Jesus Christ. John begins the body of his letter with a Trinitarian Promise. The word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible, but the concept is found woven throughout the Scripture. Revelation 1:4-5,
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him whom is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before the throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings of the earth.
The blessing of this salutation is that the triune God offers grace and peace. Grace and peace only come from God. Grace is always first because it is only through grace that we are brought peace.
John begins by establishing the absolute sovereignty over time of God the Father. God is and was and is to come. A church that is struggling with persecution and violence is encouraged when they are reminded that God is in control of all history. “An uncertain future calls for One who by virtue of his eternal existence exercises sovereign control over the course of history.” John is giving the people courage as they face uncertainty by reminding them that God is one without a beginning or an end. He is in control, he always was in control and he always will be in control. John modifies does not say, “who will be,” but rather draws out the central theme of the book by saying, “who is to come.” Our minds are drawn consistently and repeatedly to the One who is to come and give his church final victory over evil.
The seven spirits who are before the throne is a reference to the Holy Spirit. There are some scholars who are unsure if this points to the Holy Spirit, but I believe it does for several reasons. First, grace and peace only come from God because God is the only one who can give grace and peace. The seven spirits are giving grace and peace, therefore, must be God. And we know the Holy Spirit is God through John’s Gospel. Second, John uses the number seven to communicate wholeness as we have already seen in this book. John is showing the wholeness and perfection of the Holy Spirit in using a specific, symbolic name for Him. Third, Isaiah 11:2 references the Spirit of the Lord using seven descriptions, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Lastly, Zechariah 4 mentions a prophecy of seven lamps and seven lips and the angel in clarifying the meaning says, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The perfect victory over evil described in Revelation is done by the Spirit of the Lord. The use of seven spirits is found also in Revelation 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6 that we will look at in the coming weeks.
John ends the Trinitarian promise of grace and peace with Jesus Christ. The normal trinitarian blessing is the Father, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit. The order is changed here most likely because of the doxology that flows from the description of Jesus Christ. Jesus is defined as the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. First, Jesus is the faithful witness. Witness is taken from the Greek word (martys) where we get our English word martyr. Jesus was the faithful one who was willing to die. John uses the word throughout the book to show the penalty of death that results from a firm and constant witness (2:13, 11:3, 17:6). As the church in Asia was facing intense pressure of violence, they needed to be reminded that their plight was no different than that of their master. Jesus was the faithful witness unto death, but he was also the faithful witness of the testimony of God. Jesus said before Pilate, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37) Let us be the ones who hear Christ’s voice and bear witness to it in our lives. For to us, to live is Christ and die is gain.
Jesus is also the firstborn from the dead. Colossians 1:18 says, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Jesus was not the first one who was resurrected, but his resurrection gave him priority and sovereignty as the messianic king. Psalm 89:27 states, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” The position of the firstborn was the place of authority and inheritance. Jesus was placed in the highest place and given the name that is above every name.
Therefore, Jesus is not only the firstborn from the dead but the ruler of the kings of the earth. John foreshadows of the unfolding of the prophecy when we will see Jesus declared the Lord of lords and King of kings in Revelation 17:14 and 19:6. Jesus will give ultimate victory for his church should that not encourage you to remain faithful to him. Do not chase after lesser things. Do not run after the idols of our day. Hold fast to Christ. Only he is the supreme King of kings.
The description of Jesus is an unfolding of the gospel. Jesus was the faithful witness unto death on the cross. Jesus was declared to be the preeminent firstborn from the dead in his resurrection. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God given all authority in heaven and earth. The most important aspects of Jesus ministry were his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. And when we think of the gospel, we should exalt in praise. This is exactly what John does as moves to a hymn of worship of Jesus.
The Blood-Bought Kingdom
Jesus deserves to be worshiped by his people for how he has loved us and how he has rescued from sin. Revelation 1:5b-6,
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Notice the verb tenses. Jesus loves us. This is not past tense, although Jesus has loved us. This is not future tense, although Jesus will love us. No, this is present tense, Jesus loves us. Know this beloved, Jesus loves you. He has set his love upon you. Do not let anything rob of the joy of knowing the love of Jesus, the sweet, sweet love of Jesus. But also notice the past tense of the second phrase, Jesus, “has freed us from our sin by his blood.” We are forgiven. We are cleansed. Our ransom has been paid. His blood has brought us peace. Believer, know of Christ love and the redemption in his blood.
Non-believer, can challenge you to consider the reasons why Christians give glory, honor, and praise to God? Christians are not perfect, but rather recognize how imperfect we are. We are often more aware of our sins and conscious of our faults. What separates a Christian and non-Christian, is that Christians recognize there is nothing we can do to change our sin. We realize that we cannot overcome our sin with good works and good words, but we need a Savior. We need someone to pay for our mistakes. We realize we need Jesus and his cleansing, freeing blood. I hope that you would consider your need yourself. How will you overcome your sins without Jesus?
Another reason to glorify Jesus is that he made us a kingdom and priest to the Father. God has given the church responsibilities on earth. We have been given the keys of the kingdom of God. We invite people to bow their knee to King Jesus through the proclamation of the gospel. We are reigning with Christ through the preached Word. We have already been made a kingdom. We are also priests who offer our lives a spiritual sacrifice unto the Lord. We have given a responsibility to mediate Christ’s royal and priestly authority to the world. We have been restored in the new Adam to exercise dominion through his reconciling gospel now and will one day soon exercise that dominion with him forever and ever.
The Coming King
John ends the introduction of this book by drawing our eyes to the past and to the future. He begins Behold. John uses this in all his writing to focus our attention,
Behold, he is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
This first is full of Old Testament imagery. Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah promised in Daniel 7:13-14,
I saw in the night visions and behold, with clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he to the Ancient of Days and was present before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.
Notice he does not come on the clouds, but with the clouds. It is a clear picture of his divine authority. The prophecy of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah are important for us as we interpret Revelation.
The second and third phrases, “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” are alluding to Zechariah 12:10. John quotes Zechariah 12:10 in John 19:37, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” Zechariah speaks of the repentance that will come to Israel when they realize that the one whom they pierced was the Messiah. Israel will mourn over their sin and accept the humble piercing on their behalf. And yet here in Revelation, John does not reference Israel wailing, but all the tribes of the earth. John is reminding us of God’s great promises to Abraham that all the families of the earth will be blessed through his offspring. The people will not only include Israel but all tribes of the earth. God is bringing his salvation to all people. The victory of Jesus Christ will bring the nation, Israel, and the nations to repentance.
Of course, this end-time victory will also produce wailing of another kind. Those who do not know Christ as Savior will experience his judgment. They will weep because the time has passed for them to be saved. Friends, these things must soon take place. The time is near. Are you ready? Do you fear his coming or long for it? One day we all will stand before the Lord Almighty. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is and was and is to come.
He has fixed day for his return. He is coming but is demonstrating his patience because he desires that any should perish, but all should reach repentance. Friend, Jesus is a glorious, merciful, kind Savior, but he will soon come as a glorious, powerful, victorious Warrior. You can experience his love now and be cleansed of your sin and brought into his kingdom by repenting of your sins and calling him Lord.
Beloved, we cannot predict the future. We do not know what persecutions lie ahead for the church, but we know who sits on the throne. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. He has bought us peace with his blood. Let us, therefore, live as priests to God our Father sacrificing our lives for the cause of the gospel of Christ. He is worthy of our lives. He is worthy of worship. He is worthy because He is and He was and He is to come.