Today instead of looking back at what we have read I am going to look forward. We are about to embark on a journey through the apocalyptic Book of Revelation and I want to spend some time on the introduction. This is a book that scares many people. Some avoid it altogether. But this is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It is a book full of hope and I have read the end. We win!!! This will be longer than any other introduction I have done but there is good stuff here. So, here goes.
Jesus Christ is the divine author of this Revelation and He has described the coming events to His servant John, the disciple whom He loved. This is John the son of Zebedee, brother of James, and the same John who wrote the gospel that bears his name along with 1, 2, and 3 John. He was imprisoned on the island of Patmos because he had been preaching Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. The date for this writing is most likely in the mid 90’s AD. This book is addressed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia which is modern day turkey; a place where Christianity is now illegal and dangerous for believers. Though the message was directed to these churches, the message is for all churches and believers of all times. Roman persecution at the time was becoming severe. This had started under the emperor Nero and reached a fervor under emperor Domitian who ruled from 81-96AD. This was a time when Roman rulers demanded to be worshiped as gods, but Christians who believed that there was only one true God faced persecution, including martyrdom. Some Christians were advocating compromise with the Roman government. John wrote to encourage believers to stand firm in the trials that lay ahead. Here is a fun fact. The ancients believed in religious statues that could speak. Sometimes the image at a shrine would be hollow. This allowed a pagan priest to climb inside the statue and speak for that particular god.
John’s apocalypse is an amazing example of the salvation that is available to believers in Jesus Christ. This blesses all who read it and ponder, and it warns those who oppose Christ and the Good News He brings. The unfolding drama of the Revelation will stretch your imagination. It will also bolster your faith as you witness God’s supreme power. The visions you will read describe the struggles and trials of Christians. It details God’s judgements on those who persecute them, and shows the magnificence of the eternal hope and promise that God had made for His faithful people. John uses words and pictures to attempt to show us the things of God using human words. The word apocalyptic means to uncover or reveal. Here God is revealing in great detail what will happen in the end times. This type of writings is often found during times of great stress or persecution. This book has been used throughout history by believers who have suffered much at the hands of others. During WWII many clung to the hope in the Book of Revelation. Slaves in early America also used this book to bring comfort amid their harsh treatment and having been wrenched away from their homes, families and countries. Apocalyptic writing often uses symbols, symbolic names, codes, and numbers so that outside readers, especially enemies, would not be able to understand what was being written. Apocalyptic literature is not just found in the New Testament. Parts of the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah contain this literature as well. These revelations gave seers, dreamers, interpreters, and prophets messages of hope and salvation for God’s people and messages of judgement on God’s enemies. The prophets were obligated to share these messages with others, especially God’s people who were under persecution and distress. Readers understood that these promises would not be filled immediately, but they brought hope that God would act and that He is still in control. In the meantime, God’s people were to remain faithful. They were to persevere in the face of their suffering and trials. God would deliver them soon. All of this can be found in the Book of Revelation. John referred to the Revelation as prophecy, not because it was just a prediction of what was to come but because it was a message from God to be proclaimed. This message is addressed to God’s people and it is intended to show that God’s answer in distressing times will not be fully realized until the end of history when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The Book of Revelation speaks through visions, images, and figurative language rather than logical reasoning. Sometimes we see both the literal and symbolic together, in intriguing combinations. Reading Revelation requires imagination. It is like entering the realm of dreams with God and discovering that they contain amazing messages from Him. It will be nothing but frustrating if we read expecting everything to be in a logical order. Try looking at it as pictures instead. For instance we read in 8:7 that “all the green grass was burned” but in 9:4 we read that the locusts are not to harm the grass. This seems like a contradiction. But what we really have is different visions or parts of visions that aren’t necessarily sequential. Keep in mind that John saw the entire revelation in one revelation. There is no”s” at the end of Revelation. The Greek this book is written with is horrible. Perhaps John was dictating at such a speed that the writer could not keep up. Maybe John was writing as he witnessed all of this. Or it could be that he wrote after the revelation and couldn’t get the words on paper fast enough. Whatever the reason, this is a lot to remember. What John saw is meant to show God’s message in pictures. We cannot read one vision into another. Instead we read, concentrating on the main point of each vision.
Revelation portrays the stark nature of evil all while emphasizing how God is always present and at work to accomplish His purposes for His people. Evil can only do what God allows. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Lord over all of history from beginning to the end and ultimately the powers of sin and evil are futile. The evil one has already lost the war. Now all he can do is try to wrench people away from the Lord. Revelation shows us that what is done in earth has eternal consequences. And it reminds us that the Great victory over the powers of evil had already been won at the cross. Revelation moves forward in a series of repeating cycles. It is not organized topically or chronologically. This books pictures of Jesus’ victory, its symbolic descriptions of His purposes, and His second coming brought and still bring deep comfort to those Christians experiencing persecution. We often think that the persecution of Christians stopped long ago but that is not the case. There are 51 countries today where Christianity is illegal and hazardous to your health if you practice. And, if you add up the number of Christians killed for their faith in the twentieth century, that number totals more than the number of all the martyrs of the previous nineteen centuries combined. The evil one is still running rampant but despite all of his hatred and the misery God’s people have endured for the name of Jesus, the victory is already Christ’s. And because it is His, it is ours as well. As we move towards the end times there is nothing in scripture that says this will be easy. In fact it will be just the opposite. There will be hardship but we have this promise from Jesus: “in the world you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world .” John 16:33.
When you read Revelation you will notice that Jesus is at the center of everything. John wrote in part to reveal Christ in his glory. In the face of severe persecution Revelation dramatically reminds Christians of the source of their hope and vindication, and it challenges them and us to remain faithful. The Christians in the Roman province of Asia may have seemed weak and powerless to the world but Revelation repeatedly reminded them, as it does us today, that we serve a Mighty God. He controls history. He has accomplished our salvation. And He continues to work out His purposes.
There are many numbers in the Book of Revelation and those numbers have often inspired wild speculation as to what exactly they mean. When we understand the symbolism in ancient numbers this will help our reading. The symbolism is not rigid or exact so we must take care when we read. And, while some of the numbers in the Bible have symbolic meaning, using numbers to try to speculate when Christ will return is not helpful. Jesus made it clear that ONLY God knows when that will happen. God didn’t intend for the numbers in Revelation to help us predict the future. Instead their symbolic meanings help to explain the significance of the visions. So, here are many of the numbers and their meanings. One refers to God’s oneness. Two is the minimum number of people needed to give a legitimate witness. Three represents the Divine; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Four represents the known world, represented in Genesis by four rivers and in Revelation by four living creatures, horsemen, winds, and angels. Five is human completeness. Think five fingers on a hand. Six is incompleteness, an implication of evil, as in one short of perfection. It is neither humanly complete which is five, or divinely complete which is seven. Seven is perfection, divine completeness, and fulfillment. It indicates that God and the world are in harmony. Ten is a complete number and a way to indicate many. Twelve represents the tribes of God’s people, the number of disciples, and the number of God’s people. The supreme, ultimate evil is 666. One thousand is the foundational large number and 10,000 is a huge number rather than a precise count. Twelve thousand is a large number of God’s people, and 144,000 is the complete number of the people of God.
And one other thing. Many in the first and second centuries placed a heavy emphasis on angels. Angels have a servant role and are not to be worshiped. Jewish tradition had developed the concept of angels as mediators with God. In Pre-Christian Judaism God’s transcendence or otherness was emphasized to such an extent that people felt a need for meditators to communicate with Him. In this context, angels grew in importance. For Christians, Christ has a unique role as mediator between God and humans. Interest in angels or deceased Saints to communicate with God gets in the way of honoring Christ alone as the mediator between God and humans. Gods still has angelic messengers, but they are creatures who serve Him, not divine beings to be worshiped. Faithful Saints of the past, including Mary, are human beings. They may be honored in our Christian memories but they have no claim to divinity, and they should never be worshiped. God alone is worthy of our prayers and worship.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W