Pastor Scott Andrews | April 10, 2022
Can I remind you that the book of Revelation was written to encourage believers – to encourage us to persevere in the faith. To remain faithful till the end. To not be sidetracked by the call of the culture. You understand, those of the world which this book calls earth-dwellers will woo us to worship and give our allegiance to false gods and false world systems. They will call us to love this fallen world and to engage in self-focused, flesh-satisfying, sinful lifestyles. And if we don’t, in fact, if we suggest there is a God who calls us to believe in Him, repent, to turn from our sin and live holy lives, they will ridicule us, they will malign us, they will ostracize us, they will persecute us, and they will even kill some.
But we are to remember, this book tells us, our sovereign God is on His throne. The word throne is used 34 times in this final book. Our faith will cost us, but Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb of God has overcome by His blood – by His faithful life and suffering – and so we, too, will overcome as we follow the way of the cross. In the end, this book tells us Jesus will come. God will judge His enemies and they will be condemned; and He will vindicate His followers – indeed He calls them children. And His kingdom will come to earth. That prayer we have prayed all our lives, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, will ultimately be answered. His kingdom will come to earth in its fullness – and He will dwell with His people. Gone will be all pain and sorrow and suffering – even tears as He wipes them from our eyes. All evil will be vanquished, and all will be made right. It is the best truest happily-ever-after story ever told.
But that’s the end of the book – the end of the grand scheme of history. But in the interim, there is a comic battle to be waged. Oh, the outcome is secure – He has overcome – and we will overcome by the blood of the Lamb. And so, this book is written, in the midst of the battle, to encourage us in the face of promised persecution and suffering: remain faithful, He is coming.
I am suggesting the book of Revelation was not given to provide a road map to figure out end times. It will give clarity to the last of the last days – but that’s not its primary purpose. In fact, if you approach the book that way, you may produce all kinds of cool charts and impressive timelines and fanciful interpretations, but you will likely miss the purpose of the book. Again, I am suggesting the book was given to encourage us to stay faithful and persevere in the face of promised persecution. And to keep our eyes fixed on our reigning, enthroned, returning King.
But the truth is, that message hasn’t meant much to many of us. Why? Because we haven’t faced much persecution. Oh, maybe a little ridicule for believing this pie-in-the-sky fairy tale. For desiring to live a holy life, forsaking sin, because we have been saved by a God we cannot see. It’s been rather easy to believe – not much cost. And so, while we live our comfortable lives, we have time to come up with all kinds of end times schemes and prognostications of a book written to encourage us – but you see, we don’t really need the encouragement. In fact, so convinced are we that God does not expect us to face difficulties in this life – although Jesus promised it – so convinced are we that we’ve come up with this mutinous idea that God neither wants nor expects us to suffer – why, He has in mind that we be healthy and wealthy – prosperous. So, who wants to read a book like Revelation so filled with such pain and sorrow and suffering and mayhem and destruction and death? That’s not what God has for us, right? We’ve even come up with – late in church history – an end times scheme that says we won’t have to experience Revelation and the Tribulation contained therein.
Could it be that our cultural prosperity has actually been a curse as it has caused us to ignore the book – a book promised to give blessing to those who read it, hear it, and heed it? Are we indeed blessed or have we been deceived – lulled to sleep? The distractions for us don’t often come in perpetrated evil, but in beautifully-wrapped packages of comfort and prosperity. Who, then, needs this book? We have an insidious enemy who has crept in the back door.
Why do I remind us of these things? Because as we jump into the actual text today – if we don’t keep the purpose before us – we’ll miss it. We will yawn at the depth of its hope and help. We’ll miss God, who is, who was, and is to come. Why does that matter if we don’t perceive we need Him? We will miss the Spirit who walks among the churches, who bears us before the throne. We will miss Jesus – the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and ruler of the kings of the earth. Does that matter, if we’re fine with our rulers, with our way of life? If we remember why this was written, these words will become most precious to us. We will indeed be blessed.
These first few verses of the book – called the prologue – are intended to breathe wind into our sagging sails. As we are perhaps flagging and listless – to breathe hope in the midst of potential despair. To propel us toward faithfulness and ultimate victory. Don’t miss it. Read the text with me – with suffering – the cost of following Jesus in mind. Revelation 1:1-8.
We live in an incredibly broken world, where puny potentates can invade neighbors, causing death and destruction, while the world stands by and does nothing; where economic and political duress can bring distress; where sin seems to reign supreme; where declaring ultimate allegiance to Christ can bring pain. So, God says to us, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Did you hear that with ears of suffering and despair? Do you see how these verses can breathe life into such chaos and sorrow?
You see, this matters to those who are facing the brokenness of the world; to those who are suffering for the cause of Christ; who declare their allegiance to the living God and His Christ and refuse to bow to worthless idols. It matters.
We are only going to get through a few verses of this prologue, but let met give the outline of the book. This is most challenging – it could be filled with much more detail, but most suggest we can at least agree on this:
- The Prologue (1:1-8) – which is kind of an introduction to the book.
- The First Vision, which is Jesus Among the Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)
- The Vision of the Exalted Christ (1:9-20)
- The Letters to the Seven Churches (2:1-3:22)
- The Vision of Heaven (4:1-5:14)
- The Seven Seals (6:1-8:1)
- The Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)
- The Seven Signs (12:1-14:20)
- The Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21) – or plagues as some call them, the ultimate expression of God’s righteous wrath.
- The Triumph of God (17:1-20:15)
- The New Heaven and New Earth (21:1-22:5)
- The Epilogue (22:6-21)
It’s interesting to note – as I mentioned, I have a number of commentaries on Revelation – most don’t agree. But as I consulted them for the outline, there was general agreement. How the book is structured is easy enough – but how to interpret it – a bit more challenging. But we will follow this outline through our time together.
Now, I’ve just read the prologue, and you’ll notice from the outline, there’s also an epilogue – that is, the end of the book. And it’s amazing to compare them. They say a lot of the same things – some call it an inclusio – that is, bookends to the entire book. Look at some of the epilogue with me:
6 And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.
7 “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things….
12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book;
19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 [in the meantime] The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
So we see the similarities with the prologue. But I read, as I did a couple weeks ago, the last few verses to show the importance of this book – so important that the Spirit and the bride issue an invitation – come, and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. Don’t add to the words of this prophecy, don’t take from the book of this prophecy. And the book finishes with these glorious words of Jesus, Yes, I am coming quickly. And we respond, Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Because suffering believers long for the return of Christ.
This is my prayer for the study of this book. First, that those who are thirsty will come and drink of the water of life. And for those who have already drunk, we will drink more deeply, and long for the coming of our Lord Jesus – come quickly. That we will not be sucked into the cry of the culture, but we will be even more captured by Christ, and long for His return.
Now, we read verses 1-8 of chapter 1 that form that prologue, but we’ll only get through a few verses. Let me outline the prologue for you:
- Superscript (or introduction) (1-3)
- The Salutation (4-5a) – normal letter-writing convention at this time.
- The Doxology (5b-6)
- The Purpose (7-8) – he dangles the promise in front of us.
Again, please keep in mind the purpose of the book – written to suffering Christians, encouraging them to persevere with the promise of the coming of Christ to judge and punish His opponents and rescue His followers. Most agree with this purpose – that is not at issue in the various interpretations of the book.
The issues come in how to read the coming judgments as seen in the seals, trumpets and bowls. First, how literally do we take the descriptions – the images. Second, have they happened in the past, are they happening throughout time, or are they to happen in the future. Third, are the seals, trumpets and bowls sequential and chronological, or are they parallel – that is, describing the same time period layered on one another. Fourth, are Christians – that is, the church – are they here, or have they been raptured before all this happens. I know you’re sitting on the edges of your seats waiting for me to answer all those questions – because we get sidetracked and miss the purpose. I’m not going to get into that today, other than to remind you there is the historical view, the idealist view, and the futurist view – and a combination of some or all those to varying degrees. Oh, what fun we will have.
But the purpose of the book is not really in question. I know you’re suffering, but remember, God is on His throne, stay faithful, He wins the cosmic battle and destroys His enemies. The best is yet to come.
So let’s start with that first point – the superscript in verses 1-3. The book begins with a title of sorts, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Now, we talked about this word revelation – or apocalypse – a couple weeks ago. It simply means a revealing of that which was formerly hidden – further, truths we could not have known if God did not reveal them to us. And apocalyptic literature was highly symbolic and image-driven – usually communicated by an angelic being, as we see here.
Notice, it is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Lots of discussion about that – is this subjective or objective. That is, does this book reveal Jesus to us, or does Jesus reveal the book to us? Is it a revelation about Jesus or from Jesus? Most agree the answer is yes. While the context makes it clear this is a revelation from the Father to Jesus through His angel to His bondservant John to show His bondservants what must soon take place, it is therefore subjective. That is, the context shows a chain of communication – Father to Son to angel to John for us. But the content is clearly about Jesus – this book is a glorious Christology – so perhaps we shouldn’t be hard-pressed to decide adamantly – the book is from Jesus and about Jesus.
Now notice all the personal pronouns in verse 1 – Him, His, He, His and His. I think most, if not all, refer to Jesus – The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God the Father gave to Jesus to show Jesus’ bondservants the things which must soon take place, and Jesus sent and communicated it by His/Jesus angel, to His/Jesus bondservant, John.
Now, we have an issue right out of the gates we have to deal with. What is this “must soon take place” and “the time is near” in verse 3? John says what we read must soon take place – was he mistaken? Some suggest this is proof that John was writing about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD or at least the fall of Rome in 476 – how else can something soon take place or the time of fulfillment be near? Lots of discussion, but let me sum it by suggesting that these phrases refer to immanency – that is, these things can happen at any moment. It’s not necessarily talking about happening tomorrow – but it could happen at any time, when God’s plan for this age is completed, so we should always be ready. Further, these end time events began at the first coming of Jesus, through His death, resurrection, and ascension.
This is incredibly important. We are living in the last days. It’s the same idea as calling the church age – from the time of Christ’s resurrection and ascension all the way to His return – 2000 years now – it’s all called the last days. If you hear someone say, what John writes about or the Tribulation are the last days – that’s not exactly right. We are living in the last days – so was John, and Paul and Peter and the time right before His return. Again, when you hear someone say – using newspaper theology – look at the signs of the times, we must be living in the last days – just say, we are. So were my parents and grandparents.
So put that all together: God gave to His Son revelation, that which was previously hidden but now revealed – to show to His bondservants what must soon take place – it’s fulfillment can happen at any time. Now, let me tip my hat here. Some suggest what John then writes happened or has been happening, and there is a sense in which that is true. But, I hold more of a futurist view – that what John receives and writes about is more future. Again, the truth of what he writes, suffering for the church, throughout the church age, is true. And think about it, John wrote to actual churches in Asia Minor and this book applied to them. Suffering is yours – stay faithful, because it’s only going to get worse, but God’s judgment and rescue are coming.
By the way, when John writes, and “He sent and communicated it by His angel to me” (John) – that word communicate is very important – and this is the first OT allusion in the book – coming right there in the first verse. Scholars note the wording is quite close to what Daniel wrote in Daniel 2. You remember the story. Daniel and others of the noble family, to include Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were carried into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. One day King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and asked for the wise men of Babylon to interpret the dream. But there was a catch – he couldn’t remember the dream. Tell me the dream and its interpretation – or you die.
No one could do it of course – the wise men – the magicians of Babylon said no one can do that. But Daniel did. He was called into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar – and we read these words in verses 27-29:
27 Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king.
28 “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.
29 “As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place.
John undoubtedly refers to this text in Daniel in Revelation 1:1. Twice, the phrase must take place appears in Daniel, and also in Revelation 1:1 The word reveal or revelation appears several times. Don’t miss some important points both Daniel and John make: First, God alone can reveal mysteries of the future. Second, what our sovereign God has predetermined in Daniel and Revelation must take place. Third, the seemingly invincible kingdoms of this world will be swept away by God’s sovereign decree and plan – and His kingdom will be forever established. Don’t you think all that would be an encouragement to suffering believers. By the way, note how Daniel said these things would happen in the latter days – culminating in Daniel 7 with the establishment of the kingdom of God, which happens at the end of Revelation. Such that John actually changes the wording a bit – it’s no longer a prophecy for the latter days – it must happen soon – because we’re in the latter days.
Further, the word communicated in Revelation 1 is the same word for made known in Daniel 2. John is clearly alluding to Daniel 2, and to the word means to make known or to communicate by signs or symbols. The reason that’s important is Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream a giant statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, his belly and thighs of bronze, and his legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with clay. From that, Daniel gave the interpretation of each of these parts of the statue representing or symbolizing four empires – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. I’m not going to get into that – we will later – here’s the point. People living in that day weren’t looking for an odd statue – they knew the statue symbolized something true to come – four empires. And they did.
So also, we look at the images – apocalyptic literature, remember – as symbolizing or representing something true to come. We shouldn’t look for the actual image but what the image represents. Interesting, many of my commentaries point out that these images were well-known in apocalyptic literature – and the first readers would have known exactly what they symbolized. We however, 2000 years later, are challenged – so we come up with all kinds of ideas – from the literal to a variety of meanings for the images. The point is, John tells us in the first verses, all that he saw and communicated symbolized something true to come. There is no question that what John saw and was prophesying is true and will come – the questions are, did they happen, are they happening, or will they happen; and exactly what happens?
John goes on, having received it, I testified of two things – which are in fact one thing. I testified to the word of God. Stop right there. This is a stunning statement of divine inspiration. John knew that what he saw and wrote came from God and was therefore Scripture; and second, it was the testimony of Jesus Christ. Remember, this is the revelation of Jesus Christ – coming from Him and about Him. It can be trusted and is true no matter how odd or weird – it comes from the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. John writes all that he saw in visions throughout the book. I’m not positive John understood fully what he saw wrote – but he knew it was from God.
And so, blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heeds the things written therein; for the time is near. In the Jewish synagogue, it was the practice for someone to read the Scripture aloud. Obviously, most didn’t have copies of the sacred scrolls, and not all were literate. So, for example, when Jesus was in His hometown of Nazareth, He was asked to read. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, and He read from chapter 61.
That practice of reading to the gathered assembly carried over to the church – for the same reasons. People didn’t have their own copies of the Bible. So a reader would read. Early in church history, it became an official position – the reader. Blessed is he who reads aloud for the church to hear. And blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy. From that practice, in many liturgical churches comes the practice of reading in the gathered assembly – from OT, from NT, from the Psalms, etc. You see, it is God’s Word – and what we hear from it is actually more important that what we sing, what I say, what we say to each other. It’s why during the Reformation, the Reformers made the pulpit and the Word central to their gatherings. Yes, they prayed, sang, and observed the ordinances. But central was the Bible read and proclaimed.
It’s also, by the way, why we spend so much of our gathered time, around the Word – and expositionally so. That is, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. My ideas, thoughts and opinions are ultimately meaningless. We need a steady diet the Word of God.
So that we can say, blessed is the one who reads, hears, and notice, keeps it. Readers, hearers and keepers is what we need to be. Which tells us this book has ethical import – ethical or behavioral implications. Which brings us full circle. John will write the words of Jesus to the seven churches. Now, why seven? There were lots of other churches in Asia Minor – some seemingly more important – Colossae was right down the street from Laodicea. Why seven? They represent the totally of the Christian church – all churches at all times in all places. So, there will be instructions to those churches which are instructions to us.
By the way, we’ve seen numbers are important in Revelation – 4, 7, 10, 12 or multiples thereof. The number 7 appears 55 times – it is of special importance, and usually indicates completion or totality or perfection. So, as I said earlier, John wrote to seven churches – speaking of the totality of the church. So also, John gives seven blessings in the book, which likely speaks of the completion or totality or perfection of blessing. This is the first one – blessed is he who reads, hears and keeps. Here’s a list of the seven blessings in Revelation:
1:3 – Blessed is he who reads and those who hears and heed the words of the prophecy.
14:13 – Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.
16:15 – Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes (that is, prepared for the return of Christ.
19:9 – Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
20:6 – Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection.
22:7 – Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.
22:14 – Blessed are those who wash their robes.
I’m not going to talk about those now – simply pointing them out to let them wash over you – all of these point to future reward, future blessing. You are a blessed people, even in the midst of suffering. That’s the point.
And then, having addressed the churches, he will write the visions of God’s coming wrath and judgment, rescue and reward as motivation to persevere in our faith. So there’s the point – you’re suffering, you’re struggling. Here’s some glorious truth to encourage you on the way: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to His Son who gave to His angel to give to John to give to us. This is the Word of God, the testimony of Jesus, so no matter how hard it is or how weird it is, it is trustworthy – John wrote all that he saw. Read it, hear it, keep it, and be blessed, for the time is near.