Pastor Scott Andrews | March 27, 2022
Well, it’s time. I figured we’d have a few people here today – but I didn’t know if you’d come to hear the beginning of the Book of Revelation, or if you came to see me make a fool of myself. It’s interesting, a survey was once conducted, asking pastors the book they least wanted to preach – and by far, Revelation was number one. They then asked the people of those same churches which book they most wanted to hear preached – you guessed it, the book of Revelation. I used to tell you, when regularly asked, when are we doing Revelation, “well,” I would respond, “it is the last book written in the NT. We’ll save it for last”, secretly hoping it would all happen before then. Then I could say, yeah, that’s what it said. And even that statement, hoping it would all happen before then, betrays some thoughts, right or wrong, about the book.
How many of you have ever been in a study of the book before? I heard a pastor say once, you should probably go through it sometime – not necessarily teach it, but at least read it. You see, when we get to heaven and you meet the Apostle John, and he asks, “How’d you like my book?”, it wouldn’t do to say, “Oh, I never read it – it was just too weird.”
D. A. Carson once wrote, “Of the writing of books on Revelation there is no end: most generations produce far too many. It is a little-known fact that the Puritans…produced far more commentaries on Revelation than any other book, most of them eminently forgettable and mercifully forgotten. Something similar could be said about most periods of church history, including our own, which seems to be particularly inventive.” Incidentally, I have a multi-volume commentary set in my library by John Calvin. In the NT, he covered every book except, II and III John, and Revelation. But, no problem, I have 13 commentaries on my desk right now on the book – the longest is over 1200 pages long.
I can remember growing up being caught up in end times prophecy – with conferences, charts, songs, and books. I remember being shaken while reading, The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey published in 1970, which the New York Times declared to be the number one selling nonfiction book of the 1970s. Perhaps you also read, as I did, 666 by Salem Kirban published that same year. I’m not even sure we should be reading a book entitled 666 by someone named Salem. More recently was the book, followed by a movie series, Left Behind, cue ominous music, which was neither good Bible nor good literature. I only read it because you were.
Growing up, we even sang the songs. I had three siblings, and when we lived in Washington State in the early 70s, my grandmother, who was not a believer, would be in the front seat of the car with my mom, we would sing over and over, “I wish we’d all been ready. There’s no time to change your mind, the Son has come, and you’ve been left behind.” As if that gospel presentation would somehow convince my grandmother.
We just sang a new song entitled, The King is Coming. Some of you can remember the Gaither song by that same title – the marketplace is empty, no more traffic in the streets, all the builders’ tools are silent, no more time to harvest wheat. Busy housewives cease their labors, in the courtroom no debate, work on earth is all suspended, as the King comes through the gate. Oh, the King is coming. And some of you wipe nostalgic tears from your eyes, hearing those lyrics. I used to listen to the Gaithers as a kid. We had their records – I would play them in my room, listen to it lying on the bed with headphones, eyes closed, with tears streaming down my cheeks. The King is coming – praise God, He’s coming for me. Revelation tells me so.
About 40 years ago I was at Baptist Bible College and took a class on Revelation. It was a strongly dispensational school – most of us carried the Schofield Reference Bible. If you don’t know what dispensationalism is – hold on – we’ll get there. About 20 years later, I took a class on the General Epistles and Revelation at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. It is a strongly reformed, Covenant Theology school. Needless to say, their take on Revelation was a bit different than my college days. Did you know there are differences of opinion on the proper interpretation of Revelation?
In between those classes, while still in Colorado Springs as an associate pastor, I was asked in 1990 to teach in the Spire Program at the US Air Force Academy. It was a chaplains’ program for cadets at the Academy. I readily agreed. Then they told me, well, one of our teachers had to back out, but the class has already been advertised – so you’ll need to teach it. What’s the class? Revelation – are you kidding me? Mercifully, it was only a 14-week class. Which is the only time I’ve taught the book. This was before the time of PowerPoint, so I printed handouts – here was the cover page for the little booklet I made. You can see, this was post dispensational Bible college and pre Covenant Theology seminary. How can you tell? Coming attractions – what in the world will happen next? By the way, I still have the notes on the class in a notebook – and no, you cannot see it.
Thirteen commentaries on the book – good commentaries – some would say the best available. I wish any two of them would agree. Let me read a couple comments made by introduction in those books:
Thom Schreiner writes, “G. K. Chesterton humorously quipped regarding Revelation, ‘Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators.” Imaginations run wild.
John MacArthur writes, “Bewildered by its mystifying symbolism and striking imagery, many believers (including some pastors, who never preach through Revelation) avoid serious study of the book.”
Buist Fanning writes, “The book of Revelation functions as a kind of Rorschach test. [you probably know that as the ink blot test given to detect mental illness] An interpretation of it often tells as much about the interpreter as about the message of the book…”
Leon Morris writes, “The Revelation is by common consent one of the most difficult books of the Bible. It is full of strange symbolism. There are curious beasts with unusual numbers of heads and horns. There are extraordinary phenomena, like the turning of one-third of the sea into blood, which are impossible to envision. Modern readers find it strange…. The result is that for many Revelation remains a closed book.”
Grant Osborne writes in an understated way, “The Apocalypse is a difficult book to interpret…” but then he goes on to write, “though easier on the whole than the Gospels.” Have you read the book?
So, by common consent, the book is most difficult. But consider what a couple of these same authors wrote:
Thom Schreiner says, “We are reminded at the outset that the book of Revelation has a brilliance and beauty outshining any attempt to explain it.” I want you to hear that. We will be in this book for months – and all my attempts to explain it will not capture its brilliance and beauty. I read the book again this week, and was stunned by its majesty.
William Hendriksen writes, “In form, symbolism, purpose, and meaning the book of Revelation is beautiful beyond description. Where in all literature do we find anything that excels the majestic description of the Son of Man walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (1:12-20), or the vivid portrayal of the Christ, Faithful and True, going forth into victory, seated upon a white horse, arrayed with a garment sprinkled with blood, followed by the armies of heaven (19:11-16)?” Where else do we see anything so majestic? Can I say to you at this point, the book is itself titled, The Revelation of Jesus Christ. If we do anything through our time together in this book, I want us to fall, again, at the feet of our majestic Christ. Will I answer all the questions about Revelation? Probably not – I’ll you some new ones. But I hope we all leave more amazed by our Christ.
Besides what commentators write, there is what the book says of itself in chapter 1, verse 3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Blessed are you if you read it, hear it, and do what it says. And we get to the end of the book and read this stunning invitation, “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.”
The book, as challenging as it might be, is beautiful beyond description, extending an invitation to all who hear it to come to the water of life, and be satisfied. This is what I want for all of us thirsty, parched souls in the midst of global chaos – to drink deeply of the water of life.
Well, let’s do some introductory work as we do with each book that we study. By the way, we are in a thirty-year study of the NT on Sunday mornings, and we have two books left – Revelation and Luke. Yes, I know there is an OT. In fact, you should know there are more allusions – not direct quotes, but allusions to the OT in the book of Revelation than any other NT book. Some suggest there is an OT allusion is almost every verse of Revelation – like over 250 references in the book’s 400 verses. So we’ll be spending some time there.
As I said earlier, the book was written by John. How do I know that? The book says so – four times – starting in verse 1, the content of the book was communicated by Christ’s angel to His bond-servant John. But the question is, which John? Notice, the author doesn’t identify himself by any other way than that – His, that is, Christ’s bond-servant John. Most rightly suggest that means the author was well-known by the readers – the seven churches. Now, for the first couple of centuries, the book was unanimously attributed to the Apostle John, the brother of James, the sons of Zebedee. One of Jesus’ inner three – Peter, James and John – who also wrote the Gospel of John and the three Epistles of John. So the NT contains five books written by John.
Early church leaders said the Apostle John wrote it – Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (who’s testimony is incredibly important since he was discipled by Polycarp, who had been discipled by John), Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus – the list goes on and on. It wasn’t until later in the third century that a bishop in Alexandria named Dionysius denied the apostolic authorship of the book. His arguments rested primarily on the difference in style and vocabulary of John’s Gospel and letters with that of Revelation.
Now, it is true there are some differences in those works. But there are also many similarities – I don’t have time to cover them all, but consider:
- Only the Gospel of John and the Revelation refer to Christ as the Word.
- Revelation frequently refers to Christ as the Lamb, a title given to Him only in John’s Gospel – behold the Lamb of God…
- Both John and Revelation refer to Jesus as a witness.
- Both John and Revelation refer to Jesus as the Shepherd.
- Both books refer to living water and to manna.
- Both John and Revelation refer to Zechariah 12:10.
There are other similarities, but it is an amazing list. But, you say, what about the differences in style? Well, they are different books written for different purposes. Of course the style will be different – we’ll talk about that in a moment. Further, John wrote Revelation while in exile on Patmos, without the help of an amanuensis or a secretary. There are lots of easy answers to the differences in the works, but many point out the similarities – in both the vocabulary and in the Greek. Suffice it to say, almost all conservative scholars affirm the Apostle John wrote the book.
By the way, you should also know that Dionysius wanted to discredit the book because he didn’t like the reference to a millennium in chapter 20. Interesting, he didn’t deny the book belonged in the Bible – it’s canonicity – since it was so well-received. It is supposed he thought he could lessen its credibility and influence by denying its apostolic authorship. We’ll get to the millennium and millennial views in a few months.
So again, the Apostle John wrote it while exiled on the Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Ephesus where he had been living for some time. Tradition tells us right before the fall of Jerusalem, during the rebellion, he moved to Ephesus. But when did he write the book? This is another issue of great importance, because of the different approaches to interpretation of the book. This gets a little technical – hang in there. The suggestions of the date of the writing of the book primarily comes to two time periods – during or right after the reign of Nero in the 60s AD, or during the reign of Domitian in the 90s AD. Why is that important? Well, in the middle of those two dates something significant happened – namely, the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. That’s important – we’ll see why when we look at the different approaches to interpretation in a moment. Most conservative scholars accept a date during the reign of Domitian, for a number of reasons – let me quickly name a few:
Clearly, one of the purposes for the book is to encourage the readers in the midst of significant persecution. While there was persecution in Rome during Nero’s reign, it wasn’t as widespread – certainly not to the churches in Asia Minor to whom this letter was addressed. But, during the reign of Domitian, there was widespread persecution through much of the Roman world.
Which leads to the second reason – why were Christians being persecuted anyway? Because of their refusal to acknowledge and worship the Roman emperor as divine – as a god. While the emperor’s divinity and worship dates back to as early as Julius Caesar, through Augustus and Nero, it was practiced, but there were no repercussions for refusing to worship. That was not so under Domitian – he was clearly declared divine, statues were erected, and worship was demanded. And Christians, who refused to bow the knee, faced ostracism, imprisonment and even martyrdom.
Third, the condition of the seven churches argues for a later date. These churches were healthy when Paul wrote some of them in the late 50s or early 60s. But by this time, they had suffered serious spiritual decline, which would take time. Further, Laodicea was devastated by a massive earthquake in 60 AD. For the rest of Nero’s reign, the city was under reconstruction. And yet, John writes to them and says, you think you’re rich and have need of nothing. That makes more sense over 30 years later, not a few years after the earthquake.
Finally, the second century church father Irenaeus said the book was written during the reign of Domitian. Seems to put the issue to rest. But the argument exist because of the interpretation or Revelation.
Which leads to the next, critically important question: what kind of literature is the book of Revelation? This is incredibly important for understanding the book. In fact, if you don’t know this, you’ll likely come up with all kinds of fanciful interpretations. The book has been classified as three kinds of genre, namely, epistolatory, prophetic and apocalyptic – that is, it is a letter, a prophecy and an apocalypse. What are those?
An epistle is easiest. We find this was a circular letter written to the seven churches of Asia Minor found in chapters 2-3 – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Now these seven churches are found in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey, and they would appear on a map in a circular route if you were to deliver the letter (map). Now, Jesus has some specific things to say to each church in chapters 2-3, which forms an introduction to each church – but the rest of the book, from chapters 4-22, are all written to all the churches. Some have suggested these seven churches represent seven periods of the church age – I don’t think so – more likely, the number seven represents totality, so it is a letter written to all churches throughout time – no matter what condition your church is currently in.
By the way, the book contains normal letter qualities – we see the writer in verse 1, the recipients in verse 4 – the seven churches, along with a greeting, “Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.” The book also ends like a letter – The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
So, the book is clearly a letter, but the book also calls itself a prophecy – verse 3 says, Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy. What is a prophecy? A prophet is given divine inspiration by which he then speaks with authority – thus saith the Lord. So he speaks, and then usually writes what has been spoken. He can be foretelling events to come, usually more immediate events, or forthtelling what God wants him to tell the people.
The third kind of genre – so important to understand this – is the book is apocalyptic or an apocalypse. What is an apocalypse? It is a subset of prophecy – that is, under divine inspiration, the words are given. It is a supernatural unveiling of what is to take place in the future. The disclosure is usually given by angels to a prominent person, in which God promises to intervene in human history to destroy evil and bring about His kingdom. They are usually given to encourage and strengthen those who are suffering to persevere and continue in faith. Hang on, because God and His purposes will triumph.
Apocalypses speak of the eschatological end of all things when God wins and evil is judged and banished. (Popular from 200 BC to 100 AD) We actually have examples of apocalyptic literature in Ezekiel and Daniel. Now further, the realities of earth are often viewed from the true realities of heaven – this is the way reality truly is – from heaven’s perspective. I know you see what you think you see with the physical eye now – but let me give you a glimpse into spiritual realities. What is really real – what is really going on.
Now, apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic with lots of symbolism and images and numbers and visions and dreams. Meaning, while the images and visions and numbers are true and represent something, we should not necessarily look for a literal fulfillment. That’s not the purpose of apocalyptic literature. It communicates truth in highly symbolic images. There is truth, but again, we should not be so much looking at the image as what the image depicts.
So, we don’t necessarily look for a seven-headed beast with ten horns. In all those movies and books where the fifth trumpet releases the locusts from the pit, which looked like horses prepared for battle, crowns of gold, faces like men and hair like women, teeth like lion and breastplates of iron and sound of their wings like chariots and their tails like scorpions don’t necessarily mean we should be looking for attack helicopters. To be clear, they mean something – that the fifth trumpet allows demonic activity such that people to be horribly mistreated and hurt for five months. That’s the point.
And so, further, the numbers of Revelation mean something – the numbers 4, 7, 10 and 12 – and multiples of those numbers. Consider the number seven as it appears everywhere:
- The Seven Spirits before the throne
- The Seven Seals
- The Seven Trumpets
- The Seven Bowls
- The Seven Blessings
So, keep in mind as we go through this book – it is a letter, a prophecy, and an apocalypse.
Let’s go back a moment to the date of writing – why do some suggest an early writing in the 60s? Not because of the internal or external evidence of an early date – but rather because of their approach to interpretation – which leads us to the four primary approaches, which is incredibly important. There are primarily four ways to approach Revelation and how to interpret it. Let’s look at them – the preterist, the historical, the idealist, and the futurist. Some suggest a fifth way, the iterist, which is a combination of the four.
The preterist view says the book was written to believers facing persecution, to encourage them to persevere – and promise their deliverance would come and God’s wrath would come upon their persecutors. So far, so good. But, they suggest all that took place by 70 AD, when Jerusalem fell, and the Temple was destroyed. Making the persecutors not the Roman Empire, but the Jews. True, some preterists say the book was prophesying the fall of Rome in 476, when God’s wrath was poured out upon them. But most say it points to 70 AD. The problem with this is the decisive victory portrayed at the end of the book – when Satan is completely overthrown and evil is conquered – when did that happen? When were all the images fulfilled? Very few hold this view today, although it has seen a bit of a resurgence over the past century or so.
The second view is called the historicist view. While the preterist places the book largely in the period within which it was written, the historicist interprets the book within the context of all of church history – chronologically, from the resurrection to the return of Christ. It is said to sketch history throughout time leading to Christ’s return. So, it tells the history of the church age, largely of Western Europe, through the Roman Empire, various popes and the papacy, the Protestant Reformation – even into the 20th Century with its world wars. The problem with this view is no two historicists agree which events in the book correspond to which historical event. And they keep running out of book before they run out of history. So for example, the Reformers said, clearly the Pope is the antichrist – but that was in the 1500s, and 500 years later, we’re still here. Further, this historical sketch is confined to Western Europe – what about the rest of the world? (Haiti and DR) Interesting again, many of the Reformers held this view – why? Because the Pope was the antichrist. Hardly anyone hold this view today.
The next view is called the idealist view. This sees all of church history as a conflict between good and evil – God and Satan – the church and the world. Which is true, but while it covers all of history, it doesn’t have any specific historical event or future even in mind – it just speaks of the ongoing struggle. So the principles of suffering and persecution and struggle continue to the end of the age, and we see that they, evil and sin and evil world structures and governments will be conquered. The challenge with this one is it doesn’t allow any of the imagery of the book to point to anything specific – it points to everything. And remember, apocalyptic literature points to the culmination.
The next view is called the futurist view – which simply means that everything in Revelation, particularly from chapter 4 on is future. There are two kinds of this view – the dispensational and non-dispensational, but still futurist view. I would suspect that most people in this room who were raised in the church are at least familiar with this view since it is the predominant evangelical view in the US.
You’ve likely heard it this way – here’s the dispensational view: we are living in the church age, which began at the resurrection or Pentecost and will continue until the Rapture. At the Rapture, Jesus will come back, but only to the clouds, and we, the church, will be caught up together to meet Him in the air. We will then go back to heaven to enjoy the judgment seat of Christ and the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Meanwhile, here on earth, the seven-year tribulation will happen – also called Daniel’s Seventieth Week or the time of Jacob’s Trouble. The Temple will be rebuilt. The Antichrist will appear, make a treaty with Israel, but he’ll break it at the three and a half year mark. That will begin the Great Tribulation. At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus will return with the saints, defeat the devil at the Battle of Armageddon, set up a 1000-year millennial kingdom, defeat the devil one more time, then comes the Great White Throne judgment, and then we will enter the new heavens and the new earth (Rev 21-22).
This is all future and told about in the book of Revelation – and Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah. The church is taken out in chapter 4 when John is called up to heaven, where he sees the heavenly throne room. Then judgment begins as the seven seals are opened, followed by the seven trumpets, followed by the seven bowls – all chronological – leading again to the defeat of the unholy trinity – the dragon, the beast and false prophet. So in this view, Revelation 4-22 is all future – the futurist view. Further, you don’t have to worry about it since you’ll be raptured – you’ll be in heaven – and the Tribulation is where God is pouring out His wrath on unbelieving earth-dwellers and is also primarily dealing with Israel. I wish we’d all been ready, there’s no time to change your mind, the Son has come, and you’ve been left behind.
The non-dispensational futurist view could also be called the historic premill view – that is, everything happens in the future, but the church will be here through the Tribulation – meaning there is no secret coming called the rapture, and then Christ will come back and set up His kingdom. So those are the four views – which one am I? Stay tuned – I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out.
All that by way of lengthy introduction. Let me close with this: here’s the challenge. (Yesterday morning – Josh – how are you going to teach all this without becoming cranky?) We can get so sidetracked by different systems of interpretation and timelines and guesses and newspaper theology – that is, trying to figure out how Russia and Ukraine fit into all this and setting dates or periods that we miss the major themes of the book. So let me give them to you:
First, stay faithful. This world and world systems will call you and woo you to join them, to worship false gods that sound somewhat Christian. You’ll be tempted to compromise and capitulate to world powers and pagan society. Stay faithful to Christ and His word – that’s message of chapters 1-3.
Second, suffering is the way of life for Christians. When you refuse to give in to get along, you will be persecuted. That may come in the form of being made fun of, ridiculed, maybe even persecuted. Here’s the message – persevere to the end.
Third, in the end, God wins. God is sovereign and reigns over all history. Everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is under His control. He will show up at just the right time when all His purposes are accomplished; He will pour out His righteous judgments and vanquish all evil; He will vindicate His children washed by the blood of the Lamb – that’s a key point – He wins by the death of His Son and we overcome by the blood of the Lamb; and then the best – the new heavens and the new earth – will come.
Finally fourth – remember, this book is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. This is all about Jesus. If we take our eyes of Christ and focus on images and systems and current events and prophetic guesses and timelines, we’ll miss it – no, we will miss Him. Don’t do it. This book calls Him:
- The faithful witness (1:5)
- The firstborn of the dead (1:5)
- The ruler over the kings of the earth (1:5)
- The Alpha and Omega (21:6)
- The one who is and who was and who is to come (1:8)
- The Almighty (1:8)
- The first and the last (1:17)
- The living One (1:18)
- The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand (2:1)
- The One who has the sharp two-edged sword (2:12)
- The Son of God (2:18)
- The One who is holy and true (3:7)
- The holder of the keys of David (3:7)
- The Amen, the faithful and true Witness (3:14)
- The Lion of the tribe of Judah (5:5)
- The Lamb of God (5:6)
- The Lord, holy and true (6:10)
- The Word of God (19:13)
- The King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16)
- The Christ, ruling on earth (20:6)
- The root of David, the bright morning star (22:16)
And that’s not even all of them. Don’t miss Jesus. Many times through the book, when faced with these descriptions, the ones present fall at His feet. John in chapter 1, the 24 elders and myriads of angels around His throne in chapter 5, every created thing in heaven, on earth and under the earth in chapter 5. On and on it goes – regardless of your understanding of the book, there is coming a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This book is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. If you leave at the end of our study with the images figured out, the numbers figured out, and the timeline all completed, and you don’t fall at the feet of Jesus, I have failed. 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Amen.