Revelation

The Revelation of Jesus and His Victory

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An Introduction to Courses

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Taster Course

A short introduction

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Starter Course

Getting into the guts of what’s going on

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Main Course

The meat! And what to do about it!

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Dessert Course

Material for Church leaders and Tertiary level students

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The Key
The Key to unlocking the dynamic

The key to unlocking the dynamic of Revelation is to understand that the author is writing a pastoral letter (1:4) to the universal Church in order to communicate a prophetic message (1:3, 22:7), which he communicates using the ‘apocryphal’ literary genre (1:1). It is therefore absolutely essential to begin by studying and understanding the nature and dynamics of apocryphal literature. I have provided a short introduction to ‘apocryphal literature’ in the ‘Genre’ section of ‘The Essentials’ in the ‘Starter Course’, which I recommend to all readers.

 

Because the literary genre of Revelation is unusual and unfamiliar, it has tended to become the nursery of every fanatic and sectarian. This is absolutely unacceptable. Only the strictest literary disciplines and approaches can be allowed when engaging with such unfamiliar texts. Fortunately, this point is far more widely appreciated today and this is borne out in the more recent prominent commentaries.

 

Bible for Life usually engages with scripture by: Hearing, Reading, Studying, Learning and Meditation, and watching films that relate to the subject, but in this book the writer specifically tells us to engage with this prophetic message by reading and hearing: ‘Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near‘ (1:3).

 

John has told us to read aloud and hear, so as apprentices of Jesus let us do what he says!


hear
Hear
Listen Here

‘Revelation’ is unique, instructing us to read (aloud) and hear its message: ‘Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hears it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near’ (1:3).

 

Since Revelation is a long book, it is best to read it section by section, with periods of reflection and study after each one.

 

Click on the link above for an audio version of Revelation.

 

Download the Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling etc …

 


Read
Read

‘Revelation’ is unique, instructing us to read (aloud) and hear its message: ‘Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hears it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near’ (1:3).

 

Read the chapters in conjunction with the BfL Podcast commentaries.

 

NB: BfL cautions against reading The Left Behind Series, as it is written from one millenarian perspective, and is wildly fictional.


Watch
Watch

Watch the film ‘Of Gods and Men‘– the story of the martyrdom of monks in Algeria. Then study the subsequent growth of the Church in Algeria.    


Study
Study

‘Revelation’ is arguably the most complicated Bible book to understand because it is written in the ‘apocalyptic literary genre’, and it addresses serious and complicated issues of theodicy, extreme human suffering and God’s eternal purposes for humanity. As the apprentice of Jesus returns to studying this book every few years, its meaning and relevance will become clearer.

 

It is absolutely essential to begin by studying and understanding the nature and dynamics of apocryphal literature. I have provided a short introduction to ‘apocryphal literature’ in the ‘Genre’ section of ‘The Essentials’ in the ‘Starter Course’, which I recommend to all readers.

 

BfL then recommends careful study of the text and the best commentaries. Those approaching ‘Revelation’ for the first time can read the comments in the ‘Verse by Verse’ section in the ‘Main Course’.

 


Meditate
Meditate

Begin your time with God each day by taking three or four verses, ‘wallowing in them very deeply’ and then live the rest of the day in the light of their truths.

 

Worship is an excellent way of meditating on Scripture, provided of course that the words are taken directly from scripture. The book of Revelation continues to be the basis of a huge proportion of the musical worship in Christian services.

 

Suggested verses for meditation

 

1:9   ‘I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus.’

 

1:17-18   ‘When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’

 

7:19   ‘For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

 

12:11   They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony; they so not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.’

 

21:3   ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”’

 

 

 

Meditate here

learn
Learn

Consider learning:

 

1:12-18   ‘I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a ‘son of man’, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” ’

 

7:14-17   ‘And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

 

12:11   ‘They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony; they so not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.’

 

21:1-7   ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’

 


Challenge
The Challenge

Explanation:  We all learn in different ways. This section is for those who find that being challenged spurs them on to master a subject.

 

Here are ten questions about ‘Revelation’. See how you score. The answers are at the bottom of the page.

 

 

 

Easy:

Q1   What is the meaning of the number 7?

Q2   How many ‘series of sevens’ are there in ‘Revelation’?

Q3   What seven things will not be in heaven?

 

 

Straightforward:

Q4   Which two of the seven churches were facing persecution?

Q5   ‘Revelation’ specifically uses three types of literary genre; what are they and how are they used?

Q6   Explain the terms used to understand the three ways the millennium is understood in Revelation 20.

 

 

Difficult:

Q7   List three of the defining features of the ‘apocalyptic’ literary genre.

Q8   What is the ‘iron sceptre’ with which Christ rules the nations?

 

Testing:

Q9   Why are the two witnesses given power to ‘shut up the sky’ and ‘turn the waters into blood’ while they prophesy (11:6)?

Q10   What point is John teaching us when he describes the beast destroying the prostitute (17:16-17)?

 

 

 

Answers:

A1 – Completeness.

A2 – 3: the Series of Seals, the Series of Trumpets, and the Series of Bowls/Plagues. The answer 4 would be accepted if you have included the Series of Thunders which were mentioned, but then cancelled (10:4).

A3 – Sea (that is, any evil) (20:1), death, mourning, crying or pain (20:4), night (21:25), curse (22:3).

A4 – Smyrna and Philadelphia.

A5 – ‘Revelation’ is a ‘letter’ (1:4) communicating a ‘prophecy’ (1:3) written in the ‘apocalyptic’ literary genre (1:1).

A6 – 1) Post-Millennialism; Christ will return to earth after the Millennium. 2) Pre-Millennialism; Jesus will return to earth before the Millennium. 3) A-Millennialism: This view understands that Christ’s reign on earth will not be a literal 1000 years, but that John uses this as an apocalyptic description of Jesus’s reign through the faithful witness of the persecuted church.

A7 – The apocalyptic genre uses the following features: symbolic numbers, metaphoric images, it portrays current political events against the universal background of God challenging and defeating evil, it is often ‘sealed up’ until the appropriate time of it’s fulfilment, it sees world history moving towards a ‘final conflict’ after which will come the judgement of God, where those faithful to God will be vindicated.

A8 – His atoning sacrificial death.

A9 – When John speaks of prophesying, he is referring to the witness of those being martyred for their faith in Christ. The two witnesses in Revelation 11 represent that part of the Church that is called to suffer and testify to Christ even to the point of martyrdom. John is stating that God protects these witnesses so that they are completely free ‘to prophesy’ – to speak out their faithful witness to Christ and die a martyr’s death.

A10 – Evil is ultimately self-destructive.

Maps

taster course

Overview

Questions

5 mins

    • Video - The book explained in 4 minutes
    • Video
    • /
    • Summary

    Summary 

     

    The apostle John is in exile in Patmos for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as Lord and God. It is CE95 and John is about 85 years old. He is the last remaining apostle, having witnessed the deaths of Peter and Paul in the Nero persecutions of the mid CE60s. With the Emperor Domitian now enforcing his claim to divinity throughout the Roman Empire, John knows that soon the Church will once again be persecuted. As he meditates and prays about what lies ahead, through the Spirit God gives him the greatest prophecy ever given to the Christian church. It is a prophecy about martyrdom, and how the God uses the martyrdom of the faithful to tear down the citadels of evil throughout the world and humanity, and establish the reign of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in exactly the same way as God used the very means of Jesus’ horrific crucifixion and death to ‘disarm, and make a public spectacle of the powers and authorities triumphing over them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:15).

     

    John writes this prophecy in a pastoral letter to the churches using the contemporary literary genre of the apocalyptic. He writes to prepare them for the long and vicious trial ahead. He writes as an expert literary artist: using his considerable literary skill he draws from Old Testament imagery and prophecy, reworking it under the Spirit’s visionary illumination. His intention is to instruct, teach and guide the straightforward disciples of Jesus in the little churches around Ephesus to understand that through uniting with Jesus in a death like his, the entire order and power structures of this world are powerless, rendered useless, and fall defeated before Christ and his Kingdom. As the faithful enter into a death like their master, so the heavenly court passes judgment in their favour, and the beast’s hold on humanity is broken. The outstanding scriptural example of this is the way in which the martyrdom of Stephen was axiomatic in, and led directly to, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, that is, Saint Paul.

     

    The reader’s first impression is that John is foretelling world history, concentrating on all the worst catastrophes that the wrathful, vengeful God cannot wait to dish out on wicked humanity. But such a view of the book of Revelation is badly mistaken. John is not writing a Christian version of Nostradamus’ prophecies. The purpose of God is that ‘none should perish but all reach repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9), so the Lamb uses the effects of human sin for his own purpose of bringing people to repentance (the Seals in the book). The judgements of God (the Trumpets) bring others to repentance. But these calamities are sourced from the very sin of humanity, so the Lord of heaven moderates and limits their effect, directing them to warn humankind of the effects of their independence from God and leading men and women to repentance. But the secret tool to melt the hardest heart is the martyrdom of the faithful (the little scroll) so that they overcome Satan by the blood of the lamb, the word of their testimony and their willingness to lose their lives, even unto death. It is this that defeats the Dragon, the Beasts and the Prostitute and will bring the capital city of evil to utter destruction. Revelation ends with the very kings who have meted out persecution bringing their treasures into the heavenly city. John’s letter describes how Jesus crafts world history according to his own plans and brings the purposes of God for humanity and the world to perfect fulfilment in the final victory of God and the destruction of evil and all its agents.

     

    In the face of this future trial, the apprentices of Jesus should understand that through ‘patient endurance and faithfulness’ (13:10), and ‘by the word of their testimony’ and through not ‘lov[ing] their lives so much as to shrink from death’, “’hey will overcome him (satan) by the blood of the Lamb’ (12:11). The martyrs look beyond their suffering to the prospect when ‘the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:17).

     

    Summary >
    taster Questions - Questions to start you off

    Question 1 -

    Have you known anyone who has been murdered? Have you known anyone who was killed specifically because they were a Christian?


    Question 2 -

    When Corrie Ten Boom (a leading Dutch Christian who housed Jews during World War 2) asked her father how she could survive persecution, he replied that “God will give the strength to endure suffering, in the same way that I give you the ticket for the train just before we go through the ticket barrier”. Have you been bullied or experienced discrimination as a direct result of being a Christian?


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    Question 3 -

    Since 2016 there has been a marked increase in the persecution of Christians by Hindu Nationalists in India. If you had the chance to strengthen them with one verse from the book of Revelation, which verse would you choose?


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    Question 4 -

    Mussie Ezaz, a youth worker in Eritrea, and others with him were arrested for being Christians and have been held since 2004 without trial. Their families do not even know if they are alive. Pray for them now.


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    Question 5 -

    Imagine what the worship of heaven is like. Close your eyes, listen to this video and mediate on the worship of heaven (5:9-14, 19:1-7).


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    starter course

    podcasts

    the essentials

    Questions

    10 mins

    • podcasts - 3 to 5 minute ‘Teach-Ins’ on key themes
    • Podcasts

    Revelation 2-3 - Letters to the 7 Churches

    Revelation 4-5 - Christ in Heaven

    Revelation 6-7 - The Seals

    Revelation 8-11 - The Trumpets

    Revelation 12-14 - The Dragon, beasts and Gospel

    Revelation 15-16 - The Bowls

    Revelation 17-18 - The Fall of Babylon

    Revelation 19-20 - The Victory of Jesus

    Revelation 21-22 - The New Heaven

      the essentials - The literary features explained
    • Argument
    • /
    • Context
    • /
    • Literary Genre
    • /
    • Structure
    • /
    • Themes

    Structure and Argument

     

    1:1 – 8   Prologue

    ‘Revelation’ is introduced by John as letter communicating a prophetic message through the genre of apocalyptic literature.

     

     

    1:9 – 3:22   The revealing of Christ’s reign on earth

    John’s overwhelming encounter with Jesus Christ, the supreme Lord of Heaven and Earth. John gives the essential keys for interpreting the apocalyptic images.

     

    Christ’s letters to the seven churches (chapters 2-3): these seven churches represent all churches. The issues of idolatry, compromise and martyrdom are addressed in the context of persecution.

     

     

    4:1 – 22:6   The revealing of Christ’s reign in heaven

    Chapters 4 and 5 introduce an overview of heaven where all of God’s creation worship Jesus and where, because of his redemptive death, he alone has been proved worthy both to exercise power and authority over all heaven and earth, and to supervise the establishment of God’s eternal purposes.

     

    Chapters 6-20 contain 5 sequential visions revealing how Christ exercises his supreme authority, power and governance over creation; saves men and women through the efficacy of his atoning death; and dismisses evil and the agents of evil from God’s creation:

     

     

    6:1 – 8:5   Vision 1   The Seven Seals

    The opening of the Seven Seals is the first vision sequence (6:1-8:5). Having used the evil in humanity to be the very agent of his own victory over them on the cross, God continues to use them (6:1-8) both to be the agents of their own destruction, and also the means of bringing human beings to repentance. Nevertheless, the price of this divine forbearance is the martyrdom of those faithful to Christ (6:9-11). Although the sixth seal ushers in the final breaking of the power of evil (6:12-14), there are still many who seriously misunderstand the mercy of the saviour lamb (6:15-17). Chapter 7 is a detailed study of the martyrs (6:6-11), and their reward in heaven (7:15-17). The series ends (8:1-5) with the ‘cancelled conclusion’ of expected final judgement, as the astonished heavenly community witnesses God giving yet more time for unrepentant men and women to repent.

     

     

    8:7 – 11:19   Vision 2   The Seven Trumpets

    In the series of Seven Trumpets (8:7–11:19), John brings a second perspective on Christ establishing his Kingdom on earth. The four ‘natural’ judgements on earth, sea, rivers and sky (8:6-13) demonstrate God’s judgements on human evil, but throughout their reach is very strictly limited. John gives a study of the power and contagious effect of evil (9:1-12) before illustrating the demonic power that holds those addicted to evil (9:13-19); nevertheless, there are still some left unrepentant (9:20-21). But where both the effects of human sin and evil (6:1-8:6) and the resulting judgement of God on that evil (8:7-9-21) have failed to lead the hardest heart to repentance, God now calls part of the church to faithfully witness to Christ even to the point of martyrdom. John is recommissioned and given the ‘little scroll’ of God’s purposes of the ultimate witness for the church (chapter 10). Chapter 11:1-12 is a carefully constructed study using the apocalyptic literary genre, describing the faithful testimony of those called to witness to Christ and who as a direct result are executed. As a result, the very hardest hearts repent and the devil’s citadel is ruined (11:13). The final trumpet announces that Christ’s Kingdom is finally established on earth (11:15), and that God’s very presence is now established with humanity on earth (11:19).

     

     

    12:1 – 14:20   Vision 3   Satan’s Strategy

    Having been defeated and exposed by Christ’s redeeming death, and then by Christ’s loyal followers entering into a death like their master’s (12:11), the third vision (12:1-14:20) reveals Satan’s overriding strategy for controlling humanity through the agency of the beast of totalitarian government (13:1-10) and the false prophet – false religious loyalty, idolatry and deception (13:11-18). Nevertheless, even these titanic forces fail to prevent either the victory of the martyrs (14:1-5), or the magnificent harvest of the gospel (14:6-16). However, there are still some who are so devoted to the devil and his agents that they join in participating in God’s judgement on them (14:17-20).

     

     

    15:1 – 19:10   Vision 4   The Seven Plagues

    The fourth series of Seven Plagues (15:1 – 19:10) is God’s judgement on the devil and all evil, but the description is of those who are so committed to him that they join in receiving his judgement (15:1-21). The devil’s response is to muster his human agents in one last titanic attempt of resistance (16:14-16), but he cannot prevent God’s judgement exposing and destroying all he has established to hold humanity in rebellion against God (16:17-21). In chapter 17, John identifies the imperial capital city of Rome as the contemporary (and most recent) manifestation of ‘Babylon’ (17:9 and 18). Nevertheless, John is himself completely caught up in humanity’s lament for all the brilliance of culture, business, wealth and intellectual achievement (chapter 18), with the result that having repeatedly warned us not to commit idolatry, he then commits idolatry (19:10)! The series of plagues ends with the heavenly community exalting the victorious Lamb and celebrating the arrival of his bride who is now prepared for their marriage.

     

     

    19:11 – 20:15   Vision 5   Christ’s dismissal of evil

    The final study of Christ’s dismissal of evil (19:11-20:15) describes his supreme power through his victorious death on the cross which is the iron sceptre by which he rules the nations (19:18). All the forces of evil and the agents of Satan are powerless to stand against him and are simply dismissed to be destroyed. But John is not naïve. He knows only too well that just at the point where our discipleship seems to have succeeded, we are most vulnerable to temptation. The millennium signifies the defeat of Satan through the faithful witness of Jesus’ followers (12:11), and while this happens he is powerless (20:3-4). But when there is no such faithfulness to Christ, the beast can once again rise from the abyss and deceive humanity (20:7-8). In the final assize, God remembers what he wants to remember and forgets what he wants to forget (20:11-15), and all evil is finally and completely removed from God’s creation.

     

    In the final, quiet, peaceful description of heaven (21:1-22:6), John uses the two leading Old Testament images of the Holy of Holies (21:9-27) and the river in Eden (22:1-6) to paint the relationship that men and women will enjoy with God himself through the Lamb (21:3). The presence of evil, as illustrated by ‘the sea’ (21:1), is completely gone, along with death, mourning, crying, pain, the curse and night.

     

     

    22:7 – 21   The Epilogue

    John repeats several of his leading emphases and, using specific apocalyptic literary tools, reminds his readers that these things will happen soon and encourages them to drink deeply from Christ (22:17).

     

    Context:

     

    Author: The author identifies himself as John ‘your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that ours in Jesus’ (1:9). While some parts of the document point to the author being someone other than John the apostle, the weight of external evidence, namely the early church fathers in the second century, is united in stating that the author was the apostle John. Although the Greek style of writing is clearly different from that of the Gospel of John, nevertheless common terms such as the ‘the lamb of God’ and ‘the word of God’ point towards a common authorship, and the theology of both books is compatible.

     

    Date: The weight of opinion dates Revelation in the mid AD90s towards the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian, not least because of the details in the descriptions of the seven churches in Asia Minor fit that period best. John therefore incorporates the traumatic persecution of Christians under Nero and the overthrow of Jerusalem in AD70 into his perspective of the tribulation that the church faces in the world.

     

    Occasion: The seven churches, symbolically representing all the churches throughout history, faced four areas of challenge:

    1. Tension between Church and synagogue (Christianity and Judaism), especially in the wake of the sacking of Jerusalem by Roman armies in AD70. The Jews felt that their privilege to practice their religion freely throughout the Roman Empire was being undermined by the rise of the Christian ‘sect’ (2:9).
    2. The experience of the Christian in a pagan society. The pressure to compromise, specifically in the area of participation in the trade guild dinners where their patron’s deity would be honoured. The author is writing to exhort readers to not to conform to pagan practices but to endure and persevere in their allegiance to Christ and to warn the weak not to compromise (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).
    3. Hostility between the Church and the Roman Empire. The issue here was the call for Roman civilians to honour the Emperor as Lord and God, in clear opposition to the Christian Creed and confession that Jesus is Lord and God (2:10,13). While there is some question about the degree of hostility directed by Domitian against the Church, it is nevertheless clear that the persecution has already begun.
    4. There is also evidence in Revelation of some economic tension between rich and poor. Christians experienced some discrimination and economic hardship as a result of their faithful adherence to Jesus as Lord. Smyrna and Laodicea demonstrate the contrast between these extremes, as does the almost lustful description of Babylon trade in chapter 18.

     

    While these tests are specifically referred to in the chapters outlining the false teaching of the Nicolations (2:6,15) and the spiritual complacency of the churches (3:1-3, 15-17), they are also represented in the apocalyptic imagery of the beast (the devil’s attempt to intimidate through persecution); the false prophet (deception through heresy); and the prostitute (misdirected sexual desire and the coveting of earthly pleasures).

     

    Genre:

     

    Christians are both fascinated and mystified by the book of Revelation. The description of the victory of Christ over evil is clear enough, but the imagery is baffling. What exactly is going on? The answer to this question necessitates that, right from the start, our unfamiliarity with the literary genre must never allow us to go wild and assume that any interpretation or opinion is as good as any other; on the contrary, it calls for greater literary discipline in our approach to this text.

    Our starting point must be the three statements that the document makes about itself in its opening sentences …

    It is a letter  – ‘John, To the seven churches in the province of …’ (1:4).

    The book of Revelation is a letter from John – a senior church leader, most probably the apostle John – to the mother (Cathedral, or minster) church of Ephesus and six satellite churches in the region.

    Everything in Revelation is therefore addressed to specific Christians that the author knew personally.

    As with most New Testament letters, Revelation ends with the grace (22:21).

     

    It is a prophecy – ‘Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy’ (1:3, also see 22:7).

    Prophecy is a message given by the Holy Spirit that applies directly to a situation Christians face.

    The letter of Revelation teaches about the future of the Christian Church, the overcoming of evil and its final defeat, but is above all it is a glorious revelation of Jesus Christ himself.

     

    It is apocalyptic literature – ‘The revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ…’ (1:1).

    The very first word defines this document: it is an ‘apocalypse’. This is a very specific form of Hebrew literature. We will immediately lose our way if we forget that every part of this document is written in this specific genre. The closest contemporary example of ‘apocalyptic’ in the 21st Century is the ‘Political Cartoon’ – as found in our daily newspapers.

     

    So, the book of Revelation is a pastoral letter written by (the apostle) John to the mother church of Ephesus and six of her satellite churches. The letter is a prophetic message deliberately communicated in the genre of apocalyptic literature.

     

    Apocalyptic literature:

    Imagery: Apocalyptic literature uses imagery in a similar way to political cartoons in today’s newspapers: an image of ‘John Bull’ or a bulldog represents an English man, an Eagle represents the USA, a Bear represents Russia, etc. In the same way, the image of a red dragon in 12:3 represents the devil; we are certainly not meant to think that somewhere in the world a red dragon is hiding! John explains his leading images, for example: in 1:12-18 the ‘son of man’ is Christ portrayed in all the hallmarks of glorious divinity; in 1:12 and 20 the lampstands and stars are identified as the churches and their heavenly representatives before the throne in heaven, among whom Christ himself is present. Since Rome was built on seven hills, John is telling us quite clearly in 17:9 that the woman sitting on the beast is the imperial city of Rome itself!

     

    Numbers: Apocalyptic literature uses numbers symbolically. The number ‘7’ represents completeness, so we are to understand the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 as representing all churches throughout the world and history. In Revelation the following words and phrases occur seven times: ‘one sitting on the throne’, ‘Alpha and Omega’, ‘I am coming’, ‘blessed’, ‘testimony/witness to Jesus’.

    The number ‘4’ represents the world and creation; there are four winds and four corners, and four living creatures.

    The number ‘1000’ seems to mean ‘many’ or ‘all’.

    Since Greek letters had an equivalent ‘number’, sometimes numbers are given instead of names. The word ‘Jesus’ in Greek has the value 888. The value for the Greek word for ‘beast’ in Hebrew is 666.

    Hope: Apocalyptic literature is axiomatically and essentially about hope. Its purpose is to communicate and inspire hope within a context of intimidation, persecution and even fear. It is about good triumphing over evil, when it appears the opposite is certain to happen. The Greek word ‘apocalypse’ means the  ‘unveiling’ of future, hidden heavenly events. This genre therefore employs the ‘mythical’, by which I mean ‘timeless truths’. So for example, in telling us in 17:9 that the prostitute is Rome, John wants us to understand that the prostitute is far older than Rome and far more contemporary in the 21st Century than the Roman Empire that ended in 480AD. Rome was merely the current manifestation of the prostitute in John’s own time. There are several similar prostitutes throughout the world in the early 21st Century.

     

    The Main Interpretative Approaches:

    A Preterist View understands the details of Revelation to relate directly to the situation in which John lived, and this is sometimes expressed in terms that anticipate the fall of Jerusalem in AD70. So, the Beast in Revelation 13 is the Roman Empire, or Emperor.

    Critique: This is the least convincing, because the end of the world came with neither the fall of Jerusalem, or the fall of Rome in the fifth Century. Also, the instruction that John prophesies to ‘all peoples, languages, tribes and nations’ (7:9) means that the intended audience for this letter cannot be reduced simply to the Jewish people.

     

    A Historicist View understands Revelation (particularly 4:1-20:6) to be predicting the major developments of Christian history chronologically, for example, the Beast is identified with a specific character of history: suggestions have been put forward of the Pope, Napoleon, Hitler etc, depending on the place and time of the commentator.

    Critique: This view tends to understand Revelation in terms of Western church history. Almost no two commentators agree on the details! No relevance to John and the original readers despite 1:3, 22:6.

     

    A Futurist View understands the principle visions of chapters 4 to 21 to apply to the very end of human history as they usher in the Eschaton. In this view, the Beast will be a future world leader.

    Critique: This view suffers from the criticism that such a perspective would have had almost nothing to say to its first readers, and almost nothing to say to Christians until the very end of the age. Much of the power of the book is lost if the events are viewed without symbolic and theological significance for today.

     

    An Idealist View understands Revelation to symbolise, through metaphor and picture, the conflict between good and evil and the overthrowing of evil, and to teach timeless spiritual truths that operate between the first and second comings of Christ. Here the Beast could be understood as totalitarian governments: Communism, Nazism, Imperialism etc.

    Critique: While this view means the material is relevant for the church at all times, there is a risk that it is seen as applying to nothing specifically.

     

    Eclecticism attempts to combine the Preterist, Futurist and Idealist views (but not the Historicist) in a modified form arguing that some aspects apply directly to the time when the author wrote, others will always apply generally throughout all church history, and others specifically to the return of Christ. This is the perspective taken by Bible for Life. In this view, the Beast would include the prevalence of anti-Christs mentioned in 1 John 2:18, culminating in a future final world ruler, the man of lawlessness taught by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

    Critique: If this perspective is adopted then the argument becomes focused on why certain passages should or should not be understood as describing John’s era, applying to all time, or being anticipated at the end of the age.

     

     

    Structure:

     

    1:1 – 8   Prologue

     

    1:9 – 3:22   The revealing of Christ’s reign on earth

    John’s encounter with Christ (1:9-1:20)

    Christ’s letters to the Seven Churches (2:1 – 3:22)

     

    4:1 – 22:6   The revealing of Christ’s reign in heaven

    The Lamb is declared worthy to govern (4:1 – 5:14)

    Five visions of Christ overthrowing evil (6:1 – 20:15)

    1. The Seven Seals (6:1 – 8:6)
      • Detail: the Martyrs (7:1-17)
    2. The Seven Trumpets (8:7 – 11:19)
      • Detail: the call to martyrdom (10:1 – 11:13)
    3. The Dragon, the Beasts and the Harvest (12:1 – 14:20)
    4. The Seven Plagues (15:1 – 19:10)
      • Detail: the fall of Babylon (17:1 – 19:10)
    5. Christ dismisses evil; the final judgement (19:11 – 20:15)

     

    21:1 – 22:6   The new heaven

     

    22:7 – 21   Epilogue

     

    Themes:

    1. Jesus Christ is Lord and God. He rules in heaven, and has established his Kingdom on earth. Through his death he ransomed men and women for God (5:5-10).

     

    1. Jesus Christ defeated Satan at the cross, and the dualism that is described in Revelation, perhaps most clearly in chapters 12-14, is only an illusion, because even the death of those faithful to Jesus (13:7) is used by Christ for the extension of his Kingdom (12:11). There is nothing that Satan can do that will not, in the final analysis, serve to fulfil the purposes of God in establishing the reign of Christ on earth and bringing heaven to earth.

     

    1. God is currently restraining his wrath on humanity in order to allow time for men and women to repent and turn to Christ. Even the catastrophes of life (although ultimately caused by human sin) are potential tools for Christ to fulfil his purposes, because they cause people to consider God and repent.

     

    1. The church is called to witness loyally to Christ during times of persecution and severe opposition, even to the point of martyrdom. The repeated exhortation is to endure suffering and faithfully confess Christ as Lord and God. Jesus is always present with his church.

     

    1. The Chiastic structure of the seven churches: the first and last are in danger of losing their Christian identity; the second and sixth are beleaguered but faithful, and the third, fourth and fifth are in different ways compromising to such an extent that their future unity is in jeopardy. These seven representing the church in history show that generally the church is not a healthy witnessing faithful community.

     

    Context >
    starter Questions - To help you think carefully about the key issues

    Question 1 -

    My friend Andy Shaw, the pastor of the Vineyard church in Harare, was attacked and killed in 1995 when he was innocently fasting and praying in a public park. Was Andy a martyr?


    Question 2 -

    Our focus is often on the martyrs, but behind every martyr is a network of family and friends who suffer terribly as a direct result. Watch the interview of the woman whose sons had been killed in Egypt. What issues affect those close to the one who is killed?


    watch video

    Question 3 -

    In the 20th Century, more Christians were martyred than the sum of all the martyrs in the previous centuries combined. It also witnessed huge growth in the number of Christians worldwide. Revelation teaches that these two events are linked, or, as is often quoted, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church' (Tertullian). What should we expect in the 21st Century? Should we all go and get ourselves martyred?


    Question 4 -

    Study the report from Open Doors on the persecution of the Church worldwide. Study the four responses. If you were a Christian living in North Korea today, which response would you choose? 1. Dive and Survive 2. Register and Submit 3. Flee and Live 4. Stay and Die


    watch video

    Question 5 -

    How should we understand the inspiration for ‘Revelation’? John describes a vision in the Spirit, but the literary artistry of the author is so exceptional that the document appears to be a very carefully constructed literary composition. Is this a contradiction?


    main course

    Verse by Verse

    The Apprentice

    Questions

    • Verse by Verse - For a thorough understanding of the Biblical text
    • Chapter 1
    • /
    • Chapters 2-3
    • /
    • Chapters 4-5
    • /
    • Vision 1. The 7 Seals 6:1 - 8:6
    • /
    • Vision 2. The 7 Trumpets 8:7 - 11:19
    • /
    • Vision 3. The Devil and the Harvest 12:1 - 14:20
    • /
    • Vision 4. The seven plagues 15:1 - 19:10
    • /
    • Vision 5. Christ dismisses Evil 19:11 - 20:15
    • /
    • The New Heaven 21:1 - 22:6
    • /
    • Epilogue 22:7-21

    1:1 – 8   The Prologue

    Argument: In this Prologue, which contains important cross-references with the material in the Epilogue, John clearly states the literary tools he is using. In his Gospel, John writes as an apostle and evangelist; in his three pastoral letters he writes as teacher and pastor; but in this ‘Revelation’ text, he writes as pastor and prophet. John is writing a pastoral letter (1:4-7) to the universal church (represented by the ‘seven churches’) in order to communicate a prophetic message (1:3, 22:7) through the ‘apocalyptic’ literary genre (1:1). The prologue contains many outstanding essential truths including: the prophetic exhortation and appeal will be fulfilled soon (1:1, 1:3); that Jesus has freed us from our sins by his blood; that he is the supreme Lord of the world, creation and history; that we are his Kingdom and his priests; that he is returning to this earth; and that as Alpha and Omega, he has all the full attributes of deity.

    V1 The word ‘apokalupsis’ means an uncovering and revealing of that has been hidden. Beasley-Murray writes that ‘Jesus Christ has himself torn back the curtain which hides from human eyes the invisible world and the future of this world’. The progression here is a unique pattern in all scripture: God the Father gave this ‘revelation’ to his Son Jesus, who gave it to the angel, who gave it to John, who has written it down and sent it to the seven churches, so that ‘the Church’ would have this message for all time, and so you and I can study it now. Ultimately, the message – the call to faithful endurance and martyrdom – comes from God the Father himself.

    V2   In ‘Revelation’, John is testifying to everything that Jesus is and has said.

    V3   Our response must be to read, hear and take to heart all that is written.

    V4   A description of God built on God’s self-description in Exodus 3:14-15. The Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as ‘seven spirits’ (Isaiah 11:2).

     

     

    1:9 – 3:22   The revealing of Christ’s reign on earth

     

    John’s encounter with Christ (1:9-20)

    Argument: John has a vision of the risen Lord who commissions him to write ‘what he sees’ (v11) to the seven churches. John is himself being disciplined by Roman justice on the island of Patmos for his faithful testimony to the gospel. The description of Jesus is the central feature of this section; he is described with all the features of the Old Testament divinity and this is endorsed by his titles. The final two verses give the two literary keys for unlocking the apocalyptic interpretation throughout the remainder of the book.

    V9   ‘I, John, your brother and companion’ – a moving pastoral description in which John himself stands alongside all those suffering for their testimony to the gospel. ‘Patient endurance’ is one of the leading exhortations of the book.

    V11   These churches were planted as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Ephesus is the mother ‘cathedral’ church, and the other six are some of its satellite churches. John has told us that he is writing in the apocalyptic genre, and since this genre uses symbolic numbers, and since the number seven represents completeness, we are to understand that these seven churches represent every church across the world and throughout history.

    V13   The title ‘Son of Man’ is the direct quotation from Daniel’s leading prophecy, (Daniel 7:13-14), and the title Jesus himself chose and used in preference to the politically charged title of ‘Messiah’.

    V14-16   These attributes correspond directly to the features of the divinity described in Ezekiel 1:26-28 and Daniel 7:9.

    V17   John’s reacts like Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28) and Daniel (Daniel 10:9-10).

    V20   The stars are the ‘angels’ – the heavenly representatives of the earthly communities of believers. The ‘lampstands’, which will be specifically mentioned in 11:4, are the earthly representations of the believing communities

    Christ’s letters to the seven churches (2:1 – 3:22)

    Literary structure: John now records a letter to each of the seven named churches in Western Turkey. In the apocalyptic genre the number seven is the number of ‘completeness’, so we should understand that these letters are addressed to the whole church throughout history and across the world, hence the repeated appeal ‘whoever has ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ (2:7). Each letter follows a set structure, although in different cases some of the categories are omitted.

    1) Jesus’ words are introduced with a description or a title relating to his description in 1:12-18.

    2) The church is applauded for good characteristics.

    3) The church is rebuked for its failings.

    4) There is an appeal to repent.

    5) An exhortation is given to be faithful.

    6) An appeal is made to everyone to listen.

    7) There is a promise of reward to the one who overcomes.

    In these short letters, the Lord of these churches is assessing their preparedness for the persecution that is imminent and will be severe. Hence great value is placed on endurance, patience, loyalty and faithfulness as it is these stoic features that will enable survival. This explains why Smyrna and Philadelphia receive no rebuke, and why Laodicea receives no applaud. In each case, John’s knowledge of the towns is impressive and he uses imagery that relates directly to their characteristic features and history. These churches are within a radius of 100 miles from Ephesus, and a study of the MAP shows that John may have ordered these in the circular route that the letter carrier could take.

     

     

    Ephesus (2:1-7)

    Ephesus is the mother (cathedral) church, from which Paul planted churches throughout Western Turkey, and from which he wrote the letter of ‘Ephesians’ which is a highly concentrated summary of his “Alpha Course” equivalent that he taught in the Hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:10). The letter of 1 Timothy gives an insight into the focus on doctrine and teaching in the church of Ephesus at the end of Paul’s life. Thirty years later, John commends the church for its rigorous testing of sound doctrine, but severely warns them that in their zeal for pure doctrine they are seriously at risk of ceasing to be a church at all because they have lost their first love for Christ, whose one command was to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). The removal of their lampstand (v5) means that their community would no longer be a church! The theologian Steve Holmes states ‘if truth is no longer loving, it has ceased to be truth’. I, and some of my low church friends, have at times be so zealous for the proclamation of truth that like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:28), we have become unpleasant. The Nicolaitans (who follow the teaching of the heretical deacon (Acts 6:5)) are compromising the uniqueness and Lordship of Christ. John, the ever-loving pastor, is preparing those he loves for imminent persecution, and this letter closes (along with the other six) with a glorious promise that those who are faithful in testifying to Christ in martyrdom will be rewarded with heavenly paradise. Disciples of Jesus must remember that love for others is the motivation for communicating truth, and love for God will motivate us to remain loyal to him in persecution.

     

     

    Smyrna (2:8-11)

    Smyrna is the persecuted and struggling church. The title Jesus uses signifies the promise of resurrection after death. The Jews in Smyrna are persecuting the little Christian community in that town. Jesus has nothing negative to say to the believers, only an assurance that although persecution will come again, God himself will limit it to only ‘ten days’ (v10). The exhortation to ‘be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life’ (v10) encapsulates the entire message of the book of Revelation. The final promise to the overcomer is complete protection from the event of the second death, the final judgement of evil (20:11-15). A profound value of the life of the Spirit and the coming of the Kingdom is that we walk ‘weak and vulnerable’ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 2 Corinthians 6:3-10). Disciples are called to bear faithful witness in such times, and the letter to Smyrna is a magnificent encouragement that in such seasons the Lord is Lord.

    V9   John uses a strong term, ‘synagogue of satan’, to describe the Jewish community in Smryna. This is because John sees the malevolent hand of the Beast behind their rejection of their Messiah and their subsequent persecution of his followers (13:11f).

     

     

    Pergamun (2:12-17)

    Pergamun is the compromising church. Jesus’ title speaks of the sword of his words that cut away impurity, and rules through all he says (1:16). Despite being the church in which the only martyr in Revelation is named, there are others who are compromising the Lordship of Christ. Balaam instigated the final rebellion of the Israelites who left Egypt by compromising the commandments against idolatry and immorality (Numbers 25:1) which led directly to the final judgement of exclusion on that generation. John names these along with the Nicolaitans as those who compromise the Lordship of Jesus, in other words, they participate in the confession ‘Caesar is Lord’ at expedient points in social and civic public life.

    V13   Satan’s presence is evidenced by the murder of Antipas (John 10:10). The fact that we know nothing about Antipas is exactly the point John is making, ‘Revelation’ is written for unknown Christians throughout history and the world.

    V16   The sharp double-edged sword (v12) is the uncompromising words of Christ: ‘Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose … and it fell with a great crash’ (Matthew 7:26-27).

    V17   The white stone represents the personal invitation to a banquet. It is the unique knowledge of suffering and persecution known only to the one who has suffered and to the Lord. Once again John is preparing Christians in his pastorate for imminent persecution.

     

     

    Thyatira (2:18-29)

    Like their sister church in Pergamun, the community of believers at Thyatira were guilty of compromise despite the fact that their discipleship was strong and their ministries were growing. The title and description of Jesus speak of penetrating eyes that search out all evil, and the warning immediately addresses a charismatic leader who allows compromise. Jezebel, like Balaam, seduced Israel to the love of Baal, and this prophetically gifted woman may have been the leader of the heretic Nicolaitans. The root of this heresy is once again the expedient compromise of the unique Lordship of Christ. The message for the Thyatiran church is uncompromising: they may tolerate this heresy, but Jesus will not. The iron sceptre which smashes the nations is the iron sceptre of the love of God in the Cross. Just as Jesus’ death was a victory that overcame all evil, so the martyr’s death is a victory over the world, Satan and all evil. The iron sceptre is the sceptre of the love of God – the mercy of God that leads us to repentance. Disciples of Jesus cannot compromise on the axiomatic truths of his unique divinity, atoning sacrifice and Lordship.

    V20   Throughout scripture, the sins of immorality and idolatry are so very closely linked that they are at times not only synonymous, but actually interchangeable: both are adultery, one of the body, the other of the spirit.

    V23-24   Indicates that only part of the church had accepted this heresy, nevertheless, those ministries (children) soiled by this spiritual sickness will shrivel and close.

     

    Sardis (3:1-6)

    The church at Sardis was arrogant, but dead! An impressive example of inoffensive Christianity. Coasting on their reputation for being successful, their ministries were actually shoddy, incomplete and half-hearted. Just as the city they lived in had twice been captured by stealth, so the church there was warned that suddenly they will realise that they are living on a ministry that disappeared long ago, and there is nothing left. V4 speaks encouragement to some who are faithful disciples. They will receive the conquerors’ white robe, and Jesus will himself acknowledge them to the Father in Heaven because they have acknowledged him before men and women (Matthew 10:32).

     

    Philadelphia (3:7-13)

    The church at Philadelphia was small and struggling, and like Smyrna was being persecuted by the Jewish community in the city. This explains the title of Jesus: the one who is truly holy and holds the key of David. As was the case with Smyrna, there is no rebuke or admonition, only deep assurance that Jesus understands their weak vulnerability, and the promise that the open door for the gospel message will be fruitful, even among those in the synagogue who are persecuting them, because ‘no one can shut’ that door (v7). Here are Christians who have already ‘patiently endured’ (v10); they are the true pillars in God’s own temple. In contrast to those who are marked with loyalty to the Beast, their loyalty to Jesus will be recorded by Jesus writing his name on them. This impressive example is itself a call for ‘patient endurance and faithfulness’ in Christ’s disciples (14:12).

     

     

    Laodicea (3:14-22)

    The New Testament authors followed a pattern of recording the worst case last: the apostle Judas Iscariot, the deacon Nicholas (Acts 6:5, Rev 2:6), and here the Laodicean church. The church, like the city in which it was situated, was wealthy but its apparent strength had brought a settled lukewarm lack of zeal and enthusiasm for the truth of the gospel. In stark contrast to the church at Philadelphia, there is not one single positive feature recorded for this church. But the very description of this shocking condition – ‘you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked’ (v17) is evidence of the Lord’s deeper love: ‘Those, whom I love I rebuke and discipline’ (v19). And so follows an exhortation to repent, and enter into true fellowship with the Lord who desires fellowship with them, and embrace fully the call to join those across the churches who in the imminent persecution will both overcome evil through their faithful witness to Christ, and in doing so reign with Christ.

    4:1 – 22:6   The revealing of Christ’s reign in heaven

     

    The Lamb is declared worthy to govern (4:1 – 5:14)

    Having encountered the risen Christ on earth and received messages from him for seven churches in West Turkey, John now encounters Jesus in heaven (‘in the Spirit’ (4:2)). This is the dominant vision of ‘Revelation’, in that it sets the context for everything that is subsequently revealed. The vision has two parts: the first part (chapter 4) focuses on God’s creation, and the second part (chapter 5) on the redemption achieved by the Lamb through which he is deemed worthy to exercise executive authority over Creation and supervise the implementation of God’s purposes for Creation. There is a natural development throughout this vision, which starts with a description of the throne of God before describing the four creatures centred around the throne, and the twenty four elders around them. We are then introduced to the angels of heaven around them, followed by ‘every creature in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth’ (5:13). The vision closes with a powerful sense of anticipation about what will happen when the scroll is opened and God’s purposes begin to be established.

     

    The Worship of God the Creator (4:1-11)

    John does not describe what God looks like, because it is the Lamb that is ‘at the centre of the throne’ (5:6), but he does describe the throne using the Old Testament attributes of God. The rainbow is sign of God’s mercy (Genesis 9:15), and because it encircles the throne it represents his mercy over all his creation. The twenty four elders represent all of Creation before the throne, and their white robes speak of authority, righteous purity and golden crowns of sovereignty. The thunder and lightening remind us of Sinai where the unchangeable moral law of God was revealed to Moses. But the ‘sea of glass’ (4:6) depicts the problem of evil in creation, beautiful and attractive, but a deadly reservoir – from which the beast of totalitarian government will arise (13:1). This is why at the end of Revelation, the first feature of the new heaven described by John is the absence of the sea (21:1); the redemptive work of the Lamb will remove every presence and stain of evil in his work of uniting heaven and earth. All things were created good, but because they have become corrupted, they have become evil. Since God is holy there is no place for evil in the holy city. But to destroy Creation would be an admission of failure. Caird summarises the divine challenge: ‘How can God assert his power over a sinful world without denying either his holiness or his creative purpose?’ The next chapter will answer this question, but before hurrying on, John takes time to describe – and to let us disciples of Jesus to hear and receive – the wonder of Creation which is, as specifically stated at the end of the creation story, ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31).

    V5   The ‘seven spirits of God’ is a term used to speak of the Holy Spirit.

     

    The Lamb’s work of redemption      5:1-14

    Having described God’s character and praised the wonderful brilliance of his creation, John now turns to addressing God’s purpose in making it. God’s purposes for creation are written in the scroll He holds but this can only be opened, read and implemented by one who is worthy. In other words only the one who is worthy can exercise sovereign governance over creation. The one who is worthy is the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’, who ‘has triumphed’.  John hears the Old Testament name but sees the New Testament reality; ‘The Lamb of God’ (John 1:36). He hears strength, power and victory, but sees a dead, weak, slaughtered lamb which has come to life again! This touches the very essence of John’s message in ‘Revelation’; the victory of Christ which has been achieved not through the slaughter of the enemy, but through the faithful martyrdom of the very Son of God. The Lamb is standing at the centre of the throne and is therefore in no uncertain terms, God himself, a fact endorsed by him being immediately described as having the features of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God. ‘The Lamb’ takes the scroll and all of heaven bursts in praise stating that the reason why the Lamb is worthy is precisely because his death ‘has purchased for God men and women for God from every tribe, and language, and people and nation’. He has made them royal priests who reign on earth. In other words precisely because Christ has selflessly sacrificed his life in order to save others for God he has proved through his own faithful and ultimate sacrifice that he is entirely and absolutely trustworthy to be given unlimited power and authority! The whole multitude of heaven responds in exultant joy worshipping the Lamb, as does every creature in heaven, earth and under the earth. This triumphant description should motivate every disciple to worship and praise; in sheer joy we shall be worshipping Christ for ever and for ever. Not only is He Lord and loving, but he has proved that he can be trusted with absolute power and authority. We are safe with Him; It is safe to trust Jesus Christ.

    V2   The two mighty angels mentioned in Revelation both speak the very words of God the Father himself; (10:1).

    V5-6   John hears a lion, but sees a lamb. He hears the Old Covenant image but sees the New Covenant image. With this literary twist John encapsulates the heart of the Christ’s supreme power. The power of God is not proved through superior might, but through superior holy love. Jesus does not slaughter his enemies in violence (as humans and terrorists do), he wins their hearts through his astonishing mercy and godliness, and because he wins their hearts through his atoning forgiveness, he wins their loyalty for ever and ever. John will use the same literary devise in chapter 7:4-5 where he hears the Old Testament image of (limited) Israel, but sees the multitude of those saved by Christ – an uncountable host.

    V9   One of the most encouraging verses in scripture; the ultimate response to the gospel will be astonishingly successful.

    V13   A fascinating insight; even those ‘in hell’ cannot stop themselves praising Jesus Christ.

    6:1 – 20:15   Five visions of Christ overthrowing evil

     

    Vision 1   The Seven Seals   Chapter 6:1 – 8:5

    In order to read the scroll and study the purposes of God for all creation, the Lamb must first open the seven seals that clasp it shut. Having been declared worthy of receiving power (5:12) and exercising supreme government over heaven and earth, the Lamb must first extend his Lordship over those who rebel against him. Although we might be expecting to see wave after wave of blessings unleashed, the series of opening seals unleashes the very evils that humanity propagates: the four riders bring conquest, war, famine, and Death (and Hades). In the same way that Jesus used the lying (thieving) betrayal of Judas, the envy of the Jewish leaders, the fear of Pilate, the violence of the soldiers and the entire horror of human evil to achieve his own supreme purpose of establishing atonement for all humanity, so now he permits evil to destroy itself. Paul states this in slightly different terms in Colossians 2:15: it was the forces of evil that were nailed to the cross and exposed as what they are forever. The simple fact is that violence, war, famine and death cause human beings to cry out to God. During World War II the churches in Britain were full! From the point of his declaration of worthiness to govern in chapter 5 (see Matthew 28:17) to his final victory over evil in chapter 20, everything that the Lamb does is designed to bring unrepentant humanity to repentance. But the price of this is that those who are truly faithful to Christ will, like Antipas at Pergamum (2:13), be martyred (6:9-10). John will describe in much fuller detail in the Trumpet Series (8:6f) how their faithful witness is God’s powerful tool to bring the hardest hearts to repentance.  For now, in the Seal series, he outlines the need for their faithful witness to Christ. The earthquake (6:12-14) signifies the destruction and collapse of the edifice of human evil thinking against God, and this is exposed in the wrong thinking about God (6:15-17) by those who stubbornly still refuse to repent.

    God is preparing for himself ‘a great multitude that no man could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language’ (7:9).

     

    The four horses (6:1-8)

    The first four seals release aggression, war, famine and death on the earth! In other words, exactly what has been happening throughout human history, and exactly what is happening in the world as you read this! We will immediately ask why Jesus allows such evil to continue under his sovereign governance? The answer is that Christ allows the very weapons of evil to remain, but turns their effect to achieve his, not their, purposes. A fascinating little example of this is the attack of Satan on Paul’s ministry at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Satan stopped Paul visiting the young church, but the direct result was to launch Paul’s letter writing ministry with the resulting benefit to the world church! In addition, John will demonstrate later that evil is ultimately self-destructive: the Beast will destroy the Prostitute. The Dragon through his Beasts and the Prostitute may come to kill, steal and destroy the work of God, even causing a third of the stars to be corrupted and fall from heaven (12:4), but he is powerless to create as God creates, and the final outcome will be that everything the devil does will, in the final analysis, only contribute to the fulfilment of God’s purposes for Creation. Jesus came to bring abundant life (John 10:10), and it is his great plan that, of its own volition and through his victory and grace, humanity comes to choose to resist all evil. The price of this divine forbearance is that his people on earth must stand ready to suffer and endure, even to the point of their own death – John will develop this in v9-14.

    V2   It is mistaken to identify this rider with Christ’s victorious parade in 19:11, since the means by which Christ crushes the armies of evil is not by the violent slaughter of human beings (if he did this then Jesus would be behaving just like Satan), but through the mercy of God in providing an atoning sacrifice for sins. It is the mercy of God that leads us to repentance: the cross is his ‘iron sceptre’ (2:27) by which his rule over the nations is graciously but firmly extended.

     

    The suffering persecuted church (6:9-14)

    This short section summarises the leading prophetic revelation of ‘Revelation’. Paul explained to the Corinthians that ‘the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God’ (2 Cor 4:4). But here John is showing that it is the suffering and martyrdom of faithful believers (v9-11) that smashes the veil of deception over human minds blinding them to the gospel. As Christians follow their master into a death like his, so the evil one’s power to deceive unrepentant humanity is smashed like a city ruined by a titanic earthquake!

    V9   These are the martyrs, people such as Stephen, James and Antipas in the Bible, and in contemporary times, the 21 Egyptians killed by Jihadi John on the shore of Libya in 2015.

    V10   The cry of the suffering heart is for justice (Psalm 13).

    V11   God is not indifferent to their agonies, but (as John will explain in chapter 11) although they may not yet understand, it is their very deaths that are God’s powerful tool to melt the hardest unbelieving heart. Meanwhile they are declared righteous before God – they stand in white robes.

    V12-14   John will develop this image and message in 11:13 and 16:17-21.

     

    Deceived humanity (6:15-17)

    Deep in the human heart is the profound awareness that sin deserves punishment. So the peoples of the earth run and hide in fear of ‘the wrath of the lamb’ (6:16). But they are absolutely mistaken! Although the Lamb has every right to punish, instead he offers total forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:47-49) at the expense of his own appalling suffering. The opening of the sixth seal demonstrates that martyrdom exposes and breaks the devil’s deception about Christianity, but there are still many who in their stubborn confusion resist the will of God who does not want ‘anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).

     

    The martyrs (7:1-17)

    With the opening of the fifth and sixth seals (6:9-14), John has outlined the efficacy of the martyrdom of those faithful to Christ, but he has done this with tantalising brevity. Now, before the opening of the final seal (8:1) he puts his ‘cursor’ over 6:11 and ‘double clicks’. Chapter 7 is a study of the suffering, the persecution, the martyrdom and the reward of those who are killed because of their faithful testimony to Jesus (v14). John has already demonstrated in 5:5-6 the pattern of “hearing” the Old Covenant image, and then “seeing” New Covenant reality, and he employs this again here. He hears (7:4) the Old Covenant description of the people of God, the twelve tribes of Israel, but sees that the New Covenant reality is ‘a great multitude that no man can count from every nation, tribe, people and language’ (7:9). These are specifically described as ‘they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb’ (5:14), which indicates that through their own participation in the martyrdom of Christ, God has himself declared them to be faithful witnesses. The description that follows is arguably the most moving passage in the entire book of ‘Revelation’. The graphic description of their hunger, thirst and exhausted suffering is contrasted with the glorious reward of ministering day and night in God’s presence forever near the Good Shepherd. God our Heavenly Father will then sit each one on his lap and will himself go through the history of their lives wiping every tear of suffering from their eyes. Let every disciple meditate deeply and often on this truth.

    V1   In stating that the angels are holding back the winds, John seems to be indicating that under God’s sovereign providence, those called to martyrdom are protected from death through ‘normal’ dangers of life such as car crashes and cancer so they can glorify Christ through their faithful witness to Christ.

    V3   The seal on the foreheads of God’s servants stands in contrast to the mark of the Beast (13:16) on the forehead of those deceived into following the Beast.

    V9   This reference, and v13, link the whole of chapter 7 directly to 6:11.

    V16   This is in direct contrast to the suffering of those devoted to the devil (16:9).

     

    Silence in heaven (8:1-5)

    We were expecting that the opening of the seventh seal would inaugurate the open revelation of the Lamb as the Sovereign Lord of all Creation, and the beginning of the establishment of God’s purposes for Creation. But John records only that heaven is silent for half an hour. This could be the silence of anticipation, but more likely it is the silence of astonishment that the mercy of God delays the final revealing of Christ still further in order to give further time for humanity to repent. And so this silence ushers in not the coming of Christ, but a second series of dramatic interventions by God: the trumpet series. The picture of the prayers of the saints being ignored and trashed by God at first appears sub-Christian. But John is describing the experience of the saint’s prayers for deliverance. This is what appears to happen. The reality is that God is using the patience and forbearance of the saints to allow evil to rise like a tide, do its very worst and then fall back having failed. The rise and fall of Communism in the 20th Century is an example: rivers of blood flowed from this manifestation of the political philosophy imposed on humanity before its rejection and demise.

     

    Vision 2   The Seven Trumpets   Chapter 8:6 – 11:19

    God has cancelled the conclusion of the series of seven seals, and initiates a second series of interventions in order to give humanity more time to repent. The trumpets sound the warning of God’s impending judgement on human sin. But four natural disasters that begin the series are God’s strictly limited interim judgements. 21st Century humanity is accustomed to taking offence that God might intervene and end human life in such a way, but this is precisely the idolatry that John is exposing. Every human being will die, so the issue is not the timing or nature of our deaths but the far more serious issue of the judgement passed on our lives after we have died. It is the mercy of God that he intervenes to bring this forcibly to our attention. Following the structural pattern of the seal series, John again pauses the trumpet sequence to give a detailed description of a vital subject: chapter nine is a study of the nature of evil and the demonic forces that fallen humanity permits to drive human sin. But as with the earlier series, so the trumpet series ends with a remnant of humanity that still refuses to repent. It is for the salvation of these that God’s special call comes to the Church in chapters 10 and 11.

     

    The natural plagues (8:6-13)

    The first four trumpets initiate four ‘natural calamities’ on the earth, the salt water, the fresh water and the sky. As such, John is reminding the little congregations around Ephesus that face persecution of the ‘natural plagues’ that God sent to prepare both the Egyptians and the Israelites for his great intervention in the opening of the Red Sea and the final deliverance of his people. After teaching his disciples about the signs of the end of the age, Jesus told them ‘When you see these things begin to take place, stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near’ (Luke 21:28).

     

    The first woe: the fallen star (9:1-11)

    In 1:20 John stated that in his apocalyptic imagery a star (an angel) is the heavenly representative of a human earthly community. In this section he now studies the behaviour and effect of a fallen star, that is, a human community that is in defiant rebellion against God. An extreme example of this would be a philosophy like Nazism (a pagan philosophy which promotes racism); throughout history there have been numerous philosophies, creeds, movements and ideals across all spectrums of humanity that have established themselves in order to defy God. The ‘fallen star’ taps into the ‘Abyss’, the reservoir of human evil which is fed from the streams of human sin. God has not created the reservoir of evil, it is the collected outcome of the sinful heart of humanity (described by Jesus in Mark 7:21-23), and represented by the crystal sea before the throne (4:6). John employs all the literary horror he can to depict the locusts as agents of evil, but his point is that the locusts have human features: ‘human faces… women’s hair’ (v7-8), and grasping at a perverted form of kingship with their crowns (v7). John is describing the horrible effects of evil directed by one human being against each other, as described by Jesus at the end of the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:32f) and warned of by Jesus in Matthew 5:25-26, 30. John describes the appalling results when such power is accessed, but as horrific as the description is, his point throughout is that even in such defiant rebellion against him, God actually limits the effects of evil. Twice he states that the locust can sting but it does not kill, and the period of torment is strictly limited to five months (v5, 10); those who suffer may want death but they will not find it. Finally, we are told that the heavenly representative of the Abyss is called ‘destroyer’, which mirrors exactly Paul’s teaching that ‘the one who sows to please the sinful nature, will from that nature reap destruction’ (Galatians 6:8). John is stating through his apocalyptic literary images that when men and women choose to follow their sinful nature into corporate sin then God will not shield them from the results of that sin, but he will nevertheless limit the effects of that sin. Once again, even in the place of judgement God ensures that rebellious humanity has time and space to repent.

    V4   It is those who are called to die confessing their faithful love for Christ who are temporarily protected from the effects of this evil.

     

    The second woe (9:12-21)

    In the first woe, John described the nature, activity and effects of human evil; he now studies the spiritual evil behind it. Caird’s comments are an especially helpful introduction: “human sin, once committed, tends to propagate itself as an evil spirit, becoming embedded in the individual character and insinuating itself into the fabric of society, expressing itself in false beliefs, corrupt morals, social evils and political injustice.” It is the nature of the demonic to work destruction into the lives of those who give them worship, just as the alcoholic or drug addict is destroyed by giving alcohol or drugs the dominating place in their lives. They love and give their lives to the very thing that then destroys them (v19). There are reports of ISIS so glorifying pursuing martyrdom in the pursuit of the perfect Islamic state that even they turn on those who have left their other countries to join their fight. John takes the image of the Parthian threat on the North-Eastern border of the Roman Empire, and drawing on Ezekiel’s prophesies about Gog (Ezekiel 38-39), paints a horrific illustration of demonic activity. The hordes beyond that border are limitless. In the fight against the Dragon (their horses have snake tails like his), there is no gradual reduction of his forces, because as with the locusts from the Abyss, their supplies are fed from the source of evil in the human heart. But even their horror is, like the locusts (v10), strictly limited by God – they are permitted to kill, yes, but only a third of humanity. Despite this, there are some who stubbornly ‘still did not repent’ (v20). Even after receiving the full brunt of the demonic tyranny behind human sin, ‘they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts’ (v20-21). Before the seventh trumpet can be sounded, God will now call the church to fulfil its unique role in bringing these hardest hearts to repentance.

     

    The little scroll (10:1-11)

    Every feature of this section points towards and prepares us for the message of chapter 11 where part of the Church is commissioned for martyrdom. The ‘mighty angel’ (v1) that bears this commission appears with the features of God: the rainbow, the cloud, his face, legs and head (1:13-16, 4:2-3) all show that he comes bearing a message from God the Father himself. He stands on earth and sea indicating that his message is of universal importance. This is further endorsed by the cancelling of the series of seven ‘thunders’, which first tells us that God will not allow humanity to endlessly create further means of its own destruction, but second, shows that God will now pursue a deeper strategy to bring the hardest human hearts to repentance. The importance of this commission is emphasised by the announcement that ‘there will be no more delay!’ (v6). Verse 7 is composed of important symbolism: the ‘mystery of God’, which will be described apocalyptically in chapter 11, is that God’s deepest tool to bring the hardest opposition to their knees is the faithful witness of those slain for their love of Christ. In John’s language, to prophesy is to die like the Lamb died. Just as the Lamb took the scroll from the hand of the one at the centre of the throne, so John (representing the church) takes the little scroll bearing the purposes of God for the church from the hand of God’s representative angel. Then just as was the case with Ezekiel’s commissioning (Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:3), John is commissioned a second time to ‘prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and tongues’ (v11). The call to martyrdom is a call to millions.

    V9-10   It is most significant that John describes this recommissioning in terms of the commissioning of Ezekiel, because this man (and most importantly his wife) were the only prophetic people to actually participate in a prophetic event foretelling the atoning death of Christ (study the BfL notes on the death of Ezekiel’s wife in Ezekiel 24 and the turning point this is in the book of Ezekiel). In the entire Old Testament, God allowed one and only one incident where one of his servants actually died as a prophetic sign of the future atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. John draws on this specific story to prepare the Church for the message of chapter 11.

     

    The two witnesses (11:1-19)

    Not only does the Trumpet series culminate in this section, but in an important sense the Seal series does also, as the martyrdom of the two witnesses results in the repentance of those most stubborn towards God. The seventh trumpet then sounds the victory of Christ’s Kingdom. Nevertheless, the enigmatic descriptions of this chapter have sadly led undisciplined literary students to the wildest of confusions. From the beginning of ‘Revelation’ John has been carefully preparing the reader for the message of this chapter, which is that through the faithful witness of disciples in severe persecution, even to the point of being killed for their faith, the hardest of hearts are brought to repentance.

     

    The death of the two witnesses (11:1-14)

    John employs a whole number of Old Testament motifs in order to demonstrate that part of the Church is called to martyrdom. The gentile court of the Temple is the place of witness to the nations, and its trampling indicates that the nations are allowed freedom to do their worst: to kill the believers. They are killed by the Beast that arises from the Abyss, which John will explain in chapter 13 to be totalitarian government that demands complete obedience and cannot tolerate the confession “Jesus is Lord”. Nevertheless, the result is that those previously loyal to the Beast are brought through the testimony to repentance. So, faithful disciples follow Jesus into his suffering and death and thereby partner with the Father in his work of saving humanity. A prominent recent example of martyrdom is the murder of the 21 Egyptian Christians by ‘Jihadi John’ on the shores of Libya in 2015. These men were killed because they were Christians; they did not fight their captors, and they were faithful and unwavering in their loyal testimony to Jesus. The event was videoed and widely distributed on YouTube, and the world watched.

    V1   To measure is to examine and protect.

    V4   John has specifically told us that the lampstands are the churches (1:20). So the two lampstands represent that part of the universal Church which is called to faithful martyrdom. Two of the seven churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, were described as facing persecution, but John has been re-commissioned to prophesy to the world (10:11) and he has the universal Church in view.

    V5   The fire from their mouths is their faithful testimony to Jesus in the face of martyrdom.

    V6   These men and women are both protected and given complete freedom in order that they might be faithful in their prophesying. Within the New Covenant, they stand in the stature of Moses and Elijah.

    V13   As they witness the confession of the martyrs, the hardest hearts are terrified and they ‘gave glory to the God of heaven’, that is, they finally repent.

     

    The seventh trumpet (11:15-19)

    The Trumpet series ends with the declaration that ‘the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord’ (v15). John ends this series with the victory of Christ, which he will describe more fully in chapter 19. John has made two points during the Trumpet series: first, where retributive punishment has failed to bring sinners to repentance, the faithful death of the martyrs succeeds; second, throughout the series of punishments, God has intervened to limit the effects of retribution.

    V18   In John’s apocalyptic thought, to be a martyr is to prophesy.

    V19   The trumpets accompanied the ark of the Old Covenant, so here at the culmination of the Trumpet series the ark is seen accompanied with the divine features witnessed at Sinai.

     

    Vision 3   The Dragon, the Beasts and the Harvest   Chapters 12 – 14

    As the church faithfully witnesses to Jesus as Lord, even to the point of martyrdom (chapter 11), so the identity, character and activity of the spiritual enemy of the Church is exposed (chapters 12-13).

     

    The Woman and the Dragon (Chapter 12)

    This chapter describes the war that the devil wages on God’s people. The devil is named as Satan and described as the Dragon. He gains the allegiance of a third of the stars, the angels representing human communities; but it is only a third! John has already described (in chapter 9) the destructive evil of these communities that are in open rebellion to God, and the demonic powers they allow to drive them. While it appears that the Woman could be Jesus’ mother Mary, this analogy breaks down after v13 and a more consistent and convincing explanation is reached once we understand the Woman to be representing God’s people on earth. This explains the otherwise “embarrassing” description of the labour pains (v2). This chapter describes the devil waging war on God’s people, being enraged by them and attempting to slander and corrupt them, but throughout God protects the Church from these assaults.

    V6   1260 is 42 x 30, which is 42 months of 30 days; So John is telling us that the period of time during which God protects the Church is exactly commensurate with the period of time that the Gentiles trample the outer court of the Temple (11:2), which is exactly the period of time that the faithful believers are protected from all harm in order that they will be completely free to faithfully witness to Jesus and die as martyrs!

    V7-9   John does not describe the battle between Christ and Satan, he only gives the picture of the ‘war map’ in the ‘War Office’. On this map, Michael represents the forces of heaven, and the Dragon the forces of the devil. We are merely told that the Dragon is weaker and he and his angels (stars) lose their right to stand in heaven.

    V11   This verse, which is at the very centre of the book of Revelation, is also the book’s leading statement. Believers overcome ‘the devil and all his works’ through our faithful allegiance to ‘Jesus as Lord’ even to the point where our lives are forcefully taken from us.

    V14   The eagle is the symbolic picture of the hands of God lifting and protecting the people of God. Moses stated at Sinai that God had carried his people out of Egypt ‘on eagles’ wings‘(Exodus 19:4). The ‘time, times and half a time’ probably refers to the 42 months, so John is again expressing the protection for God’s people to prophesy through their faithful witness (see the comments on v6).

    V15   The devil is the accuser of the brethren, and here is a picture of not only the incessant stream of criticism of the Church of God by the world, but also the heresy, slander and false teaching by which the devil tries to impair and weaken God’s people, the community of believers in Jesus.

     

     

    The unholy trinity (Chapter 13)

    Just as the Dragon is a parody of God the Father, so the Beast from the sea is a parody of Christ, and the False Prophet a parody of the Holy Spirit.

     

    The Beast from the sea (13:1-10)

    The Beast comes up out of the Abyss, the primordial chaos of evil, as represented in heaven by the crystal sea before the throne (4:6).  He has the features of a false Messiah – the very features of the Dragon: seven heads, ten horns but the names are blasphemous because they claim sovereign authority which only the Lamb is worthy to claim (5:9-14). Just as the Father gave authority to the Son, so the Dragon gives great authority to the Beast. The Beast parodies Christ’s death and resurrection with a fatal wound that had been healed (v3), and through this wins the allegiance of all humanity that is not already in allegiance to Christ (who have his mark on their foreheads). The Beast represents not only all totalitarian government, but also all totalitarian ideology, philosophy and thinking: indeed, every absolute system of control over humanity that is not rooted in Christ. John draws on the teaching of Daniel 7 where the fourth beast is allowed to make war on the ‘holy people of the Most High’ and overcome them (7:21-22), but through their very defeat he is defeated. Just as Satan’s scheming through Judas, the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman governor Pilate brought about the death of Jesus (but through that very death Satan was himself publicly exposed and defeated), so once again John makes the point that through the 42 months when he ‘makes war on the saints and conquers them’ (v7), the Beast is defeated. Once again, John reminds disciples that this will involve the hard road of ‘patient endurance’ (v10) for many years.

     

    The False Prophet (the second beast) (13:11-18)

    As a parody of The Holy Spirit, the False Prophet (the beast from the earth) represents every false religion. In everything he does, the False Prophet points humanity to the Beast just as the Holy Spirit points humanity to Christ. He looks like a lamb, but his voice is the frightening voice of a dragon. He makes men and women worship the Beast who has the fatal wound that was healed. He does miracles, even the miracle of Elijah bringing down fire from heaven, in order to deceive humanity so it worships the image of the Beast. He works to establish a totalitarian system that controls all humanity to swear complete allegiance to the Beast, the false Messiah. He therefore represents every attempt to control humanity and bind it to any and every system of faith that does not state as its central axiom that ‘Jesus is Lord and God’.

     

    The eternal gospel and the harvesting of the earth (14:1-20)

    As arguably the most curious part of the book of Revelation, this chapter seems to describe the outcome of the activities of the unholy trinity: the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet. First the community of martyrs (John has focused at length on these in chapter 7) is described again (v1-5). Then follow two interwoven streams of thought. First, the success of the gospel message (v6-7) and the ‘harvesting’ of multitudes for God (v13 and 14-16), but second, there is a stream of teaching about the suffering and horrors endured by those in allegiance with Satan (v8-12 and v17-20).

    V3   The song known only to the martyrs is the experience of their persecution, suffering, faithful testimony and death.

    V4   John is not having a sudden lapse into the nastiest form of puritanical pharisaism, and those who interpret this verse in this way find themselves having to explain several contradictions; are we really to understand that all the martyrs must be male?! No, John is once again straining language to its limit and trying to shock us into the horror of the sin of idolatry (which in scripture is interchangeable with the sin of adultery). The idea of their ‘virginity’ relates to the fact that the martyrs’ testimony was without fault: ‘no lie was found in their mouths’ (v5).

    V10   A person who has publicly rejected the gospel of the Kingdom is tormented every time the power of the Kingdom is manifested.

    Vision 4   The Seven Plagues   Chapters 15:1 – 19:10

    The seven plagues are modelled on the Exodus plagues that built up to the crescendo of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Unlike the two series of the Seals and the Trumpets, this series proceeds without interruption. The plague bowls are the ‘wrath of God’ (15:7) which we should probably understand as the inherent results of choosing evil. Romans 1 states that the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and proceeds with three phases of the descriptions of God giving humanity over to the effects of their choices to pursue evil through idolatry, immorality and hatred.

     

    The preparation (Chapter 15)

    The martyrs, who are the conquerors and who have been described in 14:1-5 as being victorious over Dragon and the unholy trinity, are described again having come through the ordeal of evil: ‘victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name’ (v2).  Evil is represented once again as the sea before the throne (4:6). They sing ‘the song of Moses’ (v3), the song of victory that Moses sang with the people of Israel after their deliverance through the Red Sea and the defeat of Pharaoh’s forces (Exodus 15). The effects of the two previous series were very strictly limited by God to a quarter in the case of the Seals (6:8), and a third in the case of the Trumpets (8:7,8,11,12), but there is no limitation now. The plagues are allowed to exert their full effect to bring unrepentant humanity to repentance. This extreme seriousness is pictorially described by John through the image of the smoke-filled temple, something that happened only very occasionally in Israelite history and only on occasions of the most serious divine intervention. God is taking the most serious steps and extreme measures in order to bring humankind to repentance.

     

    The plagues of God’s wrath (Chapter 16)

    This sequence of seven divine judgements proceeds without any interruption. The plagues bear a close resemblance to the plagues brought by God on Pharaoh and are as such a prelude to the final deliverance of God’s people. Fierce heat both melts metal and hardens pottery, so the three mentions of ‘cursing’ in this chapter, (v9,11 and 21) demonstrates that, like Pharaoh, these men’s hearts are decidedly hardened against God: they ‘refuse to repent’ (v9,11). Their loyalty to the Beast is such that they will follow him to the great battle against God (v16) and into the second death (20:14). The result of this series is therefore 1) to harden the hearts of those already committed to resisting God, 2) to provoke the forces of evil to launch their major assault on God, and 3) to smash and destroy the citadel of evil.

    V14   These spirits are the deceiving prophets (Matthew 24:24).

    V15   The very surprise of finding this verse here is evidence and proof of its meaning. This direct reference to the warning to Sardis (3:3), which twice in its history had been overcome by stealth, is built on Jesus’ saying in Luke 12:40.

     

     

    The destruction of Babylon (17:1 – 19:10)

    John’s series of sevens (seals, trumpets and bowls) describe overviews of the divine judgement, but his unnumbered visions are more detailed descriptions.

    The description of the Prostitute in chapter 17 and the lament of her destruction in chapter 18 is a detailed study of the fall of Babylon mentioned in 16:19.

     

    The Prostitute (17:1-6)

    The Prostitute is the apocalyptic image of the systems of humanity that seduce humanity from the worship of God. Her key characteristic is immorality, and throughout scripture ‘immorality’ is a euphemism for idolatry. She also persecutes those who refuse to participate in her ‘idolatry’.

    V3   John is taken into the desert because it is only in a place of such severe austerity that he will be able to see and understand the horrible power of seduction that ‘Babylon’ exerts on those in her path.

    V4   The seductions of the whore are ‘the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life’ (1 John 2:15-16).

    V6   John is warning the Church that many believers will be put to death for not complying with the rules about idolatry.

     

    Rome, the seducer (17:7-18)

    John has used several different titles to describe the power of evil to seduce humanity from the worship of, love for and obedience to God; the Prostitute, Babylon, the Beast, but in this detailed description he identifies Rome, the capital city of the empire, as the most recent incarnation of this apocalyptic evil. V9 and v18 state this explicitly, because Rome not only had seven hills within her city walls, but this fact was celebrated annually each December. In deliberately applying apocalyptic imagery, John is stating that Rome is only the most recent manifestation of this evil: there have been many before, and there will be many more after Rome has long since fallen.

    V8   The three tenses describing the Beast indicate (once again) that the Beast is essentially a parody of Christ (1:8), but the little phrase ‘now is not’ should be understood to mean that at the time John was writing there was no active campaign of persecution operating against the Church.

    V14   The Prostitute persecutes those who will not yield to her seductions and give her their loyalty.

    V16-17   Evil is inherently self-destructive.

     

    The lament of heaven (18:1-8)

    The great angel (once again signifying the perspective of God himself) declares that Babylon is now the place of demons that is everything outside the purposes of God. But for the first time we are told in verse 3 that the adultery of the nations was their complete involvement in and dependency on the economic riches Babylon provided. In the specific warning of Jesus in the centre of the Sermon on the Mount, the nations of the world have chosen the love of money, not the love of God (Matthew 6:19-23).

    V4   Even at this late stage, God still issues the call to unrepentant humanity to turn to him.

    V6   God only has the right to avenge for sin because he and he alone is knows all the facts and intentions of the heart (1 Corinthians 4:5). The essence of judgement is the simple principle of ‘an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth’ (Exodus 21:24), but the punishment is simply the very result that the disobedience itself brings (Romans 1): if I tell a lie then I suffer the results of telling a lie – I am known by everyone as a liar.

     

     

    The lament of earth (18:9–20)

    In one of the most extraordinary sections of ‘Revelation’, John joins in and is caught up in the lament of the fall of Babylon. He joins the governments and businesses of the world in lamenting over the city because it is the personification of all the brilliance and wonder and glorious luxury of the earth that humankind has chosen to make its complete satisfaction: ‘I sit as a queen, … I will never mourn’  (v7). This is the idolatry that John warns us about, but which he is himself caught up in through this ‘endless’ lamentation.

    V10   The ‘one hour’, which comes three times in this section (v10,17,19), is John’s continued reminder that the persecution of the faithful believers (16:12-14) is also the very means of the destruction of the Prostitute. The city’s power to deceive and beguile is smashed every time it inflicts persecution, suffering and martyrdom on those whose love for Jesus is faithful even unto death: as Tertullian’s famous saying goes, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’

    V11-13   John is drawing on the descriptions in Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 27.

     

     

    The destruction of Babylon (18:20-24)

    This is the third ‘mighty angel’ (v21) in ‘Revelation’, and each one comes from the throne and therefore indicates a direct action by God himself. The angel declares the complete destruction of Babylon, using the refrain; ‘… will never be heard in you again’ (v21-23). The very features celebrated in the lament of the earth are now declared to be the means with which Babylon held humanity in the grip of its idolatrous spell. In other words, humanity loved the world more than God. John ends the description by once again reminding disciples that for some of them, faithfulness to Christ will lead directly to the loss of their lives (v24).

    V24   A direct reference to 17:6.

     

     

    The victory cry of heaven (19:1-8)

    Just as the mighty angel in 19:1 foretold the final destruction of Babylon, so this section describes the worship of heaven in anticipation of this coming destruction. Whereas the worship of heaven in chapters 4 and 5 began with the throne and circled out to all Creation, here the direction is reversed and the great multitude begin the worship which then progresses back to the throne itself.

    V2   Heaven celebrates that, at last, the martyrs of 6:9-10 are fully vindicated.

    V3   The smoke is the eternal evidence that the enemies of God have been annihilated.

     

    The multitude worship God (19:6-8)

    The bride is the community of faithful believers, their ‘righteous acts’ (v8) are their testimonies of loyalty to Christ even in the face of martyrdom. Such love is purity before Christ.

     

    John’s idolatry (19:9-10)

    Throughout the laments of heaven and earth in chapter 18, John has strained every Old Testament literary reference to drive home the truth that Creation itself is truly and gloriously wonderful and appealing: it is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31).  However, nothing could make the point more strongly than this reference in verses 9-10 to his own idolatry. He worships the angel – the representative of the earthly creation – not the creator! He is immediately rebuked. John is warning disciples of the titanic power of our own desires (James 1:14) to turn us from the God we love, even after we have been caught up in the worship of the Lamb and have ‘cast our crowns before him lost in wonder love and praise’ (Charles Wesley). Study the very last verse of Psalm 119 for a similar example.

     

    Vision 5   Christ dismisses evil; the final judgement   19:11 – 20:15

    With the final destruction of Babylon foretold, John now turns his prophecy to describing the reign of Christ and his dismissal of evil.

     

    Christ’s defeat of Satan (19:11-21)

    Although military imagery is used here, everything up to this point in ‘Revelation’ has taught us that the iron sceptre by which Christ rules the nations is his own death on the cross. Christ rules from the cross, his robe dipped in blood (before the battle, indicating that the blood is the blood of his faithful followers), and the name that only he knows is his own personal experience of suffering and death. It is through the mercy of God that we are brought to repentance. The sharp sword by which he strikes down the nations is the message of the gospel of his victorious atonement. It is the cross that is the sign of discipleship (Mark 8:34). The battle between Christ and Satan is not described, we are merely informed that the leaders of the armies of evil were captured and ‘thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur’ (v20).For those men and women whose devotion to and deception by Satan’s leaders has led them to join them in the lake, this will mean annihilation, but for the beast and false prophet it is eternal torment.

    V11   Heaven opened describes 20-20 vision. This is the open, true spiritual reality. The rider is identified with Christ’s title in the letter to Laodicea (3:14).

    V12   The many crowns stand in superior contrast to the seven crowns of the dragon.

     

    The millenium (20:1-10)

    We should approach this section with caution, as these ten verses have been used to justify numerous conspiracy theories. Our first observation must be that despite teaching at length about the end times preceding his return, neither Jesus nor Paul make one single unambiguous reference to a thousand-year period of millennial reign prior to Jesus’ arrival. Second, our carefully disciplined study and interpretation of apocryphal literature has repeatedly emphasised and demonstrated the symbolic meaning of the numbers. The term ‘a thousand years’ occurs four times here, similar to John’s repeated used of the term ‘one hour’ and the parallel use of the numbers 42 months and the corresponding 1260 days, (42 x 30 = 1260; a month being understood to have the symbolic 30 days). John’s repeated point throughout ‘Revelation’ is that the martyrdom of the faithful is in itself the binding of Satan, and we see John making this point again clearly in this passage as soon as we notice that the binding of Satan from deceiving the nations in verse 3 is commensurate with the reigning of the martyrs in verse 4. The verdict of their execution passed by the earthly court is reversed in the heavenly court by those ‘who had been given authority to judge’ (v4).

    V7   John is warning us of the deceitfulness of evil. It is the testimony of all disciples who have genuinely wrestled with evil and overcome temptation that no sooner does one relax after apparently securing victory than one finds oneself to have fallen victim to the temptation all over again.  1 Corinthians 10:13 states this explicitly.

    V10   The devil is a deceiver, a liar from the beginning.

     

    The great white throne and the judgement (20:11-15)

    John’s first description of the throne of God (chapter 4) was full of activity and a multitude of creatures, but now in the open heaven of 19:11 there are no intermediaries, only the extreme moral authority of God, with simply no place for anything remotely compromised. John has already told us that a man’s name can be removed from the book of life (3:5), and he refuses to allow any thought of universal salvation for all humanity. Nevertheless, God remembers what he chooses to remember, and he forgets what he chooses to forget. The first books are the record of what a person has done, but the book of life records the names of men and women written from the Creation of the world (17:8).  The final judgement is indeed a judgement by a judge who alone knows ‘the motives of men’s hearts’ (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

    V11   The old earth is the place where humanity idolises Creation, and the old heaven is its representation before God which includes the sea of crystal out of which arises the Beast. But there is no place for such compromise in the new heaven and earth.

    V14   The lake of fire is the place of torment for the devil and his angels.  For any human whose devoted loyalty to Satan leads him to join the devil in this fire it will mean final and compete annihilation. In the Seals series, Death and Hades were unleashed on the earth (6:8) and temporarily permitted to be tools of God’s mercy and grace, in that their very presence and activity warned humanity to turn to God.  Now in this open heaven, they have no purpose or place, and so they are themselves irrevocably destroyed.

     

    Chapter 21 – 22    The new heaven

    At the final judgement described in 20:10-15, the first earth and the first heaven were removed (‘fled away’), along with every hint of existence in contradiction to the pure character of God. In their place only the new earth and heaven exist, and John’s final task is to hear the words of Christ (through his angel) describing this existence. The description is given through the use of two leading Old Testament images: the Holy of Holies in the Temple (21:9-27), and the garden in Eden (22:1-6). Then there is a final ‘Epilogue’ (21:7-21)

     

    The Holy City (21:1-27)

    John begins his description of the new heaven by describing the new Jerusalem from two perspectives: first, it is the place where God dwells (v3), but second, he lists seven features of what is not there: the ‘sea’ (v1) – the heavenly representation of the Abyss from which the Beast arose, ‘death…mourning…crying or pain’ (v4),  ‘night’ (v25) and the ‘curse’ (22:3), ‘for the old order of things has passed away’ (v4). In v5, God the Father speaks for the first time: ‘I am making all things new’. The Holy City is the heavenly Jerusalem, the bride, and its permanent feature is to be coming down out of heaven from God every time the believers faithfully testify to Christ, even to the point of losing their own lives for such witness. There is no need for a temple in the city because God is perfectly present in every part of it. Similarly, there is no need for light, because God’s very presence is its light, which John describes as ‘Jasper’ (v11), like the very figure on God’s throne (4:3). Once again, the literalist interpreter encounters awkward difficulties when trying to paint a picture of the city using the descriptions John uses. This is because John’s intention is not to give an architect’s plan, but to use Old Testament imagery to describe the spiritual features of new heaven. He is describing the titanic victory of the cross which results in even ‘the kings of the earth’ (v24), those who once were allowed to trample the Holy City (11:2), now coming to bring honour to Christ.

    V6   A very great promise for all who desire God (John 4:10).

    V8   At first sight it seems surprising that John should mention ‘cowardice’ first, but this is because throughout he has in mind the moment of testing that every ‘ordinary believer’ in the churches around Ephesus will face as soon as the darkening clouds of persecution break on them. Once again, he forces them to face the issue and resolve now to be faithful in their witness then! But those immersed in these anti-God practices will be annihilated in the second death.

     

    The river of life (22:1-6)

    John uses the river in the garden of Eden as the leading image of his final description of the new heaven. Building on the image of the ‘healing’ trees in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 47:7-13), the curse uttered in the garden of Eden is changed through Christ’s atoning sacrifice into a ‘blessing’ in the heavenly city.

    V5   Those whose love for Christ so marks their characters that ‘his name’ is on their ‘foreheads’ (v4), ‘will reign’ with him ‘for ever and ever’ (v5), a truth often taught in the New Testament, perhaps most clearly in Romans 5:17.

     

    22:7 – 21   Epilogue

    John’s final epilogue should be read alongside the prologue (1:1-8) and John’s encounter with Christ (1:9-20), because of the direct parallels and cross references between the two: John’s authorship (1:9, 22:8), the repeated emphasis that the persecution will happen soon (1:1,3 and 22:10), Christ’s titles (1:8,17 and 22:13), Christ’s angel (1:1, and 22:16).

    V8-9   John records his act of idolatry for a second time (19:10), but this time he not only warns against the perennial temptation to idolatry but, in the context of v5, highlights that the astonishing destiny that God has for humankind is to be ‘fellow‘ with the angels, second only to God himself.

    V11 and 15   John is not stating that those who practice these activities are somehow still alive somewhere in a distant place outside the Holy City, for he is describing the new heaven and earth where there is simply no evil in existence. He is stating, from the perspective of being outside time, that those eternally committed to sin are ‘outside’, long ago annihilated in the second death.

     

    Chapters 2-3 >
      The Apprentice - Helping apprentices of Jesus think through the applications
    • Overall Message
    • /
    • Imperatives in the different sections
    • /
    • Applications
    • /
    • Holy Habits

    The overall message of ‘Revelation’:

     

    John writes ‘Revelation’ in order to encourage the universal Church to understand that the victory of Christ over all evil will be established here on earth as the Church faithfully witnesses to Jesus as Lord and God, even to the point of being martyred if necessary.

    1:1-8   Prologue

    Leading Imperative:

    1:3  Read, hear and take this prophecy to heart.

     

     

    1:9 – 3:22   The revealing of Christ’s reign on earth

     

    John’s encounter with Christ (1:9-1:20)

    Leading Imperative:

    1:17  Do not be afraid.

     

    Implied Imperative:

    1:9  The call to suffer with patient endurance.

      

    Christ’s letters to the Seven Churches (2:1 – 3:22)

    Leading Imperatives:

    2:4-5  Do not forsake your first love…repent and do the things you did at first.

    2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22  Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

    2:10  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.

    2:10  Be faithful, even to the point of death…

    2:16, 20-25  Repent! (Turn from compromising.)

    3:2  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die…

    3:3  Remember … what you have received and heard: obey it, and repent.

    3:11  Hold onto what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

    3:19  … so be earnest and repent.

     

    Implied Imperatives:

    2:2  Jesus wants us to work hard (at ministry) and persevere: we are not to tolerate the wicked, and we should ‘test’ and discern the spiritual validity of Christian ministers.

    2:3  We should endure hardships.

    2:7, 11, 17, 3:5, 12, 21  Jesus wants us to ‘overcome’.

    2:13  We should be faithful to Christ even in the face of martyrdom.

    2:14  We must not compromise our loyalty to Christ as Lord (including idolatry and immorality).

    3:18  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich …

    3:20  …If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

     

     

    4:1 – 22:6   The revealing of Christ’s reign in heaven

     

    The Lamb is declared worthy to govern (4:1 – 5:14)

    Implied Imperatives:

    4:11  We should worship God for his gift of Creation,

    5:9  We should worship ‘the Lamb’ for his work of redemption.

     

     

    Five visions of Christ overthrowing evil (6:1 – 20:15)

     

    Vision 1   The Seven Seals   6:1 – 8:6

    Leading Imperative:

    6:11  …wait a little longer…

    Implied Imperative:

    7:14  To faithfully witness to Christ and, if necessary, follow him into a death like his (1 Timothy 6:13).

     

     

    Vision 2   The Seven Trumpets   8:7 – 11:19

    Implied Imperatives:

    10:8  Accept the divine commission to faithfully witness to Christ.

    11:6  To prophesy, that is, to witness faithfully to Christ.

     

     

    Vision 3   The Dragon, the Beasts and the Harvest   12:1 – 14:20

    Leading Imperatives:

    13:9  Whoever has ears, let them hear.

    13:10  This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

    14:7  Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.

    14:12  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints….

    Implied Imperatives:

    12:11  Faithful testimony to Christ even to the point of martyrdom.

    13:18  A call to be wise and discerning about what is happening.

    14:9-11  If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on their forehead or on the hand he, too, will drink the wine of his fury …

     

     

    Vision 4   The Seven Plagues   15:1 – 19:10

    Leading Imperatives:

    18:4  Come out of her (Babylon) my people so you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.

    19:5  Praise our God all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great.

    19:10  Do not do it (worship the angel)! … Worship God!

    Implied Imperatives:

    16:10-11  God is calling all humanity to repent.

    16:15  Stay awake! (Jesus’ repeated command throughout Mark 13.)

    19:7  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory.

     

     

    Vision 5   Christ dismisses evil; the final judgement   19:11 – 20:15

    Implied Imperative:

    20:4  Faithful witness to Christ, even to the point of death, binds Satan.

     

    21:1 – 22:6   The new heaven

    No commands or exhortations are given in this section because we are all living in perfect union with Christ.

     

    22:7 – 21   Epilogue

    Leading Imperatives:

    22:10  Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.

    22:17  Come, … whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life.

    22:18-19  I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

     

    Applications:

     

    • The central theme of the book is the revelation of God in Jesus, the honouring of his name, the salvation that he has won for his followers and his victory over sin, evil, the world and the devil, which he shares with his faithful followers. So, the followers of Christ the lamb are to re-enact and live the victory of Christ by following him; by enduring through tribulation, they also reign in the Kingdom of the Messiah. In the same way that Christ reigned from the cross as he died, so his followers reign through enduring suffering, and their own martyrdom.

     

    • The leading application of Revelation is to remain faithful to Christ and endure discrimination and persecution, and not to compromise: ‘This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints’ (13:10, also 1:9, 14:12, 3:10).

     

    • Specific commands to the (compromising) churches:
      • Repent and do the ‘things you did at first’ (2:5).
      • ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer’ (2:10).
      • ‘Repent (from compromising with the Nicolaitans)’ (2:16).
      • ‘Only hold on to what you have’ (2:25).
      • ‘Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, …Remember therefore what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent’ (3:2-3).
      • ‘Hold on to what you have’ (3:11).
      • ‘So be earnest and repent’ (3:19).

     

    • Resist the pressure to conform to pagan compromise and faithfully persevere in loyalty to Jesus Christ our Lord and God.

     

     

    Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives.  These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)

     

    So as a result of our engagement with ‘Revelation’, an appropriate Holy Habit for apprentices of Jesus will be to find and live a pattern or lifestyle habit that brings the growth of endurance, perseverance, patience, loyal witness and faithfulness in our lives.

     

    There is a sense in which it is not so much an individual activity, but the very practice of it, that cultivates these characteristics. Apprentices of the Kingdom life will continue to practice the life-skills of the Kingdom because of their love for Christ and because of the extraordinary life of the Spirit that comes so powerfully when these spiritual life habits are practiced. We pray because we encounter the life of the Spirit when we pray, and the same is true for fasting, and all other spiritual disciplines. We endure because we love him, and we love him in response to his atoning work, and because he has forgiven our sins and given us his Spirit.

     

    Imperatives in the different sections >
    main Questions - Important questions directly from the text

    Question 1 -

    Should we expect to see a huge dragon with seven heads in Bournemouth, New York, Harare, Mecca or Beijing (Rev 12:3)? What should we expect to see?


    Question 2 -

    What is the compromise that the Nicolaitans are teaching (Rev 2:6, 3:15, 3:20) which John is so adamantly and emphatically opposing?


    Question 3 -

    Jesus deliberately sacrificed his life and died for the salvation-purposes of God for the world (Revelation 5:9-14). Suicide bombers deliberately sacrifice their lives and die for what they consider to be God’s salvation purposes for the world. Should Jesus’ disciples be suicide bombers? Why/ why not (Rev 12:11)?


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    Question 4 -

    When will the great earthquake happen (Rev 6:12, 11:13, 16:18)?


    Question 5 -

    What exactly is going to happen between now and the end of the world, and what will be the signs that Jesus is about to return?


    dessert course

    A prayer

    Sermon Series

    Commentaries

    Questions

    • A prayer -

    A prayer based on ‘Revelation’

     

    O Lord, give grace to your Church throughout the world, that through patient endurance we may faithfully testify to your Lordship even to the point of death, so that your Kingdom is established throughout the world for your glory. Amen.

     

    Commentary on the prayer:

    O Lord, give grace (1:4) to your Church throughout the world, that through patient endurance (1:9, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12) we may faithfully testify to your Lordship even to the point of death (12:11), so that your Kingdom is established throughout the world (11:15) for your glory (5:12). Amen.

     

      Sermon Series - Ideas for a Sermon Series

    Sermon Series on Revelation

     

    Series Title:   The Revelation of Christ and his Victory

     

    Strategy for preaching through Revelation:

    • With 22 chapters, the book of Revelation is almost certainly too long for most churches to engage in a systematic, chapter by chapter study.

     

    • A more helpful systematic approach could be to preach ‘sectionally’, along these lines …

     

    Text Title Theme
    Chapter 1 Apocalypse, letter and prophecy’ Introduce the author (context, situation). Explain the literary genres. Comment on the titles and divine attributes of Christ, and the importance of properly understanding the apocalyptic images in v20.
    Chapters 2 – 3 ‘The seven churches’ Explain the structure of the seven letters and the features of each church, the warnings and the encouragements. Highlight the example of Antipas, and the principle of what it means to be an ‘overcomer’.
    Chapters 4 – 5 ‘The vision of Christ in heaven’ Go through the elements of the vision: God the Creator, Christ the redeemer and the worship of heaven. Highlight the overriding imperative of worshipping God.
    Chapters 6 – 7   ‘The Seals series’   Christ permits evil to remain so as to fulfil his own purposes. Explain the martyrdom of the faithful and the mistaken understanding of ‘the wrath of the lamb’ (6:16).  Chapter 7 describes the faithful believers in heaven, ending with God the Father wiping every tear from their eyes.
    Chapters 8 – 9 

     

    ‘The Trumpet series’ Comment on the natural disasters and the study of evil and the demonic. Still, there is some part of humankind that will not turn in repentance. This is an opportunity to study the nature and power of evil.
    Chapters 10 – 11 ‘The little scroll’ God commissions part of the Church to suffer persecution and martyrdom until finally, the hardest hearts worship God. Explain the principle of martyrdom.
    Chapters 12 – 14 ‘Satan and the harvest of the gospel’ A vision of the work of Satan and his emissaries: the totalitarian power of the state, and the false religion supporting the state. The triumph of the gospel.  The call to ‘patient endurance’.
    Chapters 15-16 ‘The seven bowls’ God’s final disciplinary judgements on rebellious humanity.
    Chapters 17 – 19:10   ‘The fall of Rome’ A study of the power of Rome, and the fall of Rome. The power of idolatry in all its forms and humanity’s deep love of Creation more than the creator.
    Chapters 19:11 – 20:15 ‘Christ’s victory and the final judgement’ Describe Christ’s triumph over evil and all the forces of evil. Explain the operating principle of evil as seen in the millennium, and the final judgement of the devil.
    Chapters 21 – 22 ‘The new heaven’ John uses the images of the Holy of Holies and the River in the Garden of Eden to describe the believers’ future existence with Christ. Our destiny is a relationship with Christ.
     

     

     

     

      Commentaries - Introducing the best commentaries

    Commentaries on ‘Revelation’   

     

    Commentary Comment
    Caird: ‘The Revelation of St John

    Black’s New Testament Commentaries

    To my mind, this is still the most convincing interpretation of Revelation. First, because the material is succinct and accessible, but more importantly because of Caird’s understanding of the spiritual principles and truths that John is communicating through the developing sequence of events.
    Beasley-Murray: ‘Revelation

    New Century Bible Commentary

    This author’s outstanding empirical analysis of the text is both its strength and weakness. His analysis of the types of literature in Revelation is outstanding, but this seems to blind him to the meaning of the symbols, for example, the parallel correspondence of the ‘one hour’ period for the fall of Rome. Nevertheless, and excellent companion for the student.
    Osborne: ‘Revelation

    Baker Exegetical Commentary

    Osborne has produced a solid foundational introduction to Revelation which is accessible and comprehensive. While this book is a helpful companion to the committed student of Revelation, I am cautious of the latent tendency to interpret passages in the light of contemporary events. The misguided ideas of Hal Lindsay seem to lurk below the surface of Osborne’s interpretation.
    English Standard Version Study Bible Some useful foundational material outlining the strategies for engaging with Revelation.

     

     

    dessert Questions - Gloves off; hard questions for the Bible student and theologian

    Question 1 -

    ISIS adopted as part of its ideological core a document entitled 'The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass'. It promotes the necessity of absolute mercilessness and savagery in the creation of a pure Islamic State. The document was also adopted by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. It advocates and sanctions pure terror and ultra-violence. It’s author, Abu Bakr Naji wrote: ‘Despite the blood, corpses and limbs which encompass it and the killing and fighting which its practice entails' jihad is God’s 'greatest mercy to man' and 'slaughter is mercy'. List the contrasts between this document and John’s message in the book of Revelation.


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    Question 2 -

    What does Revelation say to the Norwegian mass killer who in court said he that if he had the chance, he would do the same again, or the state leaders who have committed war crimes, or crimes against humanity such as Gaddafi of Libya or Assad of Syria (Revelation 14:9-11)?


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    Question 3 -

    Should we view those Christians who die fighting for the overthrow of government to be martyrs?


    Waiter's Brief

    Answers to Questions

    Questions

    • Answers to Questions -
    • Answers to Questions
    • /
    • Coaching Questions

    Suggested answers to Questions:

     

     

    Taster Course:

     

    QQQ         

    Have you known anyone who has been murdered? Have you known anyone who was killed specifically because they were a Christian?

     

    QQQ         

    When Corrie Ten Boom (a leading Dutch Christian who housed Jews during World War 2) asked her father how she could survive persecution, he replied that “God will give the strength to endure suffering, in the same way that I give you the ticket for the train just before we go through the ticket barrier”. Have you been bullied or experienced discrimination as a direct result of being a Christian?

     

    QQQ            

    Since 2016 there has been a marked increase in the persecution of Christians by Hindu Nationalists in India. If you had the chance to strengthen them with one verse from the book of Revelation, which verse would you choose?

    Comment:

    1:9, 2:10, 3:8-10, 7:14-17, 11:15, 12:11, 13:10 14:12, 19:14, 21:4, 22:14, 17.

     

    QQQ            

    Mussie Ezaz, a youth worker in Eritrea, and others with him were arrested for being Christians and have been held since 2004 without trial. Their families do not even know if they are alive. Pray for them now.

     

    QQQ            

    What is the worship of heaven like? Close your eyes, listen to this video and mediate on the worship of heaven (5:9-14, 19:1-7).

     

     

    Starter Course:

     

    QQQ         

    My friend Andy Shaw, the pastor of the Vineyard church in Harare, was attacked and killed in 1995 when he was innocently fasting and praying in a public park. Was Andy a martyr?

    Comment:

    In the strictest sense of the word, Andy was not a martyr.

     

    QQQ         

    Our focus is often on the martyrs, but behind every martyr is a network of family and friends who suffer terribly as a direct result. Watch the interview of the woman whose sons had been killed in Egypt. What issues affect those close to the one who is killed?

     

    QQQ         

    In the 20th Century, more Christians were martyred than the sum of all the martyrs in the previous centuries combined. It also witnessed huge growth in the number of Christians worldwide. Revelation teaches that these two events are linked, or, as is often quoted, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’ (Tertullian). What should we expect in the 21st Century? Should we all go and get ourselves martyred?

    Comment:

    The two lampstands in Revelation 11:4 represent that part of the universal Church (1:20) that is called to witness faithfully to Christ, so we should expect that some Christians in the 21st Century will receive the same call. But there is no place in our discipleship for irresponsible witness, such as a reckless desire to get ourselves killed.

     

    QQQ         

    Study the report from Open Doors on the persecution of the Church worldwide. Study the four responses. If you were a Christian living in North Korea today, which response would you choose?

     

    1. Dive and Survive
    2. Register and Submit
    3. Flee and Live
    4. Stay and Die

     

    QQQ

    How should we understand the inspiration for ‘Revelation’? John describes a vision in the Spirit, but the literary artistry of the author is so exceptional that the document appears to be a very carefully constructed literary composition. Is this a contradiction?

    Comment:

    Not at all, it perfectly illustrates the Biblical truth that the divine is embodied in the human.

     

     

     

    Main Course:

     

    QQQ         

    Should we expect to see a huge dragon with seven heads in Bournemouth, New York, Harare, Mecca or Beijing (Rev 12:3)? What should we expect to see?

    Comment:

    No, not within the normal life of human beings in communities throughout the world.  In John’s apocalyptic imagery, the city of Babylon rises to go to destruction and the New Jerusalem comes down as a beautiful bride adorned for her husband every time believers witness faithfully to Christ.

     

    QQQ         

    What is the compromise that the Nicolaitans are teaching (Rev 2:6, 3:15, 3:20) which John is so adamantly and emphatically opposing?

    Comment:

    The reason why the Nicolaitan heresy is so pernicious and dangerous is that in expediently denying that ‘Jesus is Lord and God’, the testimony and witness of these believers is seriously compromised. In contrast, Antipas is the faithful witness (2:13), and the Christians in Smyrna and Philadelphia receive only encouragement from Christ, despite their weakness.

     

    QQQ         

    Jesus deliberately sacrificed his life and died for the salvation-purposes of God for the world (Revelation 5:9-14). Suicide bombers deliberately sacrifice their lives and die for what they consider to be God’s salvation purposes for the world. Should Jesus’ disciples be suicide bombers? Why/ why not (Rev 12:11)?

    Comment:

    Absolutely not! Everything that suicide bombers do is utterly opposed to Christ and his means of winning the world through his own suffering and atonement.

     

     

    QQQ             

    When will the great earthquake happen (Rev 6:12, 11:13, 16:18)?

    Comment:

    Every time a believer is faithful in their loving witness to Christ to the point of being lynched or executed for it, the city of the evil one suffers an earthquake, his deception of humanity is revealed and his true evil nature is exposed.

     

    QQQ

    What exactly is going to happen between now and the end of the world, and what will be the signs that Jesus is about to return?

    Comment:

    The only condition that Jesus gave was that the gospel of the Kingdom must be preached in the whole world before the end will come (Matthew 24:14). Paul described the coming of ‘the man of lawlessness’ before the return of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12).

     

     

     

    Dessert Course:

     

    QQQ

    ISIS adopted as part of its ideological core a document entitled ‘The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma Will Pass‘. It promotes the necessity of absolute mercilessness and savagery in the creation of a pure Islamic State. The document was also adopted by Al-Qaeda in Iraq. It advocates and sanctions pure terror and ultra-violence. It’s author, Abu Bakr Naji wrote: ‘Despite the blood, corpses and limbs which encompass it and the killing and fighting which its practice entails’ jihad is God’s ‘greatest mercy to man’ and ‘slaughter is mercy’. List the contrasts between this document and John’s message in the book of Revelation.

     

    QQQ         

    What does Revelation say to the Norwegian mass killer who in court said he that if he had the chance, he would do the same again, or the state leaders who have committed war crimes, or crimes against humanity such as Gaddafi of Libya or Assad of Syria (Revelation 14:9-11)?

    Comment:

    Revelation warns that those who are so wedded to Satan that they stand to join him will receive his punishment in the second death.

     

    QQQ         

    Should we view those Christians who die fighting for the overthrow of government to be martyrs?

    Comment:

    This is more complicated than it first seems. While Christ himself stated that his followers would not rise in violent support of his Kingdom, there is, I believe, a place for Christians to seek to challenge appalling injustice. If children are being attacked in the playground, the authorities must take action to stop the bully. If Hitler is overrunning the countries of Europe and killing people, he must be stopped, even if this means some will die in the process. Dietrich Bonhoeffer plotted with others to kill Hitler. The plot failed and he was imprisoned and executed.  Bonhoeffer is generally regarded as a leading Christian of the 20th Century, but I do not think in the terms of the book of Revelation that he was a martyr.

     

     

    Coaching Questions for the Revelation Pod Sessions

     

    Podder:     _____

     

    Sections Point to be noted
    Opening: What’s the key thing happening with you at the moment? What is the best thing that has happened to you last month? What dreams do you have for this year?

     

    At the end of our last pod you said you would be happy for me to ask you this question …How have you got on?

     

    How did you go about engaging with Revelation?

     

    Are there specific things you want to talk about today from your study of Revelation?

                …any questions,

               …or things you don’t understand?

     

    What verses made the greatest impression on you?

     

    Substance – Message and Theology:

     

    QQQ – What are the main points of Revelation?

    1.    Endure suffering.

    2.    Don’t compromise on idolatry.

    3.    Which of the seven churches is most like the church you belong to?

    4.    What is the difference between a suicide bomber and a Christian martyr?

     

    Your insights:

     

     

    In the light of Revelation, what is your attitude to the future?

    QQQ – Do you expect Jesus to return soon?

    QQQ – What are the current manifestations of the Beast in this world?

    QQQ – Have you suffered for your faith?  Did you persevere?

     

    Application:

     

     

    Holy Habit:

    QQQ – What question shall I ask you when we next meet in the light of the application that you have made from our study today?

     

    What Holy Habits will help us grow in endurance?

     

    Coaching Questions >