David Platt: I read somewhere that Revelation is the book people in the church most want to hear taught because they don’t understand it. At the same time, Revelation is the book preachers in the church least want to teach because they don’t understand it.
As always it’s important for us to come to terms with the purpose of the book. Thankfully, it is laid out for us pretty plainly here.
When I say “apocalypse” there are probably certain ideas and images that come to mind. You probably think of nuclear war or famine or deserted landscapes. But, that’s not what the word originally meant.
The first word of this book is “Apocalypse.” It means “Revelation.” Specifically, it means a revealing of things in a very visual, symbolic way.
So, the point isn’t to paint bleakness and disaster; it’s to reveal truth. And, the subject of the revelation is Jesus Christ (1:1).
Some have said that there is no other book that portrays the glory and magnificence of Jesus like the book of Revelation.
The supreme topic and purpose of the book is to reveal the wonder of the victorious Jesus.
So, it is a revelation. But, it’s also prophetic “the things which must soon take place” (1:1). So, part of the supremacy of Christ is on display in coming events.
And, it is also an epistle – a letter. In v4 we read that this is a message to the seven churches in Asia.
How did we get this book? God gave this message to Jesus. He sent the message by angel to John. And, John testified to all that he saw.This is John the apostle. He is writing from the island of Patmos (1:9) where he has been exiled for sharing the gospel in mid to late 1st century.
And, this is the situation of the people receiving the letter. They live in the Roman Empire under a government that is increasingly enforcing Emperor worship. For those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and share that hope with others there is a real danger of imprisonment, persecution, and death. The people are being challenged to cave to pressure, to water down their beliefs, to just be silent. (We will see all of this more in a couple of weeks.)
So, God has sent this message. He wants it heard and promises a blessing for us to be in it (1:3).
Let me waste a few minutes of the message on some questions about interpretations.
What’s here? (Extremely) Brief Book Outline
1-3: Contemporary message to the churches
4-5: Supreme reign and sacrificial victory over history
6-19: Unfolding cosmic events
20-22: Consummation of the Kingdom
Interpretations: When will these prophecies be fulfilled?
*** Preterist: Prophecies fulfilled early in Christian history (with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD; reign of Domitian in 95 AD; Constantine’s Edict of Milan legalizing Christianity in 313 AD; or fall of Roman Empire in 476 AD).
~ Pros: takes the imminent fulfillment to 1st century Christians seriously.
~ Cons: ignores allusions to final judgment for the whole earth.
*** Historicist: Prophecies have been fulfilled over the course of (Western) Church history (pope, Roman Catholic Church, Hitler, Napoleon, Mussolini, Communist Russia, Middle East terrorists).
~ Pros: seems to fit with unfolding world events
~ Cons: focus on Western Church history post-Protestant Reformation (1517+) means this doesn’t apply to early hearers and that this view is reworked with unfolding contemporary events.
*** Futurist: Prophecies of the book from 4-22 are yet unfulfilled. (Taken this way, at some point the Futurist interpretation becomes Historicist as events finally unfold.) Most popular may be Dispensational Futurists or Historic Premillennialists who both view ch 6-19 as a literal seven year tribulation. This view is popularized by the Left Behind books and movies.
~ Pros: leaves interpretation open to future cosmic events.
~ Cons: ignores application to immediate hearers with no fulfillment in nearly 2,000 years.
*** Idealist: Prophecies have been and are being fulfilled through church history in the cosmic battle between God and Satan and will culminate in the ultimate triumph of Christ and his Kingdom.
~ Pros: avoids the troublesome speculation over specific fulfillments in events.
~ Cons: ignores some of the seemingly literal historical events in the book.
*** Eclectic: Mixing a bit of each position, the Eclectic interpretation finds some truth in each of these positions.
Interpretations: What is the millennium?
*** Premillennialism: Jesus will return before ushering in a 1,000 year reign of peace.
*** Postmillennialism: Jesus will return after a 1,000 year reign of peace.
*** Amillennialism: 1,000 year reign is symbolic of the present church age.
(Panmillennialists think God will make it all “pan” out…)
Interpretations: What’s with all the numbers?
*** 12 (and multiples) signify God’s people (like 144,000) sealed
*** 10 (and multiples) signify complete times (like 1,000 years)
*** 4 also signifying totality (like 4 winds, 4 corners, 4 parts of the earth)
*** 7 signifies completeness but with the added idea of perfection (7 spirits, 7 churches, 7 letters, 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls)
(Sometimes 4 and 7 are combined as in 4 series of 7 judgments on the earth.)
In a primary sense none of that matters. The purpose of the book is not fur us to fill out some specific diagram about how world events have, are, or will happen so that we can map out the consummation of Christ’s Kingdom.
There are questions involving these things (obviously!), but they are not of primary importance. Or secondary importance. These are what we call tertiary beliefs, or third-tier doctrines. Ultimately that means that these are beliefs we can agree to disagree on and should never separate Christians from fellowship with each other.
So, if your thoughts of Revelation are based on pinpointing fulfilled events, or millennial reigns, or raptures, or tribulations, then you’ve missed the point of the book.
This book is a call to faith – to remain steadfast and overcome.
So, here’s where we are. You’ve got hardships. You’re struggling with sin. You’ve let the pressures of society silence your witness. You’ve grown stagnant / lukewarm in your faith. You’re thinking about capitulating your beliefs, going with the crowds.
You’ve got questions: Why me? Why is it so hard? Does God care? Will it ever get better?
Stay the course. Don’t lose heart.
** God’s trinitarian grace and peace is coming to you (1.5). Him who is, was, and is to come; the seven-fold Spirit; Jesus Christ faithful, firstborn from dead, ruler.
** God is always present – who is and was and is to come (1.4, 8).
** Jesus is the supreme ruler – ruler of the kings of the earth (1.5).
** You are more than what the world sees – loved (1.5), released from sins by His blood, made us a kingdom (1.6), priests to God.
** Jesus’ dominion is forever (1.6).
** Our deliverer, Jesus, is coming (1.7).
The Apocalypse, the book of Revelation, is written to tell us not that God’s kingdom will one day come – that’s the prophecies of the OT. The book of Revelation declares that God’s kingdom is here now. He rules and reigns supreme today. Sin, death, and suffering will not have the final word. Satan is a defeated foe and his end is drawing nearer by the moment.
The King is coming and he will make all things new. He will wipe away every tear. He will bring us to greater glory than man has yet conceived.
Stand in hope. Refuse to bow. Declare his name to the ends of the earth. Worship his splendor.
We will hear these calls over and over again in this book and what will fuel us is the revelation of our ruling king.
Let us worship his majesty.
Messages in this series
Messages by Greg Taylor