The Revelation about Jesus Christ’
“Revelation of Jesus Christ”
we have in Revelation an unveiling for us of the exalted and glorified Jesus Christ. All the events of this book center around visions and symbols of the resurrected Christ, who alone has authority to judge the earth, eventually to remake the earth, and then to rule over the earth in righteousness. So many people get caught up with the intricate details concerning future events, that they miss the point that the Lord Jesus Christ is the chief subject of this book. If you miss Him, you’ve missed everything.
We also mentioned the fact that many people approach this book with fear and trepidation. It’s a bit mysterious to them, and that usually is because of several of the misunderstandings concerning this book that I believe are often derivative from false methods of interpretation that are applied to it.
Now look with me very, very quickly at chapters 1 to 3 – we see Christ as the exalted Priest King in the midst of His churches. Chapter 2 and chapter 3 in particular – Christ is in the midst, ministering to His church. Then if you look quickly at chapters 4 and 5, we see Christ as the glorified Lamb in the midst of the throne, Christ is in the midst reigning. Then chapters 6 through to 18, a few more chapters, we see Christ as the Lion in the midst of the nations of the world, Christ in the midst judging. Then in chapter 19 we see Christ as the conquering King of Kings, and Christ comes into the midst returning. In chapter 20 we see Christ as the Heavenly Bridegroom in the midst of the marriage supper, and Christ is in the midst of His people rejoicing with them and over His new-found bride and wife, the church. Then in chapter 21 and 22, the last two chapters of the book, Christ is the light in the midst of eternal glory, Christ in the midst of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, shining.
If you think knowledge is the most important aspect to interpreting the book of the Revelation, you’re wrong, it is love: love for the Lord, love for His word, love for His people. May I remind you in our introduction of 1 Corinthians 13:2: ‘Though I have the gift of prophecy, Paul says, ‘and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, love, ‘I am nothing’. Christ is the love of God to our hearts, let’s not miss Him.
John, the author, wrote this book from a vision he received on the Isle of Patmos, and the book was probably written in the late first century, around the 90s AD, which were the latter years of the reign of the Roman Emperor, Domitian. Now that’s important, it’s important as we’ll see a little bit later, the message that this book conveys to these Christians and to ourselves today – to know that John himself was exiled as a persecuted Christian to the Isle of Patmos, and John, when on the Isle of Patmos, receives a vision to give and write to persecuted Christians in seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey.
Incidentally, there are seven ‘beatitude’, blessings pronounced in the book of the Revelation. We’ve just read the first in chapter 1 verse 3, turn with me to the rest. The second is found in chapter 14 verse 13, speaking of martyrs during the tribulation period here on the earth, in chapter 14 verse 13 John says: ‘I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth’ – those martyred for the cause of the Lord Jesus are blessed. Chapter 16 and verse 15, we read there: ‘Behold, I come as a thief’, Jesus says, ‘Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame’ – those who are faithful until the coming of the Lord Jesus are blessed. Then turn with me to chapter 19 and verse 9, the marriage supper of the Lamb when the Lord Jesus will be united with His church, ‘He saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb’. Then in chapter 20 and verse 6, we read: ‘Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years’ – those who rise when Christ raptures His church are blessed. Chapter 22 verse 7 Jesus, speaking of how He will come: ‘Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book’. Chapter 22 and verse 14, the ending blessing: ‘Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city’.
Then we see in this blessing at the end, we are to ‘keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand’. Now the word for ‘time’ there in the original Greek that Revelation was written in, is the word for an ‘epoch’, or an era, a season of time in history. But he is saying that this time, this epoch is at hand. John is telling us that the great epoch, the next great epoch in God’s redemptive history is imminent, it is at hand. Now the word ‘imminent’ is very important in Biblical prophecy, it means ‘impending’, something that is about to take place without delay. Now the word ‘imminent’ is different than ‘immediate’. ‘Immediate’ is something that is going to happen there and then, but the second coming of the Lord Jesus, as it is portrayed within the whole of the Bible, tells us that we can expect it at any time – and yet 2000 years have passed and it still could be at any moment, because it is at hand, it’s imminent, not immediate
Is it? Will you be with Him evermore? Well, let’s move on. For an introduction, I want to give you four points tonight. The first is: my motivation for studying this book. The second is the mystery that is often perceived in this book. The third is: the methods of interpreting this book. The fourth is the message of the book.
let me add a caveat to it: it is essential to distinguish in Christian doctrine fundamentals, fundamental issues, from issues that are important but not fundamental. Now listen carefully to this, because this will stand you in good stead for a lot of doctrinal disputes: it’s important to distinguish between fundamental issues and important issues that are not fundamental. Now what do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is: the fundamental non-negotiable truth in prophecy is, Jesus is coming again! Anyone who denies that has denied a fundamental and has put themselves beyond the pale of Christianity. You’ve got to understand that. But though that is fundamental, how we understand prophetic scripture, and how Jesus will return again, is not fundamental – and that’s why we need much grace and love when we deal with a subject like this. There’s much heat rather than light when it comes to prophetic preaching and teaching these days
Now it has to be said that no one has all the answers concerning this book. We cannot be dogmatic on many things that we find within this book. But that being said, we must face, all of us, whatever our prophetic persuasion, the fact that this is the only book in 66 books of the Bible that is called ‘a Revelation’ – the opposite of a dark concealment! It is revealed!
Both are apocalyptic literature, Daniel was told in the Old Testament ‘Conceal it’, John is told in the New Testament ‘Reveal it’. Well, the answer is very simple: Calvary, Jesus died for sinners; the Messiah of God, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the King of Israel – He was buried, three days later He rose again, He ascended into heaven forty days later, ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit into this world. All of these events, these New Testament gospel events, ushered in what the Bible calls ‘the last days’.
Now, the reason for the misunderstanding of the book is probably due to my third point: the methods, the various different methods of interpretation that are applied to it. Here are four – now if you don’t have a notebook and pen with you tonight, you need to get one because you’ll never remember all these things, or get the CD or tape and study these things again. There are four basic approaches to the book of Revelation. The first is called the preterist school or approach. Really the preterist, which means ‘past’, he interprets Revelation as having already been fulfilled in the first century AD in the events after AD 70, which was after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the scattering of the Jews. They say it symbolizes and records the struggle of the Christian church with the Roman Empire of the day, and now that is all past, it’s all fulfilled – that’s what the preterist says.
Then secondly there is the historicist school. The historicists really believe that the book comprises the unfolding of Church history until the second coming of Christ. Now the strength of that view is that it makes it relevant to subsequent ages, and it has a meaning to other generations other than the generation to which it was written. It has to be said there are many parallels between truths in the book of the Revelation and things that have happened in Church history. The weakness of the historicist view is that though it becomes relevant to us, it becomes therefore irrelevant to the original readers, because they would have needed to have an extensive knowledge of history which hadn’t happened yet, and even subsequent readers need to be au fait with history. Though there are parallels, it has to be said that the interpretation of this book by historicists is often in the light of Western European church history, it forgets the rest of the world – and there’s a great divergence of opinion regarding what these symbols represent, and what historical characters they represent, among historicists.
Now, finally, if you’ll bear with me for five minutes: the message of the book. H.B. Sweet says this, and it is profound, and I want to spend a bit of time on it: ‘Inform this is an epistle’, never forget that, this is a letter to seven churches that was circulated around Asia Minor. ‘In form, it is an epistle containing an apocalyptic prophecy, apocalyptic meaning, it’s full of signs and symbols that are revealing something, it’s a prophecy, it’s pointing to the future. ‘But, he says, ‘in spirit and inner purpose it is pastoral’. Warren Wiersbe puts it well, who is a pre-millennialist and a futurist, he says this: ‘Do not get lost in the details but try to see the big picture and keep in mind that John wrote this book to encourage believers who were going through persecution. Every generation of Christians has had its antichrist and Babylon, and the hope of the Lord’s return has kept those saints going when the going was tough’. Now, yes, it is speaking of the future – hope for tomorrow – but that hope for tomorrow is meant to give you strength for today. It has an application for today: it was a book that wasn’t originally given to these early saints to satisfy their curiosity about the future, it was given to them pastorally to comfort them, to give them hope for the days that lay ahead. Remember what we said: it was written by John, a persecuted Christian; it was written to the churches of Asia Minor, persecuted churches; and it was written for the purposes of encouraging and exhorting them, by reassuring them of this central fact – don’t miss it – Jesus Christ controls the course and the climax of history! The course and climax of history is in His control!
This is how it went, and I’ll just read it as it is, the American pastor asked the Chinese leader: ‘What book in the Bible is most precious to you?’. The Chinese pastor said: ‘Well, probably the book of Revelation, because…’, and the American pastor interrupted him, ‘Because your suffering makes you long for the end of the world, and you’re strengthened by the vision of how it will end with Christ’s victory? Yes?’. The Chinese pastor: ‘That too, but we don’t just take Revelation to be a description of the way the world will end, we see it also as a description of the way the world is now’. ‘I’m not understanding you’, the American pastor said, ‘Surely Revelation is a book that tells us how the world will end?’. He agreed, ‘Yes it is, but I am telling you that it is also a description of the way the world is now. Suffering has made this clear to us in China, clearly prosperity has hidden this from you in America’. ‘You see’, he went on, ‘We had a Caesar here in China called Mao Tse Tung and he, like the Caesar of the early church period, demanded what was only God’s – that he should be worshipped as a god. As in Revelation, he used a beast to coerce us, communism; and a false prophet to beguile us, false bishops. When we resisted this idolatry with the testimony of the Lamb, we were slaughtered and jailed. In this way we saw that Revelation is a description of spiritual warfare that always goes in any society, including yours’. The American pastor said, ‘But it’s not going on in America today – you say we have that hidden from us, what do you mean?’. ‘Well’, said the Chinese leader, ‘this conflict is obvious to us in China. You could not miss that Mao Tse Tung was setting himself up as an idol and demanding worship, so the veil was removed and we saw the world as it really is – a place where idols are demanding our worship. But this is not obvious to you in America because it is more subtle’. The pastor from America said: ‘Maybe it’s not happening at all, we are a Christian country and we have a Christian president’. The Chinese pastor said: ‘I tell you, there are Caesars or idols in your society just as much as in ours, and even in your churches – and there are false prophets telling you that the idolatry is biblical, and beasts coercing you. For example, your Caesar may not be a person but an idea. In our fellowship’, he said, ‘we have a clever young man who lived with an American family for a year whilst studying. The couple was generous, but he noticed something about them: they were always exhausted. Both worked incredibly hard, though they had plenty of money. They had three cars, two homes, expensive country club memberships – and, as far as he could tell, gave only a minimum to the Lord’s work. They never asked him a single question about the Chinese church, and when he left they give him an envelope with $20 in it. He told us: I felt so sorry for them, they thought they were free but they were slaves. They were dropping from exhaustion because they had to live up to something called the American dream, but they never knew that the pursuit of that life had stolen their heart from Christ’. ‘Hmmm’, said the American pastor, ‘If what you say is true, then consumerism could be a more effective killer of faith than communism’. The Chinese pastor said: ‘You’re right, and this is what we are afraid of here in China. Consumerism clutters up life so much that’ – listen to this – ‘we fail to see the world as it is: full of idols trying to steal our worship from God’.
Revelation is about the future, but do not miss its message for the present. It doesn’t just describe the world as it will be, but that iniquity works already – it describes the world as it is!
“Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible Word of God.”
Revelation: From God to man (man hears what God wants written)
Inspiration: From man to paper (man writes that which God wants written)