[Revelation – introduction]
After a month of self-imposed holiday it is such a joy to write again. Together with the dear friends of the Bible study here in my home, we are diving deep into the fascinating world of the book of Revelation – a rich, inspiring experience. It is not the fist time I embark on a study of this book and it will not be the last. It is the true Word of God and just like the rest of the Bible it can be interpreted on multiple levels by a variety of scholars who unfolds the truth with Holy Spirit wisdom.
Come and join us on this journey into the apocalyptic wonder world of God’s secrets. Make a vow to study this book again and again, because the richness of the vision is not for one time only. We will embark on a roller coaster ride of the majestic and the celestial, often in awestruck wonder, often with tears of worship and hopefully with growing insight into the mystery as the veil is lifted. Every word is meant to be understood, to encourage and to inspire as the purposes of our Father are revealed and His almighty and sovereign rule over the universe is clear.
The name of the book says it all. John describes the indescribable in an effort to explain the riddles of our existence in this world so that we will not be engulfed in the darkness and chaos of world politics, war, terrorism, natural disasters, cruelty and suffering. Within all the consequences of sin, declared in the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowls, we will see our Father’s heart and the kingship of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is active and alert over the Word to explain and interpret to our hearts and minds.
The core theme of the whole book, in which so much of the symbolism of the rest of the Bible is used over and over again, declares God’s love and sovereignty, the indisputable rule of Jesus and the reality of full redemption from sin and all evil, illustrated by the church.
Revelation reveals. John’s vision explains and declares so that we are equipped with the knowledge we need to stand strong against the full onslaught of evil in our day.
Revelation is the ultimate answer to all insecurity and fear.
How beautiful and delightful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace, who brings good news of good things,
Who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7, Ampl)
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6, NKJV)
We, the church, the new Jerusalem, avert evil on every level of society. The church, the Bride of Christ, is not a denomination. It is the blood bought children of the Father with a testimony on their lips that overcome the beast, the dragon, the gleaming serpent or whatever else this raging monster of destruction is called.
Our victory is not to be found in organized religion. We overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11). We are the martyrs, the remnant that carries the crest of the Cross and endure the persecution.
Be aware that we are persecuted and surrounded from all sides. Apart from the physical persecution of the early church and Christians today in many parts of the world where their testimony is a death sentence, we, who enjoy religious freedom, are battered with constant assault on all levels of society, whether it is in the realm of family, education, government and politics, the media, the arts, philosophy, business and religion, not to mention the garbage and pollution that threaten our earth.
Revelation is the forecast so many centuries ago of the overwhelming outpour of all that God’s adversary, Satan, can throw at us. All the consequences of sin are pronounced under the time, times and half a time as Daniel verbalized the time period of oppression, indicating a limit and full control of the One who sits on the Throne. The golden thread of prophecy in perfect harmony and agreement over several thousand years encourages with a time limit to all evil.
Let us first declare our motto for the study of this book. In the words of Richard of Chichester:
To know Jesus more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly.
The glorified Jesus in all his splendour of kingship is the central theme. He is in control as righteous and loving ruler, ready to save and redeem, restore and reward. Judgment comes clear and unbiased with one purpose only: to clear the way for blessing.
Nobody can say they did not know. No ignorance can ever be an excuse to reject life itself. We know and receive understanding from the Holy Spirit to recognize the false Trinity and the consequences of worship to it. It is impossible to remain neutral. It is either false worship or true worship. Nothing is not an option.
While prophecy proclaims redemption by a loving God with restoration to an elevated existence within the present dispensation, common apocalyptic literature condemns this world to a catastrophic end in titanic tragedy with no hope. The book of Revelation in the Bible stands in stark contrast to other apocalyptic literature as an expression of hope in a future of comprehensive salvation, guaranteed victory over sin and evil and a majestic ending in the Presence of our Bridegroom, Jesus as the king of the universe in all its grandeur and brilliance.
Revelation is written for two time periods – the present and the future while using the symbolism and historic imagery of the past to describe the glory and splendour of the unseen. The present offers a choice to accept the grace of the Cross. The future presents an unavoidable intervention of God to bring an end His adversary, Satan.
In terms of the history of Israel, things went from bad to worse. After the climax of the Hebrew civilization when the Temple of Solomon was built, it is a tragedy of backslidden and corrupt kings, war, exile, struggle and bloodshed. Nothing is as it should be and the Jews live with an intense sense of loss and longing for restoration under the prophesied Messiah. By the end of the second century AD Judah is a hated outpost of the Roman Empire, the Empire in Daniel’s vision described as the feet of iron and clay. Jerusalem is in ruins after a cruel siege and a frighteningly brutal war in which the Romans avenged decades of frustration with the Jews. Jews and Christians alike are either dead, or slaves or in hiding.
History for the Jews was a catalogue of disasters from which it became clear that no human deliverer could rescue them”. [William Barclay]
Apocalyptic literature was popular as an expression of rebellion with the hope of total annihilation of oppressors and enemies. It was often written in code under pseudonyms to keep it secret, to be deciphered only by those to whom it was intended.
Revelation is not a chronological chain of events. It is a summary of the entire history of mankind with a climatic end for those who choose to accept the salvation of grace and love. This study is not an effort to summarize all the possible interpretations of the vision. The content is far too rich and comprehensive. It is also not a dispensational interpretation to serve as an itinerary for events associated with the second coming of Christ.
It should serve only as a first step for some information on the symbolism and references in order to decipher the “code” or Bible-speak if I may call it that.
First and foremost – the key to Revelation is Ephesians 1. Jesus is everything… in the words of Paul in The Message:
Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
Jesus is the Prince of heaven, the Redeemer on the Cross, the Victorious One over death and hell. Our study will focus on Him and Him alone. Evil and sin might appear overwhelming, but it is limited and under control. There is victory within this sorry state of our world, in Christ.
Johan writes under his own name as authoritative messenger of Jesus to encourage and build the church. The key to all the metaphors and images is our Old Testament – the Law and Prophets of the Jews. It is quoted 245 times in Revelation. The detail is astounding and the golden thread is meticulously guarded. John is apostle, prophet and pastor – widely respected in Ephesus where he lives with Mary, the mother of Jesus after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Ephesus is a pagan city, the seat of the Temple of Diana, an architectural wonder of the ancient world. Diana is the goddess of fertility, worshipped with sex provided by scores of prostitutes “serving” in the temple. Just reflect on the severe contrast that Christian morality presented.
John calls himself brother to the reader. He uses dramatic and descriptive Greek. His Gospel that he wrote after the Revelation is acknowledged under the most-respected literature in all of history.
Paul pleads for respect to the Roman authorities. Often the Roman administration and law helped against the persecution from the Jews on the young Christian church. During this time, however, there is open hatred towards the Romans. Rome is seen as Babylon, a symbol of all evil. During the first century, worship in Rome was relatively free. Gaius Julius declared himself Caesar and ruler forever. His military conquests and the widespread rule under the Pax Romana – Roman law and government bringing peace, make a big difference in the lives of ordinary citizens, who can go about business and general living in peace, with roads, infrastructure and local government that applies the law. Gratitude towards the Caesar develops into worship and the people spontaneously elevate him to being a god. It was a simple step for successive Caesars to think they are indeed gods.
This all led to a system where every non-Roman resident of the Empire once a year had to go before the magistrate (local government) and declare Caesar is God. For this he received a certificate and could worship whomever he wanted for the rest of the year. For the Christians and Jews, this system brought arrest and death or constant hiding from the authorities.
Not all the Caesars are set on worship. Tiberius (Caesar in the time of Jesus) stops it altogether, Caligula is a crazy sadist and demands his own statue in the Holy of Holies, but dies before it is executed. Claudius is against Caesar-worship; Nero does not require it, but blames the Christians for all his failures and weakness. Vespasian stops the worship, but destroys Jerusalem; Titus demands no worship. Dominitian is the worst. He truly thinks he is a god. He calls non-worshippers atheists for the first time. He bans John to Patmos, but Nerva, his successor, do away with all the mad laws and frees John – a miracle, since a Roman penal colony was more often than not a prelude to death.
It is against this background that we can begin reading. John introduces himself and pronounces a blessing on every person reading, most probably a public reading, and HEARING the words of the prophecy. Hearing implies a heart reception, to mark the disclosures to be made in this book. It is not technical theology. It is truth from the Source of Truth, our God who sits on the Throne of Grace. Jesus is God’s Truth.
The Greek for Revelation is apokulupsis – apo means to take away and kalupsis means veil. The veil is lifted for us to understand. It is always a work of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:17. Revelation knowledge is a gift from God for the discovery of man.
The history of the world is not random – it is purposed and under control. The end time is near (1:3) means that it folds out immediately. Revelation describes history in motion. We are not ignorant of what is happening around us. This precious vision is our future map and time machine.
Until next time: Revelation 1.