In the coming weeks, our Christmas series will be drawing from classic texts from the Gospels and sections from the Book of Revelation. Maybe I am getting over my head, but I am so excited about seeing how the Book of Revelation can illuminate the Christmas story. I thought, by way of preparation, that I might give a VERY quick guide to how I approach the Book of Revelation which I won’t be able to go into during the sermon series. Here goes:
- The Original Audience of Revelation was a Specific Group of Churches. In Rev 2-3, specific churches (or groups of churches within cities—presbyteries?) are mentioned by name and have several specific applications addressed to them in a similar manner to, say, Paul’s letter to the Galatians or Ephesians. This fact is very helpful to readers because it sets the context for why the book was written: to churches facing persecution from the world as well as a temptation to follow the ways of the world. What they needed most was assurance that God was in control, that evil would be done away with, and that their destination was going to be glorious. Therefore they are called to persevere by faith in Christ. If we want to read Revelation better, I think we need to start with understanding this is a primary purpose of the letter.
- The Visions in Revelation are Symbolic and Steeped in the Old Testament. You certainly have to have a healthy sense of imagination to take in all that this book has to offer, with its seals, beasts, angels, horsemen, new heavens/new earth. But probably more importantly is that you will need a good background in the OT. One professor told me if you want to prepare yourself to read Revelation well, you need to read four things: Exodus on the Tabernacle, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. If you are confused about a particular image, one of the best resources is to go back to the Old Testament.
- The Visions in Revelation can be Described not Linearly but also in Terms of Cycles. Something I have grown in appreciation for in the last couple of years is the cyclical nature to the visions in Revelation. In each cycle there is worship, problems, a going to the brink, a saving, and more worship. There is an orderly pattern to each vision. Here’s a summary of them:
VISION* CHP CONTENT
1 1-3 Seven Churches in a Fallen World
2 4-8:1 Seven Seals
3 8:2-11 Seven Trumpets
4 12-14 Battle Against Satan
5 15-16 Seven Bowls
6 17-19 Downfall of Babylon (City of Evil)
7 20-22 Church Perfected: New City
- Revelation Speaks to the Past, Present, and Future. For the most part, the passages we will be looking at won’t be the ‘controversial’ ones that get people into knots over (e.g. millennial views), which is sometimes the only topic that some people pay attention to. Revelation is not merely ‘a book of the future’ because it is absolutely rooted in Old Testament imagery, at times it points to history (from our perspective) within a generation after the resurrection of Jesus (like the destruction of the temple), speaks to contemporary churches of John’s time, and concerns future (both in the short term and long term). The patterns in Revelation can speak to many ages both past, present, and future. So how should we most effectively read it? That’s where we go to next…
- Revelation Presents us with Timeless Principles we can Apply at any Time. In every episode we must ask the question (like we should with every part of Scripture), what can I learn and apply to my own life right now? So as we approach the Book of Revelation, what do we learn about Jesus or the world in each passage and how does it help me to fight temptation or persevere despite opposition?
*Table taken from Derek Thomas’ book, Let’s Study Revelation (Let’s Study Series), (Banner of Truth, 2003)