At the request of several of the young people, I plan to begin a short series this week looking at the book of Revelation in our youth Sunday School. I wonder could you explain its message to your children if they were to ask you?
Many Christians are understandably threatened by this book. It’s images are dark, mysterious, and often foreboding; they don’t know what to do with them. To make matters worse, much of the American Church has completely lost the plot when it comes to interpreting Revelation, preferring to use fanciful and highly imaginative interpretive grids in an effort to come to grips with its message. In the end, however, such attempts tend to conceal much more than reveal John’s original message.
In his fantastic book, The Triumph of the Lamb, Dennis E. Johnson proposes a number of bedrock principles to guide us as we make our way through John’s apocalypse. I list them here in the hope that they might help you in your forays into this book (which I pray will be more frequent and fruitful in the future than perhaps they were in the past!).
- Revelation is given to Reveal. God has not given this book to confuse us or to terrify us, but to help us see through the appearance of things, to grasp what’s really going on behind the scenes of history. The very word Revelation comes from the Greek “Apocalypse.” It means to unveil something hidden, to pull back the curtains so that you might see what is going on behind them.
- Revelation is a Book to Be Seen: The motif of a prophet “Seeing” something occurs fifty-two times in the book. To read his message aright, we must see what John is showing us (1:11). Building on this them, John includes a host of symbols in motion. Some of these symbols are quite dramatic: a dragon, a beast from the sea, a whore riding on a beast. One of John’s key points is to show you: things are not what they seem, his images are intended to show you things in their true colors! Christ has His bride, a pure virgin; and the Devil has the world as his whore (c.f.Revelation 12&17). Do you see His point? The world may look pretty, but the reality is quite different.
- Revelation makes sense only in Light for the Old Testament: John writes as the climax of the OT prophetic tradition. Those of you enjoying (or enduring) our evening series on the Book of Isaiah will recognize John picking upon the God’s judgment against the worldly city “Babylon (Revelation 18). He lifts this straight out of the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel. Or you might think of the Trumpets, warning the world of coming judgment. Doesn’t this remind you of Israel blowing the trumpets around Jericho? John speaks of plagues being poured out upon the world, huge locusts devouring all around them, etc. It’s not hard to see the Exodus themes here with God sending plagues upon Egypt, and redeeming His people out from the world, after which they sing the song of Moses (Note the song of Moses in Exodus 15 & Revelation 15).
- Numbers Count in Revelation: John uses numerical symbolism throughout the book, particularly the numbers seven, ten, and twelve. Seven symbolizes completeness. Twelve is the number of the people of God. The number ten is significant when it numbers the dragon’s heads (12:3), and those of the beast (13:1; 17:12; cf. Dan 7:7), or when it signifies a brief, ten-day period of affliction to be endured (2:10). It can also be cubed to one thousand, symbolizing a vast number, size, or dimension (E.g. 144,000 sealed in heaven: 12 tribes of Israel X 12 Apostles X 1000, symbolizing the enormous number of people saved from the Old and the New Testament people of God, safely sealed by God for salvation).
- Revelation is for the Church under attack:The violence of Revelation’s visions is at times nightmarish. She faces danger on every side: physical threats, spiritual deception, and material seduction. Yet time and again, John sees a throne in the heavens. We must endure hardship as good soldiers of Christ Jesus. Those who do will be saved.
- Revelation concerns what “Must Soon Take Place. Daniel, you remember, was commanded to seal up the words of His prophecy (Daniel 12:4), John, by contrast, is commanded not to seal up his book, “For the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). There is much we could say here, but suffice it to say this: we must give due weight to the interpretive value of this principle-- Revelation gave first-century Christians insight into the purpose of God in their time and for their lives. Therefore we should read the book of Revelation with the assumption that God intended the first-century believers to get the message of the book, and so we should read its visions against the back-drop of Old Testament imagery, rather than forcing them into the template of twenty-first century technologies (E.G. Locusts=Apache attack helicopters!!! No they are an OT sign of the judgment of God— Read Exodus and the book of Joel) or politics.
- The Victory Belongs to God and to His Christ! The book climaxes in worship, with the Church singing songs of praise and celebration. It is not a book intended to cause you fear— if you know Christ as Savior! Read the end of it: WE WIN!
We live perilous times, tomorrow is uncertain, but the future is clear and bright. Christ shall have dominion. “Dark, dark maybe the conflict, but dayspring is at hand. Glory, glory, dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”
No doubt we will all face times when we lament, “I don’t know how this will end up!” But the book of revelation whispers, “Yes, you do! It will end with Jesus wiping all the tears from your eyes!” Take heart, little flock, the future belongs to Jesus, and because of Him, it belongs to us as well! Press on...