The Revelation of Jesus Christ
The reason and context
The book of Revelation, which is also known as the Apocalypse, is one of the most intriguing and sought after religious books in our society. Even the lost world that mocks and questions the validity of the claims of Christ are drawn to the visions of the future portrayed in this book. There are television specials that are constantly airing discussing the coming antichrist, the opening of the seals, the one world system, the famines, and the desolation. Rarely do they even touch on the main point of which is the pre-imminence and glory of the coming Christ (and if we as Christians approach this book with the same mindset and not with the intent of seeing the glory of Christ then we are no better than the lost and dying world in the handling of this book).
However, there is a general angst that exists in the western mind, if not in all minds, that is both scared and drawn to thoughts of the end. Like the roller coaster or the horror film that both scares and thrills we are drawn to the literature and ideas that predict and describe the end. There even seems to be a desire in some to see this all end. Even when I was lost and without Christ, I was interested in the apocalyptic vision of the book of Revelation. Recent hype over the book of Revelation was accompanied by alternate prophecies from Nostradamus, super computers, Mayan calendars, and other sources that point to some of the same events (erroneously though). That hype pointed to December 21, 2012 as the potential end of this world. That date has come and gone and no end; it has been cast into the trash heap with thousands of other false predictions (for no man knows the hour nor the day).
Even Christians are swallowed up with this popular angst. But Jesus Christ, who is the greatest prophet (Heb. 1:1, 2), has warned us not to take part in this sadistic angst. We have no reason to fear the end or be troubled by people who say that it will occur at such and such a time. Jesus told us this: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36). We do not know the day nor the hour therefore we can be assured of one thing, it will not be when and how the false prophets say. Every date setter in history has been proven to be false because they have failed to simply believe Christ. So when we look at the book of Revelation we will not look at it as the world looks at.
Are there some fearful things in this book? Yes! But the fearful things of this book belong to those who oppose Christ. For us who love Jesus Christ this is not a book of fear but one of hope and longing. Our hope and longing is not for the destruction of this world but the bringing in of the world where there are no more tears and pain and sorrow. We do not desire the lost man’s damnation, for we work to give the lost man the message of salvation through Christ, but we do desire the saint’s glorification. And most of all we do not desire the destruction of this world’s kingdoms but we do desire the glory of Christ and for Him to be the King of this world. This book is the summation of all things. Seven is the number of completion and there are seven notable sets of seven that make up the book; seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven headed beast, seven vials, seven Spirits, and seven thunders (not to mention the undergirding of the 70th prophetic week). This book points us to the end of all things which is Christ. We sum up the hope of this book with the words of the apostle Paul: “[We are] looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13). And this great desire is mirrored by the final prayer of this book by the apostle John: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
There are, concerning the interest of the world with this book, some points that stand out to our evangelistic advantage. The angst of this world concerning the end shows that people realize that there is something seriously wrong with this world. Such an idea can lead us to discuss with the reality of sin. And also the angst over the end tells us that the idea of judgment has not left the conscience of the people. They have twisted the idea of judgment to make it more palatable and less scary for the individual. But there still exists the idea that all the world must be judged. This can help us enter a discussion about where they fit into the picture of judgment. There is also in this angst the belief that there is indeed a God who knows the end from the beginning. This God has not left us in the dark about what shall be but has told us of the end of this world, judgment, heaven, and hell. This ultimately allows us to discuss with men their need to seek this God for help and not to their own imaginations. So we should always be mindful of the use of this precious book in reaching the lost.
The word Apocalypse, for which we have the word Revelation, is an unveiling or revealing of a truth. It is the unveiling of the present glory of Christ and the events that will bring Him to this earth to rule and reign according to the promises of the Old Testament. “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Ps. 2:6-12). The whole of the Scriptures stands in anticipation of the revealing of Christ, Christ after is the spirit of prophecy. Revelation therefore becomes the capstone of the Scriptural declarations, from the first one in the garden (Gen. 3:15) to the last one given by Christ to the disciples that He will come again and the myriads of the writings of the surviving apostles.
The key to this whole revealing is found in the words of Christ Himself in this first chapter: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (Rev. 1:18, 19). We should not doubt the importance of the book of Revelation as the very consummation of the Scriptures. It is indeed the end of the cannon. It was written by the last surviving apostle around the year 90 A.D. and with the penning of this book all the teachings and traditions of the apostles is complete. We believe in apostolic authority (remember that an apostle is a witness of the risen Savior) and we reject the idea that apostolic authority has continued in any institution. There is no continuing evolution of apostolic tradition that carries equal weight with the Bible. When John penned these words he finished the cannon and sealed it with a warning not to add or take away for it. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18, 19). Therefore we reject all supposedly new revelations, new traditions that contradict the word, ex cathedra declarations, and cultic additions.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ is the consummation of all that God will reveal to men until the day that Christ literally steps foot on this earth. Before this moment the church had prophets who foretold the future and men that could stand and speak special revelations from God but now such gifts are gone. You will either believe the words God has given us in this complete cannon or you will believe the authority of men that contradict it. But you must do one or the other. Jamison said this: “In this book all the other books of the Bible end and meet: in it is the consummation of all previous prophecy.” It is the only book of prophecy in the New Testament. Other books had touched on prophecy but this is prophecy from start to finish.
When the world speaks about the end they speak of something that is horrific and violent and they see therefore in Revelation something that is horrific and violent. When the Christian speaks of the end they speak of the realization of the purposes of the whole story; the final cause, the end purpose. The violence in this book is not needless cruelty but needed fire that consumes the harmful dross (the flood that washes the world clean). The end of the fire is the purity of the gold and the end of the violence of this book is pure honor for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and glory for all that align themselves with Him. The end of all things and the purpose of all things is the pleasure of God and so we see the elders sing in this book these words: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
This book is a description of the end in that it is a description of the events that will bring all glory and honor and power to Christ. McGee commented this: “John, the writer, reaches farther back into eternity past than any other writer in Scripture (John 1:1-3). He reaches farther on into eternity future in the Book of Revelation…. This book is like a great Union Station where the great trunk lines of prophecy come in from other portions of Scripture. Revelation does not originate but consummates. It is imperative to a right understanding of the book to be able to trace each great subject of prophecy from the first reference to the terminal. There are at least 10 great subjects of prophecy which find their consummation here: 1. The Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15), 2. The church (Matthew 16:18), 3. The resurrection and translation of saints (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52), 4. The Great Tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30-31), 5. Satan and evil (Ezekiel 28:11-18), 6. The “man of sin” (Ezekiel 28:1-10), 7. The course and end of apostate Christendom (Daniel 2:31-45; Matthew 13), 8. The beginning, course, and end of the “times of the Gentiles” (Daniel 2:37; Luke 21:24), 9. The second coming of Christ (Jude 14-15), and 10. Israel’s covenants (Genesis 12:1-3), five things promised Israel.” That is the nature of the end in which this book is dedicated to revealing.
Before we get into the book itself it would be proper to give two warnings. The first warning is that we should not remove this book from the futuristic context in which it aims. It aims as at a description of the literal and future coming of Christ to this earth to rule and reign. There are too many that interpret this book in such a way that the main focus of the book becomes utter nonsense. We must look at this book and interpret it, in its given context, with an eye toward the literal and future fulfillment of its tenants. There are generally four interpretations of the book of Revelation: The Preterist view which states that the book was already fulfilled in the year A.D. 70 when Titus destroyed Rome, the Continuist view which states that the book is being fulfilled in history, the Simple Futurist view that says that the first three chapters of the book are present but the rest of the book is in the future, and then the Extreme Futurist view that says that the whole book is yet to come.
But let us take a simpler look at prophetic perspectives beyond this book alone. Some take an a-millennial view of the scripture which may take many different forms. Generally, this view says that the book of revelation is mostly a description of things that have passed or are occurring in this present age in allegory form. There is no literal millennial reign of Christ but the book does describe a general judgment at the coming of Christ and heavenly imagery of the saint’s future inheritance. But as a whole the book is not to be taken literally but is written in parable form. Many of the old Puritans of old took this view. It is the popular view of some mainline denominations. This view is useful for reminding us of the present struggle with the spirit of antichrist. There is much that we could learn from the old Puritans in this aspect. But, this view is destructive in that it tends to teach men to read into to the scripture what is not really explicitly said and to view
things in the scripture in a non-literal way. If we explain away almost an entire book as something that is not to be taken literally, without any warrant in the context of that book to do so (in fact the book gives us warrant to take it literally), then we will find it hard to defend the literal meaning of other texts. This view in and of itself should not be looked down on for many of our heroes of the faith have held it and have stood strongly for Christ in their times. But we should recognize that it has some serious hermeneutical problems. We should take the Bible as literal (barring obvious metaphoric language that we all use when we are trying to describe things that are not perceived by the senses) unless the context of a given text demands that it should be taken as a parable or a simile. Our hermeneutic should be one of contextualism and not one of two extremes; absolute literalism or absolute mysticism. Here the book of revelation declares that it is telling us things that “must … come to pass.” McGee stated “The point of the book is to encourage Christians. According to this theory, Revelation has been largely fulfilled and there are spiritual lessons for the church today.” While there are some correlations to our present day in this book let us not make the mistake of removing it from its literal fulfillment.
Consider also post-millennial views, these look at the book of Revelation as the process of history by which the “church” as the body of Christ conquers the earth and sets up the kingdom. The early Christians believed in the immanent return of Christ and expected His return. It was not until the days of Constantine and the rise of the Roman church that it began to be taught that the coming of Christ was already here or already past. McGee again summed this up for us: “Historical Theory: Fulfillment of Revelation is going on in history, and Revelation is the prophetic history of the church, according to this theory.” But to believe either of these is to turn the book into an unintelligible mess.
In Matthew we saw four periods; the beginning of sorrows, the end, the great tribulation, and the coming of the Son of man. In Daniel we have the seventieth week (affectionately known as the Tribulation period) which was to occur after the Messiah was cut off. There is no rational reason to believe that the last week has already been fulfilled. It still waits for its fulfillment. Since the first 69 weeks of Daniel were literally fulfilled, we must wait for the literal fulfillment of the last week or seven years. That is why we hold tenaciously to the pre-millennial view. Christ will literally come and literally reign on this earth and we with Him. And the events described in this book are the future events that will precede His coming.
The other warning which we should heed is the danger of keeping the applications of this book to some vague future time. This book is written for our edification in the last days. And many of the elements of this book will offer correlations for us to learn from today. McGee again commented that “Revelation is not a sealed book (Revelation 22:10). Contrast Daniel 12:9. It is a revelation (apocalypse), which is an unveiling.” Since McGee invoked Daniel let us consider the difference between the sealing of his book and the writing of Revelation. “And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” The revealing of what was sealed by God in the days of Daniel is revealed by Christ to John in the last days. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1, 2). But, this book says to seal not the book because the coming of the Lord is at hand (Rev. 22:10). Brethren, we are living in the last days. The time of the fulfillment of these things is ready and has been ready every since these words were pinned. They are therefore relevant to us in the respect that we can look at the things that are written and we can see those things in germ form now. We can see that these things are just over the horizon. We can see the man of sin that is coming and we can see his forerunners in the popes and other men who claim to stand in the stead of God and Christ. We see the depravity of man in its fullness in the prophecy but we see the depravity of man restrained for now. We see correlations between the present suffering of the people of God and the suffering of those who will go through those days. And when we read this book we find the hope of heaven more real to us. This book is real to us now as well as being an outline for the future. Daniel told about four present kingdoms that exist until the time the kingdom of Christ is set up. These kingdoms are still here today. The time is at hand. The coming of Christ is immanent; Let us lift up our heads because our redemption draws nigh.