April 29, 2015
Kill the Dragon, Get the Girl: The Vivid Drama of Revelation 4-22
I. The Gospel in 3D
The book of Revelation is a mystery. Its visions are violent, strange, bizarre, and shrouded in uncertainty. That leads to two common approaches to the book: Either we ignore it and stop reading after chapter three, or the book is dissected for precise prophetic-cloaked-correspondence for some point in a distant and dystopian future. One path leads to the apocalypse being closed on our shelves. The other leads to it being studied with charts, graphs, illustrations, and lots and lots of contradicting theories. For many of us approaching the book of Revelation has meant only having one of these two options.
I want to introduce, however, a third path, a way going forward into the shadows of Revelation 4-22 in which we’re able to keep our bearings by being guided by the compass of Christ and his gospel. The book of Revelation contains future prophecies. There’s no doubt about it. Yet the book of Revelation is not merely about the distant future. The entire book (and chapters 4-22 in particular) are meant to be the fuel for Christian faithfulness in the present, and the future implications of the prophecies that are there are to be understood in the light of that present application. In other words, far from just being a book just about Bible prophecy, the visions of Revelation 4-22 are a vivid 3D gospel that is meant to enable the churches of chapters 1-3 to face the future with gospel-allegiance to Jesus Christ, the king of creation and the king of the ages. Chapters 1-3 are the glasses that we always have to wear in order to see the gospel special effects in all their mesmerizing brilliance. When we walk into Revelation in this way we find ourselves caught up in an epic story of love, sacrifice, war, death, good, evil, and the triumph of the one true king. Before the curtain opens on this theological thriller, however, we would be wise to prepare ourselves for what we’re going to see.
II. The Battle for the Princess Bride
So, what we want to do is briefly look at how this drama of chapters 4-22 is put together and in so doing take a broad look out over the landscape of themes before we begin our trek through the remainder of the book. By doing this we note several things:
1. Revelation 4-22 is all about the triumph of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
2. Revelation 4-22 is grounded in the textual theology of the Old Testament.
3. Revelation 4-22 is presented to empower believers to conquer faithfully in Christ.
4. Revelation 4-22 tells one epic story divided into two acts:
A. The Righteous Judgment of God on the Fallen World (Act I, Revelation 4-11)
B. The Rescue of God’s People and the Renewal of All Things. (Revelation 4-22)
C. The Final Defeat of Satan and his Allied Armies (Act II, Revelation 12-22)
5. Revelation 4-22 presents these three stories and connects them together through a variety of symbolic numbers and images.
6. Revelation 4-22 portrays God’s sovereign control over a cursed world in chaos.
7. Revelation 4-22 is meant to lead us to worship God and God alone.
Food poisoning is bad. The stomach flu is bad. Nausea is unpleasant. No one likes to be sick. That’s why we go to such great lengths to avoid it. We get flu-shots. We wash our hands. We’re careful with what we eat. We try not to get too close to someone who may be contagious! We don’t want to be ill, so we want to stay clear of things that are sickening. And there’s nothing more sickening than a church (or a believer) who has grown indifferent to the gospel and the gospel’s Lord. That’s the most disgusting thing in all creation.Nothing compares to the grossness of a people claiming to follow Jesus and yet having no burning affections for him. It makes Jesus sick.
That’s the problem that had weakened the congregation of Laodicea. The city, halfway between Hierapolis (with its famous hot springs) and Colossae (with its mountain cold springs and rivers) was the home of a church that was afloat in its own murky, tepid, polluted waters. The believers there apparently weren’t facing false teaching, or immorality, or cultural compromise, or persecution. They just didn’t love Jesus very much. They preferred to marinate in materialism. They were in love with an easy, comfortable Christianity that just happened to be Christless. And it was making Jesus sick to his stomach. And so Jesus comes to this lifeless yet luxurious congregation at Laodicea and begins basic Gospel-CPR.
II. Gospel CPR: Recovery in the Richness of the Gospel
Jesus’ restoration work for the church in Laodicea is intended to wake it from its slumber, enflame it out of indifference, and infect it with glowing affections for Jesus. He has to get the anti-gospel bacteria out of their system, and surprisingly the only cure is a feast. You may have heard the old adage about “feeding a cold.”Well, Jesus’ cure is all about feasting, rather than just feeding. He doesn’t intend to change the church in Laodicea through watery chicken soup broth. He intends to revive it through the rich, extravagant food of the gospel, a feast that is far better than anything else the world has to offer. Jesus invites the Laodiceans (and us) to the banquet table. In so doing, he reveals to us the causes for our sickness and the only cure for our souls:
1. The richness of the gospel reveals how insanely content we can be in our sin. (vv. 14-17)
2. The richness of the gospel reveals how delusional we are about our true condition. (v. 17)
3. The richness of the gospel reveals the true treasure that is found only in Christ. (v. 18)
4. The richness of the gospel reveals the fierce love of Christ for his bride. (v. 19)
5. The richness of the gospel reveals the intimate and eternal fellowship that we are offered with Christ. (vv. 20-22)
Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
April 1, 2015
The Dead Church: The Life of the Gospel in Sardis
I. Weekend at Sardis
The churches of Pergamum and Thyatira had been mired in the muck of immorality. By the time Jesus finishes addressing these two churches that had been weighed down by false teaching and sexual deviancy, it may have appeared that the condition of the local churches could not have gotten any worse. Surely, these two churches were the rock-bottom examples of how far local churches could sink away from the gospel. Surely the remaining three churches would at least be better than the pagan parade of sin that Jesus just reprimanded.
Then Jesus speaks to Sardis, and we see the most tragic demise of a local church. The churches of Pergamum and Thyatira had been prostituting themselves with the prevailing culture, but at least they had a pulse. The church in Sardis just isn’t in critical condition; for all practical purposes it is extinct, a sad sepulcher maintaining a pretense of health while all its vital signs have flat-lined. Then Jesus speaks.
II. A Divine Autopsy Report
He speaks. This is no small thing. Jesus determinedly walks into the presence of deadness, but not to mourn, but to instead perform a miracle. Jesus is in the business of bringing dead things back to life. He is in the habit of calling corpses out of the cemeteries, and that’s exactly what he does in Sardis. His razor-blade inspection of the congregation on the mortuary table before him is a divine autopsy. It is an autopsy that at once reveals and warns about what led to the church’s death, while at the same time speaking to his bride the words he has whispered before, “talitha cumi, little girl get up.” In his resurrection-examination we, the readers, are given a first-hand account of how we are to prevent the death of a local church, while at the same time seeing the power of the gospel to make dead things live again. We see what had led to the demise of Sardis, and we see how Jesus intends to get it back.
1. The church built itself on its religious reputation, not on the gospel (v. 1).
2. The church wasted away on the life support of an incomplete gospel (v. 2).
3. The church forgot the very source of its life, the message of the gospel (v. 3).
4. The church ignored the danger of ignoring the gospel (v. 3).
5. The church needed to be resurrected by the power and promise of the gospel (vv. 1, 4-6).
I. The Decision: Jesus or Jezebel?
An unholy church is a scandal. It’s a scandal because it distorts the gospel. It presents a falsehood. It displays a lie. Among a people who are called to be living communities of Christ-followers, a church that is mired in mirroring the surrounding unbelieving communities and culture is promulgating gossip about the gospel that does not show Jesus as he really is. That was the disease that had infected the church at Pergamum, and it was also the sickness that had begun to poison the church at Thyatira. Both of these congregations were battling corruption, compromise, and a reluctance to do what was necessary to guard the gospel in their midst. They were both being led away into sexual immorality. They were both being ushered into idolatry. They were both being eaten alive from the inside.
And yet there was a distinction. The church at Pergamum’s witness was being lost by tolerating the false-teachers. Their faithfulness in proclaiming Jesus was being compromised through their compromise of sin. Thyatira’s condition was more critical. Their very allegiance to Christ was being brought into question. Who were they really committed to? Who did they really serve? Were they going to be loyal to Jesus or to Jezebel? The scandal of Pergamum was a church that wasn’t picturing Jesus purely. The scandal of Thyatira was a church that had ceased to be captivated by Jesus and instead was becoming enamored by other lovers.
II. A Come to Jesus Meeting (Literally)
In response, Jesus displays himself to his bride, calling and commanding them to behold his beauty, to gaze upon his greatness, and in doing so to cast off anything less than absolute fidelity to him. He makes this passionate call in this longest of messages, by revealing to them what believers within a local church are to be and do.
1. Believers are to be captivated by the absolute uniqueness of King Jesus (v. 18).
2. Believers are to be encouraged in their growth in godliness (v. 19).
3. Believers are to be intolerant of settling for being saturated in sin (v. 20).
4. Believers are to be discerning of deadly dangers (vv. 20-21).
5. Believers are to be warned of rebellion’s consequences (vv. 22-23).
6. Believers are to be called to know Jesus deeply (v. 24-25).
7. Believers are to be motivated by the surpassing greatness of Jesus’ promises (vv. 26-29).
February 11, 2015
Hearing the Spirit Speak: The Letter(s) to the Seven Churches
Revelation 1:9-11; 2-3
I. Into the Wardrobe
In C.S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children find themselves in a strange and enchanted land of kings, queens, witches, talking animals, and the great Lion Aslan, after stumbling through a magical wardrobe which is a hidden portal from their world in England to the world of Narnia. All of their adventures unfold after they’ve passed through the wardrobe and into the great story that they find themselves caught up in.
Revelation is a little like Narnia. It’s a strange world. There are really bizarre and unexpected dangers around every turn. Chapters and verses seem to plunge headlong into frightening chasms. There are perplexing labyrinths that lie shrouded in mystery. There are kings, beasts, armies, battles, a curse, and an evil dragon. And yes, there is even a majestic Lion who is a mighty king, a Lion whose eternity thundering roar sounds strangely similar to the soft bleating of a Lamb.
With that being said, readers face a perplexing question: How do we get into the world of Revelation? If we simply parachute in to the middle of the book we’re going to be as lost and as exposed to danger as if we had been dropped into the middle of a WWI battlefield. If we just jump into the thick of it, we’re going to lose our way in an instant. We need a wardrobe. And that’s what we have in chapters 2-3. The first chapter states John’s purpose and summarizes the book in the prologue. The last chapter (22) ends the book with an epilogue. Chapters 4-21 are the heart of the book, that foreign land of apocalyptic visions. And chapters 2-3, the short summary messages from Christ to seven local churches, are the wardrobe, the portal and passage through which we must enter the world of Revelation.
II. Through the Looking Glass
This cannot be overstated: We will never get Revelation right if we fail to understand Revelation 2-3. Everything else flows out of these chapters, speaks their language, and is tuned to their pitch. They are not unnecessary preliminaries getting us ready for the start of the book. They are the only way for us to come to terms with what the book is actually saying. In these letters the Spirit of God gives us five ironclad commitments that are to be the bedrock that our lives are built on. These five commitments are the foundation for a gospel-fueled life, and the entire book of Revelation is unfolding to bring you “further up and further in” to their life-transforming power:
1. Live in the light of the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ.
2. Live knowing the terrible and beautiful truth, that nothing is hidden from the holy gaze of Jesus Christ.
3. Live obediently to the commending and correcting Word of God.
4. Live in the confidence that your overcoming triumph in Christ is the eternity-strong commitment of each Person of the triune God.
5. Live triumphantly through tribulation, treasuring the promise of eternal, Jesus-fueled joy as the prize for persevering to the end.
God’s people are kingdom citizens in a world that is in rebellion against God. In some ways, to use C.S. Lewis’s imagery from Mere Christianity, we are co-conspirators for the gospel who live in a world that is behind enemy lines in “enemy-occupied territory.” We are resident aliens, at once at home in the world and at the same time very much not at home. We are exiles on earth, and that exilic life can be really tough. We are surrounded by the pressures of temptation, persecution, and despair. The thick cloud of the curse hangs heavy over all the land.
That’s why God has given his people confident hope in the midst of all their troubles. He sent them a deliverer and mighty signs during their sojourn in Egypt. He revealed his glory to Ezekiel during the exilic imprisonment in Babylon, and now through John he sends his beleaguered churches communications of his presence, plan, promises, and ultimate victory over everything that is now bent low under the illegitimate reign of Satan. Because we live in a world full of pain and pressure, God in his grace sends us a booming announcement that paradise is still to come, will come, and will be ushered in by the triumphant victory of Christ.
That’s really good news. It is a great mercy that God gives his people what they so desperately need. The churches of Asia Minor needed to hear from God. John, the old apostle alone on the island needed to hear it to. In a world that seems like one giant Patmos, they all needed one thing, to see and to hear from the Son.
II. The Way to Paradise in the World of Patmos
And because that’s what God’s people need(ed), that’s what God has given. At just the right time he sent the battered believers a love letter unveiled in the cosmic drama of an apocalyptic climax to history, a love letter that showed believers the presence of paradise in the world of Patmos. He did this by showing believers himself, and in doing so he showed them (and us) what we are to be characterized by, united in, strengthened through, and called to:
1. Believers are characterized by their faithful endurance in suffering, sorrow, and sanctification.
2. Believers are united in their ongoing enjoyment of God through worshipping by the Spirit.
3. Believers are strengthened through encountering the risen, glorified, and sovereign Son of God.
4. Believers are called to live in obedience to God by being entrusted with the Word of Christ, the Scriptures.
I. The Entrance Into Eschatology
Sometimes the biggest truths can be summarized very simply. We can condense an email message to a subject line. Corporations can communicate who they are with a logo. Wives can send a clear message to their husbands with one focused look! And think of the tremendous truth that is spoken when an elderly couple looks into each other’s face and says, “I love you more now than I ever have before,” or the whisper of a new father peering into the face of his newborn daughter and saying, “You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.” Those are all very simple words, and yet they are loaded with a weight, depth, and meaning as big as the universe itself.
John understood this truth, so it should come as no surprise that in the prologue of his letter he has summarized the entire apocalypse into a single paragraph. Everything that the book of Revelation says to the churches, to believers, is packed into these sentences. It is the doorway into John’s vision. It is the entrance into his eschatology. If we want to come to terms with the full length and breadth of this book’s message, we must start here. It is the portal through which the Lamb’s revelation becomes clear. If we’re ever going to come to terms with parts of the book that may seem a bit more bizarre, we had better grasp the totality of what John wants to communicate that is so very basic.
II. Grounded on the Gospel
So how does John both introduce and summarize his letter? What does he want the beleaguered churches of Asia Minor to have ringing in their ears as the letter’s imagery and hope are unfolded to them? At its simplest John wants to remind them that everything is ultimately centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In order to be rooted for endurance in the trying days of the future one must be grounded on the gospel. Never forget, far more than merely unveiling the culmination of God’s actions in history, the book of Revelation shows us the glory of God in the face of Christ as the all encompassing center for all reality. In direct opposition to everything the world sets its hope in, John wants the churches to remember that history is all about the victory of God in Christ. He shows us this by showing us five gospel truths that we must never forget:
1. The gospel according to Revelation COMES from the unity of Persons who is the triune God.
2. The gospel according to Revelation PROCLAIMS the unique supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
3. The gospel according to Revelation ANNOUNCES the completed atonement that has been accomplished by the loving and gracious God.
4. The gospel according to Revelation WARNS of the certain danger of the righteous wrath of the holy God.
5. The gospel according to Revelation DISPLAYS the certain and total triumph of the sovereign God.
January 14, 2015
Apocalypse Now: Rejoicing in the Revelation of Jesus Christ
I. The End of the World As We Know It…
What you believe about the future greatly influences how you will face your life in the present. That’s true both locally, in the short-term, and globally over the long-term (even the very long-term). One of the building blocks to your worldview is your own particular perspective on what the future holds, what this world is coming to. No matter who you are, or where you are, your today is fueled by how you view tomorrow. So what do you think about the future? Do you think your future is looking good? Are things getting better? Do you see a forecast of progress? Or maybe you’re not quite sure. Maybe you’re a bit uneasy about what your future might bring. Maybe instead of progress, you look into the future and see only pessimism.
What about the really big picture? What do you think about when you think about the end of the world? What comes to mind when you hear words like doomsday or apocalypse? Chances are those words don’t make you want to party. For most people they conjure up thoughts of nuclear holocausts, WWIII, global pandemics, extinction, fear, uncertainty, and chaos. None of those things sound like things that might make you want to get up and dance! They’re all pretty depressing, aren’t they?
Maybe that’s how you feel about the book of Revelation too. After all, it’s confusing, graphic, violent, and seems to be filled with a whole lot of scary stuff. If any book of the Bible were to be voted “most terrifying,” surely Revelation would be it! So would it surprise you if I told you that the book of Revelation isn’t a horror story at all, that instead it’s written to increase your delight and joy in God forever? The book of Revelation is meant to be reveled in! It is the fountain for the future’s happiness.
II. “Celebrate End Times, Come On!”
So why do I think Revelation is all about rejoicing? Well, the first few verses tell me that. It begins with a literal three-pronged blessing, and the word “blessed,” can be translated here, “happy, joyful, and glad.” In other words, we’re immediately told that this book is no mere prophecy. It’s not a physic prediction. The book of Revelation is gospel. It’s really, really good news! And to make that truth clear, the first three verses give us four reasons why this is true. The book starts by giving us four reasons we can and should rejoice in the book of Revelation:
1. It is faithfully WRITTEN by a trustworthy and authoritative apostolic eyewitness.
2. It is ultimately FROM and ABOUT Jesus Christ.
3. It is sovereignly GIVEN to believers by the gracious and wise will of God.
4. It is powerfully SUFFICIENT to strengthen believers to live faithfully in a fallen world, now and into the future.
A friend of mine asked me to share the commentaries and other reference works that I was using in my preparation and study for the sermon series in Revelation. I sent him the bibliography of my resources, but I thought others might like to see what I would be using, so here are my resources:
Bauckham, Richard. The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation. Continuum International Publishing Group – T & T C, 1998.
Bauckham, Richard, and James Dunn. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. 1st ed. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Beale, G.K. A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Transformation of the Old Testament in the New. Baker Publishing Group, 2011.
———.The Book of Revelation: A Commentary, 2013.
Blaising, Craig, Kenneth Gentry, Robert Strimple, and Darrell Bock. Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1999.
Duvall, J Scott. Revelation. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014.
Hamilton, James, R. Kent Hughes (Contribution by). Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2012.
Hamilton, James. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton, Ill: CROSSWAY BOOKS, 2010.
Hemer, Colin, and Astrid Beck. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Edited by David Noel Freedman. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company, 2000.
Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1994.
Hoekema, Anthony. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Pub Co, 1979.
Johnson, Dennis. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. EVANGELICAL PRESS, 2004.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company, 1972.
MacArthur, John. Revelation 1-11. Moody Publishers, 1999.
———.Revelation 12-22. Chicago, Ill: Moody Publishers, 2000.
Macpherson, Duncan. The Promise of the Future. Success Source, 2000.
Mounce, Robert.The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids: Ethics & Public Policy Center Inc.,U.S., 1977.
———.The Book of Revelation (New International Commentary on the New Testament). William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995.
Osborne, Grant. Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Baker Publishing Group, 2002.
Patterson, Paige. Revelation: New American Commentary. B&H Publishing Group, 2012.
Riddlebarger, Kim, and Kim Riddlebarger. Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times. Baker Publishing Group, 2003.
Schnabel, Eckhard. 40 Questions About the End Times. KREGEL PUBN, 2012.
Schreiner, Thomas.The King in His Beauty. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Pub Group, 2013.
Staff, Baker Publishing Group. Case for Historic Premillennialism, A: An Alternative to Left Behind Theology. Edited by Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.
Storms, Sam. Kingdom Come. Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2013.
Summers, Ray. Worthy Is the Lamb. Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1951.
Venema, Cornelis. The Promise of the Future. The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.
Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.
This introductory listening guide provides a foundational survey of some basic information that is helpful for understanding the book of Revelation generally, how to read and interpret the book, and the way we’ll be dealing with the text in the upcoming sermon series. This introductory material is much longer than the normal sermon notes/listening guide will be. The extra material is provided to give listeners and readers a little extra framework for everything that will be coming in the weeks and months ahead.
It sits at the back of the Bible, bringing up the rear of the canon, standing there like a sentinel guarding a valuable treasure. And it’s an appropriate ending point for God’s special scriptural revelation, because the last book in the holy library is unlike any other book. It’s a bit of a loner. It’s odd, maybe even a bit standoffish. It doesn’t seem as inviting as the gospels, even though Jesus incarnate is its focus. Nor does it seem as easy to follow as Paul’s letters, even though it is itself a letter to a particular group of churches at a particular place and time in history. No, whatever else we might say about Revelation, one thing is certain. It sure is different.
As soon as we open the pages of Revelation we immediately know that we’re in a foreign world. Everything seems strange and new. Instead of a normal letter that flows in a straight line from beginning to end, we get a set of letters connected to a glimpse into the secret counsels of God. Instead of a list of encouraging instructions, we get a graphic and vivid docudrama that seems to be equal parts fantasy and horror story. And above it all, we definitely get confused. In some ways if we read through to the end of this book we might be left rubbing our eyes and asking, “What was that?!”
Throughout church history this confusion has oftentimes created two very different responses from believers, two responses that we want to avoid. Some students of the Bible have been so attracted to Revelation that they never want to go anywhere else. These are preachers who never seem to preach a sermon unless it’s connected to some fantastic interpretation of Bible prophecy. They oftentimes want to use the book of Revelation as the lens through which the rest of the Bible is understood, rather than having the rest of the Bible be the lens through which the book of Revelation is understood! The opposite reaction is one of avoidance. The book is confusing. It’s controversial. Its correct interpretation is contested, so some just stay away from it. If the first group has an incessant obsession with the book, the second group seems to have a strong allergic reaction to it.
Both of these responses are two extremes that we want to navigate between. We want to acknowledge that the book of Revelation is a part of the biblical storyline and we want to understand it in context through the rest of the Bible. And at the same time, while we acknowledge that the book can be confusing and intimidating we want to always confess that the book of Revelation is a part of the biblical canon. It was inspired by God. It is given to believers. It is meant to be read, understood, and obeyed. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. Everything that is true about the rest of the Bible that is described in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is just as true about the book of Revelation.
So…we must read and hear the vision given by Christ to John on the Isle of Patmos. But before we do there are a few things we should introduce. We need to know what the book is (an eschatological apocalyptic letter) and we need to consider the underlying themes and purposes of the book:
II. Essentials of Eschatology: But…Finally
The book of Revelation is an eschatological apocalyptic letter. Eschatology is the study of last things or final things. It focuses on the point to which everything and everyone is headed, for both individuals (Heaven/Hell) and all of creation and history. And yet, there’s a bit more to it. It’s not merely a prophetic playbook that gives the details for the future. Eschatology in the Bible is centered on two things: The resurrection of Jesus is the climax of history and the truth about the culmination of all things compels us to live in light of the resurrection today, in the present, in the here and now.
1. First, eschatology understands the resurrection of Jesus to be the climax of all history. It’s all about the “last days,” but here’s the catch: from a biblical perspective everything after the resurrection is the last days (Acts 2:14-21; Heb 1:1-2).
2. Second, eschatology isn’t a “pie-in-the-sky” trailer for coming attractions for the Christian church. It’s not a Nostradamus-like preview of future events that are meant to merely inform us about what’s up next. Eschatology is always a message to God’s people that is a call to love the risen Christ, trust the risen Christ, and obey the risen Christ in the here and now. It is always applicable for where we are presently!
3. With these two foundations in place, we might then define eschatology, the type of eschatology that the book of Revelation is a part of, as “The biblical meditation on last things for the purpose of treasuring ultimate things, namely the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
III. The Apocalyptic Puzzle: Vivid Vagueness
And here comes the tricky part. The book of Revelation is an eschatological apocalyptic letter. That means that the book is in some ways in a class by itself. It’s not just an ordinary letter or an ordinary piece of prophetic literature. So that begs the question, what is apocalyptic literature? Well, it has a long history in Jewish writings (biblical and extra-biblical) and might best be characterized in the following ways:
1. It is written to encourage the people of God who are suffering through some type of trauma or cataclysmic event to give them hope in God’s reign over the present and his sovereign triumph over the future.
2. It flows out of a deep reliance on and reference to the Old Testament. So rather than merely being situated in the future, it is rooted in the past revelation of God.
3. It presents its message through vivid vagueness. The medium by which the message is communicated is through repeated patterns of truth that are communicated by symbolic and graphic images, and significant and representative numbers.
We will always lose our way through the maze of Revelation if we fail to recognize and remember these three crucial keys to understanding and interpreting apocalyptic writings, of which Revelation is the most famous example.
IV. Revealing Revelation: Sailing to the Island of Patmos
With that briefest of introductions to eschatology and apocalyptic literature, we can now give a summary introduction to the book itself. We want to briefly consider the basics of the books authorship, the particular way we will be studying the text, and the purposes for which the book was written in the first place:
1. A Preliminary Introduction
A. Author: John the Apostle
B. Date: Probably around 95 AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian
C. Place of Writing: The exilic island of Patmos, a little more than fifty miles off the coast of Asia Minor from the port city of Ephesus.
D. Original Audience: Unlike many of Paul’s letters, the book of Revelation is a circular epistle, meaning it was written to a group of local churches throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and would have been circulated through those churches by messenger(s). The recipients of the book were the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
2. Perspectives of Interpretation
This is a big question. How will we approach the book in this upcoming sermon series? That question really lies at the heart of what we believe about the book as a whole, and throughout church history there have been four major approaches:
A. The Preterist Interpretation: The book is primarily written about the historical situation(s) at the end of the first century. As such, this view typically argues that all (or most) of the prophecies were fulfilled shortly after the book was written and delivered.
B. The Historicist Interpretation: The book is primarily a prophetic outline of the entirety of church history from the time of the apostles until the return of Christ.
C. The Idealist Interpretation: The book is primarily a symbolic overview of the cosmic battle between good and evil, God and Satan, and presents timeless spiritual truths to equip believers to be a part of that struggle.
D. The Futurist Interpretation: The book is primarily a description of the ultimate “last days” including the final judgments of God on the fallen world, the eternal overthrow of Satan, and the ushering in of the new creation into eternity by Jesus Christ.
Different readers and interpreters have defended their views and attacked the others. Oftentimes the conflicts have centered on a belief that an interpretation demands an “either-or” approach. I believe that’s a mistake (especially when it comes to Revelation). As such, our approach will be an increasingly popular view known as:
E. The Eclectic Interpretation: The book is like a fine diamond with different hues and shades. As such, to be most faithful to the text we’ll be open to aspects of each of the interpretations listed above. The book of Revelation is multi-layered as it communicates the eternal triumph of Jesus, the ultimate defeat of evil, and the unending hope of believers, now and in the future.
3. The Purpose(s) of the Book
Finally, in wrapping this introduction up we need to ask why the book was written in the first place. What are the big themes of the letter? What was the purpose for which John took pen to paper? A few days ago I tried to summarize the main message of the book, and I did it this way:
The purpose of the book of Revelation is to confront the church’s crushing crises of the cosmic curse, catastrophic conflict, and cultural compromise through confidence in and commitment to the crucified, crowned, conquering, and coming Christ.
Now, let’s state the obvious. That’s a lot of “c’s.” So let’s take this a section at a time. The book of Revelation is written for believers who are suffering, hurting, and are always being tempted to give in to doubt, defeat, and despair. It confronts the church’s crushing crises of:
A. The Cosmic Curse – Believers suffer from the ordinary consequences of living in a fallen world and are constantly being threatened by sickness, death, suffering, sickness, sorrow, uncertainty, and anxiety.
B. Catastrophic Conflict – Believers are also always in jeopardy of suffering for not merely living in a fallen world, but particularly because they are believers. So Christians face the threats of ridicule, attack, censorship, marginalization, and persecution in our families, workplaces, and by society (or government) in general.
C. Cultural Compromise – Finally, the pressures of the curse and conflict always threaten believers (who are always sinners) with the temptation to compromise their faith and give-in to the call to look and act like the world around them. Sin, immorality, worldly accommodation, and complacency are siren calls that invite us to an “easier” life if we’ll just not take our calling to follow Jesus so seriously.
These are the enemies of the churches that John is writing to, and the way he confronts these dangerous threats is by calling believers to:
A. Confidence in: Believers are called to have faith and belief in, trust in, and love for Jesus Christ that gives us assurance and hope for the future.
B. Commitment to: This confidence in Jesus Christ is then lived out personally and publicly in our allegiance and obedience to and our profession and proclamation of Jesus Christ.
This confidence and commitment to is connected to one specific person. The believer’s hope is not to our wealth, health, self-esteem, nation, government, or any superficial situation that we find ourselves in. Our confidence is in Jesus, and our commitment is to Jesus, and in the pages of Revelation Jesus the Christ is revealed to be the one who…
A. Was Crucified – Jesus was killed, slaughtered as a substitute on a Roman cross to purchase for God a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
B. Is Crowned – Jesus didn’t stay dead. The crucified one is also the resurrected on. After being slaughtered on the cross, Jesus was resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven, being given by his Father a name that is above every name. He is currently reigning at the right hand of God as king over the universe. No other worldly power, person, or empire has the right to see itself as supreme. Only Jesus is worthy of the divine and royal worship of his people!
C. Is Conquering – Jesus will ultimately and triumphantly defeat all evil, the serpent, and he will rid the cosmos of every trace of the curse descended on creation as a consequence of our sin. Jesus (and all those who are his) has won the victory already and will completely overcome and conquer when all is said and done.
D. Is Coming – Jesus (God the Son) will physically and literally return to bring history to a climactic conclusion in which all things that the Bible has been promising and expecting are finally brought into full reality forever! God’s people will be resurrected bodily and all creation will be transformed into a new creation in which God’s people will dwell with him forever in the full beauty and pleasure of his presence. In his coming all the promises and prayers of the Bible will be eternally answered. The hope of Adam will be an eternal reality as Jesus, the seed of the woman, crushes the serpent forever and eradicates the darkness of rebellion from all creation. The hope of Abraham will be an eternal reality as Jesus, the promised heir, will be worshiped by an unnumbered multitude from every tribe, race, nation, and people. The hope of David will be an eternal reality, as Jesus, the physical descendant of Jesse, fully man and fully God, reigns as the supreme king over all creation. And finally, the hope of God’s people’s prayers that Jesus himself taught us to speak, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” will finally, fully, and eternally be answered as Heaven and earth are united in the unending reign of Jesus Christ!