Heavenly Father, we offer this song to You as our heartfelt petition. Show us Christ. Give us eyes to see, may we see with our ears all that You mean to show us in this book. Give us good heads to think clearly, tender hearts to trust You and affirm, resolve to stand on Your side, even when the world may seem to be on the other side. In Christ we pray. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bible to the very last book. It should say the Revelation to John. I’m going to be a good friend and just let you know some people in your life wanted to say this to you, but they didn’t know how, the book is not Revelations, it’s just Revelation. So the Revelation to John.
We’re starting this new series, the very last book in the Bible, some would say the most difficult book to understand in the Bible, famously at least for those familiar with Presbyterian and Reformed tradition, not even John Calvin wrote a commentary on Revelation, so what are you doing?
Well, there is much here for us to learn and I can’t promise that this first paragraph is the most high and lifted up of all the sections in Revelation, but in some ways it is the most important because this is going to inform us on how to read properly the rest of this book. Here’s the first paragraph, Revelation verses 1 through 3.
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”
Sometimes you can tell a lot about a book by the very first sentence. For example, here’s a book I had to read in college. It starts like this: “The study of logic is given great support by an orderly and perspicuous account of its central principles and techniques.” That was for my logic class. I actually really liked the class, though that sentence tells you, do not bring this book to the beach. It orients you to the type of book already, “perspicuous” in the very first sentence tells you, okay, this is straight up a logic textbook.
How about this? Here’s a book we have in our house, this is the first sentence: “Cups usually range in size from quarter cup to one cup. Some sets also include one-eighth cup, two-thirds, three-fourths, and two cups.” From Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, the great Betty Crocker. So that tells you something about the type of book, can be very orderly, you’re not going to take those measurements as some sort of cosmic symbol of the end times. You want to know how many tablespoons, teaspoons, cups, etc. It tells you what sort of book you’re reading.
There’s another book on my shelf at the moment. The first sentence: “When Augustin was born there is 354, the town of Thagaste had existed for 300 years.” Famous biography of Augustine of Hippy by Peter Brown. That first sentence tells you, okay, we’re in the past, this is a biography, we got a date, we got a place, we got a person. Orients you to the type of book you’re reading.
One more example. First sentence, very short, very effective: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” From Tolkien’s The Hobbit. What does that sentence tell you? Not a logic textbook, not a cookbook. You’re in the world of fantasy, you’re in a literary device. You have hobbit so you’re in a different, make-believe world.
A good introduction helps you know, even without realizing it, how should I read the rest of this book.
That’s what this introduction to Revelation does. It orients us, just as those other sentences do. Are you reading a cookbook, a legal manual, a textbook, a novel… All of those cues help you understand intuitively what should I expect, how should I appropriate what I’m about to read, and this first paragraph does all of that for the book of Revelation.
In particular, these verses tell us that Revelation belongs to three kinds of literature. These are our three points for this morning. Revelation is an apocalypse, a prophecy, and a letter. You have to get those three things in your head, like I said, so this is going to be a little heavier on some teaching this morning, but this is going to help lay the foundation for the rest of the book, or to use a different metaphor, that you put on the right glasses that you know what sort of book are you reading. It is an apocalypse, a prophecy, and a letter.
Let’s look at each of those. You see in English it begins, verse 1, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Greek, this was first written in Greek, the first word apokalupsis. That’s the very first word. This is an apocalypse.
Now you hear that and you think of if something is apocalyptic it’s big, it’s massive, often it means it’s awful, an apocalypse sends something in your mind, we’re talking about end times or something catastrophic. That’s related, but not exactly what is meant by this word. The apocalypse of Jesus Christ, the word simply means, as it’s translated, a revealing, an uncovering, something that is shrouded that is then to be revealed. So at the very beginning, this book which many Christians find to be the most difficult and shrouded in mystery, at the very beginning that word apokalupsis actually tells us that something is not supposed to be hidden but is supposed to be revealed.
Yes, it’s mysterious. Yes, there are things perhaps shrouded at parts, but this is meant to be not a covering up of a mystery but an unveiling of it. God means for you to understand this book. Apocalyptic is the type of literature.
Now that can sound like an intimidating word, but what we need to understand is that as apocalyptic literature, Revelation is a book of showing. Now the showing, you notice there’s no in your Bible here, there’s no pictures. He didn’t draw something. It’s a showing, it’s a sight that comes through the ears. So John saw something and he wrote it down. So now our “seeing” is through hearing. But it’s a book of showing.
You see in the very first verse, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show.” An apocalyptic book is a book of showing.
What does that mean? Well, it’s not a book of precise legal codes. It gives us verbal pictures. The verb “to see” appears 52 times in Revelation. So we’re meant to see something.
One way to think about this is we should look at these verbal pictures in Revelation not as frames moving along in a movie, in particular a chronological movie, but rather different portraits we might see hanging up in an art gallery. If you’re watching a movie that’s moving orderly, so not like a Christopher Nolan movie that doesn’t make sense, but that’s moving orderly, you understand, oh, I’m watching this scene and then comes this one and this one. That’s not the type of showing that we have in Revelation. But think of more as you’re walking around an art gallery and first you stop at this picture and you say, “What’s going on here? What do these colors mean? What’s this imagery?” and just as soon as you’ve sort of understood what’s going on this picture, the tour guide takes you and says, “Now I want you to look at this picture over here and what do you see?” You see some of the same things you may have seen five frames, five paintings ago, but in different hues, different colors.
The big word that most commentaries use to describe this effect is the word “recapitulation.” What that means is that Revelation is not so much a chronological timeline so that you start in chapter 1 or maybe chapter 4 after the seven letters or chapter 6 after those visions, and that just goes in a straight line to chapter 22, but rather you think of it as overlapping circles, or as paintings that show you the same thing from a different angle over and over again. That’s what we mean by recapitulation.
Some of you maybe have grown up learning Revelation in a different way. So I hope you will stick with me and with the book through this series and keep an open mind to see if there is good reason to perhaps read it, because some of us maybe grew up, if you grew up in a church, or maybe you’ve watched these preachers on TV, and the whole church, the preacher’s doing a series on Revelation, the end times, and it’s just a big timeline all the way around and there’s a dragon and there’s all sorts of cool pictures. We’ve got a big enough church we could line it all up. Rick Ely didn’t give me permission to do. But we could just line it all up and have all of this timeline.
When I was a young Christian at some point, maybe I was in college or something, and I was trying to figure out Revelation, I’m going to read through this and I just started, right, now this thing happened and this thing happened, and intuitively I just thought, well, it’s just a start to finish, straight order timeline after chapter 6 happens chapter 7 happens, chapter 8. I’m going to spell this all out.
That’s not the best way to read Revelation. You’ll see this time and again. We don’t have time to show you all of those, but let me just give you one or two examples of this recapitulation to help you understand what I mean.
Turn to Revelation chapter 11. What I want you to see is if you just read Revelation as a straight, orderly, linear chronology, the book doesn’t make sense. For example, you keep having the end of the world and then the book goes on. So if you have recapitulation, you know, oh, I just looked at this painting describing the end of the world and now here’s another painting that describes this same thing with some different imagery.
So for example, Revelation 11:15-18: “The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.”” That great line from the Hallelujah chorus. “The twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for You have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but Your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding Your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear Your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” Then God’s temple is opened, and the ark of the covenant is seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.”
Boom, what a climax. Destruction has come, the wicked have been judged, temple has been opened. This is a cataclysmic picture of the end.
And yet, if you go to chapter 20, verses 11 through 15, you see the end again: “Then I saw,” chapter 20, verse 11, ” a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead… they were judged, each one of them… Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”
We have a final judgment in chapter 11, we have a final judgment in chapter 20. It is very difficult to make sense of these chapters if we think one follows on a strict chronology from another.
Another example in Revelation 16:17, “The seventh angel pours out the seventh bowl and there is a loud voice from the temple that cries, “It is done!”” Revelation 16:17. So there you might think, “It is done, end of book.” But in chapter 21, verse 6, the One who is seated on the throne cries out, “It is done!”
So which is it? I thought it was done in chapter 16, now you’re saying it doesn’t really get done into chapter 21. That’s what I mean by recapitulation. It’s telling us this story with different images, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. It’s looking from different vantage points to tell us what this story of the world, and then at the end looks like.
We can see this in a number of different places. We could look at chapter 6 and chapter 16 where in chapter 6 people are fleeing from the wrath of the lamb and the mountains are crumbling and the whole earth is disintegrating and then chapter 16 it happens all over again. Because these are not meant to be viewed as sequential clips in a movie but more like two portraits in a gallery, painting a verbal picture. We’ll come to this idea of recapitulation throughout this series, but that’s to introduce it to you so you understand how to read this book.
It is a book of pictures. It’s a book of symbols. The graphic images and pictures point to a deeper reality.
People will sometimes ask, “Well, Pastor Kevin, do you take the Bible literally?” Well, sometimes people ask that and they mean by literally, they mean, “Do you think everything in the Bible is true?” Well, yes, absolutely, of course. Sometimes they mean “literally” as if there were no images, figures, metaphors, so Revelation surely everyone intuitively thinks there’s not a beast with these horns, or there’s not a prostitute riding in on a dragon. We kind of understand those things are pictures of realities.
What I’m suggesting to you at the beginning of this series is that the book is meant to be read in these symbols. Sometimes John, the author, will tell us what the symbols mean, the seven stars are angels, the seven lamps are seven churches, he tells us that. Chapter 17, the seven heads are seven hills. The prostitute is a great city, fine linens stands for the righteous acts of the saints, the ancient serpent is the devil. So sometimes he’s really helpful and says this picture means this.
Other times the picture is meant to land on us not to be taken literally but to teach us the lesson. Because Revelation is an apocalypse, a book of showing, a book of symbols, what you’re going to find is that numbers play a crucial role. When we talk about numbers in the Bible, I don’t want you to think secret code, I need to figure out and there’s a Bible code in here and I can just add up the numbers and just get a decoder ring or something or put it under ultraviolet light it’s going to reveal secrets.
No, that’s now how the numbers work. But just as in our world, 13 is considered unlucky, or if you were saying 100 is a big, round even number, or a million, so they have certain numbers and what you’ll find, three numbers throughout this series, three numbers in particular to pay attention to: 7, 4, and 12.
Seven is the number of completeness. You say, well, that’s just something I’ve heard pastors say before, where do you get that? So creation week. Makes sense, creation, six days, a day of rest, so the creation week seven days, so seven becomes this number of completeness, especially in a spiritual sense. Thus we’re going to find John writes to seven churches, there are seven spirits, there are seven judgments, there are seven lamps. More, and I have these all written down, if we had a Bible study we could show these verses.
The phrase, “Lord God Almighty” occurs seven times in the book. As does the phrase “The One who sits on the throne.” The word “Christ” seven times. Prophecy is mentioned seven times. The phrase “People, tribes, languages and nations” is mentioned seven times. The Holy Spirit is mentioned seven times in relation to the seven churches and another seven times in the rest of the book. The name Jesus is used 14 times, seven times two. Christ is called the Lamb 28 times, seven times four. Seven is an important number throughout the book.
Four. Four represents universality, or worldwide scope. We have this sense even today, the four corners of the earth, means everywhere, even though we know the earth doesn’t literally have corners. So we read in Revelation about four living creatures, about four horsemen of the apocalypse. That fourfold phrase I just gave you, “People, tribe, language, and nation.” It’s a fourfold phrase because it’s representative of the whole world.
Similarly the phrase, “The One who lives forever,” appears four times. The phrase “seven spirits” appears four times. Four times there is a reference to lightning sounds and thunder from the throne.
So seven, a number of completion, perfection. Four, a number of universality, worldwide scope.
Then 12, you can think, what might 12 be about? Well, 12 represents the fullness of God’s people. Of course, 12 tribes of Israel, and Jesus, surely thinking of those 12 tribes, chooses 12 apostles, and that’s why we read of 24 elders, 12 plus 12. 24 thrones, 24 elders.
God’s people, and I’ll have much more to say about this in chapter 7 and make this case more fully, but the 144,000 I don’t think are meant to be taken literally, but that’s 12 times 12 times 1000, it’s God’s people symbolically represented in a number. The New Jerusalem, where God’s people dwell for all eternity, in the description there in chapter 21, the number 12 occurs 12 times.
You get the picture. Revelation is a book of pictures, symbols. That’s what we mean by apocalyptic literature. Yes, we think of apocalypse as having to do with the end times, but really apocalypse means it’s a book of revealing, it’s a book of seeing. It’s a book that comes at you not like a logic textbook or a cookbook or a legal code, but with symbols. An apocalypse.
Second. So we have to read this as an apocalypse and then second as a prophecy. So you go back and you see in chapter 1, verse 3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy.” At the very end of the book, chapter 22 verse 7, we see again this is a prophecy.
Now first of all it’s a prophecy rooted in Old Testament imagery. So as you’re trying to understand and sometimes it is the case that the reference have to do with the ancient world or Rome or other things around, but your first instinct should be how might this strange image be explained from the Old Testament? Because that’s what they’re steeped in. Revelation makes mention of or allusion to, the tree of life, the ancient serpent, the plagues, the song of Moses, Jezebel, Babylon, the temple, Jerusalem, Balaam, the 12 tribes, priests, incense, the water of life, the wine press of God’s wrath… On and on and on.
In fact, there are more quotations, references, or allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation than in any other New Testament book. So you have to think, first of all, a prophecy that’s rooted in Old Testament imagery. When we hear the word “prophecy,” you’ve maybe heard this distinction before, we want to think not only of foretelling but even more importantly of forth-telling. Prophecy we usually think foretelling, that is prophecies tell us what’s going to happen in the future, and there is certainly some of that in Revelation. But even more so it’s a forth-telling, that is, it’s God’s specific word to describe what’s happening or what is going to happen according to His will.
Look at verse 1, because this is key to interpreting Revelation. What is meant, so it’s a prophecy, what is meant that it says, “God gave Him to show His servants the things that must soon take place”? Or verse 3 ends by saying, “The time is near.” The phrase, “What must soon take place” occurs four times. Three times we have the phrase “in a little while.” So does this mean that John expected all of these things to happen in perhaps a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, or at most maybe a few decades of having written down this apocalypse? Is that what he means when he says these things must take place soon?
I don’t think that’s what he means. The language of “soon” or “near” or “close” is not about a pocket watch but about a prophetic watch. So not a pocket watch that measures seconds, minutes, hours, maybe days, but a prophetic watch which measures ages, eons, fulfillments.
In Daniel 2, Daniel interprets a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar. In the dream, Nebuchadnezzar sees a large statue made of gold, silver, iron, and clay, broken into pieces by a rock, which then becomes a huge mountain which fills the whole earth. The four metals are four kingdoms, the rock is the final kingdom set up by God to destroy all the other kingdoms. In Daniel 2:28, Daniel says, “God has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come,” then he says, “The revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen.”
This language from Daniel 2 is in many places identical with the very language here in Revelation chapter 1 and I think the connection is deliberate, that John understands what Daniel saw as something to come, now John is revealing to us is something that is soon to take place. Daniel was seeing here’s a vision for the latter days, and John is saying now we are in those days. We are in the last days, and lest that sound like a very bold statement, “What do you know, Pastor, that we don’t know?” The last days is simply a designation given in Scripture for this age of the Church after the culminating work of Christ in His incarnation, His atonement, and His ascension, and exaltation.
We see this in Acts 2:17. We see it in 1 Timothy 4:1, which clearly says we are in this category of the last days. The last days does not mean, well, check, it could be weeks, could be months, it’s just a couple of years before Jesus comes back. Rather, it’s a designation following the time of the triumph of Christ on the cross. What it means to be in the last days is that a new day has dawned in salvation history. And in particular, if you connect it to Daniel, it means that divine kingdom which Daniel saw was going to come and obliterate the other kingdoms and grow up, that kingdom is at hand.
Now it’s not fully established, it’s not yet, it’s inaugurated, it’s not complete, but it’s here.
Now lest you think, well, maybe I’m tracking with you, Pastor, but I don’t know. It says “soon.” Doesn’t “soon” just mean real soon? Well, remember at the end of the book, Jesus says, in chapter 22, “I am coming soon.” So lest we want to say, “Oops, it turned out not to be very soon,” and we don’t want to do that, it doesn’t honor Christ, doesn’t honor the Bible, we just understand that when Jesus says “I’m coming soon” and it’s been 2000 years that He must understand, there must be a language of “soon” or “near” that is this prophetic watch, not this pocket watch.
When we interpret biblical prophecy, especially apocalyptic prophecy, we need to understand there are layers. Sometimes the analogy is given looking at a mountain range and you can see and when you look at the, you’re driving through Nebraska and you come through Colorado and you’re going up, up, up and then you see the front range of the Rockies and it looks like there’s Pike’s Peak and Colorado Springs, and you have all these other peaks, and it seems like they might just all be sort of in a row until you start going through to Pike’s Peak and then beyond, then you realize what seemed to be sort of very close actually were at a farther distance once you got into the mountains.
There’s a prophetic foreshortening, and then when you get into it, there’s a lengthening.
Or to think of it a different way, many prophecies in the Old Testament work this way, with layers, that have a near fulfillment and a far fulfillment. So it makes sense that New Testament prophecy would work the same way. A near fulfillment and a far fulfillment.
Try to put this in language that might make sense to us. Suppose there was a prophetic word from the Lord after 9/11. A prophet said, “Osama Bin Laden will be cast down, al-Qaeda will become a haunt of jackals, the Twin Towers will be rebuilt and every mountain will be laid low and the glory of the Lord will cover the earth like the waters cover the seas.” Sounds sort of biblical metaphor. You would understand, well, there’s something there that seems near, has people and places that make sense to us, and then whoa, it gets big in a hurry, it gets cosmic, it gets end of the world. That’s how prophecy often works in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. There’s something right there that makes sense with their people, their places, their time, and then it expands to a cosmic significance. Not just a pocket watch, a prophetic watch.
Bear with me, just a little more teaching here, I told you in this first lesson, this first sermon, there are often given four different schools of thought on how to interpret Revelation. Thought about doing a whole sermon on this, but instead I’ll give you one paragraph.
One view is called preterism. Comes from a word that means “in the past,” fulfilled in the past. So preterism looks at Revelation as having most or all of it fulfilled in the past, that the things written here have to do with the first century.
Historicism is a second view. It looks for fulfillment in the history of the world, and with specific fulfillments. So maybe that’s, who’s the antichrist? Who’s the beast? Maybe the enemy from the north, though that’s not exactly Revelation, well, that must be Canada, coming from the north. Or the great bear is Russia. Or whatever. And you find different historical specific fulfillments.
A third, futurism. Futurism holds that almost all, or in some cases, everything after chapter 3, is in the future. All of those elements once you get past the seven churches, it’s all talking about the end times. This is often how dispensationalists, and you get the pre-trib, post-trib, all of that stuff, read the rest of Revelation.
Fourth view, you might call idealism. Idealism says what we have in Revelation is not particular historical figures with a specific historical reference but rather a picture in ideal of the timeless struggle between good and evil, between God and Satan. So idealism says that you can see most of Revelation in most of history. You say, well, which one of those is right? Well, how about we’ll go through the series and then you can try to determine which one I think is right.
I’ll take a copout that many people do, and that is to have a fifth interpretive approach called eclecticism. Eclecticism says, well, there’s something to be learned from all four of those approaches. I’m not saying I think they’re all four equally right, but there is something to be learned from each one.
So with the preterist, we should read Revelation in its immediate context. We should be thinking does this make, would this have made sense for them? So if you’re reading Revelation and it’s written to seven real churches and it’s giving them a prophetic word that only has to do America in 2025, that doesn’t seem really helpful, so preterism’s good to remind us of that.
With the idealist, we must look at Revelation as a symbolic portrayal of God’s work, most of which can be applied at any historical time. Probably land more on the idealist than any other, that the elements here in Revelation can be applied most any time and any place.
With the futurist, however, I do believe that Revelation must be read with the end of history in mind and there are elements in this book that are certainly for the future and for the very end of human history, the second coming, the final judgment, the eternal state.
Then with the historicist we must understand that the prophecies of Revelation, though they are not limited to one particular occurrence, so that’s what I’d say is the problem with the typical historicist view, yet they are fulfilled in many ways throughout history, so it’s not wrong to want to say how does this speak into our historical moment.
So Revelation is an apocalypse, a prophecy, and finally a letter. It is a letter written by John the Apostle, the same John that wrote the Gospel, the same John that we were studying this summer who wrote the letter 1 John, he sent to seven real churches.
Scholars, you can read the books as well as I can, debate whether there’s an early date, perhaps in the reign of Nero in the 60s, or written as the last living apostle on exile in Patmos sometime around A.D. 90 during the reign of Domitian. You can find faithful representatives for both views, it’s not that one puts you inside or outside the bounds of orthodoxy. The majority view, I think, is that latter date, and that’s how I understand Revelation. Persecution fits that time with Domitian’s reign. The references to Laodicea’s prosperity fits with that later date. Importantly, an early Church father, Irenaeus, writing around the year 180, says that John “beheld the apocalyptic vision not a very long time ago but almost in our day towards the end of Domitian’s reign,” and that was the view of Eusebius, Clement, Origen, others in the early Church.
So since that, from Irenaeus, it has been the majority view that this was toward the end of the first century.
Revelation was written as a letter. You see that, though we often miss the fact that it’s a letter. Look in verse 4, John to the seven churches. So this was not in some time capsule thrown into the ocean that we were meant to discover hundreds or thousands of years later, it was probably a circular letter that was taken to these seven churches, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and so on, and probably taken and read in each church, and then they’d go to the next one and they’d read it. Most of the people were illiterate, they had to have it read to them. So it was first of all a letter written to real people at real churches in a real time and place so it was trying to speak into their own situation.
Now you might think, Kevin, you’re going to spend probably until next summer in this book and you have mounds of commentaries and studied and taught on this and how could just ordinary people hearing this letter in one sitting for the first time with all of these symbols and numbers, how could they possibly have made sense of all of this?
Well, certainly there were some things that I’m sure they didn’t get at first. But you have to remember several things. First, they did not have TVs, or movies, or the internet. I say that sort of tongue in cheek, but seriously. Their brains worked different to hear things, to remember things. They were used to being communicated in that way.
Second. They probably knew their Old Testament better than we did, especially if they were Jewish Christians.
Third. They didn’t need a translation.
Fourth, and most importantly, they lived in the world and in the culture in which this letter was written. That’s a huge advantage. Now I don’t want you to despair, I think we can understand this book, but no matter how brilliant and diligent our study, we will not know the world of the first century as well as they did. We won’t know Asia Minor, we won’t know Laodicea as well as they did because they lived it. All sorts of idioms, symbolisms, reference that we struggle to uncover probably made intuitive sense.
My wife had the immense privilege of growing up around football her whole life. I don’t know if she would call it an immense privilege, and yet because she didn’t really watch it or track with it, but her dad did and now her husband and her sons do, there are things that even my youngest sons know just I never sat down with flashcards to understand what this means, they just know it because they’ve inhabited it even though my wife sort of at a distance, “How many people are on the field? There’s a lot of people there all the time. What are they doing?”
Cars. Some of you are car people. I don’t know anything about. So it’s just amazing when you get talking in there and here’s how the car converts into a Cadillac because there’s a catalytic converter, right? And you push that and [sound effect]. When does that happen? I want a Cadillac.
My first church was in Iowa. All these people grew up around the farm. They all knew how to fix things, how to build things, they just all had farm mentality and I didn’t know. My wife knows all sorts of things about shiplap I don’t understand. Sometime in the future, centuries from now, if people are trying to uncover what does LOL mean? You’ve probably seen these funny things on the internet of, I don’t know if they’re real, but a mom texting her kids “your aunt died, lol,” because she thought it meant “lots of love” or something and then learned that’s not what it means, mom, it’s not appropriate.
Can you imagine, some of you, 20, 30, some of you 50, writing a letter and just peppering it with LOL or all the other sort of things? People wouldn’t know what you were talking about.
I had in my notes here to maybe give some more examples of teenage slang, but my teenagers do not want me to do that. They know all sorts of things. So you just know things about your world that other people don’t see and you don’t even know that you know it.
We had over the summer some visitors from the UK were here and it was great they’re wonderful pastors, and they were traveling through and they spent several weeks and they visited lots of churches and drove all over the place and saw things and great, they love America. They said, “You know what? It’s amazing to us. You have flags everywhere. Your American flags.” Now he said it was a good thing, but you find this. If some of you are from a different country, you may have had that experience. In many countries, they don’t have their national flag, and if people did, you’d thing, “Well, that’s a little strange.” Then they come to America and its flags everywhere and sometimes people from other countries get very upset about it. Well, you don’t understand a culture always that you’re not in and why that is and what it means and it’s not some extreme jingoistic thing.
There are all sorts of things you just know, you just know as someone who lives in this world, and so they did. This isn’t to make us think we can’t understand it. With a good knowledge of the Old Testament, some historical knowledge, God means for us, He wants to reveal to us. The point I’m trying to reinforce is that Revelation is a letter. We think of Romans is a letter, Corinthians is a letter, Revelation is a letter. It was written first of all for a first century audience.
Now it still has significance for us. Some of the things are yet to take place, but it was first of all written to real, flesh and blood human beings like you, in churches in Asia Minor, western Turkey, who lived in the first century, understood Greek, were threatened by persecution, were tempted to compromise, and unless we keep in mind it was a letter, we will be apt to come up with many fanciful interpretations that never would have made sense to somebody living in the first century.
In conclusion then, look at verse 3: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear and keep what is written in it.”
This is one of seven benedictions. Seven blessings. Blessed are those who die in the Lord, chapter 14. Blessed is the one who stays awake, chapter 16. Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb, chapter 19. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection, chapter 20. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy, chapter 22. Blessed are those who wash their robes, chapter 22. Then this is the first one, it says the word blessed two times there but it’s one blessing.
It tells us among other things this is a covenantal book. We’ll come back to this, but this is a book that was written self-consciously, I think, as a book of the covenant, and if we take the latter date and John understands he is the last living apostle, he probably even had an intuitive sense. Not that “I am not writing the last book in the Bible,” not quite that formally, but a sense that “with my death, there is something coming to a close.”
That’s why these covenantal formulas, what do we have in covenants all throughout the Bible? You have blessings and curses.
Chapter 22 ends with the threat of cursing, because it’s a covenantal book, and it’s ending God’s covenantal revelation. It’s the revelation of Jesus Christ. That means it is the revelation from Him, but also the revelation about Him, and there’s the blessing. Don’t miss this. It’s so simple yet so critical. The revelation of Jesus Christ. This book is first and foremost a book to show you something about Jesus.
So if you approach this and you think, “Well, this is really a book to tell me about what the Pope is up to, or Putin, or Nero, or Napoleon,” you are missing the point of Revelation. It is a book about Jesus and because it is a book to show you Jesus, His work on the cross for sinners, His glory in the heavenly places, it is a book therefore of blessing.
In all the strange things in this book, keep that in mind. John is saying and the Spirit is saying, “This lays out to you in a book of symbols the way of blessing, the way of joy, the way of truth, the way to be an overcomer. Do not shrink back when you are tempted. Do not be those who succumb, be those who overcome, who have victory. The Lord is a God and He sees what you are facing, and He will come back again and He will win the victory, and He will give you the reward, and blessed you will be when you hear and you obey.
So do not forget this book is for your good. It is not to confuse you, it is to show you Jesus and to bless you.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank You for Your Word, all of it. Help us in these months ahead that we might understand the blessing You mean to give us in Christ, our Lord, our Savior, the first and the last, and that in Him we may know everlasting life. In His name we pray. Amen.