A. W. Tozer writes, 'I warn you that it is entirely possible to turn the Revelation into a source of blight to your soul. On the other hand, it is possible to find in this Revelation a great source of light and blessing'.
Some people read Revelation to speculate about how it might fit together with world politics. Often they end up feeling proud of themselves for seeing things that the rest of us are ignorant about. Time always proves their speculations wrong. They have read this book to the blight of their soul.
Other people read Revelation to see Jesus and to learn how to be faithful to him during times of tribulation. For them Revelation is a great source of blessing, and God uses it to prepare them for heaven.
Our first look at this book seeks to see something of what it says about Jesus.
Jesus: the divine and human lord (chapter one)
'The revelation (or unveiling) of Jesus Christ ...' (1:1). Jesus is both the one who is revealing and the one who is revealed. He is the central theme of this book. The opening chapter gives us a resplendent picture of Christ.
Christians are called to be witnesses in the world as we imitate the one who is the faithful witness. Christians have hope in the world because Jesus is the firstborn of the dead (we will be raised in him). Christians have confidence in the world because he is the ruler of the kings of the earth (even though the first hearers of Revelation were subject to the emperor Domitian they needed to realise that he was subject to their Lord). Christians have joy because Jesus is our saviour who loves us and has freed us from our sins by our blood. Christians look forward to the end of time because Jesus is set to return.
John, who was imprisoned on the island of Patmos, hears a voice and turns to see Jesus. In Revelation we see that Jesus is fully human and yet fully God.
Jesus is called the Son of Man. The Son of Man was a glorious figure in Daniel who was both a human person and a divine person. I think that is mind blowing to think that Jesus is still human. He took on flesh and was born as a baby, he was raised from the dead with a glorious human body, and now he sits at the right hand of the Father. And what are the only manmade things in heaven? The scars of his crucifixion which are still visible to see.
The Jehovah's Witnesses will tell you that Jesus is only an archangel and not God the Son. The Unitarians deny that Jesus is truly divine. Revelation proves otherwise. Look at the title given to The Lord God in verse eight: 'I am the Alpha and the Omega'. Now turn to the title given to the Son in chapter twenty-two verse thirteen: Jesus says, 'I am the Alpha and the Omega'. Right throughout the New Testament we see Jesus being given titles that belong only to God.
Another pointer showing that Jesus is God the Son is in the fact that he receives worship. I find it quiet amusing that on a couple of occasions John gets overcome by what he sees and falls down to worship the angel who is explaining the vision. John gets rebuked. The angel says, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets ... Worship God!' (22:9). Yet in the book of Revelation we clearly see Jesus being worshipped.
In chapter one we see Jesus' royalty as he is clothed in fine robes with a sash around his waist; he is the King of kings. He is infinitely wise, as is shown in his white hair (the ancients knew that wisdom should come with age). He has eyes like flaming fire that same see beyond any facade; thank God that the one who knows us better than anyone else nevertheless loves us better than anyone else! He knows our sins and yet has freed us from them by his blood. He has feet of burnished bronze that will trample upon those who continue to resist him. But his people need fear nothing because he hold the keys of death and hell.
Jesus: the one foretold in the Old Testament (chapters four and five)
A friend of a friend gave me a book that he claimed had changed his life. It was an exposition of chapters four and five of Revelation. My friend's friend was right. Seeing the splendour of God, portrayed so amazingly in these two chapters, should turn our world upside down.
We are given a picture of heavenly reality. The focus on chapter four is on God the Father and then chapter five turns to God the Son.
The Son is called the Lamb. Why? Because the book of Isaiah spoke of a lamb that would be lead to the slaughter and be sacrificed for the sins of his people. “You are worthy to take the scroll ... you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9).
He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah; in Genesis (49:8-12) Jacob had promised his son Judah that one of his descendants would be an eternal king. A line of descendants went from Judah to king David, and king David was promised that one of his descendants would be the eternal king. Jesus is the root of David - not only is he the Messiah coming from David's line, he is the source of David's rule.
Some people are impressed by the preacher who speculates about the book of Revelation and identifies figures in this book with political leaders. But the teacher to be impressed with is the one who can take this book and show how it relates to the Old Testament. For this book is filled with quotes, echoes, titles and allusions from the Old Testament.
Jesus: the conquerer (chapters six to twenty-one)
What follows from beginning of chapter six to the beginning of chapter twenty-one are a series of visions revolving around the number seven - for example there are seven seals opened, seven trumpets blown, seven bowls of wrath poured and seven woes pronounced. I believe that these various scenes give portraits of what it is like to live in the time between Christ's first and second coming. We live in a time characterised by famines, war, death and opposition to the truth. Yet in all this Jesus is with us. This portraits generally end with Jesus defeating all his enemies.
'I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords' (19:11-16).
Some students in a Christian college in America were having a hard time trying to figure out how to understand the book of Revelation. They decided to take a break from their studies and have a game of basketball. There in the corner of the hall was the elderly caretaker reading.
'What's that you're reading Joe?', one of the students asked.
'The book of Revelation,' he replied.
'Oh, you can't understand that,' the patronising student responded.
'Yes, I can,' said the caretaker, 'it's quite simple: Jesus wins!'
Jesus: the focus of eternal joy (chapters twenty to twenty-two)
The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon taught, 'If we are to overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by looking to Jesus.’ Whatever opinions you have on the book of Revelation remember that it is primarily an unveiling of the person of Jesus. Look to him and ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to rejoice in him. For you were made to delight in the three persons of the Trinity forever.
Near the close of Revelation Jesus establishes his new heaven and new earth where he will be worshipped eternally. If he is not your delight then heaven will never be your home. John Piper asks, 'Can we really say that our people are being prepared for heaven where Christ himself, not his gifts, will be the supreme pleasure? And if our people are unfit for that, will they even go there?'
'Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see the beauty of your character that we might be ready to enjoy you now and always'. Amen.