The Revelation of Jesus Christ
- The book of Revelation usually provokes one of two responses: Eagerness or Hesitation
- Historically, the book has waxed and waned in its popularity
- In the Early Church it was popular among the Western Churches, but less readily received by the Eastern Churches
- During the Reformation it was not given a high priority in teaching and preaching
- John Calvin wrote excellent commentaries on most Biblical books, but never wrote a commentary on Revelation. Whether this was by design or by the timing of his death we will never know
- Martin Luther viewed Revelation with a degree of apathy, and mostly related its prophetic contents to the struggle he was experiencing with the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. For Luther and the Reformers the Pope was clearly identified with anti-Christ
- The Puritans showed more interest in Revelation and eschatology than their 16th century forebears, and tended toward greater optimism about the growth and advancement of Christ’s Kingdom
- During the early 19th century, J.N. Darby (one of the early leaders of the Plymouth Brethren) developed a new interpretive approach to Revelation and Daniel that proved to be attractive for conservative Evangelicals. Darby’s new system of theology (called ‘Dispensationalism’) spread from Ireland into America, and made great advances into 19th century Baptist and Methodist circles. During the 20th century it came to dominate most conservative, Evangelical Churches
- Due in large measure to Darby’s influence, the book of Revelation became extremely popular during the 19th and 20th centuries. When Israel was re-established in 1948 there was great anticipation among Evangelicals that Christ would return within one biblical generation (approx. 40 years = 1988)
- Since the 1990’s interest in Revelation has sharply declined among Evangelicals. Today Revelation is rarely preached due to the fear of causing offense, and an uncertainty about how to correctly interpret and teach it.
- As we approach this series it is important to recognize that there are a diversity of views regarding Revelation, and to show humility and charity toward those brothers and sisters who disagree
- As we work through Revelation I will occasionally present the different interpretive options, but my goal in preaching this book is not to answer every question we may have, but to interpret the text before us, and to bring the truth of that text to bear upon our lives.
I. The Purpose of Revelation
- Apocalypsis = an unveiling of what was previously hidden
- Revelation was not written to obscure truth but to reveal truth
- Any interpretation of Revelation that obscures the truth into complex riddles, puzzles, and predictions needs to be held with extreme caution
- Novelty and creativity are not virtues when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture: if you relish new theories and novel interpretations of Revelation that have little or no precedent in the 2000 year history of the Christian Church you ought to proceed with caution and to listen carefully and humbly to learned and godly voices from the past
- I will not be saying anything about the book of Revelation that hasn’t already been said before. In this series we are not aiming for creativity but for clarity in allowing the text to speak of Scripture for itself.
- Although the word ‘apocalypse’ often evokes fear and images of mass destruction, the book of Revelation was written to comfort God’s people rather than frighten and alarm them
- Triumph of Jesus Christ and the Church
- Although there are many different themes in the book of Revelation, the primary/ unifying theme is the Triumph of Jesus Christ and the Church
- John is not writing to frighten but to encourage and embolden his Christian readers – we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!
II. Author and Date of Revelation
- The Revelation of Christ
- Although Christ is majestically revealed to the reader in the book of Revelation, the phrase ‘revelation of Christ’ should be understood as ‘revelation from Christ’ – Christ Himself is the Revealer of truth!
- John explains the chain of revelation: God the Father → Christ → Angelic mediators → John (the Apostle) → God’s servants (the readers)
- Human Author is identified as John
- Early Church identified him as John the Apostle (ie. Irenaeus – 2nd century)
- John spent much of his life in ministry in Ephesus (modern Turkey) and is buried there. Church tradition holds that he lived into old age
- He wrote the book while exiled on the Greek Island of Patmos
- John was writing to encourage/ exhort his persecuted brethren
- John himself was being actively persecuted by the Roman authorities
- The Date Debate
- Irenaus (2nd century) stated that the book of Revelation was written during the later part of Domitian’s reign – approx. 95 AD
- Some Reformed Evangelicals argue that the book was written during the time of Nero (approx. 65 AD)
- Those who hold the early date believe that references to the Temple (i.e. chapter 11) speak about the Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans
- According to defenders of the early date, most of Revelation was fulfilled in the events surrounding the Jewish wars and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD
- Although a case can be made for both and early and late date, the evidence seems stronger for the late date (95 AD)
- Testimony from Irenaus (2 nd century) who was two generations separated from John. Irenaus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was directly discipled by the Apostle John
- The cult of Emperor worship (one of the issues John addresses), was more prominent and developed in the latter part of the century
- Laodicea (one of the cities mentioned in the book) was destroyed by an earthquake in 60AD. It probably took a long time for the city to recover from the devastation and to become known as a place of great wealth.
- References to the Temple (cf. chapter 11) can be understood figuratively since the Church is often referred to as God’s Temple
- ‘things that must soon take place’ – Rather than restricting fulfillment to the lifetime of John and his readers, this phrase is meant to underscore the sudden nature of Christ’s return and our need to be ready for His coming!
- Although there are aspects of fulfillment that still lie in the future, it would be a mistake to relegate the fulfillment of Revelation completely to an undetermined future time.
- John was writing to first-century Christians who were undergoing real persecution and martyrdom. This book was written for them, and not merely for Christians who will be alive at the time of Christ’s return. If you detach Revelation from its first-century context, you are sure to misunderstand its meaning and relevance for the Church in every age (including our own!)
III. A Motivation to Read and Study
- James pronounces a wonderful benediction upon the reader (v. 3). Over the course of this series we will read the entire book of Revelation publicly and verbally
- The blessing of studying revelation is not found in trying to turn it into a prophetic riddle, but in learning how we should live in the light of its revealed truth
- James refers to Revelation as a ‘prophecy’
- Prophecy (whether in the Old or New Testament) is not primarily concerned with predictions about the future, but about ethical living in the present
- Revelation should provoke heartfelt obedience to Christ’s commandments, rather than idle speculation and petty fighting between Christians
- Don’t study Revelation in order to satisfy your curiosity about things that God has not revealed. Study Revelation in order to grow in holiness and godliness as you live in this world for the glory of God, and as you work and wait expectantly for the final consummation of Christ’s rule and reign. Christ will have dominion!! Be encouraged and confident as you share in His triumph over sin, death and hell! Even in persecution and martyrdom the faithful Christian believe will share in Christ’s triumphant reign.