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Reading Revelation

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Bible, Book of Revelation, New Testament, Sermons

A dragon. Multi-headed beasts. Scorpions that annihilate countries. 100-lb hailstones. Cities that come down from the sky. Massive and widespread death and destruction…

Are we reading another installment of The Lord of the Rings? No, it's the last book of our Bible, Revelation. Revelation has been an obsession to some and a head-scratcher to others. It's been multiple movies, countless fictional recreations, and numerous tracts.

For us, it will be the next book of the Bible that we preach through. To get us ready, the elders wanted to offer some introductory thoughts. These posts and the coming sermons can't possibly answer all the questions that Revelation throws at us, but hopefully this summer we can all get to the point where this word from God has its intended effect: To inspire faith in our sovereign God.

So, like, what is it?

Before we jump into the book, it's helpful to get a sense of what it even is. Otherwise we won't know how to read it. For instance, if it's a narrative, then we would read it as the literal actions and words of literal people in a certain place and time. Or if it's a NT epistle, we read it as God's fairly direct word straight to us. So, what is Revelation? We can tell from the opening paragraphs that it's very different from straightforward history like Luke or Acts. We can also tell that it's a long way from the more familiar epistles like 1 John or Philippians. It is, in fact, a unique combination of three types of literature.

1. Revelation is prophecy. John says that we are "blessed" if we read "aloud the words of this prophecy" (1:3). That tells us clearly that it is a prophetic word from God to his people. That means it will speak in the two broad ways as all prophecy does. It will be both fore-telling and forth-telling. As something fore-told it will give us insight into the future. As something forth-told it will also be God's word to us right now meant to be applied right now.

2. Revelation is apocalyptic literature. A sub-category of prophecy is apocalyptic literature. John opens this book by saying, "The revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:1), and that word "revelation" in the Greek is apokalupsis. That's what apocalyptic literature is, something revealed by God. It is distinctive in that it often speaks with dramatic images and symbols. Things and events don't have a literal meaning but symbolize something else. As an example, a beast with eyes all over likely doesn't have thousands of eyes all over (Ezek. 1:18), but those eyes seem to symbolize the omniscience (or relative omniscience) of the creature. Jesus is described with a sword coming out of his mouth (Rev. 19:15). It could be that Jesus will literally have such a sword coming out of his mouth, but I think it's more likely that this symbolizes the judgment that he will bring at his return. Books like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah use apocalyptic imagery, and John borrows from these books often. We also see such writing in the Psalms. This writing is often concerned with the ongoing battle between God and the devil, and there is frequent mention of things that happen at the end of it all (eschatology).

3. Revelation is a letter. But in addition to being apocalyptic prophecy, Revelation is also a letter. That means it's written by a guy to people he knew. In this case it's written by the apostle John to seven first-century churches in seven cities of Asia Minor. Of course, it's a letter inspired by God, and so it's also a letter written by God to all Christians in all ages and places. It has truth we need today, just like it had key teaching the original recipients needed in that moment.

Read and Heed

As we work through Revelation this summer, consider reading through it (even multiple times). Remember John's exhortation: "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" (1:3). Note that he says not only to "read" it, but also to "keep" it." We are to respond to its truth, be affected by it, even be transformed by it. Let it impact how we view God. He is infinitely glorious and transcendent, and this becomes clear throughout its pages. Let it impact how we view sin and judgment. The horrors of God's judgment are painted in the most vivid ways in Revelation. Let that provoke a pursuit of holiness, true repentance, and even to share the saving message of Christ with others. Let Revelation impact your hope for the future. The reality of what saving faith brings is given to us in this book in ways that surpass all other teaching in the Bible. One day this faith we have will give way to sight. We will enter the whole endless treasure of our salvation. Here is just one snapshot of many throughout the book that details something of our coming inheritance:

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Rev. 7:16-17

That is the salvation we will one day experience. That's why the repeated refrains like "Amen!" (7:12) and "Hallelujah!" (19:1) appear throughout the letter.

We will send a few more posts to prepare us for this upcoming series in days to come, but hopefully this wets your appetite!

Daniel B.

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