Revelation is considered one of the most difficult books to study. It is understandable that to those who have yet to find our Lord Jesus Christ and to put their trust (1) in Him, the book of Revelation is indeed fearful and clouded in mystery. But as children of God, we have found that it doesn’t have to be confusing and scary if we approach it with the right heart, with the deep personal knowledge that God is our Sovereign Lord who loves us and has already won the victory.
Matthew 16:18 (ESV)
“… on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (emphasis added)
It also helps to realize the relevance to us, in our current times, of what is happening in this revelation of Jesus Christ.
There are a few points to keep in mind before delving into the seals and trumpets and bowls:
Apocalypse = Revelation, Prophecy
Apocalypse is another often misused word. In Greek, it simply means “revelation”, and from the book we understand it as a prophecy. We fear this “apocalypse” and associate it with death and destruction. It does prophesy or declare the end of the world as we know it by war, famine and plague; earthquakes, fire and hail. But these representations of the Wrath of God are not for us if we remain faithful to our Lord and Father.
John is Our Guide
Jesus reveals the events of the end times to John, and John passes the message to the seven churches in Asia. He has seen and we have not, and so we can imagine ourselves as John’s blind companions. He tries his best to explain the visions in terms that we can understand so that we can picture them accurately in our minds. Yet he is sometimes at a loss for words, and at other times must be corrected by the angels who are present. He relays these visions to us as he sees them, so we share his reactions just like we share our own as we sit around the Bible study table.
The End of the World
From childhood we have heard of the devastation that will occur during the end times. We often hear of this being (mistakenly) called “Armageddon”, a great battle between Good and Evil and the end of the world. But there is no battle in the true sense of the word – the fight is already won. It is not a battle that those who have found salvation in Christ will physically fight during the end times. We fight the battle moment by moment, as we choose to either deny Christ, or follow Him. The Revelation is either tearful or joyful depending on which side we find ourselves today.
The Wrath of God
As we went through the seven seals and the seven angels with the seven trumpets and later the seven bowls, we recalled the words of Jesus as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane before Judas betrayed Him to His death:
Mat 26:39,42 (ESV)
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will… if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (emphasis added)
Jesus knew that the “cup” that He was to drink was filled with the wrath of God for all the sins of the world. We can read about God’s wrath in the Bible from beginning to end. But here in Revelation we see in vivid detail this wrath of God as Jesus revealed it to John. And we know that this is what was pored out on our Savior, all at once, in the moments before He gave His spirit up to the Father. This is what the pure Lamb felt as the Father turned away from Him who was now stained with all our sins.
Mat 27:46 (ESV)
“…Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”… and yielded up his spirit.”
Context for Revelation
Some say that the book was written during a time of great persecution for believers in Christ, circa AD 96. The study that went into fixing this date may have actually confused people more than it helped. It has led many to believe that it may have been a response to the specific oppression of that time. But it would be more reasonable to consider that it also has relevance for us today and not only to those suffering under Roman rule. We should also consider that false teachings, divisions within the church communities and complacency were the big problems of the seven churches at that time. Complacency does not seem a sensible response to persecution, and the martyrs came later, so it seems that the Revelation of Christ is for all Believers, then and now. The context is therefore the World, our world, which plays a big part in the judgement of God that unfolds in the book.
Eph 6:12 (KJV)
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (emphasis added)
The background struggle between principalities and powers is ongoing. The dragon (Rev 12), the beasts (Rev 13), and the prostitute (Rev 17) are before us now, challenging our commitment to God. We are called to stand with Christ and overcome with Him – by His sacrifice and faithful witness. We stand against these powers every day, we who are chosen and redeemed and faithfully follow Jesus. We therefore do not take the preterit, church-historical, futurist or dispensationalist views of the Revelation. Rather, we approach it as if these events were unfolding during our lifetimes.
The Chronology of Revelation
We also cannot really take any one view of the chronology of Revelation. All we know for certain is that John was told to “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” (Rev 1:19) John relays “I saw” and “I heard” and makes comments and records the words of the angels and voices from Heaven that tell what these things are. Other verses are in the future tense, signaling that they are those things that are to come.
Some consider chapters 2 and 3 to be past events and those that follow to unfold in the future. But Jesus speaks in the future tense a lot in the first chapters, and his cautions and counsels are just as significant to us today as they would have been to the communities and congregations of the early churches:
Rev 2:5 (ESV)
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
Rev 2:10 (ESV)
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Rev 3:3 (ESV)
“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”
Rev 3:10-11 (ESV)
“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”
There are only 14 verses that indicate future events, such as the coming of the witnesses and what happens after that:
Rev 11:3, 7-10
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth… And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.
And the verse referring to those who believe and will be saved after the devastation of the seventh trumpet (the third woe):
Rev 14:13 (ESV)
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” ” (emphasis added)
John was given this Revelation by Jesus so that he could advise his brethren in the seven churches. And we have them today for the same purpose. Jesus is standing at the door and knocking. We have the Revelation so we may hear His voice and open the door, so He may come in to us and eat with us. (Rev 3:20) And now we remember that the battle is already won in Heaven, but that we daily face the struggles of the push and pull of Good and Evil in the World. Satan is working his evil here and now because he was cast out of Heaven (Rev 12). We face calamities (Rev 6) and the devil’s oppression (Rev 13) again and again (Rev 20) because he is angry at being defeated and wants to drag us down with him to endure God’s wrath forever.
As with the whole of God’s Word, we are urged to listen with our hearts. We have the Holy Spirit who guides us and whispers to us the meanings to our lives. We have Jesus alive today and in our hearts to give us they keys to understanding scripture. The Lord our God will make known to each of the faithful what it is we are to know, and patiently endure until He comes for us.
(1) trust – as in Psa 63:8 “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” Trust is written in Hebrew as “בּטח” (baw-takh’) – to flee for protection; be confident or sure: bold (secure), put hope in