There is a certain irony to the way this book is handled by many modern Christians today who treat it like a book of secrets. The strange irony is that the book is called Revelations – that is, it is supposed to reveal something to us. The fact of the matter is that it is treated like such a puzzle book and that many of us, myself included, don’t always quite know what to do with this book. The fact of the matter is that there are Godly men, scholars, who disagree on what the significance of many of the visions that John has in this book.
I have not come to a firm conclusion about all the intricate details regarding the several prophecies found in the book but I have found myself wondering about the strange fascination that some have with it. Entire book industries have been built up around this book with men writing bestselling novels about the rapture or predicting the date of Christ’s return.
Throughout Church history, there has been a regular pattern of Church men becoming extra-excited about the end times. Some of you may remember when the year 2000 came near that many predicted an apocalyptic event. Church history records a similar hysteria in the year 1000 AD. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, many called the Pope the anti-Christ. During the American Revolutionary War there was an end-times fever as Americans saw themselves as the New Jerusalem and Britain as the anti-Christ.
Today we see this fever in another unhealthy way where this Book is read as a book of secrets waiting to be unpacked by some novelist or teacher. Entire denominations, such as Calvary Chapel, primarily exist due to an overarching concern for the immanent return of Christ. The sad thing is that you can ask many Evangelicals about salvation by faith or about the Trinity or about the nature of Christ and they will return a blank stare. Start talking about the Rapture, however, and you’ll find that many have a tremendous amount of information about that. Interestingly, it is the core principles of the Christian faith that are often neglected when there is an unhealthy attachment to the end times. Sadly, I know of many men who have never read the entire Bible but when each new Left Behind book would be released they would read it from cover to cover in a few nights.
More fundamentally, if one studies the history of each of the major cults: Mormons and Jehova’s Witnesses among others, there is an extremely close connection between a period of end times fervor and the birth of a new cult. Suffice to say, this next generation of Christians is ripe for a new cult because of this recent fever.
But as we read at the beginning of Revelation: Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Indeed, the Book was inspired to bless believers but men, wicked as we are, like to always turn things into something spectacular. The revealed things aren’t enough for us and we want our ears tickled by stories of armies fighting in the plains of Armageddon. But the Book wasn’t written to give us good stories and to see locusts as helicopters, it was written for Christians who have inherited salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and are living in a lost and dying world and are longing for the return of their Savior.
We continue in Chapter 1: “9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
12I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,”[b]dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
Church History informs us that John was the last remaining Apostle that remained alive and, later in life, was banished to the island of Patmos. Christians aren’t meant for solitude but Patmos was a remote island. This passage is particularly touching because John, in the midst of his loneliness, on the very day that he would have been in corporate worship with other believers, is caught up in a vision into heaven. It is very appropriate that John is commanded to write down what he sees. This accounts for the name of the Book: Revelation. It is a book at describes pictures of ideas that are expressed elsewhere in the Scriptures. There are themes that are spelled out in other books but this book gives a word picture of ideas. It uses numbers and beasts and other items to signify ideas.
But as John turns around he is literally blown away by the vision – he sees the resurrected Christ in all His glory. Christ’s glory is so brilliant and white and radiant that it is like looking straight into the sun. Like other visions of God in the Scriptures John is absolutely terrified.
Unfortunately, one of the real losses in worship these days is a loss of the holiness of God and the power of Christ and what His Deity represents. Many songs portray Jesus as a boyfriend and songs about Him are more romantic than reverent. I think if you asked most people to paint a picture of Jesus they might paint a nice picture of a meek Jesus. After all, we hear often of the Jesus who is just so crushed by people’s rejection of Him. He is standing at the door of sinner’s hearts just longing to come in. He is powerless and weak to many minds. He can only do what we permit Him to do. But the picture in Revelation is of a majestic, holy, and powerful God who has a sword coming out of His mouth and is more dazzling than the sun in His brilliance.
17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
You see, in a sense, this is the Gospel of Grace right there in those words of comfort. The fact is, beloved, that Christ is God – the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End. His presence is terrifying in many respects because of His awesome power and majesty. Were He to treat us as our sins deserved then we would surely perish. But Christ says: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Christ, as God incarnate, died and rose again for our salvation. Those who place their faith in Christ die with Him on the Cross. Their sins have been judged in His flesh. But He rose again to bring us eternal life and the fact that He lives forever and ever is the firstfruits of what we will inherit. He holds the keys of death and Hades for He will be the judge of the living and the dead. The power of this is that Christ is the Judge but He is also the Savior. For those that place their trust in Him, He has already taken judgment upon Himself. For those that refuse God, He will be their Judge.
You see, the entire rest of the book of Revelation is the capstone – the finishing work of God’s plan from eternity to create mankind after His own image and save from the Fall those who place their trust in Him. God’s glory and how He saves men to glorify Him for His grace and punishes those to the glory of His justice is the theme of the entire Scriptures. Certainly there are some fascinating stories in the intervening Chapters between the beginning and the end of the Book but the key to understanding the seals of judgment is not to try to pin the tail on the anti-Christ or to figure out when and where all of it will occur but probably the best way to summarize it all is to say, with the Nicene Creed, that Christ will “…come again to judge the living and the dead.”
As Romans 1 notes, mankind knows who God is. They suppress knowledge of Him and refuse to worship Him. God has been gracious throughout human history in not giving to men what they deserve – immediate judgment for their sins. He allows the rain to fall on the wicked, he grants them comfort, good jobs, children, and all kinds of temporal blessings. But, eventually, all will be brought to judgment. His wrath for the sin of mankind will not be held back forever. He will, one day, come to judge the world. He will one day come to judge sin. The picture of Revelation is God figuratively storing up all His wrath until, one Day, that wrath is poured out on a world that saw the Light but preferred the darkness.
But it’s not just about the judgment of the wicked but also the redemption and final consummation of the Bride of Christ – the Church.
Revelation 21: “1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
We are the Bride of Christ. We who have faith in Christ and have already been judged in Him on the Cross are being prepared to come very near Him and dwell with Him forever. The picture is one of utmost intimacy and beauty as we are being made spotless to be presented to Christ and to dwell safely in His bosom forever. Our loving God will wipe away every tear from our eye and there will be no more mourning or crying or pain for the Sin of Adam that plunged us into sin and misery and death will has been conquered by the Second Adam – Jesus Christ.
You see, it’s not about having our best life now. Christianity is about recognizing that this life is passing away and that we have a promise of our inheritance to come but it has not yet come to us. We ought to be anxiously anticipating that inheritance. We need to learn not to love this world but to look forward to the next. A minister by the name of Thomas Brooks in 1675 captured perfectly the hope of those who seek their best life now. He wrote:
“I have read of a greedy banker, who was always best when he was most in talking of money and the world. Being near his death, he was much pressed to make his will. Finally he dictates:
First, I bequeath my own soul to the devil-for being so greedy for the muck of this world!
Secondly, I bequeath my wife’s soul to the devil-for persuading me to this worldly course of life.
Thirdly, I bequeath my pastor’s soul to the devil-because he did not show me the danger I lived in, nor reprove me for it.”
Let us not live as those who are at our best when we’re talking of money and the world. Let us be those who are looking forward to being presented spotless and blameless before our Savior who died for us to save us. Let us live in the world now but not be of it for we look forward to the best times to come near the bosom of Christ and we realize that, even though there are many joys now, we await the day when Christ will come again.
Revelation 22: “1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. 6The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
Isn’t it fitting that the Scriptures open up with God placing man in the garden and giving Him all the trees of the garden to eat but Man falls by eating from the tree that God commanded him to stay away with. At the consummation of all things there is the Tree of Life representing the restoration of things – the re-creation of all things. There is no more death and sin and pain. There is water of life, pure and undefiled, flowing from the throne of God. No more thirst, no more hunger. Christ has filled all.
22:20He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Indeed! Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus. This was the cry of the early Church that John wrote to. This was a Church that was believing in Christ to save from sins on threat of death from an Empire that required men to bend the knee and acknowledge Caesar is Lord. This is the cry of all the Saints through the years who have suffered in a world of sin – who have lived lives in a world that is not worthy of them.
The question for you and me is this: do we long for Christ’s return? Do we long for the consummation of all things? Have we been transformed by the Gospel so that we have faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins? Do we suffer at the sin and misery that yet remains in the world or are we comfortable with it? Do we care so much for this world that we have no affection or enjoyment thinking about the world to come?
Or are we too much in love with this world to care about Christ’s Kingdom?