Teaching series from Revelation

Introduction to Revelation

Revelation 1

Teaching t09175


We begin a series on the last book of the Bible—Revelation. Several people have asked me why I have decided to teach this series. (It has nothing to do with the anniversary of 9/11. The timing is completely coincidental, and I have no desire to prey upon people's sorrows or fears related to this tragedy.)

We have no Xenos teaching series on this New Testament book in our library, and I felt it was time to change this.

I want to provide an alternative to what I call the “National Inquirer” approach to Revelation. I am referring to obsession with end-times trivia speculation that turns Revelation into a decoding device that enables us to link western headlines to the Bible. So if you're coming to this series to find out what nation flies the helicopters in Revelation 9, what 666 really means, if the Antichrist is JFK, Kissinger, Clinton, etc., what the 88 reasons are why the rapture will happen in 1988, etc., you're going to be disappointed! We need to distance ourselves from this approach, because it is a dangerous tangent (feeds selfishness; discredits Jesus through false predictions). But we also need to have a positive understanding and appreciation of this book, and I hope we can do this through this series.

On a personal level, even though there is much in this book that I don't fully understand, I have been profoundly encouraged during recent struggles by some of the themes in this book. I hope you will be, too.


Read 1:1-4a, 9-11. Before we dive further into the first chapter this morning, let's briefly make some important general observations about this book as a whole . . .

Its human author is John (1:1,4,9)—almost certainly the John who was one of Jesus' 12 disciples and inspired spokesmen. He also wrote the gospel of John and the three letters of John.

Its date is probably in the late 80's or early 90's AD—at the beginning to Emperor Domitian's persecution of the Christian movement. Since John was born at the beginning of the first century, he would be an old man and the last surviving apostle. He wrote it as an 18-month (Eusebius) prisoner-exile on Patmos, probably performing slave-labor in the salt mines.

Its original recipients were the seven churches of Asia Minor (MAP). John's later ministry was based in Ephesus, so he was familiar with each of these churches. But like all New Testament letters, this book is ultimately inspired by God and therefore relevant to all Christians, including us.

Its style is apocalyptic. The title of the book (1:1) is the “apocalypse” of Jesus Christ. “Apocalypse” means an uncovering of something—in this case, an uncovering of Jesus in his glory and of the things accompanying his return. Apocalyptic style involves revelation about the end of the age through symbolic visions that are usually explained by angels. In this regard, Revelation is the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament book of Daniel—and much of the symbolism in Revelation is rooted in and builds on the visions of Daniel. This means that understanding Revelation requires studying Daniel (especially Daniel 7).

If Revelation is about events still future after 2000 years, what are we to make of statements like “the things which must shortly take place” (1:1) and “the time is near” (1:3) and “I am coming quickly” (3:11; 22:7, 20)? It has been nearly 2000 years since John wrote this book, and Jesus still hasn't returned. Was John mistakenly expecting Jesus to return in the late first century (liberal theology)? Are we mistaken in interpreting these visions to be about the end of the age (preterist view)? Or should we understand these phrases differently?

Jesus was well aware that there would be long delay between his first and second comings (see Matthew 25 parables, Matthew 24:14; 28:20), but can nevertheless make above statements because from God's perspective of salvation history the time is comparatively short. The New Testament authors view this entire period of time as the “end of the age” in the sense that Jesus' coming has inaugurated the beginning of the Messianic Age (see 1 Cor. 11:11 and Rom. 13:11,12).

Its structure (excluding the introduction of 1:1-8 and the conclusion of 22:6-21) is a series of four visions. Each vision begins with John saying that he was “in the Spirit,” along with a command by Jesus or an angel to see or write something.

VISION 1: The glorified Jesus (THIS WEEK) and his message to the 7 churches (NEXT WEEK) (1:10-3:22)

VISION 2: God's judgments and redemptive activity at the end of this age (4:1-16:21). This is a long series of visions, with many interludes that introduce key personalities. This is also the most complicated and difficult part of the book.

VISION 3: God's judgment on “mystery Babylon” and the victorious return of Jesus to establish God's kingdom on earth (17:1-21:8)

VISION 4: The “Bride of Jesus” and the New Jerusalem (21:9-22:5)

Its purpose is not to entertain us or titillate our curiosity, but to fortify Christians to be effective witnesses for Jesus in a hostile world by giving us a vision of Jesus' authority over human history. This is the blessing referred to in 1:3—if you understand what Revelation teaches about this truth (“hear”) and respond to this truth (“keep”), you will be richly blessed in this sense. Revelation is not so much a “puzzle” book (answering specific “who” and “when” questions) as it is a “picture” book (revealing key themes related to this truth). What are some of these themes?

Contrary to early 20th century utopian expectations, evil will intensify as this age draws to an end (human warfare, demonic activity, antichrist), but Jesus—not evil—will have the last word. He is sovereign over evil, limiting its degree and duration, mysteriously using it to accomplish his ends, and guaranteeing its ultimate defeat. This has a stabilizing effect.

The end of the age will be a time of intense judgment on those who persist in their rebellion against him (e.g. seal, trumpet & bowl judgments)—but it will also be a time of intense evangelism (e.g., 144,000 & international multitude in 7; 2 witnesses in 11; angelic evangelism in 14:6). This has a motivating effect.

Christians (throughout this age and especially at the end of the age) can expect not health and wealth and security, but persecution (including martyrdom). But Jesus will enable us to be “overcomers” (protected from God's judgment, discern and resist Satan's tactics, empowered to witness and die with courage faithful to Jesus), and he will fully compensate us when he establishes his kingdom (complete deliverance from all sin and sadness, perfect communion with God, reward for service). This enables us to be realistic optimists.

Above all else, Revelation is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Nothing will fortify us to be faithful witnesses for Jesus like a full-orbed understanding of who Jesus actually is. And this is exactly what these visions provide by portraying Jesus as both the Savior who serves us and the King whom we serve.

Jesus is the Lamb who served us by being slain in our place, and he is also the Lion of Judah whom we serve as God's anointed King (5:5-6).

John's two descriptions of Jesus in chapter one bring these two pictures together.

In his verbal description in 1:5-7, Jesus is the Lamb who “loves us, and has released us from our sins by his blood (FORGIVENESS), and has made us members of his kingdom (ETERNAL SECURITY) and given us the privilege of being priests (PERSONAL ACCESS).” How amazingly wonderful is this Jesus who loves each one of us this much, and has served us by dying a humiliating death in order to lavish these incredible treasures upon us! But Jesus is also the Lion who is “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” to whom belongs “the glory and the dominion forever and ever,” and who is “coming with the clouds . . .” to judge all who oppose him. How awe-inspiring is this Jesus who will rule the entire world and to whom every human ruler (including HITLER, MAO, STALIN) will one day bow and admit that he alone is the rightful King!

His first vision in 1:12-18 also brings these two pictures together (read and explain the lampstands and stars). Overall, this description emphasizes Jesus as King. He is “one like a son of man”—the same term used to describe King Messiah in Dan. 7:13 who is given dominion over the whole world. He rules over and controls the angels who preside over the seven churches, and his word will be absolutely authoritative in judgment of his enemies (1:16; see 19:15). He is so holy and majestic in appearance (GOLDEN BELT; SNOW-WHITE HAIR; FLAMING EYES; GLOWING FEET; WATERFALL VOICE) that John is completely overwhelmed and undone (1:17a). Yet this description also portrays Jesus as Savior and Servant. Jesus is clothed with the robe like that of the High Priest, which emphasizes his sacrificial death for our sins. And this is why he told John not to be afraid in spite of his frailty and sinfulness—Jesus uses his authority to deliver us from judgment (1:17-18).

Why is it so important for us to have this full-orbed picture of Jesus as both the Savior who serves us and the King whom we serve?

What happens if you only see Jesus is as King and Judge? It's easy to corrupt him into a distant or capricious or even abusive authority figure to be afraid of and keep your distance from. Some of you come from a family or church background in which this corrupted picture predominated. If so, you need to realize that this same Jesus who so powerful and holy also loves you deeply, and is far more interested in what he can do for you and give you than in what you can do for or give to him. He wants to have a love relationship with you that is full of security and goodness. GOSPEL (John 3:16?)

What happens if you only see Jesus is as Savior and Servant? It's easy to corrupt him into your domesticated pet who entertains you instead of a Lion who awes you, your emasculated servant who facilitates your agenda instead of a mighty Ruler who calls you to give your life to his agenda, your personal therapist who helps you manage your sin instead of an authoritative leader who calls you to healing through repentance. I think this is the more common error in our culture, which wants a spirituality that leaves us firmly in control of our lives (CONVERSATION AT LOCAL BAR: “I'm not talking about morality or following anyone—I'm talking about a spirituality that helps me get what I want.”).

I'm not surprised that non-Christians have this view of spirituality, but it is alarming that it has infected much of American evangelicalism. Watch Christian cable television—which portrait predominates? When I tuned in last weekend, I watched an interview of a best-selling author on his new book, What Would Jesus Eat? The thesis is that if we eat what Jesus eats, we will become more spiritual. Then I watched a mega-church service which began by the pastor leading the people in a weekly chant about being blessed in Christ (no mention of suffering or service), and then a new series entitled “Prosperity Now”). He said, “I know you've been told that your riches are in heaven, but the Bible teaches that you can and should be financially prosperous in this life—and I'm going to show you how to get it.”

If your picture of Jesus is deficient in this sense, Revelation will be great for you because while not neglecting Jesus as the Savior who serves, it really emphasizes Jesus as the King whom we serve. There is a special kind of comfort and joy that comes from abandoning your life to the full-orbed Jesus that is waiting for each of us . . .

Copyright 2002 Gary DeLashmutt