My year-long journey through The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men, has reached the end of the Christian New Testament. The book of Revelation is one of hope about the victorious Savior’s return to rescue His people and settle accounts with those who deny Him. But it’s also a warning for believers about the final judgment about their commitment to following Jesus Christ.
In the End, God Wins!
The book of Revelation (not Revelations with an ‘s’) is apocalyptic literature. This is a type of Jewish literature about the cataclysmic events that will transpire at the end of the world. The imagery and puzzling symbols make it one of the most difficult of the entire Bible. Even today, interpreters have drawn widely different conclusions about whether historical or current events are revealing the end times foretold in the book.
Regardless of these debates, the fundamental message is clear though: “God Wins!”
Setting and Authorship
The author identifies himself three times as “John” the servant of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 4, 9). Some scholars think he was John “the elder” referred to by Eusebius, the early church historian who was the first to unequivocally distinguish him from John the Apostle. Traditionally, most think the apostle wrote this letter after his exile to the island of Patmos in A.D. 95.
John wrote to the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) experiencing the terrible persecution of Emperor Domitian (A.D. 90-95). The Emperor consider the early Christians a strange cult group who caused trouble within the Empire. The Roman authorities often sent criminals and Christians to this small, rocky, and barren island in the Aegean Sea to serve their prison terms in harsh conditions.
John was exiled to Patmos for preaching the word of God and his testimony about Jesus. Shortly thereafter, John began to have visions so he wrote letters that he became the book of Revelation. Some historians claim that John died while on Patmos. Others believe he was freed from the island before his death.
A Book about Jesus’ Second Coming
This book of 22 chapters is John’s revelation from an angel sent by God about the events that reveal Jesus Christ’s final victory over evil.
John received instructions to write to the seven churches located along a major road that he had once traveled. He writes the “time is near” and “to be ready at all times.” God’s upcoming judgment will lead to the end of the world as they know it and the beginning of a new kingdom.
He is the Alpha and Omega
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last letter. John writes that he encountered the Lord, with hair as white snow, eyes blazing like fire, and feet like bronze glowing in a furnace. His voice, like rushing waters (1:14-15), told John, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I gold the keys to death and Hell.” (1:17-18). The idea is that God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the beginning and the end of all as the One who presides over the universe.
- What are your initial impressions about the end of the world?
- How does verse 17 give you insight into the beginning- and end-state of God’s originally designed world?
Chapters 2 and 3 contain reprimands to each of the churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
A Lukewarm Faith
The letter to the church at Laodicea is the harshest of the seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor. Jesus makes it clear that He sees them as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (3:17). The Laodiceans’ lukewarm faith was hypocritical; their church was full of unconverted, pretend Christians. They certainly understood the analogy as their water was good for nothing. In fact, it was nauseating, and elicited Lord’s response to the Laodiceans—they sickened Him, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (3:16).
Today, the lukewarm believers are those who claim to know God but live as though He doesn’t exist. They may go to church and practice a form of religion, but their inner state is self-righteousness and complacency.
- Are you “lukewarm” in your faith?
- Do your deeds and works show your trust in Jesus?
After addressing the conditions at specific churches, John now writes a section of messages to the universal church.
Chapter 4, titled “The Throne of Heaven” are the glimpses of Christ’s glory. Four times in the book of Revelation, John says he was “in the Spirit” (1:10, 4:2; 17:3, 21:10) to tell that the Holy Spirit was giving him these visions. John saw the conquering King and Judge, Jesus Christ, sitting on a brilliant throne of gemstones. He is surrounded by twenty-four thorns representing the twelves tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles who were redeemed for their holy living.
Chapter 5 continues the glimpse into Heaven using the imagery of Jesus sitting on the throne. He holds a scroll with seven seals that contain the full account of what God has in store for the world. John writes that only Jesus, the Lamb of God slain to redeem His people, is worthy of unsealing it.
Apocalypic Events Revealed
As Jesus unseals the scroll, starting in chapter 6. Seven judgments pour out through a series of seven trumpets and seven bowls.
When the first seal is opened, a white horse appears with a rider ready to conquer. As more seals are opened, three horsemen of the apocalypse— a red one, a black one, and a pale one — appear in rapid succession. These symbolize the war, famine, disease, and death that mark the beginning of the final destruction of the Roman Empire.
When the fifth seal is opened, John sees the souls in Heaven who were martyred for preaching the Good News and remained faithful. The sixth seal changes the scene back to the physical world when everyone left is afraid of what is to come.
However, in chapter 7, John receives a vision of four angels. They are holding back the winds of heaven until God places seals on the foreheads of His servants. There are just 144,000 servants for the 12,000 true believers from each of the tribes of Israel to represent go to Heaven before God’s final judgment.
Finally, the seventh seal opens (8:1-5) which unveils a series of God’s final judgments by seven angels with seven trumpets. The first four angels bring hail, fire, a mountain of fire, and a falling star that darken the sun and moon (8:6-13). The fifth trumpet announces the coming of locusts with the power to sting (9:1-11). The sixth trumpet heralds the coming of an army of warriors on horses (9:13-21).
An angel gives John a small scroll to eat (10:1-11) and commands him to go to the Temple of God to prophesy to the many peoples, nations, languages, and kings left who do not truly believe. Two witnesses proclaim 3-1/2 years of pending judgment.
Finally, the seventh trumpet sounds, calling all forces of good and evil to the final battle with Satan and his forces, pitted against Jesus Christ with all His forces (11:15-13:18)
Chapter 13 introduces Satan’s two accomplices: the beast out of the sea, and the beast out of the earth. These form the unholy trinity of the Antichrist, in opposition to the Holy Trinity of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.
In characterizing the evil that now is gaining mastery over the world, John resorts to imagery used in the Book of Daniel. He similarly uses the symbol of a great and terrible beast with seven heads and ten horns to symbolize the beast as the Roman Empire, saying, “This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” (13:16-18).
Always Be Ready
Scripture tells us that no one but God knows when Jesus will return (Matthew 24:36) so be ready and live righteously. It means to be aware of the coming judgment day. Holiness is not optional for believers. Jesus calls us to live by faith and look forward to the new Kingdom.
- What does it mean to you to “be ready”?
- Are you indifferent in your faith these days?
In the midst of this call to battle, John sees three angels announcing the final judgment (14:6-13). Two begin harvesting the faithful from the unfaithful (14:14-20). Following this, seven more angels pour out God’s judgment from seven bowls (15:1-16:21). One of the angels reveals to John a “great prostitute” called Babylon (symbolizing the Roman Empire) riding on a scarlet beast (17:1-8). After the defeat of Babylon (18:1-24)a great multitude in Heaven shouts praise to God for His mighty victory. (19:1-10)
The final three chapters of Revelation reveal the events that finalize Christ’s triumphant return and His victory over the enemy. They detail Satan’s 1,000-year imprisonment (20:1-10), the final judgment (20:11-15), and the creation of the new earth and a new Jerusalem (21:1-22:6). An angel gives John instructions about these visions and what to do once he has written them down (22:7-11).
The book of Revelation concludes with the promise of Christ’s return and reward to His people according to how they live. It describes the water of new life that flows through the great streets of HIs new kingdom as a symbol of eternal life. The book ends with an urgent plea, “Come Lord Jesus!” (22:20)
God Buddy Focus
The drama of the events in the book of Revelation is spectacular and difficult to comprehend. But it also provides hope since there is nothing to fear if you walk with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Revelation shows that no matter what happens on earth, God is in control. It promises evil will not last forever. It depicts the wonderful reward for all those who believe in Jesus Christ.
So no matter how much the world seems to be spinning out of control, trust that God will deliver an eternal kingdom. He is the Alpha and the Omega. In the end, He wins!
This week, discuss:
- What is most upsetting or scary to you about the book of Revelation?
- What is the biggest barrier for you to believe that God wins in the end?
The next post includes reflections of my year-long journey through the entire Bible.