The book of Revelation is not a book about the future. Understanding the book of Revelation is understanding your future. It’s a book about your future. It’s not just some scientific study about what might happen next. It is a book about what will happen next! Prophecy is history written in advance. It’s a very personal book. Every single one of us is mentioned in this book. Not by name, but we’re all mentioned. At the end of time we’re either going to be standing with believers in that great multitude at the sea of glass that worships Jesus forever in the new Jerusalem or we’re going to be standing with unbelievers at that Great White Throne of Judgment to be banished from God’s presence forever and cast into the lake of fire. Everybody in all of human history is mentioned in this book of Revelation. It’s a very personal book about our lives and about what God is going to do in our lives.
Many people and pastors steer clear of this book. They are afraid to talk about it. The images are scary. The context is powerful. Some don’t like to hear about anything negative. They are afraid to preach about it. It is a challenge. The symbolism, the types, the references to many New and Old Testament books make this book a challenge. It is a different type of book to study because it references so many texts and concepts that have gone before it. God placed it in his Word so that we would understand it. Understanding the book of Revelation and God’s eternal plan brings comfort and encouragement.
The date of this writing is in March of 2021. I can’t think of a better time to study it than right now. Those who study prophecy should keep a close watch on current events. As we study bible prophecy we should keep abreast of the following areas:
- The Mid-east
- The European Union.
- The financial world that is moving toward the Mark of the Beast.
- The many false teachers, and false prophets.
- The signs of the times mentioned in other areas of scripture such as earthquakes and pestilences.
All kinds of things that show that this book will become crystal clear as these end time events unfold. As we study this book my prayer is that our hope will increase exponentially. Many people are afraid of the future, however we as believers need to be people of hope. We’re the ones who have something to hope in. We’re the ones who have something to hope for. That is why we call the rapture The Blessed Hope.
Reading Revelation is a little like being dropped in a different world when it comes to the Bible. You start reading through the New Testament and you have Jesus healing a blind man. And you have the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and the history of the early church and Paul writing love letters to the churches and then suddenly you have a beast with seven heads and ten horns coming out of the sea. Is that a little different? Yes! It sort of surprises you! So when you get into this book it makes you a little dizzy. You wonder what’s going on. Let me give you a couple of things to understand.
Understanding the book of Revelation means that we…
- UNDERSTAND THE BACKGROUND OF THE BOOK
Who wrote it and when it was written? That’s important. It’s important to know that it was recorded by John the Apostle, one of those who walked with Jesus. I put the word “recorded” because actually it wasn’t written by him. It was actually written by God. God wrote it down, delivered it to Jesus who delivered it to an angel who delivered it to John the Apostle. He recorded what God said to write down. This is a letter written by God to us. Revelation 1:1-2 “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him [to Jesus) to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
And Revelation is a book with a guaranteed blessing. Revelation 1:3 says,“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.” The time has been near since the moment Jesus left this earth. If it was near then, it is even more near today. God’s saying, “I want to bless your life.” One of the ways we can be blessed by God is by reading this book, hearing it and taking it to heart. Let it affect your life. Let it impact your life and who you are. The book of Revelation, like all the books of the Bible, is meant to impact our lives and make us different. Somebody wrote that we’ve missed the whole purpose of prophecy if it doesn’t conform us to Jesus Christ in our daily living. If you read this book, study it, and it doesn’t change your life, what good did it do? We have to take it to heart.
As much as we talk about the end times and what’s going to happen in the future, it is a mistake to study the events of the future without letting it impact your life and change your life today. Why do I believe that? James 1:22 says, “God’s word is a message to obey and not just to listen to.” We’re not just to be hearers but we’re to be doers of the word. And James 4:7 says, “Knowing what is right to do and not doing it is a sin.” So, if I hear something that God wants me to do and then I don’t act on it, I am sinning. Studying this important prophetic book can’t be a cold study. It has to be a personal study. And it has incredible impact on our lives.
Here are some of the impacts that a study of the future has on our lives. For the believer, understanding what God’s going to do in the future does several things. Understanding the book of Revelation will show us the following.
- It promises us joy in the midst of affliction. Knowing how things turn out will bring us great joy in spite of what we are going through. I can tolerate the present as long as I know the future is going to be okay.
- It cleanses us and encourages us to be the kind of people God wants us to be. You cannot read this book and take it to heart and stay sinning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
- It gives us facts about life after death that result in hope in our lives. It gives us glimpses into the afterlife. What happens after we die. What will our existence be like.
- It gives us proof of the reliability of scripture. There are areas written in this book that up until the last 70 years people mocked the Word. They said that could never happen. But today technology has caught up with the Word of God. These things are now possible. When you see what God’s going to do in the future and how it matches up we have a real sense of proof about how reliable God’s word is.
- It draws our hearts in worship towards God. This is a book about worship. As we study this book of Revelation you’re going to hear this word “worship” come up more times than you thought. This is a worship book. It’s a book about how great God is and how our hearts can be drawn to Him. And Why shouldn’t they be? We’re going to spend all of eternity worshipping Him.
- It motivates us to share Christ with others. It is easy just to get caught up in our world, in our problems in our situations. God wants us to be concerned for others. The study of the end times always creates an evangelistic church.
The book is recorded by John the Apostle, and it’s written from a place called Patmos. This was not a wonderful place to take a vacation. It was a Roman prison island, the Alcatraz of its day before Alcatraz became a tourist attraction. It was a terrible place to be. John the Apostle was exiled here later in life. I think that the Roman government finally got smart about what to do with the Christian prisoners. Remember that the Apostle Paul was put in the middle of Rome and they chained him to the Roman guard and he won all of them to Christ and changed the world right there! So, years later they’re taking the Christians and exiling them.
Here’s John the Apostle, the last one alive, and he’s exiled at the end of his life on this lonely island. It’s a book that was written about 95 AD. Can you imagine how he must have felt? He must have felt like, “I’ve come to the end of all God wants me to do. I’ve been faithful. I’ve served.” The last years of John the Apostle’s life he became the elder pastor of the church, the one that everyone looked to. You can read his letters of 1, 2, 3 John and see how he encouraged the entire church. Then at the end of his life instead of getting some great reward, instead of retiring on this earth with some great reward, he gets sent to a prison island. What kind of reward is that for a believer?
He knew that he would be going to heaven someday but there must have been some questions like, “God, why do I have to be separated from the church and people I love?” No doubt, he was concerned for the churches. In his prayers he must have begun to ask God: What will happen to the people of God? Where will it all end up? What about his own people the Jews? Already the church was largely Gentile. No doubt there were current church crises he was praying about. Here he is on this lonely island. How could God use him there? And God comes and takes him and shows him something that no one has ever seen. He lets him see the future in a way that no one could ever imagine and He has him record it so that you and I are sitting here today reading what He had him record.
There is a lesson in all of this: Don’t ever think God’s done with you. Don’t ever think God’s through with your life. It’s incredible how that whatever you are, whatever you’re doing He still has plans and He can still use you. You may be 26 or 85 but God wants to use your life. He found the Apostle John on a lonely island. He may have even made sure he was there so he could hear this supernatural revelation.
A final thing about understanding the background of this book is it is prophetic in message. Prophetic, that means it looks toward the future and foretells and forth tells both what God is going to do and it is apocalyptic in form. The only place most of us have recently come across this word “apocalyptic” is from an old movie called “Apocalypse Now.” This is about God’s plan, which is much greater than man’s plan. When you hear this term in a movie it sounds like it means destruction. But that’s not what it means at all. It’s important to understand the form of this.
The book of Revelation is telling the future but it’s using the form of apocalyptic writing. “Apocalypse” simply means to unveil or reveal so it’s the kind of writing that sort of pulls the curtains open and shows you something clearly that you haven’t seen before. It’s the kind of writing that was all over in John’s day. We don’t see it anymore like we saw it back then but it was the kind of writing that they were very familiar with. So God used what they were familiar with and He used it to picture for them what He was going to do in the future. The images and many of the things that we read about today in Revelation we think are weird. But the people in John’s day would have read it and understood it.
I don’t want to minimize the power of what’s talked about in Revelation with this next illustration but I think it’s the best illustration I can give you of what apocalyptic writing is. It’s picture writing. The only place that we see this kind of writing and this kind of expression today in the same kind of way is in the editorial section of the newspaper. The editorial cartoon. Now Revelation isn’t a cartoon. It’s about serious subjects. An editorial cartoon might make us laugh but it’s the best picture I know of that shows what kind of writing this is. It’ll help us understand why we don’t understand some of these things.
In political cartoons an elephant represents the Democratic Party and a donkey represents the Republicans. Those are symbols that everybody knows and understands today. But 2000 years from now do you think everybody will know and understand the symbol as well? It is doubtful. But today when we see it in a cartoon we immediately recognize what it is but 2000 years from now there would have to be a little teaching to help you recognize what it is. That’s the way this book of Revelation was written.
When it talks about apocalyptic it means it has symbols. It’s filled with symbols. You’ve got to be careful because symbolism could lead to bad interpretation of the Bible if you just do it out of your head. If you don’t study the whole book, if you don’t study the time it was written in. If you don’t study the rest of the Bible all of a sudden you come up with a terrible interpretation because it’s just your idea and you haven’t taken time to study into the total of what God’s saying.
There’s a law of Bible study that applies when you’re studying symbols like this. It is called the Law of Common Sense. When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense seek no other sense. If you read it and think, “That makes sense,” don’t try to make it mean something else. God isn’t trying to be veiled with us. He wants us to understand His word. That’s why He wrote it to us.
The purpose of this book including all the symbols in it, all the pictures in it – it isn’t confusion, it’s not to confuse us. Rather it is to give us confidence. The purpose of the book of Revelation isn’t to make us wonder. It’s to cause us to worship. As we study this book we’re going to discover a sense of confidence in what God says about the future and a sense of worship of the God that you and I are going to spend eternity with. That’s what the book is written for. It is overflowing with hope. Understand the background. That helps you orient yourself to this book. We’ll do that as we study through the book together.
Understanding the book of Revelation means that we…
- DON’T MISS THE EMPHASIS OF THE BOOK
Don’t miss the main emphasis, the main character, the main deal, the most important thing in Revelation.
- The beast is important being mentioned 37 times.
- The throne of God is important being mentioned 41 times.
- The angels are important being mentioned 71 times.
But the most important character in the book of Revelation is Jesus. Jesus Christ is the main character of this book. On every page, through every chapter, chapter after chapter is about Jesus Christ. He is called the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, The Son of Man, The Lamb, the Rider on the White Horse and a number of other names. He’s the central person in the book of Revelation. You can’t miss that. The book begins like this: “The revelation of Jesus Christ…” Revelation 1:1
To miss the fact that Jesus is the central person of Revelation in the midst of all these other studies of what did this mean and what did that mean, if you miss that it’s liking going to New York harbor and looking at the boats and not seeing the Statue of Liberty, or going to see Mount Rushmore and only noticing the trees, never noticing that there’s a statue up on the mountain, or going to the Grand Canyon and standing on the edge and only noticing the ants that are making a line in between your feet. Imagine never lifting up your eyes and seeing this incredible view. Jesus is what Revelation is all about. He’s the one who brings the hope.
There are some people who try to study this book and only study the evil things that are going to happen. But the majority of the book is about the great things that God is going to do through His Son Jesus Christ. That is where the hope comes from. So that’s the emphasis: Jesus.
Let me just highlight some things I the book of Revelation so that you can see how Jesus in the dominant figure. This will kind of give you a brief overview of the book of Revelation.
In Revelation 1 even during the salutation John writes: Revelation 1:4-8 “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Look at all the titles for Jesus in that verse alone. Then as Revelation 1 continues John has a Vision of Jesus. It is a powerful vision that impacts him greatly. In that vision he sees Jesus walking among the candlesticks. The candlesticks are the churches. He is shown as being the Lord of the churches. Jesus writes letters to the seven churches.
Then John is taken to heaven in Revelation 4:1. John sees into the throneroom of God. And John weeps because they are looking for someone who is worthy to open the scroll with seven seals. And it is Jesus, revealed as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the root of David who is able and worthy enough to open the seals. And you experience the worship of the Lamb in heaven. That lamb is Jesus.
Then you enter the Tribulation period in Revelation 4-12 Even while the Antichrist is taking over, and terrible things are happening. But you see 144,000 Jews who are sealed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. This will result in a harvest of souls that will be incredible. All turning to Jesus. The bible describes these as a great multitude which no one can count. They have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. Once again…Jesus is the exalted one.
Then you see these characters in Revelation 13-14: Satan, the False Prophet, and the Antichrist. But this isn’t about them as main characters. It is about how the Lamb triumphs over them and they end up in the lake of fire.
Then you see the height of man’s kingdom in Revelation 17, it is seen both as an economic kingdom and a religious system. Babylon as it is known. Yet we read how it will be overthrown, destroyed in one hour. When you compare man’s kingdom to the glory of Christ’s kingdom that will last for 1000 years, you see the difference. Rev 19 tells of the Glorious Appearing of our Lord and Savior. He comes back, destroys his enemies. He sets up his kingdom in Jerusalem where he will reign for 1000 years.
In Revelation 20, Satan is bound for 1000 years, and at the end of those years he is loosed to test mankind. Mankind chooses sin once again and rejects Christ. That will result in the earth being destroyed by fire. But God recreates the whole thing. There is a new heaven a new earth. We will live in the New Jerusalem. In the city where the Lamb is the light. That Lamb is Jesus. Hallelujah! The curse is no more. Just the redeemed. Satan , the antichrist and the false prophet will be cast into the lake of fire.
Do you see it now? Do you see how central Jesus is to this whole thing?
- It is not just about the beast.
- It is not just about the mark.
- It is not just about the false prophet.
- It is not just about the four horsemen.
It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ as conquering king, and ruler, and Lord of the ages.
Understanding the book of Revelation means that we…
3. SEE THE HOPE
When you take the book as a whole and you see that it’s talking about the future, it is easy to miss the benefit of reading it in the present. I don’t want us to miss as believers that the purpose of this book is a four-letter word – HOPE. The believers who first read this book were under incredibly intense persecution. They were in times that probably none of us in the USA are ever going to face. Unfortunately, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing similar things around the world.
If you were in a time of intense persecution, and your life was falling apart, and the world was the most terrible, horrible place you could imagine, the one thing you need is hope! Can you come to grips with how much hope it gives people who are suffering to open up this book and realize that this world is not going to last like it is. It’s not going to keep going on and on like this. Some of you reading this have experienced deep pain in your life and you wonder about the world. You are ready for things to change.
God’s going to bring it all to an end someday. It’s going to be a terrible day for those who don’t know Christ but He will bring it to an end. When He does, there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth and all believers are going to be there with Him forever and there’s going to be no more suffering or crying or pain or any such thing. Can you imagine the need for that kind of hope in a suffering persecuted world?
Sometimes when we read the book of Revelation we get very scientific about it. We try to figure out all the ins and outs of it. I think it’s good to try to understand God’s word to its depth but we should not miss the hope that’s in this book. Many people do. Many people, their first feelings about the future and what God’s going to do in the future revolve not around hope but of fear.
If you read the book of Revelation, study it, or you’re taught the book of Revelation and don’t see the hope that’s in the book of Revelation then you’re reading it wrong or you’re studying it wrong or being taught it wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, there are scary things in this book. This book is about God’s final judgment on the world.
I do anyone a great disservice if someone sits under my ministry as a pastor and author and the only thing they ever hear about is God’s love. Don’t misunderstand me, God is love but he is also just. He is a God who saves and he is a God who judges. For those who reject him and choose sin and lifestyles that are not pleasing to God, we can be assured, judgment will comes.
In Noah’s day, God judged the earth, he destroyed it with a flood. Why? Because they refused to repent of their sin. The hearts of men were on evil continually.
In Lot’s day, Sodom and Gommorah’s day, he rained down fire and destroyed those wicked cities. Why? Because they refused to repent of their sin of homosexuality and sodomy.
He judged Israel time and time again when they turned to false Gods and sinful ways.
Yet today it seems like people can sin and get away with it. It seems like the judgment of God is not in effect. It is because right now God is acting toward this world with grace. Governments can be corrupt and it seems like God is silent in heaven. Injustices happen and people seem to get away with it. But there will come a day when God says enough is enough. The final judgment will take place. This book tells us that God will pour out his wrath on this earth. The nations that have sinned will be judged. It is called the Great Tribulation. But the primary message of this book is not that God wants to Judge humanity. The primary message is found at the end of the book.
It is a message of GRACE. Right now today….you can receive God’s grace. Rev. 22:17 “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life.” God does not want anyone to perish. He wants every person to come to him and find true life.
As we study the book of Revelation, I pray that an incredible, awesome burst of hope will be injected into our lives that will be so incredible it will flow to everybody that’s around us. That’s the kind of hope that the book of Revelation gives.
The purpose of Revelation is not to scare you. It is to give you hope for the future. Some of you might be thinking. I don’t need hope in the future. I need it now. The first lesson to be learned in this book is how to find the hope you need today. Because John was real person who had real needs and real struggles. I want to show you a verse or two in the first chapter of Revelation…
John is on the island of Patmos. He is old. He is banished. Years have taught him, how to seek God. Understand who John is, John is the single biggest pursuer and lover of Jesus. He is known as John the beloved. He is the one who laid his head over on Jesus shoulder. Almost in passing, he gives to us something that will help us find the hope we need today.
Revelation 1:10 “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,”
It is so easy for us to kind of read over that little phrase and not understand it. We jump over it to the vision that John had. That day Jesus himself appeared to John. But one thing we learn from this is that the Lord often makes himself known to those who are willing to seek him. I think John had the custom that on the Lords Day he sought the Lord. He knew what it was to be in the Spirit. It was as he sought the Lord, in prayer that Jesus appeared. He had a new revelation of who Jesus was. His thoughts of Jesus was the Jesus he knew on earth. That day, he got a different view of who Jesus was.
Revelation 1:13-17 “and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In 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. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
It was a very powerful experience for John. He had a vision. He fell before the Lord. He just fell over. You may ask me, Bob, Do you believe that people have visions today? Yes. Do you believe that the presence of Jesus can be so powerful you fall over? Yes. I want to say something about this. I don’t read anywhere in here that John was seeking for a manifestation. One of the great errors of Pentecostal Charismatic churches is they get hung up looking for visions and falling over and all that stuff. We don’t seek that. We do seek God. We do seek to be in the Spirit on the Lords Day.
You may be here today and you are looking at your life and you need hope, you in your own Patmos, a difficult place, a hard place. You may feel isolated. You may feel alone. You may feel you need the Lord to do something for you.
Here is what you do. You learn how to pray. The same Jesus who revealed himself to john will reveal himself to you. Revelation 1:17 “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”.