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Is there any book of the Bible that sparks as much controversy and confusion as the book of Revelation?
Some believers form strong dividing lines over different interpretations. Many Christians scratch their heads as they read through John’s illustrative visions. And others avoid reading Revelation altogether.
Perhaps you share the curiosity of one of our church members who recently asked me, “Why did God have to end the Bible like that?” It’s a fair question.
What are we to make of this seemingly odd conclusion to God’s Great Book?
The purpose of this post is not to engage (let alone settle) the common debates regarding Revelation. My goal is more simple and more general:
I want to show you some of the broad themes of Revelation that every Christian can agree upon, and every Christian needs to know. And, I want to encourage you to read and value Revelation.
I even want to suggest that the book of Revelation is one of the most important books in our Bibles.
Revelation Shows Us Reality
We live in a noisy, distracting world which incessantly screams for our attention. But in Revelation, Jesus yells back and reminds His church that He is Lord, that He is coming, and that we need to stay awake to this truth (Revelation 16:15).
Yes, he uses imagery and symbolism that can seem bizarre and strange at first glance, but He’s not out to confuse us. He’s out to encourage us.
Remember, Revelation was originally written to seven struggling churches to help them endure in the faith. Therefore, Revelation is in our Bibles today to help us press on in our walk with Christ.
In 22 action-packed chapters, Jesus pulls back the curtains of this world and lets us peek behind the scenes. We see what’s actually going on in the chaos of our day, and we see what’s surely coming in our future. We see reality.
Here are just seven of the realities revealed in the book of Revelation for the encouragement of the church:
1. Real Jesus
Revelation 1:1 begins with these words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation is first and foremost a book from Jesus about Jesus.
John sees Jesus in the fullness of his glory as the:
- Sovereign King over all creation (1:12-16),
- Lion of Judah who alone is worthy to unfold human history (5:1-5),
- Slain Lamb who shed his blood to ransom his people (5:6-12),
- Word of God who leads the armies of heaven (19:11-16),
- Judge who justifies his own and condemns his enemies to the lake of fire (20:11-15).
This is the real Jesus we are called to honor and serve now and into eternity.
2. Real Church
Revelation also paints a realistic picture of the church.
Lest we think that first-century Christians had it all together, Revelation 2-3 shows us real churches with real issues. Ephesus is backsliding, Smyrna is suffering, Pergamum is compromising, Thyatira is polluted, Sardis is dying, Philadelphia is small, and Laodicea is lukewarm.1
And yet, Jesus personally calls these believers to press on, to endure, and to share in his eternal victory. “The one who conquers,” he promises, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne” (Revelation 3:21).
3. Real Suffering
Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy.
There’s debate about which parts of these sufferings Christians will endure, but we certainly endure some (see Romans 8:18ff). And yet, the great hope of Revelation is that one day God himself will:
wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4).
4. Real Hostility
Demonstrations of hostility against the church run throughout Revelation.
Perhaps the most striking is the story of the two witnesses in chapter 11. These two men are faithful to Christ and bold for Christ, and then they are killed for their faith. When they die the world rejoices, celebrating their demise as if it were Christmas by making merry and exchanging presents (Revelation 11:10)!
This serves as a powerful reminder that the world will often hate followers of Jesus (John 15:18). And yet, the story of Revelation 11 ends in resurrection and vindication, which is the future and the hope of every persecuted Christian as well.
5. Real Deception
This reminds us that we need to stay awake and resist his lies (Revelation 16:15). This also reminds us that our ultimate battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12).
Our mission in this world is not to wage war with the unbelievers we know, but to winsomely and passionately seek to lead them to the One who can deliver them from deceitful schemes of our great enemy by opening their eyes to the truth.
6. Real Judgment
Few things are as unpopular today as the doctrine of eternal condemnation. And yet, few things are as clear in Revelation as the doctrine of hell. Hell is not pleasant, but it is very real.
At the end of history, anyone who has not pledged allegiance to Christ by repentance and faith will face the wrath of God. God’s judgment is always just, and they will only receive what they deserve (Revelation 16:6; 20:12).
However, no one needs to face this judgment. Jesus Christ is the Lamb who was slain, the one who drained the cup of the wine of the fury of God’s wrath in our place (Revelation 16:19; Matthew 26:39). By his grace, through his sacrifice, his people are not destined for wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
7. Real Glory
The future hope for every believer is the new heavens and the new earth. There will be no more sin (Revelation 22:3). There will be no more suffering (21:4). And, there will be no more sun because the glory of the Lord will shine out in the fullness of its brilliance (21:23).
Christians will stand before the Lord Jesus, in resurrected bodies, in a completely restored creation, and we will see him face to face (22:4). And this real glory, which is our real hope now, will be our real joy forever and forever (22:5).
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1.)These titles come from Richard Bewes’ book The Lamb Wins (Christian Focus, 2000) 27-34.