By The Rev. Alex Stevenson
The book of Revelation is probably one of the most misunderstood and misused books in the Bible. Ironically it is also one of the most read. I run into a lot of people who say that they have read it and most of them have read it more than once. Yet few claim to understand it. Those who do claim to understand it, often differ on what it means. One claims it says one thing and they have a long list of verses to back up their interpretation while another, with an equally long list, claims it means the exact opposite. And then there are those who want to decode it so that they calculate the exact date and time of Jesus’ return.
I won’t be doing that this morning, but I do plan to reveal what revelation is all about. The book of Revelation is 22 chapters long or 404 verses. It contains:
• seven letters to seven churches,
• four creatures with 6 wings,
• one lion that is actually a lamb,
• 24 elders,
• seven seals,
• 144,000 sealed saints,
• an un-numbered multitude dressed in white,
• seven trumpets,
• three woes,
• four horsemen,
• a woman giving birth,
• a dragon,
• two beasts(one with seven heads and ten horns),
• the number 666,
• seven bowls of God’s wrath,
• two witnesses,
• a tree of life,
• a new Jerusalem with twelve gates and twelve foundations,
• a new heaven
• and a new earth.
I hope you all brought plenty of paper to take notes and your lunch because we could be here a while. Just joking! I could never cover all of that in one sermon. Once I taught a 20 week class on Revelation and only scratched the surface. What I want to do today is put it all into perspective. As I have told Bible Study groups, I want to give the big picture, because once you have the big picture the details fall into place much easier.
The context of the book of Revelation is the persecutions of the early 2nd century. Some believe it was written during the reign of Emperor Domitian. The church was under fire because Christians refused to call Caesar “Lord.” Many were being martyred as examples to everyone else. New and grotesque ways were invented to punish these Jesus people. Christians were fed to wild beasts. They were set ablaze and used as torches.
But some of the old ways were used too. Ways like crucifixion and imprisonment. That is where the Book of Revelation begins. On a hot barren prison island called Patmos where John was imprisoned on account of the Word of God.
The Book begins on a prison Island in the 2nd century but it doesn’t stay there for long. After brief but poignant greetings to the churches in Asia Minor, Jesus takes John up to heaven. With a literal cast of thousands, John is shown “what must soon take place.” The images that follow are bizarre and frightening. They include angels and demons, beasts and dragons. That is the content that most disturbs people.
The vast middle section of Revelation that contains all these frightening images is disturbing but these images seem to fall loosely into two categories: images of judgment and images of vindication. The first, images of judgment, are truly frightening. And Revelation pulls no punches. It depicts the world in all its sinful ugliness. In Revelation the world is a sinful harlot that is drunk with the blood of the martyrs. The world is an awful beast that tries to devour anything good that is born into the world.
In these images God’s judgment is poured out upon that evil. Early in the book John is shown a vision of the martyred saints of God calling from beneath that altar. It was a common practice in the early church to bury a saint or martyr under the altar of a church. And all these saints are calling to God to bring judgment on the world. And adjacent to that the prayers of the saints on earth are brought before God. I imagine John and others were asking God, “How long will you let this persecution go on?”
The world is truly an evil place. There are forces in our world that try to stomp out any fires of love or hope that God starts. How long will God let this keep happening? So the book of Revelation reassures us that this state of affairs will not go on forever. There will be a judgment and God will bring an end to the evil that pervades our world and injures all that is good and righteous.
This is where the images of vindication come in. God will protect His own. They will be sealed. They may suffer physically, they may be mauled by wild beasts and their bodies burned, but they will be vindicated.
They will stand before God in heaven with white robes and branches of victory. They will have their prayers answered. The evil that seems to be in charge in this age will be destroyed. It will be thrown into a lake of fire. Every evil power and principality will cease to exist.
And all will be made new. God will create a new heaven and a new earth where evil is absent and all is full of God’s glory. And God will wipe every tear from their eye. The sun shall not smite them by day nor the cold by night. And the full glory of God will dwell with humanity.
This brings us to the final chapter of Revelation. Consider where we started. A prison island on Patmos with the Christians being persecuted: a literal Hell on earth. And look where we have ended up: a literal Heaven on earth!
This is the point of Revelation summed up in the last chapter. Jesus is coming again to judge this wicked age and vindicate the persecuted church. And those who stand strong will be rewarded. They will enter this New Jerusalem and dwell eternally in the pure glory of God.
But the book doesn’t really end in that blessed future. It ends in the here and now. The final words are a call to follow Jesus in the present not to merely look toward heavenly glory. It addresses the reader and says, “Come, let anyone who wishes take of the water of life.”
Revelation can be a book of judgment or a book of vindication for you. It’s your decision as to which it is. If you choose to serve the world it is a book of judgment and let me tell you there will be a judgment for this evil world. But if you choose to serve Christ, it is a book of victory. Which will it be?
Copyright 2008 Alex Stevenson. Used by permission.