I got a flyer in the mail one time with a picture of the “four horsemen” of the apocalypse on it. There was blood flowing on the ground and they were riding over the top of skulls. With that image, they invited us to attend a seven night presentation on how the devastation of the United States was imminent. Finger foods would be provided.
The book of Revelation is already intense enough without every nut job in the world “interpreting” it to mean weird things. Most preachers have to have an elaborate timeline to describe the detailed events that are unfolding in our modern day. Some of their “interpretation” kind of makes sense but a lot of it is just plain odd. In fact, it is so odd that it becomes a different religion. So many people get lost in the details of this book and really miss the overall point.
Revelation is actually much simpler than we think. Over the next several weeks, I will be posting blogs about how to read the book of Revelation. This is not an in depth look at each verse, but simply some tools to help you understand as you read. Let’s start with the basics:
Revelation is not a guide to the end of the world
First off, everything you need to know about the end of the world can be found before you ever open the book of Revelation. Jesus talked about it in the Gospels. Paul talks about it in his letters, and Luke, Peter and John cover it in their writings as well.
The first step in understanding Revelation is to understand what the end of the world will be like from those writers. Then, let that shape your understanding of Revelation. Here is what we know before reading Revelation:
1. The last day of earth will be a surprise.
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Matthew 22:42-44
2. No one knows when it will happen.
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 22:36-39
3. When it happens, that’s it, game over.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 2 Peter 3:10
On the day Jesus returns, the world will end, and no one will see it coming. Why then, when people read the book of Revelation do they view it as a prophecy telling us when the world will end? God did not give us revelation to decode the end of the world.
What is Revelation about, if not the end of the world?
The book of Revelation was written to 1st century Christians who had already endured several waves of Christian persecution from the Roman Empire. The church is growing, but they are feeling outnumbered and insignificant. Rome is the superpower that is invading the world, and no one seems to understand why it isn’t important to the Christians.
Into this new growing but weak movement of Christianity, God gives the book of Revelation. Here is the description of why it was written:
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” Revelation 1:1
Revelation pulls back the veil and turns the tables. While the world rushes after the might and glory of Rome, the revelation reveals that it is really the God they serve who is sitting on his throne and ultimately Jesus Christ who has the final word. Nearly each image and chapter in this book has the same three points:
- God is in control.
- Those faithful to Christ are rewarded.
- Evil is fully and finally punished.
Revelation uses rich imagery to describe the unseen cosmic battle for every soul on earth. It is meant as an encouragement, not only to the first century Christians but also to us. Will you be confused at times when you read it? Yes. Does that take away from the encouragement of this epic book? Not at all.