"Study the book of Revelation. Study it as you have never studied it before. Then go to your churches and preach it. It is the one book above all others that demands our study today." The speaker was Wilbur Smith, eminent Presbyterian scholar and minister. He was ad dressing the opening meeting of the annual National Association of Evangelicals Convention in Los Angeles.
He continued, with intense earnestness, "I have had many burdens through the many years of my ministry, but I have never felt so strongly about anything as I now feel about this. Please! Please! Study this book."
A few years later while I was pastoring in Jacksonville, Florida, Billy Graham held a special meeting with local ministers. His appeal echoed the words of Dr. Smith: "Whenever I have some extra time to spend at my home in Carolina I use it in the study of this book. The conviction grows stronger every day. The book of Revelation is of special importance to Christians now living. Go home and study it and preach it." There's no doubt about it, Revelation is back in vogue among ministry and laity alike. Home Bible studies often center on the Apocalypse. Seminars that feature studies in Revelation are filling halls. Congregations want to know what it means. There is a growing conviction that this book has special meaning for today—that its message is necessary to help prepare a people for the return of Jesus.
To the Ephesian elders Paul declared, "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Ministers who would be equally faithful to their trust cannot neglect this portion of the Sacred Scriptures.
Let me share with you seven reasons why we should study the book of Revelation.
1) The Revelation is from Jesus Christ. The introductory words, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ," may have been the title John gave his letter. What higher recommendation could it have? This phrase can be understood to mean either that the visions were from Jesus or about Jesus. The former is probably the primary intent, for it is the revelation "which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants." To the prophet, lying prostrate before His radiant form, Jesus declared, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev. 1:18). It was the same Jesus whom John had known and loved, He who died, rose again, and ascended to the Father. Now He appears to the last survivor of the first-chosen disciples.
More than half a century had passed since John had seen his Lord. How reassuring the news that Christ was indeed alive and still ministering to His church! How grand the vision of Christ's atoning ministry beyond the cross to the grand finale of the drama of the ages. The followers of Jesus were familiar with Christ's promise to return. But why the delay? What was He doing? Had He forgotten them?
John's revelation re-emphasizes the answer of the book of Hebrews. Having "purged our sins," He "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3). Upon His ascension He was inaugurated into His priestly role to administer the benefits of His atonement, as fore told in the Old Testament ritual (chaps. 8:1-5; 9). To these insights into Christ's post-Calvary ministry, the visions of John added assurance of Christ's care for, and guardian ship of, the church to the very end of the age.
2) It is the Revelation of Jesus. The visions have their source in Jesus and they are also about Him. He is the great Hero of the book, the central figure. He walks among the candlesticks (churches) and holds their stars (faithful ministers) in His right hand (Rev. 1:12, 13, 20). He alone is able to "take the book, and to open the seals thereof" (chap. 5:9). He will ultimately "rule all nations with a rod of iron" (chap. 12:5).
Revelation is saturated with Jesus. His titles or allusions to Him appear forty-nine times in chapter 1; thirty-nine times in chapter 2; forty-nine times in chapter 3. He is the Creator, the Eternal, the Almighty, the God of heaven, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb—both the sacrificial Lamb and the conquering Lamb, the Bright and Morning Star, the Holy One, the Key of David. Altogether, nineteen descriptive names of Him appear within the book. We come to know more of His character and mission as we study its message.
3) It is especially commended to our study. In this respect Revelation is unique, for no other book of the sacred canon contains such a promise of special blessing upon its readers. It opens with the words "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein" (chap. 1:3). It closes with the promise "Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (chap. 22:7). Then it adds the warning against -corrupting it by either taking away from it or adding to it (chap. 22:18, 19).
These words imply that the book is to be understood. John designated the message by the word apocalypse, a "revelation," an unveiling or uncovering, a title which in itself suggests clarity. The book is a revelation from Jesus about Jesus, and Jesus is not the author of confusion.
4) It is the capstone of Divine Rev elation. Revelation completes and crowns the sacred canon. In it strands from all the books of the Bible come together in a triumphant finale. Few recognize how thoroughly Revelation is permeated with the Old Testament. Westcott and Hort list more than 400 quotations from this source. Adding allusions to the Old Testament that Revelation contains brings the number to more than 500. The vast majority are from seven books: Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah.
The rich imagery of Revelation is drawn from the Old Testament. There are place names such as Jerusalem, Babylon, the Euphrates; also, objects such as the temple and its furniture, as well as characters such as Balaam and Jezebel. Their meaning in the Old Testament is a key to their meaning in Revelation. Drawing from the Old Testament, the book of Revelation becomes an extension and fulfillment of it. Without it the Bible would be in complete.
5) It provides warnings and promises to the church through ages of conflict to the final victory. Revelation is the only book of the New Testament that is entirely prophetic. The message identifies itself as prophecy. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy" (chap. 1:3). "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book" (chap. 22:18). John clearly intended it as a prophetic message to be given to the churches.
The historicist interpretation of the book sees its scenes taking place for the most part within the period from John to the eschatological climax. Some within the historicist school see the successive visions as a continuous line of events reaching to end time, while others see the various series of messages—the seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets—as parallel treatments of the same periods.
Kenneth A.Strand, who has given special study to the literary analysis of Revelation, calls this latter view the "recapitulationist" interpretation. "The same historical ground is traversed several times, as it were, from different perspectives, with each sequence culminating in an eschatological climax."—Interpreting the Book of Revelation, p. 49. He concludes that the literary structure of the book mandates recapitulation as opposed to the "straight line" method.
6) It sets forth the true philosophy of history. This book reveals God in control of history. All life is moving toward the consummation of a great goal, according to the purposes of His will. Man may hinder, deflect, or delay God's plans, but he cannot destroy them. Righteousness ultimately will triumph and evil will forever be overcome.
The God of Revelation is the Creator God. The beings about the throne proclaim, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things" (chap. 4:11). And the flying angel of Revelation 14:7 declares, "Worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water." He made us. He is with His people. He is guiding the course of human events and His cause ultimately will triumph.
The book is especially applicable to those who will live through the last great crisis. Alvin Toffler's Future Shock addresses itself to the rapid changes occurring in our society and projects what conditions may be like in the near future. It emphasizes the need of developing new skills and technologies that will enable us to cope with the changed conditions. Likewise the book of Revelation looks to the future, giving special prominence to the crisis to come upon the world just prior to the return of Christ, when the whole world will be brought to a decision for or against God.
The climax of the age-long conflict between Christ and Satan is epitomized in those scenes portraying the woman versus the dragon, the Lamb versus the beast, and Jerusalem versus Babylon. In the climax there will be only two classes of people, those who receive the seal of God and those who receive the mark of the beast. Then comes the double harvest, the harvest of grain for God's kingdom and the harvest of the grapes for destruction.
7) It gives assurance of final victory to the church. As Christians face the final crisis, "a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation" (Dan. 12:1), they are comforted and encouraged as they review how God has upheld the faithful through the centuries. He has been the guard and protector of the loyal and true within His church in every age, and He will be with them to the very end. He still walks among the candlesticks. He still holds the stars in His right hand. He is still the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is still the slain and conquering Lamb.
The last conflict will be the great est ever. The spirits of devils will gather the whole world "to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14). But He who is Faithful and True, whose name is the Word of God, on whose vesture is written KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS, will lead forth the armies of heaven in victory over all His adversaries (chap. 19:11-21).
Before He went away Jesus promised John and the other disciples, "I will come again" (John 14:3). At the beginning of John's Patmos vision the promise is repeated by the angel of prophecy, "Behold he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him" (Rev. 1:7). The coming of Christ will be the great finale. Like the closing burst of glorious music in a grand symphony, the righteous will look up and pro claim, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation" (Isa. 25:9).
Enthralled with wonder and awe at the prospects of the coming King, John closes his writings with the promise and prayer, "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20).
The seven letters to the seven churches as recorded in Revelation, chapters one through three, constitute the introduction and foundational prophecy for the rest of the book. These letters will be considered in successive alternate issues of MINISTRY.