Series on Revelation, I The Vision, A The Prophecy, Text: 1:1-3, Title: A Tract for Hard Times

Introduction

The value and usefulness of this book can hardly be overestimated in our present day. Notice that the title is singular and that although the editors of many Bibles have called it the Revelation of St.John the Divine, it is in reality a single great comprehensive revelation of Jesus Christ for believers of all ages. Revelation is the translation of the Greek word Apocalypse which means unveiling. In  Revelation the curtain is pulled aside for us to see God working behind the scenes. Sadly, its message has been garbled by obscure tedious and fanciful interpretations, but an unveiling is supposed to reveal not cover, expose not hide. This book is in our Bibles to inform, instruct and encourage us. Revelation contains blessing for every generation of Christians from the first century to the twenty-first because it shows us Jesus, merely as the veiled Christ of suffering but  as the King of kings, and Lord of Lords reigning over history. The same sacrificial suffering sin bearing Savior that was veiled at Bethlehem is here unveiled as the sovereign Son of God and Suzerain of all He surveys. Dr. Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary reminds us that children often display a better understanding of this book than adults because this is really a picture book and the tedious and fanciful interpretations of scholars often miss the point. As one writer describes it, this is a book written by the aged apostle John, enduring a criminal's destiny, tethered with the leash of death to a rocky stake called Patmos. in the midst of the sea, where his zeal was intended to flicker out in the ashes of death. Instead he was met by the Savior with dreams and visions which would encourage him, the churches to whom he wrote, and believers in every age. Through this book the eye of faith is opened to the greater realities behind history as it is seen to march to the cadence of Jesus. This book is prophecy in the proper Scriptural sense of the word which is, a message from God that may be filled with promises and threatenings of that which is to come. This predictive element is never in Scripture intended to allure the curious or satisfy the prying and inquisitive. Prophecy is the declaration of God's will to warn the careless and comfort the sincere. The only fitting application of its foresight is to our moral and spiritual welfare in the present. Thus we read in verses 1-3 of chapter 1, The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him 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. 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. In this opening message I wish to direct our attention to what is important, namely the perspective, purpose and plan of the book.

I The Perspective

The outlook of Revelation is unique in the way in which it makes a vivid contrast between the doom of this present evil age and the happiness of God's church. No where else can we find such vivid, cosmic, calamitous descriptions of God's displeasure with the course of this present age. It is a warning which none can sincerely read or study without it making a profound impression, yet at the same time what a wealth of comfort; what an unveiling of the love of God for his people. You get here the perspective of Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Remember that we said this is like a picture  book. The language is suggestive of a picture book. The word translated “show” in verse 1 refers to that which is visually demonstrated. In John 14 Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father and he uses this word. He does not want a verbal description, he wants to see God, the Father. Thus John is commanded here to “show” what can be seen by the servants of the Lord. This suggests that it will be carried out through a series of visible pictorial images. The display is given by signs, symbols, names, numbers, colors, and creatures. In verse 2 we see that this book, this communication to God’s people, is about what the Apostle John “saw.” The images are translated into verbal descriptions and transmitted to us as the “Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.” I know the Scripture warns us about graven images in Exodus 20:4–6 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Certainly the same misconceptions enshrined in idols of wood and stone can exist in our minds. However, the images of Revelation are of heavenly, not earthly origin. The problem with our man-made images is that they are always incorrect or inadequate and they misrepresent. The pictures God gives us here are accurate and divine. They are the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus. As Floyd Hamilton wrote, “Our blessed Savior taught us to pray, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ His Spirit gave to St. John the vision: ‘I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.’ Temple, throne, footstool, sat, face, are all metaphors, as are elsewhere in the Bible mentions of God's eyes, or ears, or hands, or feathers, and wings. These are helpful, necessary metaphors, depicting to our imaginations Him who is unpicturable, because formless, spaceless, invisible.” Thus the perspective of the book of Revelation is to vividly picture for us God’s judgment on an evil world and His love for His chosen people.

II The Purpose

The purpose of the book of Revelation is the same as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and all the minor prophets which was to warn and comfort. The threatenings of impending judgment and the promises of mercy and restoration work together to warn the impenitent and console the faithful. I hardly need to mention that Revelation is filled with images of terrible judgments upon the ungodly. The horsemen, the trumpets, the vials or bowls, all display our God’s anger and fury at a sinful world. This culminates in the scene of the final judgment and the consignment of God’s enemies to eternal hellfire. However in the midst of all these vivid portrayals of divine retribution, we have parentheses of comfort for God’s people. The book's main purpose is to comfort his church militant in its struggle against the forces of evil. Never has such counsel been more needful or more wanting. Examples would be God hears his people's prayers in chapter 8, and in 14, God mercifully removes them from the scene of the battle. God gives them the victory in death in chapter 15 and wipes away their tears in the aftermath of victory in chapter 21. In chapter 12 God gives them victory in life. We should especially note Revelation 17:14 where John is describing the great harlot Babylon representing the world system and she is riding upon the back of the beast who represents the kings of the earth who are doing exactly what Psalm 2:2 says they will, they are opposing the Lord and His anointed and taking counsel against them. And we read, They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. Chapter 18 follows with the destruction of the world system, the prostitute called Babylon the great and there God says in verse 4,  Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.” Thus we have the purpose of the book of Revelation as graphically portraying judgments as a warning to sinners, pictures and promises of peace to the saints of God. It was fulfilling that purpose in the first century and it is fulfilling it in the 21st century.

III The Plan

So the plan is that the world as we know it will end, and it will end either in bliss or in torment. In a “Peanuts” cartoon strip, good old Charlie Brown says to Linus, “Life is just too much for me. I’ve been confused from the day I was born. I think the whole trouble is that we’re thrown into life too fast. We’re not really prepared.” Linus asks, “What did you want . . . a chance to warm up first?” Revelation is your chance to warm up before the birth of a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells and  sin and death has departed forever. Revelation chapters 1-11 show us the church in conflict with the world and chapters 12-22 show us the same conflict between Christ and the serpent, Satan, at a deeper level. More specifically there are seven sections, consisting of 7 parts reminiscent of the Jubilee Sabbath in Israel. That was the fiftieth year after 7 cycles of 7 years and was the great year of peace and freedom celebrated in ancient Israel. What we get in Revelation are accounts leading up to the great Jubilee which is our total deliverance from sin and death. Jesus is our Jubilee. The seven sections are the seven lampstands in chapters 1-3 showing Christ in the midst of his church. The seven seals in chapters 4-7 show us the church in conflict with the world. The seven trumpets of chapters 8-11 show us the church avenged and the world judged. The seven symbolic histories of chapters 12-14 show us the inner workings and background of the conflict. The seven vials or bowls of chapters 15 and 16 reveal God’s final wrath upon the world. And in chapters 17-19 we have the seven messages of judgment upon Babylon and the world system and the agents of the arch enemy. Following is the final battle where we see the saints reigning in ultimate victory and their blessedness in seven scenes of judgment and deliverance. The important thing is that we remember that everyone of these  sections leads us to the same place, the final judgment and the second coming. All 1ead to the blessedness of God's people and the cursing of His enemies. This repetition constantly affirms one holy truth. It is progressive. First the judgment is announced, then introduced, then described. Seals reveal, trumpets warn, vials pour out. In the beginning the attention is more on the course of the present age and as we move forward the attention focuses more and more on the consummation and judgment. The plan and purpose are one: Christ's Lordship over all. Many people worship a God that is too small. Christianity cannot fail, and to say so is ecumenical hogwash. History is not ruled by majorities or by tyrants but by Christ. Some people live in fear and some fear to live but the book of Revelation is a cure for spiritual paralysis. It unveils Christ on the throne. I write this as we have entered the Advent season. In 1860 Lincoln was elected president and the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was in his prime. In 1861 Longfellow’s wife was burned to death and he, himself was severely burned. The scars were hidden  by his familiar white beard. In 1863 his son was severely wounded fighting in the Union army. He was depressed and despairing about life. He saw no hope of happy Christmases. It was then at age 57 that he wrote the third verse of his well known hymn “I heard the bells on Christmas day.” Verse 1 says, “I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men.” “How could he write about peace on earth, good will to men in a war-torn country, where brother fought against brother and father against son?” So what did he write next? “And in despair I bowed my head:’There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.’” Thank God the hymn does not end there and, in fact, if it did, it wouldn’t be in any hymnal. And so he wrote “Then peeled the bells more loud and deep; ‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep! The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.’” Here is the message, the plan, the purpose, the perspective in a nutshell. Do not fear for the Lamb is on the throne, and we read in Revelation 5:2-5, And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.  And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.