“Is John’s Revelation for Christians Today?”Categories: apocalypse, hermeneutics, Lord's Day, repentance, Revelation
In the teen class, we are studying the Apocalypse (Revelation) of John. We noticed in the book’s introduction some helpful pointers as to how we should interpret the contents.
The Time Is Near
Christ showed John “things that must soon take place” (1.1) and that “the time is near” (1.3). The original recipients of the letter were seven churches in Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (1.4, 11). John was to send Jesus’ messages to each church. How do you think they heard “things that must soon take place”? Do you think they thought, “Well, to God one day is like 1,000 years and 1,000 years is like a day, so when God said ‘soon’ and ‘the time is near,’ He probably means a couple of thousand years in the future”? No, God does not confuse His people. The first century Christians would have naturally understood that their generation would see the things revealed in the book.
Jesus used similar language in Matthew 24.34, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”
It is funny how every successive generation seems to think they are the target time in which the prophecies of Revelation will be finally realized. Perhaps it speaks to our narcissism.
Revealed in Visions
John bore witness to “what he saw” (1.2). What follows is a series of visions Christ gave to John. The beloved apostle was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when he heard a loud voice behind him saying, “Write what you see in a book” (1.10–11).
Anyone familiar with Old Testament prophecy (such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc.) understands visions can be pretty weird, and they often demand explanation. For instance, Daniel saw a series of beasts in Daniel 7. The fourth beast had 10 horns, and another little horn popped up and uprooted three other horns. Daniel didn’t know what to make of it, so God explained what the beasts and the horns represented. They were not to be taken literally, but each detail was a sign or symbol of something real. The beasts represented kingdoms, and the horns represented individual kings.
To rightly interpret the visions of Revelation, you should study Old Testament visions. Listen closely to God’s explanations in the texts, and it will greatly aid you in understanding the signs and symbols of John’s Revelation.
Meant to Be Practical
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it” (1.3).
The Christians were not to hide this book or keep it a secret. They were to read it aloud so all their people could hear it and keep what it commanded.
Many today overlook the practical nature of Revelation, as they misinterpret the visions to fit various historical periods, and they bog themselves down with theories on what political power or person is the beast and what the mark of the beast is going to look like.
But Jesus intended Christians to hear the things in these visions and repent and be faithful!
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do thing works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (2.5)
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, I and I will give you a crown of life.” (2.10)
“I have a few things against you…therefore, repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of My mouth.” (2.14, 16)
“Hold fast what you have until I come.” (2.25)
“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (3.3)
“Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (3.10–11)
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (3.19)
Is It for Us Today?
Is it practical for modern readers? If most of what was prophesied has already taken place, why should we worry about it?
- We study Old Testament prophecies even though they have mostly been fulfilled. We study them because they build our faith and teach us of God’s unwavering faithfulness and about how He thinks and works.
- John’s visions have mostly been fulfilled, but the principles endure. Revelation concerned a specific judgment upon Jerusalem, but the lasting principle is that God judges individuals and nations. The call to repentance is just as important to hear today as it was to the early Christians.
- We might ask why those Christians in Asia should have been worried about God judging Jerusalem. What did it matter to them? The Jewish nation serves as an object lesson to all of God’s people—if Israel failed to receive God’s blessing because of their faithlessness, how much more shall we expect judgment for our unbelief and rejection of the Lord Jesus?
- Christians still wait expectantly for the visions in Revelation 20–22 to be fulfilled. There is still the final judgment of Satan and his forces and all who are on his side (not written in the Book of Life). There is still the New Heaven and New Earth in which God will make all things new.
So, yes, God’s people should continually read aloud, hear, and obey this great book!