Hold onto your hearts as you throw all your effort into studying this awesome book. You will be changed beyond all recognition!

Our over-riding goal

When looking at this on a weekly basis, we must beware of getting too focused on the images being drawn for us in the different scenes, becoming concerned about the timings or interpretations of God’s plans for the future of humanity offered by many people who have looked at this book. Our reason for studying it is purely to focus on Jesus. This is His story and, at the right time, He will return and we will be in a good position to recognise Him. In fact, what is far more important than identifying the signs or activities happening in the world just now, is that we should know Him when He returns. If we are focusing on some expected fulfilment of prophecy more than on Him, then we may be disappointed. Many people didn’t recognise Him when He came the first time to our world, despite having read a great deal that had been written about Him. When He was right in front of their faces, they had no idea who He was. What a challenge! Would we recognise Him if He returned tonight?

The book of "Revelation" is a personal letter from God. It was written by John, the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ, while he was exiled by the Romans on the island of Patmos - probably around AD 95. It has never been more relevant than it is today. What could be more treasured than a letter from Jesus? Jesus was given the message by God Himself and entrusted it to John, who became the human messenger. It is written in a style of Jewish literature known as "apocalyptic". This uses fantastical, symbolic imagery and numbers to communicate a message of hope to any in the midst of persecution. The Jewish people knew that they were God’s chosen people so, although their history had been a catalogue of disasters, they still had hope that, although no human leader was going to deliver them, God Himself would deliver them.

It’s a challenge for us to grasp the prophetic significance of the book, but still gain its personal implications for our own lives. All the way through, we should be aware of what is being said to us personally about our lifestyle and attitudes, as well as the amazing promises for the future. It is not written in strict, chronological sequence - which does make it harder to follow. It is always good to remember that the best commentary on the Bible is another part of the Bible. We may well find this book difficult at times, even bewildering, but we need to push through, because it will be so worthwhile to listen to what the Spirit is saying to His church today.

But we see Jesus...

When Jesus came initially as a human baby, He came, in meekness, to carry out a particular mission for His Father. When He appears for the second time, He will come in glory with great power and authority to confront and defeat all opposition to God's kingdom. There will be great fear in Satan’s camp and great rejoicing for the children of God. Whatever we see happening in the world, we need, by faith, to hold onto this truth. This book has become renowned for its sensational imagery and speculation abounds as to what it might all mean. As we study it, there will be a temptation to become disjointed in our perspective and we shall constantly need to come back to our view of Jesus. The purpose of the book is not primarily to reveal to us information about the future; it is a revelation of Jesus Christ Himself. Neither has it been given to us as a prophetic vision; it is a revelation of Jesus. The author, John, describes it as: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants.” (Revelation 1:1) The words come from Him and are about Him. They provide us with a glimpse of spiritual realities to come that are too much for our human minds to wrap themselves around. So, let's be open to the Holy Spirit and allow the pictures to speak to us and lead us into deeper worship. Even if we do not understand it all, we can totally trust that what God has planned for us will be good.

This is not going tp be a study of doom and gloom, putting us in fear of the coming of the "antichrist" and prompting us to ask worrying questions such as:

  • What is "the mark of the beast"?
  • When will "the rapture" happen?
  • Am I going through "the tribulation"?

The Holy Spirit controlled what was written in the rest of the Bible so He is well able to declare to us what He wants us to learn from this book. He did not write sixty-five books full of love, mercy and grace only to fill the very final book with terror, hopelessness and condemnation. Let's try to put behind us all preconceived ideas from previous opinions or teachings and enter this study with a real enthusiasm about what God wants to say to us personally. If we're not sure of what something means, let's just hold on to it, file it away for future reference and allow God to "join up the dots" to this end-time picture at a later date. This is not a revelation or unveiling of the wrath of God, but a revelation of Jesus Christ. In the gospels, we saw Jesus revealed as the Saviour; in the book of Acts and the various letters written by the apostles, we saw Him as head of the church, His bride. In this final book of the New Testament, we see Jesus as the triumphant Lord over all of creation.

A powerful, but defeated, enemy

We see Satan’s biggest attack against the earth described in Revelation, but even this fails. His best is not good enough or powerful enough. Throughout the spiritual story of humanity, from the early beginnings in the "Garden of Eden" through to this last book of the Bible, there have been many times when our Enemy has had apparent victories. Jesus' crucifixion and death seemed like an enormous triumph, but only for a couple of days. After Jesus' resurrection and in the years that followed, the kingdom of heaven began to grow exponentially and to spread throughout the world. One of the encouraging messages that comes through loud and clear from this book is that there is absolutely nothing that Satan can do against us, which will separate us from the amazing love of God as seen in His Son, Jesus. (Romans 8:35) Nothing that Satan does is hidden from our loving Father, who will make sure that even the enemy's worst attacks on us can be deflected.

"For no temptation [no trial regarded as enticing to sin], [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out [the means of escape to a landing place], that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently." (1 Corinthians 10:13 - Amplified Version)

Let's keep this promise before us as a focus for our study of Revelation. Satan continues to fight, using fear, strife and confusion as his tactics, but we are the ones who have been given power to bring down spiritual "strongholds". "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Speculation and confusion

"And we have the prophetic word [made] firmer still. You will do well to pay close attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dismal [squalid and dark] place, until the day breaks through [the gloom] and the morning star rises [comes into being] in your hearts. [Yet] first [you must] understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of any personal or private or special interpretation [loosening, solving]. For no prophecy ever originated because someone willed it [to do so - it never came by human impulse], but men spoke from God who were borne along [moved and impelled] by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:19-21 - Amplified Version)

There are hundreds of "ten minute" teachings on YouTube where people are sharing opinions about the book of Revelation. Many have pasted in clips of some well-known preacher's teaching, but only so that they can refute it in favour of their own or preferred interpretation. There are also many who use the interest in this subject as a means to introduce views that are directly contrary to the teachings of Christ. It is so important that we don’t latch on to some speculative interpretation and blindly follow it ourselves or copy it to all our friends. Many authors who have written books about Revelation have said, years later, that they subsequently changed their minds about some aspect of what they had written.

Making sense of it all

If we are all walking with Christ, He has started a good work in us and He intends to complete it. (Philippians 1:6) It is not our job to do His work; it is only for us to obey His leading by the Holy Spirit, from a heart full of love. Each of us, as individuals, needs to see what Jesus is saying to us through His Spirit and be fully convinced of its truth. Let's not be pushed into agreeing with other people, just to to keep them happy or because we think that they are more "spiritual". Let's learn to identify the voice of the Holy Spirit through our regular reading and meditation on the word of God. He will help us to keep our spiritual balance and sharpen our spiritual sensitivity. This is how we grow in Christ.

All through His word, God has woven a complex pattern that, like a carpet or tapestry, gives us a full picture when we stand back at look at the whole thing. The last section of this tapestry - the book of Revelation - contains an enormous number of signs and symbols. Some of these symbols are explained in the book itself but others are not. It can be helpful to look back at earlier sections of the "tapestry" to see if these symbols appear elsewhere, together with an explanation of their meaning. Not everything in "apocalyptic" literature was intended to be taken literally. So, we need not be looking for an army of locusts or a collection of scorpions in a literal sense; we want the Holy Spirit to show us how He sees it. (Isaiah 55:9)

This type of literature was frequently used to protect those for whom it was written. When Revelation was written, the Roman Empire ruled the part of the world where Christianity was born. The emperor, Domitian, ruled from AD 81 to 96 and built around him a cult of personality. He worked hard literally to rebuild Rome - the capital - and to strengthen its economy. He would not have appreciated the message of Revelation that Jesus of Nazareth would be coming back as a conquering king!

There are mathematical and stylistic patterns in the book: letters to seven churches; the opening of seven seals, the blowing of seven trumpets and seven vials containing bowls of judgment. Just as a month contains weeks and weeks contain seven days, so the seals, as they are opened, contain trumpets. As they are sounded, they foreshadow the vials of judgment. The book opens in heaven with a blessing from God and ends in heaven with the last judgment and the beautiful, celestial city. This is the final answer to the Lord’s prayer: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10)

God’s will is decreed and declared in heaven, then we see His will being carried out on earth. Revelation shows that no power in heaven, earth or hell can frustrate the fulfilment of that plan. God’s kingdom will come and we are going to learn how as we go through this study!

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