THE BEGINNING OF THE END
By Pastor Glenn Pease
The Apostle John is the patron saint of everybody, for he is the hero of young and old alike. Jesus called him to be His disciple when he was likely in his late teens. He was the youngest of the 12, and is an example of the faith that Christ had in young people. John also lived the longest of the 12. He was used of God for service right to the end, and so he is also an example of the value of older people in discipleship. God used him to write down the last of the books of the Bible.
When the government looks for a man to go into space they select a man of maturity, but not a man of old age. When God sought for a man to travel to heaven and see mysteries beyond what any astronaut has ever seen in space, He choose a man well past our retirement age. John was a senior citizen, but it was no rocking chair for him. He had an assignment far bigger than anyone ever had. He was to be the recorder and reporter of the greatest revelation every given. God does not discriminate against the aged. God is an equal opportunity employer. He uses young and old alike. He has no retirement requirement, but will go on using a person as long as they live.
Your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams is the word of the prophet. Nobody is to be left out in the task of fulfilling God's plan. This last book of the Bible is an encouragement to all to plan to be used of God at any age. We should expect to do something great for the Kingdom even when we are old. Alexander Maclaren wrote his famous Exposition of Holy Scripture after he was 80. DaVinci was 77 when he painted the Last Supper. Tennyson was 81 when he wrote Crossing the Bar. The world is full of great works done by those who were old, and we are studying one of the greatest of these works of the aged as we study Revelation. John was an old man, but still a capable instrument in the hands of God.
The first lesson we learn from this last book of the Bible is from the author. We learn that every year of our lives should be a year of labor for the Lord, and a year of expectation that He will use us for His purpose. The rest of life can be the best of life is to be our motto at any age. Studies reveal that the reason people get tired and fatigued in old age is not because of exhaustion but because of stagnation. Life demands labor and expression. If we settle down to do nothing, we stop the springs of energy and lose our motivation. If we keep on going and doing things, the waters of life's energy keep flowing. John never stopped being active. He was always available for God's service and the result was, he was used to his dying day.
John is not only a great example of love, but a great example of labor. He never did retire from Christian service, and God used him to give the world this greatest of books-The Revelation of Jesus Christ. In these opening verses he tells us of the source of the revelation; the subject of the revelation, and the servants to whom the revelation is given. Let's consider first-
I. THE SOURCE OF THE REVELATION.
Notice it is not from John as the title in the King James Version might imply. It is not the revelation of St. John the divine. That title was added by man. John tells us it is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him. In other words, the ultimate source of this revelation is God the Father. He gave it to His Son and His Son gave it to His angel, and the angel gave it to John, and John gave it to us, the body of Christ. We see here a 5 rung ladder, as when an owner gives a plan to his son, and the son takes it to the manager, and the manager gives it to the foreman who lays it out for the workers. God may use many means to communicate with man, but he always begins with His Son who is the Word. He is the first and the last, the alpha and omega. Everything God does begins and ends with Jesus.
This book is not what John the Apostle is teaching us, but what our Lord, the master teacher, wants us to know, for it is the revelation of Jesus Christ. We must approach this book with minds focused on Him, and with the prayer in our hearts that He will teach us.
Hushed by the noise and the strife of the schools,
Volume and pamphlet, sermon and speech,
The lips of the wise and the prattle of fools,
Let the Son of man teach.
Who has the key to the future but He?
Who can unravel the knots of the skein?
We have groaned and have travailed and sought to be free.
We have travailed in vain.
Bewildered, dejected and prone to despair,
To Him, as at first, do we turn and beseech
Our ears are all open, give heed to our prayer,
O Son of man, teach.
As mysterious as is much of this book, the main concepts can be grasped by everyone. Jesus is the door that invites us in, and not a door that locks us out. A revelation means an unveiling of what is hidden. In this book Jesus opens up the door to the future and lets us see what His plan and purpose is, and how He intends to wrap it all up. It tells us how He will reward His bride and judge those who serve the cause of evil. It is a revelation of how men will journey through history to either heaven or hell. Genesis tells us how Satan began his work on earth, and Revelation tells us how he will end in doom. Genesis tells us how sin brought man's fall, and Revelation tells us the ultimate consequence of sin. Genesis tells us how everything got started, and Revelation tells us how everything will end. It is a fitting climax to the Bible.
We need to keep before us, that the source of this revelation is God, and it is a revelation of Jesus Christ, and so our first objective is not to know the future and satisfy our curiosity. Our first objective is to know Christ. This revelation is to primarily lead us back to the source and draw us near to Him who gave it. Our prayer should be-
Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me
A living, bright reality;
More present to faith's vision keen
Than any outward object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than even the sweetest earthly tie.
II. THE SUBJECT OF THE REVELATION.
To show to His servants what must soon take place. The subject than, is the future. We are dealing with prophecy and the prediction of what is to come. Henry Swete says, "Revelation is the converse of concealment, the process of casting aside the veil that hides a mystery." We could never know the things in this book if God had not revealed them. Everyone likes to be in on a secret, and Jesus is letting His people in on the secrets of the future. Not all secrets are sweet however. Some of them are bitter such as the revealing of God's wrath and the terrible judgment ahead. Even the negatives can be an encouragement, however, if we see them properly.
This is illustrated by the two Rabbis who approached Jerusalem and saw a fox. Rabbi Joshua began to weep and Rabbi Eliezer began to laugh. "Why do you laugh?" asked Joshua. "Nay, but why do you weep?" came the reply. "Because, I see the prophecy of Lamentations fulfilled." "Because of the Mount Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it." Eliezer said, "For that same reason do I laugh, for when I see with my own eyes that God has fulfilled His judgments to the letter, I have thereby a pledge that not one of His promises will fail, for He is even more ready to show mercy than judgment." Even the negative fulfillment's remind us of the certainty of His promises.
Many times I have used the saying that we don't know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. This is true in terms of our own personal lives, but when it comes to events which affect the whole world, we do know what the future holds, for that is what this revelation is all about. John stresses two things about these future events.
1. THEIR NECESSITY.
He says they must soon take place. This is not a revelation of what ought to be, or of what God hopes will be. This is a sure thing , and it must come to pass. This is not a series of predictions like you read in one of the papers by a contemporary psychic. They make a lot of educated guesses and a few wild ones for publicity, and once in a while they get one right. The test of any prophecy is, if it does not come to pass it is false, and the prophet is a false prophet. Any careful study of the so called prophets of our day show them to be false. If John's prophecy is truly from God, then it will not be 60%, or even 99.9% correct, but completely 100% accurate. John says these things must come to pass-it is a necessity.
2. THEIR NEARNESS.
They must soon come to pass. This word soon is the basis for the first debate over the book. Since many Christians feel most of the book is yet to be fulfilled in the future, they give the word soon a different meaning here than its usual meaning. They say that since from the Lord's point of view a thousand years is as a day, that means it has only been a couple of days since this revelation was given. So that leaves several thousand years yet for the fulfillment to come even in what would be only one week from God's perspective. That is very soon to Him. Others say the word means speedily, for it is used this way in Luke 18:8 where it says, "He will vindicate them speedily." They stress that when the Lord begins to fulfill these prophecies they will come in rapid succession and soon be fulfilled.
Many others resist trying to get around the plain meaning of the word. They prefer to take is as it stands and see that John is saying to the Christians of his day-these things will take place in your lifetime. After all, the other two great Apostles, Paul and Peter, said the same thing. Paul in Rom. 13:12 wrote, "The night is far gone, the day is at hand." Peter wrote in I Pet. 4:7, "The end of all things is at hand." There is no way to escape the fact that the Bible authors felt the end is near, and that Christ would soon return.
We are caught, therefore, in a dilemma. It is clear that the word soon meant soon to John and the early Christians. Yet, we know that the end did not come, and 2,000 years later we have not come to the end. What are we suppose to think? The solution is really quite simple. You merely recognize that both views are right, for it is a part of the nature of Biblical prophecy. George Eldon Ladd, the prophetic scholar wrote, "It is the nature of Biblical prophecy to make it possible for every generation to live in expectancy of the end." Each generation of Christians can see the events of this book fulfilled in their lifetime. History goes in circles until one day the final round will be made, and the literal end will come. No generation knows for sure that it is the last, but each one could be.
As we study this book we first of all must try to see what it meant to the Christians of the first century. Then we must try to see what it has meant to Christians through history. And finally how does it apply today, and what does it mean for its final fulfillment at the end of history which could possibly be in our lifetime. The reason this revelation causes so much debate is because so many Christians want to take it for themselves and leave all other generations of Christians out of it. They want it to be for the first century Christians, or for the Christians of the last day only. These exclusive theories are not wrong, for both are right, but it is just that they are too narrow and limited.
As we read through the book, we will be following those who see this as a revelation to all God's people with meaning to every generation from the first to the last. This means that soon means just that in every generation. The events of this book are always just around the corner for every generation. Jesus could have returned in any century. If this was not the case, then the waiting Christians who have lived in expectation for centuries have been deceived. The Bible says they were right to have been watching, for His coming is always near.
The third thing we want to look at is-
III. THE SERVANTS TO WHOM THE REVELATION IS GIVEN.
This revelation was not given to idle curiosity seekers, but to those who are servants of Christ. It is a servants manual and not just a guide to prophecy nuts who love to get into speculation about all the details of the future. It is primarily practical in its purpose. It is to aid Christians in their service for Christ. It is to be a blessing to those who keep what is written says John. If one does not serve Christ and live a more practical life of benefit to others because of this book, he has missed the purpose of it, and poverty of purpose is worse than poverty of purse. Only those who serve can really see the future and be motivated by this revelation, for they alone can see that their labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Barclay rightly says, "No man can be anything greater than a servant of God." This is the name first given to Christians in this book and it is the title that John and all of the Apostles proudly wear. God lets his servants in on his plea for the future, for if they are going to suffer for His Word and even give their lives in His service, it is only right that they should share in knowing the outcome of it all. The Christians who will get most out of this revelation are those who are most anxious to serve Christ in the world, and keep the things written in this book. Frank Laubach said something so simple yet so profound: "It would be better for us to throw away 99% of our learning and of our tangled philosophy and stick to just one single thing for our daily life-to keep asking God, who needs me next, Father!"
Whatever we learn from the study of this book will be worthless if it does not make us better servants. If growing in knowledge does not lead to growth in service, we will have missed the whole point of this book. On the other hand,, if we fail to grasp some of the mysteries and are wrong on some of our interpretations, but we are motivated to greater service, we will have accomplished the primary purpose for which this revelation was given. So our prayer should be, Lord, help us to see and then obey, as we launch into this study of the beginning of the end.