The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Introduction
THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST: INTRODUCTION Spring Valley Mennonite; September 9, 2018; Revelation 1:1-8 Fifty-two years yesterday, September 8, 1966 a new television program aired. Star Trek began with the introduction: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before! I am sure that the network had no idea how tremendously popular Star Trek would become. The original series has spawned numerous sequel series, books, and movies. The original series began in the 60’s during a period of uncertainty and turmoil in America. I believe the continuing popularity of Star Trek, which extends to the present, speaks to the yearning for better times and for a hopeful future. The series broke many cultural and societal rules for television; for example, the original crew of the Enterprise is comprised of several races, Asian, black, white and Hispanic. There even is an Alien race, shown in Spock, a Vulcan. Moreover, one of the bridge officers of the crew is a black woman, Lt. Uhura, who served as the Communications officer. The reason Star Trek was able to get away with breaking cultural taboos was that it was set in the hopeful future, where such cultural barriers were non-existent. It also is a future where there is no mention of the God of the Bible. How does this relate to the Book of Revelation? Revelation is largely about the future. It is extremely exciting and hopeful, speaking of the end of sin and wickedness, and about a glorious new world free from all the sinful turmoil of the present world. Revelation speaks of a redeemed world where there will be no more injustice, war, cruelty, sickness, famine, and suffering, for there will be no more sin. The great enemy of God will be permanently removed from afflicting mankind. There will be a new creation filled with joy and happiness forever. The hope for a better future, personified in the future envisioned in Star Trek, falls far short of the reality presented in the concluding chapter of God’s salvation—the Book of Revelation. Revelation serves as the final capstone of God’s plan for mankind. Just as Genesis tells of the origination and beginning of creation and mankind, and the fall of man and creation into sin, Revelation presents the glorious consummation of God’s salvation. The book centers around the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, His judgment on the wicked, and a new heaven and earth. It serves as a glorious hope for the church, but a dreadful warning to the unbelieving. Even though it contains such a hopeful message, the Book of Revelation is seldom preached from the pulpits of America. I must plead “guilty” on this count; although I have often referred to the truths found in the book, I have never preached through the entire book. Why is such an important book so neglected? Perhaps it is because of the very nature of the material. Revelation is apocalyptic in type or character. It is filled with symbolism, some of which seems almost mythical and of fantasy, with dragons and 10-headed creatures. This has had the result of many people thinking the book is difficult, if not impossible to understand. Yet this symbolism represents a definite reality. It takes effort to recapture the meanings of the symbols, which apparently were readily understood by the original readers. Another confusing aspect of the book is that it is not written strictly chronologically, that is, the material in some chapters, like chapters 13 and 14 dealing with Antichrist and the false prophet, refer to the whole seven- year period. We will sort these things out as we go. The late British prime minister Winston Churchill once described the former Soviet Union as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”1 Many Christians view Revelation in the same way! But by neglecting the serious study of the book, we deprive ourselves of a rich treasure of truth and blessing. It will aid our study to understand: I. THE TIMES AND BACKGROUND OF THE BOOK The best scholarship and evidence point to the book being written in the mid-90’s of the first century. Revelation was written during a period of sporadic persecution of Christians, severe in some places, milder in others. History tells of several periods of persecution: In earlier years, the Roman Emperor Nero (64-67 AD) instituted the first persecution in which vast multitudes of Christians were crucified, thrown to wild beasts, or beheaded. It was under Nero that both Paul and Peter were killed. By 70 A.D., Jerusalem had been destroyed, over a million Jews were killed and 95,000 were enslaved. A second Roman persecution was under the Emperor Domitian about 95-96. It was under this persecution that John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos from his church in Ephesus. A third persecution under the Emperor Trajan was soon to begin in about 98. John had lived through the first two periods of persecution and was about to enter the third. It was a dark and dangerous time for the church, but also a time of corruption and departure from the truth in the church itself. In such perilous times, God gave the visions of Revelation, to steady the church and encourage them for the awful days ahead. The book had meaning for the church of that day, but as prophesy, it has even greater application to our world and faith today. We need not be surprised that this message to the church of the first century is also a message to the church of the 21st century. II. THE TITLE OF THE BOOK With these introductory remarks, we turn to the text of Revelation. What does your Bible read as the title of this book? Some translations have “The Revelation of John”, or “The Revelation of John the Devine”. These titles are both true and untrue. The Apostle John was the human author of the book, but God gave it Jesus Christ who passed it on to John through the agency of an angel. The first verse makes this clear: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants…” By the way, “Revelation” is singular; it is not the Book of Revelations! Let’s be accurate when referring to God’s Word. Look, if you will, to the first three verses of the First chapter of Revelation: (Read 1-3) The recipients of the book are the “bond-servants” of God. We remember the bond-servant was one who voluntarily committed himself for life to his master. This speaks of the permanency of our relationship with God. One could not resend his decision to be a bond-servant. God desires for us to know and anticipate the future; note the phrase “the things which must shortly take place”. The word “shortly” does not necessarily mean “soon” but that when they begin, they will come to pass swiftly: “the things which must quickly or swiftly take place”. The third verse speaks of a blessing to those who read, hear and heed the book. In addition to knowing there is a special blessing from reading this particular book, there is the fact that one who reads, hears and obeys any part of God’s Word is a blessed person. Following the Word of God naturally leads to God’s Blessings. But what a wonderful blessing it is when we realize that God has history completely in hand, and that we can have the assurance of a glorious future as God’s people in a sin-free world with Christ reigning as King! What a blessed assurance is ours from knowing how the future is going to turn out—and that we learn from the Book of Revelation! God will have the ultimate victory, regardless of the difficulties of our present circumstances. The appropriateness of the message is suggested by the phrase “for the time is near”. Living almost 2000 years after the message was first delivered, we might be puzzled by the term “near”. This speaks to the fact that the church has always believed that the return of Christ could occur at any moment, the doctrine of the immanency of Christ’s return. As we move into our study, the importance of Daniel’s prophesy will be evident, but at this point let me quote Herman Hoyt, past President of Grace Theological Seminary: “The full meaning of this word ‘time’ cannot be comprehended without knowing the prophecy of the seventy weeks (in Daniel 9:24-27). By the time of Christ’s first coming the first sixty-nine weeks were fulfilled. But the seventieth, the last seven years, was yet future and hidden until the time of the end. As last that time had arrived, and the Book of Revelation is in large part (chapters 4-19) the unfolding and elaboration of Daniel 9:27, this final week of years in the history of Israel. That time had arrived (almost 2000) years ago and is 2000 years nearer.” Peter, in his second epistle addresses this issue of nearness: 2 Peter 3:3-4: Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” He continues in verses 8-9: But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. III. THE SALUTATION (VV. 4-8) Moving on, look at VV. 4-8 (READ) Seven churches in Asia (modern Turkey) are the original recipients of this letter. Why these seven? There were other churches in Asia at the time, such as those at Colossae, Hierapolis, and Troas. John knew of these and other numerous churches across the Empire. He selected these seven as typifying or representing all the churches down through history as to their spiritual state. The number “7” is significant; it is the number of completeness and occurs in this book not only as seven churches, but also seven spirits, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven personages, seven bowls, seven dooms, and seven New Things. The seven spirits, as seen in context, represent the Holy Spirit in His wholeness. Isaiah 11:2, in describing the Lord Jesus reigning, reads, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” This verse describes seven aspects of the Holy Spirit’s character. Note the presence of the Trinity in the authorship of the message: The Father (Him who is and was and is to come) the Spirit, as we have noted, and Jesus Christ. In verse 5 we begin to see a description of the Lord Jesus Christ in His exalted and risen state. He has resumed His glorified state of being and has fulfilled the mission of sacrifice. There is no hint of the suffering servant, but of a glorious and reigning King. He is described as “the faithful witness”. Jesus said of Himself in John 18:37, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” John 14:6, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life…” He is the “First-born of the dead”. Although others were resurrected before Jesus, Lazarus for example, they all eventually died. Jesus was the first one to be raised eternally into a new glorified body never to die again. He is the first of many, the first-fruits of many: 1 Corinthians 15:23: But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming. We see His Kingship in the words, “The Ruler of the Kings of the earth”. This looks to the future fulfillment of all the prophesies where the Son of David will rule the earth from His throne in Jerusalem during the Millennium. I will say here that we now live in the Church Age, where Israel as a nation has been set aside. But the Book of Revelation deals primarily with Israel, which will again become the focus of God’s Plan. After chapter 3 the church is never mentioned. The reason is that the Church will have been raptured before the scene in heaven of chapter 4. The Church Age will have been completed. All the promises God has made to Israel will be fulfilled during the Millennium, spoken of in Revelation chapter 20. But Jesus is not only Sovereign in the future, but He rules today also, and everything is fitting into His Plan for the ages. Much of the world, and especially most world rulers, fail to recognize God’s control and influence over anything. But as we study the Book of Revelation we see the world moving toward the fulfillment of these prophesies. God has foreknown our history, and He has revealed what is to come. Revelation 13 tells us in the near future there will be: • One World Government • One World Military System • One World Religion (based on humanism, and persecuting believers in Jesus) • One World Educational System (based on hope through science solving all man’s problems • One World Economic System • One World Dictator Rather than the political world being out of control, it is moving toward fulfillment of all God has predicted. Note the words in verse 5: “To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood”. The tenses are important: He loves us—present tense; He released us from our sins by His blood—past tense. Jesus’ love is ever present—I deeply appreciate the concept of God’s lovingkindness, for it incorporates the principle that God’s love is a covenantal love, a covenant He has made with us that is unbreakable. This New Covenant states that God gives us a new nature, we are born anew, and have been given a new life in Christ, objects of His “new- every- morning love”. Our sins have been forgiven, we are released from bondage to sin and death. Verse 6 states that we are now part of His forever Kingdom! We are privileged to be eternal priests offering up the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Our present privilege and responsibility is to represent God to the world, reaching His world, proclaiming His Gospel, and shining His light into the darkness. IV. A DOXOLOGY OF PRAISE TO OUR MIGHTY GLORIFIED KING! All glory belongs to Him, our eternal sovereign King, Who will reign for ever and ever! He is coming in the clouds, as the angel told the disciples who saw Him ascend into heaven. Whereas that was a private sighting, at His second coming (not the rapture) He will come with clouds, and every eye will see Him—it will be such an earthshaking event that will be visible all over the world. The Prophet Zechariah tells us that He will descend to the very mount of olives from where He ascended. He comes to judge all men, dead and alive. There will be world-wide mourning, as mankind will recognize judgment is near, and they have rejected the message of salvation. Amen! This is true. So be it. This Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Lord God of Eternity, Almighty God. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, if you have committed your life to Him as Savior and Lord, your future is secure. We are residents of an eternal Kingdom and guaranteed a glorious future free from sin and its effects. All wickedness of rebellious and sinful man will be judged, and Christ will rule in glory. Be encouraged! Revelation lays out a hopeful future for His children. That is the main take-away from the book.