Revelation: The Big Picture
by Michael Gowens
"Blessed is he that readeth, and they that
hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written
therein: for the time is at hand." Revelation
No portion of Gods word has
evoked more conjecture, diversity of opinion, and general confusion among
professed Christians than the Book of Revelation. Without question, believers
today are not a little skeptical about Revelation. In fact, contemporary
attitudes toward Revelation are dangerously close to, shall I say, irreverence.
Many modern Christians have concluded that Revelation is incomprehensible;
consequently, they tend to avoid it and treat it as if it doesnt exist.
Why do we distrust this particular
book? Why are we so hesitant to study and attempt to understand it? What
is it about Revelation that has led to this contemporary paranoia and allergy?
I fear that modern attitudes toward the final book of the Bible are largely
reactionary. The myriad of weird and eccentric interpretations coupled with
the the dogmatism with which proponents of a particular position have promoted
their views has left many Christians, I believe, convinced that Revelation
is not only hard, but impossible to understand.
Disillusioned by the scare tactics
of those who exploit Revelation to frighten little children into making
a decision for Christ; disenchanted by the religious charlatans who have
capitalized financially on the publics natural intrigue with the prophetic;
frustrated by the date setters who have used the book to make specific predictions
that never came to pass; and weary with those who postulate an entire theology
from this eschatological book, modern Christians have opted for a philosophy
of despair concerning Revelation. I dont believe, however, that the
Book of Revelation was providentially canonized just to keep people guessing.
Like the other sixty-five books of the Bible, the Book of Revelation is
"profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness."
In fact, I believe that as the return of our Lord nears, and as conditions
in the modern world increasingly parallel the environment in which the Christians
in Asia Minor lived, Revelation will assume a new level of relevance and
meaning. Moreover, Revelation is the only book in Scripture that promises
a specific "blessing" to those who hear and obey its message
(1:3). With such a promise, the study of this book must be as much of a
priority as the study of Romans, Ephesians, or the Gospel of John.
Revelation is one of four books
written by the apostle John, the Christological champion of the New Testament.
Like his Gospel and three epistles, Revelation is concerned with the person
and work of Jesus Christ. While Johns Gospel, however, focuses on
the identity of the Lord Jesus as the Divine Son of God, Revelation focuses
on His post-resurrection glory and His ultimate and certain return. The
ascended Christ is both the source and the subject of this important book
The Goal of Revelation
Revelation is, admittedly, unusual.
The world of Revelation seems strange and foreign to those of us who live
in the modern world. There are no automobiles, microwave ovens, grocery
stores, schools, or televisions in this book. Revelation, on the contrary,
describes a world of angels, demons, lambs, lions, horses, and dragons.
Two monsters emerge from its pages, one with seven heads and ten horns who
rises from the sea, and the other with the horns of a ram and the voice
of a dragon who rises from the earth. It portrays a world of thunder, lightning,
hail, fire, smoke, and blood. Such dramatic imagery is unconventional, to
say the least.
But Revelation is Gods word.
It is imperative, therefore, that believers study its pages and digest
its principles. The quest to understand Revelation is honorable. In fact,
it is as basic and fundamental to healthy discipleship as a passion to understand
Genesis, Isaiah, or First Peter.
Students of the Scripture disagree
concerning the proper interpretation of Revelation. Though interpretations
vary considerably even within the different categories, there are basically
four interpretive views.
(1) THE PRETERIST VIEW: Preterists believe that the book was written
near the end of the reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68). They tend, consequently,
to ascribe fulfillment of the prophecies to the destruction of Jerusalem
(A.D. 70), the fall of the Roman Empire, or both. The "preterist"
view argues that the phrase "...things which must shortly come to pass"
(1:3) makes an immediate fulfillment essential. Early dating (A.D. 67-68)
is crucial to the preterists argument.
The preterist view, furthermore, asserts
that the book was written to encourage believers who were suffering persecution
in the early church period. Although preterists apply the fulfillment of
Revelations prophecy to A.D. 70, they believe that the principles
of conflict and encouragement presented in the book have a wider application
to Christians in subsequent eras.
The primary argument against the Preterist
position concerns the dating of the book. Was it written in A.D. 67-68 during
Neros reign, or, as most Bible students and church historians agree,
in A.D. 81-96 during the reign of Flavius Domitian? In the light of the
fact that Johns Gospel and three Epistles were written near the end
of the first century (A.D. 90s) and the fact that Pauls apostleship,
not Johns, was in the fore during Neros reign, the argument
for the later date seems more plausible. Obviously, if Revelation was written
in A.D. 96, then it could not have been fulfilled a quarter century earlier
in A.D. 70. Substantial arguments can be made for both dates, but the sheer
discrepancy and uncertainty of the autographic date should give the believer
pause before he embraces the preterist view dogmatically.
Personally, I struggle with the idea
that a prophetic book like Revelation (1:3) has no future relevance. Yes,
there are Old Testament books aplenty that must be interpreted only in terms
of past history (with, of course, an application of spiritual principles
to every successive era - Rom. 15:4), but the tone of those books is primarily
historical. The tone of Revelation, on the contrary, is prophetic. Seeing
the prophetic nature of this book, is it reasonable to assume that the last
book of the Bible has no direct relevance to believers who lived after A.D.
Though I do not mean to imply that
all preterists who consign Revelation to the past are reacting against
mans natural fascination with the future, on the one hand, and mans
natural fear of the unknown, on the other hand (such an implication would
be to disregard the substantive arguments of preterism), yet it is possible
that some have opted for the preterist view simply in reaction to
the weird and frightening way some Bible teachers have explained the book.
Whether or not this position is hermeneutically accurate, I can understand
the psychological attraction of the preterist view.
(2) THE FUTURIST VIEW: While the preterist relegates the events of
the book to the past, the "futurist" puts the majority of the
book in the future. He believes that chapters four to twenty-two describe
events that will be rapidly fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ. The
futurist expects a final crisis at the end of time. This view is popular
among those who subscribe to some form of Dispensationalism. Distinguishing
between "the things that must shortly come to pass" (chapters
one to three) and "things which must be hereafter" (chapters four
to twenty-two), this is probably the most pervasively popular view in mainstream
The futurist view, however, has several
inherent problems. First of all, it fails to make an immediate application
to the believers to whom John wrote. The futurists "out there"
interpretation (with nineteen of the books twenty-two chapters to
be fulfilled in the future) seems remote to the immediate needs of the Christians
in Asia Minor. Secondly, because the book describes future events through
the use of symbolism and unusual imagery, and because the book is by its
very nature "prophetic" (1:3; 22:18), it is difficult, if not
impossible, to speak with absolute certainty and dogmatism. These two factors
- i.e. that the book is written in the language of symbolism, not history,
and that the book deals with the future, not the past - tend to make me
cautious about swallowing what appears to be someones particular opinion.
For example, someone may say, as I have heard, that the ten horns represent
the ten nations that compose the European Common Community, or that Babylon
represents the resurrected Roman Empire, etc. They proceed to insinuate
that interpretation into the entire book, constructing an elaborate system
of end-time social, political, economic, and religious events. Are they
correct? Maybe. Or, maybe not. The sheer uncertainty of such a grid constructed
outside of Divine Revelation and imposed upon the text gives me pause to
accept it "lock, stock, and barrel." I dont know if the
ten horns represent the ECC. They very well might. But they might not. As
long as Im unsure, I personally hesitate to be dogmatic. This danger
of sensationalism and speculation is intrinsic to the futurist view.
Sadly, the sensational and intriguing
appeals to popular culture. Most people want a Bible teacher to tell them
what all of the images and symbols mean, to paint the symbolic in concrete
historical terms. But because the future hasnt happened yet, it is
unwise to be dogmatic.
(3) THE HISTORICIST VIEW: The "historical" view contends
that the book of Revelation chronologically describes human history from
the ascension to the Second Coming of Christ. Some historicists divide the
book into three distinct sections, according to Johns three visions:
(a) Chapters 1-3 describe ecclesiastical, or church, history from the first
century to the return of the Lord; (b) Chapters 4-11 describe social and
environmental events between the two advents of Christ; (c) Chapters 12-18
describe political and economic history between the ascension and the Second
Though the historical view is fascinating,
it, too, has inherent difficulties. Like the futurist view, the historical
view cannot speak in concrete historical terms. Historians are unable to
identify specific historical events corresponding to the symbols of the
book. Just the possibility that one has not considered all of the historical
options, prohibits one from speaking with absolute certainty. It is impossible
to know exactly where we are on the historicists timeline.
(4) THE IDEALIST VIEW: This view is also called the symbolic or allegorical
view. The "idealist" sees Revelation as a panorama of the cosmic
conflict between good and evil over the span of human history, with good
triumphing in the end. This view contends that Revelation is written in
symbolic language not because it is a secret code to be unlocked or an esoteric
puzzle to be solved, but because it is concerned to teach general spiritual
principles regarding the spiritual warfare in which the believer is involved.
These principles had a specific application to the seven churches in Asia
Minor. They also have a wider application to believers in every age who
find themselves in the throes of spiritual conflict. This universal warfare
between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world will be consummated
when the Risen Christ returns, "riding a White Horse" (Rev. 19:11),
to vanquish His foes and bring everlasting peace and safety to His people.
What are the problems inherent to the
idealists approach? In all honesty, very few. Though Dispensationalists
argue that this approach errs because it doesnt interpret the text
literally, I respectfully beg to differ. Literal interpretation does not
necessarily mean "physical" interpretation. The idealist view,
as a matter of fact, is true to the principles of grammatical and historical
interpretation and consistent with the the symbolic and prophetic nature
of the book.
I concede that a potential danger intrinsic
to the idealist view is the tendency to spiritualize excessively. The futurist
expresses a legitimate concern when he rejects this allegorical approach
to the book on the basis that it encourages exaggerated spiritualization.
For example, the individual who proceeds to make the rainbow, the sea of
glass, the gems, etc., represent certain spiritual truths has taken liberties
to read meaning into the text (eisegesis) instead of allowing the
text to speak for itself (exegesis). The rainbow John saw was, we
must assume, a rainbow; the sea of glass, a sea of glass, not "the
sea of Gods love." When the Holy Spirit gives editorial comment
on a metaphor or symbol, the Bible student has the right to insert a definition
on the imagery; when He doesnt, we must not venture into speculation
and conjecture. For example, it is appropriate to say that the "lake
of fire" is the eternal abode of the wicked. Revelation 20 teaches
that categorically. It is not appropriate to say, however, that the "sea
of glass" represents the attributes of God. Scripture gives no such
Certainly, all four views have merit,
and a combination of the four may be closer to the truth than any one view
by itself. Regardless of the particular view one adopts, the book of Revelation
describes certain general principles that speak to all believers alike.
Understanding this "big picture" is the key to interpreting Revelation.
The book of Revelation was not written
to satisfy mans curiosity of the future, but to give strength and
hope to Gods persecuted people. Johns goal is to encourage the
weary Christians in Asia Minor to persevere in faith in the face of tremendous
external opposition. Consider his greeting: "I John, who also am
your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience
of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of
God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (1:9). Notice three
facts inherent in Johns words. (1) Notice where he was. He was in
Patmos, a small rocky island about sixty miles off the coast of Asia Minor
in the Agaean Sea. Patmos was a Roman penal settlement where prisoners who
were considered dangerous to civil order were exiled. (2) Notice why he
was there. John had been exiled to Patmos "for the word of God, and
the testimony of Jesus Christ." He was suffering, in other words, persecution
for Christs sake. He was being punished for his convictions. (3) Notice
how he refers to himself. He calls himself "your...companion in tribulation,
and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." Two phrases are especially
significant: the phrase "companion in tribulation" and the phrase
"patience of Jesus Christ."
A Heavenly Perspective
The word "companion" is koinonia,
translated elsewhere in the New Testament by the word "fellowship."
It means "to share in common." John shared something in common
with the believers in Asia Minor. What did he share? "Tribulation",
one of the key words of the book. These members of the seven local Christian
assemblies in Asia Minor were suffering severe persecution in their respective
communities. They were experiencing reprisal and recrimination because of
their refusal to worship idols, to glorify Caesar, and to participate in
the pagan rituals that were such a viable part of social life. John said,
"I, too, am suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ. I share your struggles."
Exiled to Patmos for the word of God, John shared tribulation in common
with these early believers.
John shared something else with the
saints in Asia. He shared the benefits of kingdom living with them, and
the common commitment to Jesus Christ as the Lord and King of His kingdom,
as the phrase "the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" discloses.
The word "patience" (hupomone) means perseverence, steadfast
commitment, faithfulness, and endurance. This word will also resurface frequently
throughout the book (13:10; 14:12). By employing the word "patience"
in his greeting, John gives us a clue regarding his purpose in writing to
these persecuted Christians. He is concerned to encourage them to persevere
in the face of very intimidating opposition. The phrase "the kingdom
and patience of Jesus Christ" is both a subtle reminder of the commitment
they had made to be true and loyal to the Lord Jesus and an encouragement
to persevere in view of the fact that he was in the battle with them. I
am, he said, "your companion in tribulation" [viz. "I share
your trouble"] and "your companion in patience" [viz. "I
share your commitment"].
What was the nature of their tribulation?
Revelation 2:9-10, the message to the church of Smyrna, defines it in terms
of "persecution." Smyrna was a microcosm of the greater regional
conflict. The believers there had already suffered persecution in the form
of "poverty" and slander ("blasphemy"). More intense
sufferings, Christ informs them, were coming: "Fear none of those
things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you
into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days;
be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life"
Persecution took the forms of boycott
and unemployment (13:17), slander, incarceration, physical torture, and
martyrdom. Because early Christians refused to burn incense before the bust
of the Emperor and say "Caesar is Lord," they became the objects
of the most inhumane treatment. Some were even used as human torches to
illumine Neros gardens and made sport for the gladiators and lions.
In fact, a member of the church at Pergamum named Antipas had actually died
at the time of writing (2:13). The environment in which these early Christians
sought to live out their faith was openly hostile and antagonistic toward
Christianity. The pressure to conform to popular culture was great; the
penalty for resisting was greater still.
So Revelation is book for the persecuted
saints of God. The late Elder Len Dalton summarizes the purpose of Revelation
in the following helpful paragraph:
"The chief value of the book seems to lie in its testimony to the
faith and hope of persecuted Christians and in the comfort and inspiration
it has brought to sorrowing and oppressed souls in every age of the church.
It points up to the fact that there will be an end to the sorrow and conflict,
that the enemies of the saints will be punished, and that the followers
of the Lamb will be blessedly rewarded." (The Divine Library, p. 143).
So, John, exiled on Patmos Island for
Christs sake, writes the Christians of Asia Minor who were also in
the trenches of spiritual conflict and encourages them to persevere in the
faith. Understanding this basic setting of background information is essential.
But how does he encourage them?
John encourages the weary saints
of Asia Minor by giving them a heavenly perspective on their sufferings.
He helps them to rise above the details of personal struggle to see "the
big picture" that God had shown him. Revelation is, in other words,
a window into the invisible yet real world of heaven, an unveiling of the
mysterious for the comfort and encouragement of those who are in the fray
of the battle now. In the book of Revelation, John describes the mysterious
world that God had shown him. Such a view into heaven had given John a fresh
perspective on his own sufferings. But God had not given John this supernatural
experience for his own benefit, but for the persecuted and weary saints
of God. Because of the tendency to exaggerate troubles and to lose ones
focus, the Lord uncovered the window s of heaven and permitted his servant
John to peer inside and describe the eternal dimension to those weary Christians
embroiled in termporal conflict. Revelation is essentially a window into
the unknown for the benefit and encouragement of those who are confined
to the realm of the tangible. In more specific terms, the encouragement
John has to offer these weary first century believers is expressed in the
five major themes of the book: (1) The Glory of Christ; (2) The Sovereignty
of Christ; (3) The Worship of Heaven; (4) Spiritual Warfare; (5) The Second
Coming of Christ. When these five dominant themes are put together, the
big picture emerges. The following is a distillation and crystallization
of the "big picture":
Revelation is the drama of the Risen
Christ, ruling His world, worshiped by His creatures, vanquishing His enemies,
vindicating His church, and bringing them everlasting rest in His immediate
Each of the respective parts of that summary will unfold as we proceed.
Such a vision would inevitably instill courage and infuse strength into
the hearts of the foot soldiers in Christs kingdom.
The Glory of Christ
Revelation might be called "the
Drama of the Risen Christ." It is a dramatic presentation of the post-resurrection
and post-ascension activity of the Lord Jesus Christ. In all candor, it
is more dramatic than Star Trek or Return of the Jedi. It
is not written in theological abstractions and formulas, but in concrete
realities and images. What a story problem is to Mathematics, translating
the abstract into real life terms, Revelation is to theology. I Corinthians
15 states the unequivocal theological truth that Jesus Christ was resurrected
from the dead and is alive today. Revelation illustrates that truth.
"Look ye saints, the sight is glorious; see the Man of
Sorrows now; From the fight returned victorious, every knee to Him shall
The book is a Christological gem. Read
the description of the glory of Christ in Revelation 1:13-16. Who is this
man among the lampstands?
To encourage these beleagured and
tired soldiers of the cross, John reminds them, first of all, that the Lord
Jesus is alive. He was not the victim of the cross, but the Victor! Calvary
was not the ultimate tragedy, but the unequivocal triumph! Further, in His
risen glory, He moves among the candlesticks, superintending the affairs
of each local church. He knows all about each one - both in terms of their
respective virtues and vices. He is mindful of their suffering, their condition,
and their needs.
Though the early believers knew theologically
that Christ was alive, it would be easy for them, in the trenches of persecution,
to lose a sense of the reality and the relevance of that truth. They needed
a new awareness of the Lord Jesus Christ in His risen glory. They needed
the reassurance that He was indeed alive, the conqueror of death and the
grave. Revelation was the Lords prescription for their need.
The Sovereignty of Christ
Revelation reveals something else
about the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not only alive; He is also sovereign.
Revelation is the drama of the risen Christ, ruling His world. The word
"throne" appears forty-six times in the book of Revelation. The
throne, of course, is the emblem of sovereign authority. The One who sits
upon the throne (4:2; 5:1-2; et al.) is in absolute control. What a comforting
reminder to these persecuted saints! So long as Christ was in ultimate control,
they could persevere.
The Worship of Heaven
Revelation portrays the Risen Christ,
reigning upon His throne, receiving worship from His creatures. Among the
many other things that it is, the book of Revelation is a manual for worship.
It contains five separate worship scenes (4:8-11; 5:8-14; 7:9-17; 11:15-19;
19:1-9) in which John witnesses the worship of angels and disembodied souls
made perfect. All heaven is jubilant before the Lamb that was slain. This
glimpse into heaven, cant you see, is carefully calculated to expand
the perspective of these battle-scarred, road-weary Christians. By lifting
their gaze heavenward, John brings perspective to their current plight,
and, in the process of sharpening their focus on the eternal, gives them
the incentive and the direction they need in order to stand unflinching
in the face of social pressure.
"The Christ whose name you wear," John says to these believers,
"is both alive from the dead and active in the world. Furthermore,
all heaven bows in adoring worship to Him." Such a reminder would serve
to prompt the early saints to renew their commitment to worship Him, both
through verbal praise and through the offering up of the entire life in
His service. Such a worthy Savior deserved the honor and praise they could
Lets add the next theme to
the emerging "big picture." Revelation is the drama of the Risen
Christ, ruling His world, worshiped by His creatures, and vanquishing His
foes and the enemies of His church. Warfare, or spiritual conflict, is a
dominant theme of Revelation. Of the sixteen times the word "war"
appears in the New Testament, nine are in the book of Revelation. The very
tone of conflict is intrinsic to Revelation. Who can read the book and fail
to notice the tension between good and evil, Christ and the dragon, the
kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness? Obviously, Revelation depicts
But what battle does it depict? Futurists
define it in terms of a final crisis called Armageddon. There may very well
be a final crisis, but to define the warfare motif of Revelation in terms
of that one future clash misses the more general principle that believers
in the Lord Jesus Christ are engaged in a spiritual warfare of cosmic proportions
against "principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the
darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places"
(Eph. 6:12). John wants the persecuted saints of Asia Minor to know that
the societal opposition they have endured is more than a personal vendetta
or culture war. He wants them to view their persecution in terms of the
larger universal clash of righteousness versus unrighteousness, a conflict
that is being played out on the theater of human experience.
Revelation 12 outlines this warfare
dynamic vividly. It is a panorama of the cosmic conflict of the ages between
the "Seed of the woman" and the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Lets
develop the warfare theme of Revelation 12. Verse one sets the context of
battle in the spiritual dimension (i.e. the "heavenlies" of Eph.
6:12): "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven...."
What did John see? He saw "a woman clothed with the sun, and the
moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars."
This woman is Israel, i.e. the Jewish nation, from whom the Messiah was
born (vs. 2,5). Israel "brought forth a man child, who was to rule
all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and
to his throne" (v.5). Notice John also sees "a great red dragon"
who "stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for
to devour her child as soon as it was born" (v. 4). Do you remember
Herods plot to slay the newborn King? It was more than one mans
dimented and paranoid attempt to protect the stability of his throne. Herods
plot was an infernal attempt to sabotage the fulfillment of Gods eternal
purpose. In other words, this event, like the temptation in the wilderness
(Mt. 4) and Peters rebuke of the Lord Jesus (Mt. 16:21-23), was a
supernatural ploy to derail the Lord from His covenant assignment. When
Jesus said to Peter, "Get thee behind me Satan, for thou art an offence
[lit. a stumblingblock] unto me" (Mt. 16:23), He recognized the same
diabolical logic in Peters words that He had endured at the hands
of the devil for forty days in the wilderness. The bottom line is simply
this: The cosmic conflict between Good and evil, between Righteousness and
unrighteousness, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness,
between God and the devil, is played out on the theater of human existence.
The dragon used Herod as his pawn to attempt to devour the Messiah at his
Was he successful? No; the womans
man child was "caught up to God and His throne." The ascension
of Christ (which, by the way, is one of the dominant themes of Revelation)
is the ultimate proof that Jesus was victorious at the cross. Israel, subsequently,
"fled into the wilderness" where God had prepared for her temporary
protection (v. 6). This speaks of the Lords providential care of the
early church. Divine providence and supernatural intervention in the life
of the church is the only explanation for the perpetuity of the kingdom
of Christ in the hostile enemy territory that is the world.
Next, the scene shifts back from the
terrestrial to the celestial: "And there was war in heaven: Michael
and his angels fought against the dragon..." (v. 7). It is a mistake,
in my opinion, to attempt to apply Revelation 12 to any one historical occurrence.
This chapter describes the cosmic conflict of the ages. Satan has, since
he was deposed from his created position, waged war against the kingdom
of God. It has always been his strategy to sabotage Gods program.
Since he was unsuccessful in his attempt to exterminate the Messiah, he
proceeds to make war with Messiahs "brethren" and to deceive
the whole world, knowing that he has but a short time (vs. 9-17). This is
the story of human history: God sending His Son through the nation
of Israel; Satan attempting to destroy the Messiah; The Lord Jesus ascending
to the throne of the universe; the devil deceiving the nations, persecuting
Israel (v. 13), and declaring war with "the remnant of her seed"
[i.e. the New Testament Church] who "keep the commandments of God,
and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."
Will he be successful? Not ultimately,
for Messiah has won the war at the cross: "Now is come salvation,
and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for
the accuser of our brethren is cast down which accused them before our God
day and night" (v. 10). Praise be to God, Satan is a defeated foe!
But though he has lost the war, he
now intensifies his efforts against the kingdom of God, for "he knoweth
that he hath but a short time" (v. 12). In his fury, Satan unleashes
contemporary assaults against those who "have the testimony of Jesus
Christ" from his infernal arsenal (v. 15-17). Lest
Christians should be intimidated, however, John is careful to note that
the Risen Christ intervenes on behalf of his church (see verses fourteen
and sixteen). In fact, John says, early believers "overcame him."
How? By "the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony."
Pleading the blood of Christ and wielding the sword of the spirit, these
Christians achieved victory by faith over the devil. They were so committed
to Christ that they were willing to die as martyrs for His name: "...they
loved not their lives unto the death." They knew that even if Satan
killed the body, he couldnt exterminate the soul. Consequently, they
stood faithful and resolute in the face of the most severe forms of persecution.
Why does John develop the warfare dynamic
so vividly? Because he wants the believers in Asia Minor and in all subsequent
eras to learn to interpret the worlds antagonism to the gospel in
terms of the greater universal fray between the Supernal and the infernal.
He also wants them to know that the war has already been won. Jesus met
the enemy head-on at the cross, dealt the death-blow to the serpents
head (Gen. 3:15; Hab. 3:13; I Jno. 3:8; Heb. 2:14), and emerged victorious
from death. He now reigns as the Sovereign King of kings. One day He will
return, riding a "white horse" with the armies of heaven following,
to vanquish His foes (and ours) forever. With that understanding, persecuted
Christians gain perspective on their sufferings and incentive to persevere
faithful to the end, regardless of the cost. That brings us to the final
The Return of Jesus Christ
Revelation is a climactic book.
It is the capstone of Special Revelation. It describes the drama of the
risen Christ, ruling His world, worshiped by His creatures, vanquishing
His foes, and bringing everlasting rest to His people. Set in the context
of earthly tension, it rises to the climax of the Second Coming. The return
of our Lord will be the apex of human history. It is the momentous event,
the grand finale. When the Risen and Glorified Christ makes His triumphal
entry, He will ride, not a "colt the foal of an ass" as He did
in His first advent, but a great white horse. Then, every knee shall bow
and every tongue will confess that He is Lord and King (Phi. 2:9-11). Then,
every eye shall see Him (Rev. 1:7). Then, "in His times", God
will "show who is the only Potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords"
(I Tim. 6:15). Then, He will come "without sin unto salvation"
(Heb. 9:28). Then, shall be brought to pass the saying, "Death is swallowed
up in victory" (I Cor. 15:54). Then, He will vindicate His righteous
name and put to silence all of the "hard speeches that ungodly sinners
have uttered against Him" (Jude 14). Then, when the last trumpet sounds,
"the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord, and
of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever" (Rev. 11:15; cf.
Dan. 2:44). What a day that will be!
"Mid toil and tribulation and tumult
of her war, She waits the consummation of peace forevermore; Til with the
vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, And the great church victorious,
shall be the church at rest."
Thats the message of Revelation.
The book of Revelation both begins
and ends with a reference to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:7;
Rev. 22:20). The response of the persecuted saints of God to this blessed
hope has been for twenty long centuries, "Even so, come Lord Jesus!"
What does the Second Coming mean to
those in the trenches of the fight of faith? It means rescue from "great
tribulation": "These are they that are come out of great tribulation..."
(Rev. 7:14). It means transport to a city which hath foundations whose
builder and maker is God (Rev. 21). It means everlasting peace, joy, and
repose in the immediate presence of King Immanuel. It means no more pain,
nor death, nor sorrow or crying. It means no more death, nor sickness, nor
disease, nor fighting. It means no more Satan and no more sin. It means
the Beatific vision, for we shall see Him "face to face." It means,
blessed be the name of the Lord, eternal rest. Ah, rest; what a glorious
prospect! The hymnwriter said it poignantly:
The purpose of Revelation, "the
big picture," is to encourage the persecuted followers of the Lamb
to persevere faithful to the One who is alive forevermore in an environment
that is antagonistic to Him. Through John, who himself was suffering reproach
for Christs sake, the Holy Spirit offers this encouragement by drawing
the curtains of heaven and permitting them to see into the invisible world
of spiritual realities. This heavenly perspective has the effect of enlarging
the vision of those who live in enemy territory, giving them the incentive
to keep going. By reminding them of the end of the story, the Spirit of
God encourages them to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
By allowing them to hear the redeemed throng of heaven singing the triumphant
chorus of praise to the Lamb, they are encouraged to continue to praise
Him on earth. By giving them a preview of coming attractions, the chief
of which being the Second Coming of the Mighty Conqueror, they are motivated
to be faithful unto death. Revelation helps our unbelief. It corrects our
slide down the slippery slope of discouragement by reminding us that the
Living Lord is in control of our difficult situation. Revelation bids us
to "hold the fort."
"Hold the fort, for I am coming,"
Jesus signals still; Wave the answer back to heaven, "By thy grace,
After General Sherman had besieged
Atlanta, General Hood, of the Confederacy, made a noble stand against Shermans
troops at Alatoona Pass. As Sherman watched the battle from nearby Kenessaw
Mountain, he noticed that General Hood began to prevail. To encourage his
troops, Sherman heliographed a message down to his tired and beleagured
army. The message read, "Hold the fort, for I am coming." As the
Generals message passed from soldier to soldier, the army rallied
to victory. This story became the motivation for one of Phillip Bliss
most famous hymns:
Revelation, the final chapter of
Divine Revelation, is our Captains message to His beleagured troops,
"Hold the fort, for I am coming." May you and I today take courage
from his promise, waving the answer back to heaven in a new commitment to
be faithful to Him, "By thy grace, we will."