The Important Lessons from Revelation

This book begins and ends with a reference to this book being a prophecy.  Look at 1:3: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy,” and 22:18 states: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book …”  The apostle John reveals the future to his readers using what seems to us a very fantastic and bizarre style of writing.  But John uses this “unveiling” (which is what Revelation means) to open the eyes of Christians to the spiritual dimensions of the world around them and to encourage them to keep themselves distinctive in their loyalty to Christ!

Here's some background material that might be helpful.  As we look at Christ’s warnings to the seven churches in Asia found in chapters 1-3, it is clear that they are undergoing various kinds of persecutions and temptations.  False teachers have pounded away at the congregations in Ephesus and Pergamos. The Jews were on the attack in Smyrna and Philadelphia.  Christians in Pergamos and Thyatira were being tempted to return to their old pagan ways.The churches in Sardis and Laodicea had lost their vibrant devotion to Christ.  It is interesting that in none of the letters to the churches do we find any reference to a widespread persecution coming from Rome, but as we read subsequent chapters, we discover John’s prediction that Rome will soon be on the warpath against Christians!

You see, ever since the Emperor Augustus brought peace to the Roman Empire in 27 B.C., the emperors were often worshiped as mediators to the gods or as gods themselves.  One commentator said this of Titus and Domitian: “Titus succeeded his father and ruled from 79-81.  He was not one to bother about divinity either.  Following him came his brother, Domitian, who was serious about his godhood and would persecute in pursuit of it.  With him began the empire policy which later grew into fierce persecution against the Church of God” (McGuiggan).  Another source gives us this insight: “The imperial cult was extremely active in the province of Asia Minor. … As they went about their daily business, Christians in these seven cities passed temples, shrines, and freestanding altars and statues representative of the imperial cult, and they witnessed the festivities marking the emperor’s birthday … and other civic festivals.  The Gentile Christians [here] would have faced strong pressures to participate lest they arouse the ill will of their neighbors and local elites” (DeSilva).  We have a fascinating letter from a Roman governor to the emperor written about 10 years later in which the governor asks the emperor if he is doing the right thing when Christians are brought to him for trial.  During the trial, he asks them at least twice if they are Christians to be sure he has heard them correctly and to give them a chance to change their minds.  He then asks them to offer a pinch of incense to the statues of the gods and emperor and to say just three words: “Christ be cursed.”  If they do this, he lets them off the hook.  If they don’t, then he determines what kind of punishment they should receive.  The emperor wrote back saying that the governor was doing the right thing.  Why did the Romans grow to hate the Christians?  There were several reasons, as the Romans saw it, but here are the main three: first of all, Christians worshiped a criminal who had been crucified (a Roman form of punishment), so they must be political offenders; secondly, they would pray for the emperor but not to him, so they must be subversive; thirdly, they were antisocial (since they avoided attending feasts) and unpatriotic (since they did not recognize the emperor’s lordship).  Yes, John could foresee the very difficult times that lay ahead as Rome and the Church would soon collide.What can be done to help Christians to endure in such times?  John helps his readers to see that their suffering is and would be part of a much larger cosmic battle, that the slain Lamb of God and His persecuted followers will one day be the conquering Christ and His triumphant followers, and that one day a totally new existence will be created by God where no evil, no falsehood, and no suffering will ever be a part of the picture!  This leads us to four important lessons from Revelation that are timeless for Christians of all generations.      

First of all, Christians must live without compromising with sin or their culture!  Notice the Christians in the seven churches are admonished to be overcomers, and not those who would succumb to sin, to false teaching, or to social pressures!  John called his readers “to maintain a stance of critical distance, to refuse to buy into the dominant [imperial cult], to keep alive the Christian vision … and to give their wholehearted allegiance to [Christ’s lordship]. … The Christians as a minority with God’s values must stand up against a majority who had pointedly different aspirations” (DeSilva).  Now listen to several passages and see you can hear the uncompromising stance that was made: “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (12:17).  “These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. … And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God” (14:4-5).  “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son” (21:7).  Those Christians were not to be compromisers but overcomers!

Brothers and sisters, all Christians of must live without compromising with sin and our culture!  We too must not be compromisers!  The sins of greed are ever with us.  The revenue from gambling in the U.S. was almost $91 billion for 2006.  The sins of the flesh are ever before us, and maybe even the more so since Hollywood glamorizes fornication, adultery, and homosexuality so. Internet pornography has raked in $2.84 billion in the last 2 years with 89% of the porn sites being created right here in the U.S.  With 260 new sites each day, that temptation will not be going away any time soon!  The sins of false teachers are ever with us.  Some religions say that you can be your own god.  Some religions say that we are all floating on the same ecumenical ship, and no church is really that distinct from any other church.  Some religions teach that there are no sins anymore.  Some religions exalt witchcraft and deter-mining your future with crystals and other objects.  And on and on the falsehoods go.  The modern philosophies are ever before us.  Secularism says that only the visible counts.  Existentialism says that only excitement counts.  Hedonism says that only pleasure counts.  Post-modernism says that only individual truth counts.  Relativism says that nothing counts.  John admonishes us not to be drawn astray, but to live the distinctive life of Christ's disciple which stands against such sins, false religions, and mistaken philosophies!  We too must be overcomers!  Christians must live without compromising with sin and our culture!  “Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Secondly, Christians must live without retaliating when persecuted! We don't find any advice from John in the first three chapters about the saints taking up arms to defend themselves or to attack their oppressors.  The book shows that angels are the ones who do most of the cosmic battles and bring disasters.  The only hint of any retaliation comes in chapter 19 where Jesus is depicted as a conquering king with a heavenly army, but the location of the battle is not stated, so this maybe more figurative than literal.  Listen to these passages and see if they wound retaliatory to you: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God ... it was said to them that they should rest a little longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would killed as they were, be completed” (5:9 and 11).  “Jesus has avenged on her (the great harlot) the blood of His servants shed by her” (19:2).  “Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God who had not worshiped the beast or his image” (20:4).  Beheading was used as capital punishment by the Romans.  These Christians did not retaliate when they were persecuted for their faith.

Brothers and sisters, our persecutions may not be as violent as what those in Revelation had to suffer, but ridicule, scorn, and put downs are still very prevalent in our culture.  Can we bear such persecution without retaliating?  Can we practice Paul advice in Romans 12:18-21: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written: 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord.  Therefore: 'If you enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.'  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”?Jesus is pictured as the slain Lamb in 5:6, which shows us that He too did not retaliate when taken by a mob and when crucified.  If you are ever hit, spit upon, or beaten, take heart, our Master knows exactly how you feel!  Christians must live without retaliating when persecuted!  “Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Thirdly, Christians must live without diminishing the final judgment! Revelation 20 definitely teaches that there will be a universal final judgment: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.  And there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. ... 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”  Whether you read this literally or figuratively, the point is that there will be an ultimate accounting of our works and a final and eternal separation between evil and good.  This is the exact fulfillment of Jesus parable in Matthew 13:30: “Let both grow until the harvest, and at the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them into bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” 

Brothers and sisters, we must live without diminishing the final judgment!  “From above came a shaft of golden light and the sound of singing and in the distance was the shimmering shape of a beautiful city.  And turning to those on the right, the King on the throne said: 'Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world' (Matthew 25:34).  Hand in hand, arm in arm, those on the right ascended toward the gates of pearl, the streets of gold, the water of life.  And the angels shouted as they came near, and the gates were thrown wide and they were ushered into glory!  The King on the throne then turned to those on the left and said to them: 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matthew 25:41).  The huge throng moved to the vast yawning pit that opened before them.  From it came the smell of sulfur and the smoke of a million fires.  With heads down and with stumbling gait, the masses fell over the edge.  Some fell with a muffled cry, but most fell silently into the darkness.  Some tried to cling to the edge before the mass of bodies forced them to lose their grip.  But most went over without a struggle [because they all knew that the evils in their lives reported in the books were true].  Just before the last individual fell, it seemed that these words hung for a moment in the air: 'And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.'  The uplifted faces caught their last and only glimpse of the face of God.  The mouth of the pit was then closed.  And then the darkness closed in.  Eternal darkness.  The judgment was now over.  Eternity stretched before” (Roper).  These ideas may not be exactly how the final judgment will work, but hopefully they will make it become a little more real for we never need to diminish the reality of that great day.  “There's a great day coming, when the saints and the sinners will be parted right and left.  Are you ready for that day to come?”  Christians must live without diminishing the final judgment!  “Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

 Lastly, Christians must live without forgetting the victorious future!  “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. ... But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. ... There shall be no more light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.  And they shall reign forever and ever” (21:4 and 27 and 22:5).  Paradise lost is paradise regained where the tree of life once again flourishes, and He who is the Morning Star provides its light forever!

Brothers and sisters, we know that the church and Jesus will be victorious!  We have the Holy Spirit's word on it, and you can't get any higher than that!  The church will be “glorious and honored in her reputation, unbeatable in her strength, intimate in her [fellowship] ... Her future secure and her triumphs eternal” (McGuiggan)!  And Jesus has the last, the final, and he ultimate word.  You know when we try to teach others, or to take a stand for our faith, or to endure with patience under persecution, we do so with great confidence, not in ourselves or our strength, but in Him who is the beginning and end, the conquering King, and the Bright Morning Star who brings an eternal day of peace.  “I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also”' (John 14:2-3).  Yes, our Lord Jesus will have the definitive last word over all who oppose God's reign and promote evil!  “In that confidence, John [assures] and dismisses us, sending us back to face [all our] challenges in such a way that our choices, allegiances, [hardships], and acts all bear witness to our [confident] undying hope [in our eternal Hero, Jesus Christ]” (DeSilva)!
“Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus!”   

Revelation answers our big questions, doesn't it?  Despite all its fantastic and bizarre imagery and symbolism, we understand how all injustices will be righted, we see how Jesus and His righteousness will triumph over Satan and all evil, and we recognize that a new existence of peace, unity, and glory will be the final eternal ending of all history for the righteous!  We can only enjoy all these blessings if we prepare now.  Is Jesus your Lord?  Have you been immersed in His name for the forgiveness of your sins and to show others your allegiance to Him?  Have you given in to the pagan pressures around you?  Have you said in your heart: “Cursed be Christ”?  Are you living as a compromiser or an overcomer?  Have you retaliated against your persecutors?  Have you diminished the final judgment?  Have you forgotten that the Lord Jesus will reign triumphantly and the saints will live victoriously?  Can you say with conviction and without fear—“Amen! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”?  If you need to confess Jesus or confess weakness, won't you do so now  .......