Uncomfortable Reading: The Book of Revelation

Aside from Philemon, Revelation is arguably one of the most ignored books of the New Testament. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon preached on it in all the times I’ve been to church, summer camps or evening services with organisations such as Soul Survivor. Why is this? The early Christians clearly thought that it was significant, otherwise it wouldn’t have been included in the canon. Having read it several times, I am convinced that it is a valuable book, worthy of study by all Christians, not just Bible scholars who use long words like ‘post-millennialism’. My intention in writing this post is not to study the book in depth, or even to go into the much of the interpretation; all I want to do is show people what they’re missing if they haven’t looked at Revelation in the detail it deserves. If you’re still unconvinced after reading this, bear in mind that Revelation is the only book that promises a blessing from God if you read it (Rev. 1:3).

What’s in Revelation? Well, a minister called David Pawson (author of When Jesus Returns) splits it into 3 parts, with a significant event between parts 2 and 3. Part one covers chapters 1-3. These chapters contain the letters to the 7 churches in Asia and are possibly the most well-known. They describe historical churches and their messages can be applied to our lives now, therefore they are the most comfortable for us to read. The second part is the largest, made up from chapters 4-18, and contains prophecies and symbolism describing events around the end of the world. In the words of Pawson, ‘things get worse before they get better’. The third part is perhaps better known as well, containing chapters 20-22. In these three chapters, the kingdom of God is established, humanity is judged and those with their names written in the book of life begin eternity with God. Why is chapter 19 not included in those sections? Because chapter 19 is the big one, the major change in things, the point where things start to get better again: Jesus returns. You can read more about this chapter in my previous blog post, but for this blog, I will focus first on section 2 (4-18) and then the book as a whole.

Section 2 paints an uncomfortable picture of the future for Christians and non-Christians alike. For the former, persecution and martyrdom are almost guaranteed, for the latter looms the shadow of God’s judgement. I strongly recommend that you read these chapters for yourself because I cannot go into detail now. The central thrust seems to be this: it is the last chance for non-believers to repent and it is a call for Christians to overcome. There are repeated calls for Christians to overcome throughout this book and this is arguably what gives the book its greatest relevance to readers not living in the end times. Even if we’re not experiencing the global-scale crises foretold here, we have things in our lives that need to be overcome. We have to keep the faith, as it were. What’s more, the book demonstrates God’s mercy – even in the last days, he is offering salvation (Rev. 14:6; see also Joel 2:32). This section of the book is a warning, but it contains the promises of blessings. Those Christians who are martyred for their faith are shown to be gathered in heaven, asking God to bring justice to the world.

This leads nicely into the message of the book as a whole. Yes, things have to get worse before they get better, this comes about partly as an outpouring of God’s judgements, partly as a call to salvation and partly as a result of Satan’s frustration that his death is near (12:12), but hallelujah, things will get better. I say again, read the book if any of this is unfamiliar, but after Jesus has returned and reigned on Earth 1000 years, God will bring a new heaven to Earth, all humanity (and Satan) will be judged and eternity on a new Earth, not in a spiritual heaven shall begin. There is a profound message of hope in this book that is tragically so often missed by those who don’t know it.

I’m getting a bit worked up just writing this! Please do not be put off by symbolism or prejudices or whatever; this book was written for everyone, not just for a select few. Read it, pray on it, understand it and be blessed. I appreciate that I have barely skimmed the surface of this book, but I pray that this is enough to encourage even just one person to read it. I don’t want to go into the issue of when the end of the world will come in this blog (hint: Jesus said that no one can know for certain), but there is always the possibility that it will happen in our lifetimes and if that is so, then the book of Revelation is a valuable item of preparation that we cannot do without. Even if we don’t see the end of the world, the book is still essential because of the message of hope and because of the call to overcome that no Christian can afford to ignore. So if you haven’t read it, read it. If you have read it, read it again, because it’s an awesome book.

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