New sermon series on Revelation 1 – 3
We have begun a new sermon series on Revelation 1 – 3 here at Subi Church. Revelation is a book that has confused, thrilled, bedazzled, and mystified many Christians over the centuries. John Calvin, a prominent and influential theologian in the 16th century, wrote commentaries on each book of the Bible, but famously left out Revelation. The huge debates in the middle to late 20th century about the interpretations of Revelation have only magnified the hesitancy of Christians to read and study Revelation.
Unfortunately, this means that for many Christians, Revelation remains a mystery. Many vaguely know that there are seven churches mentioned, and a host of other apparently symbolic and apocalyptic images throughout the book. Because of the modern usage of the word “apocalypse” (think of the recent X-Men: Apocalypse movie for example), we often think that Revelation is something about the future, and the vision of that future is often bleak and terrifying.
However, the title for Revelation in the Greek New Testament is “the apocalypse of John”. The word apocalypse in Greek basically means “unveiling” or “uncovering”. Revelation then, is the unveiling or uncovering of John. What exactly is he uncovering or unveiling? Who is he unveiling this to? Far from being mystifying and mysterious, the book of Revelation was preserved for us to encourage, motivate, and ultimately help us to persevere on in our faith in the midst of suffering and persecution. Instead of fogging up our minds about what it means, Revelation was written to clarify and enable Christians to have a peek behind the scenes of what actually is happening in this world.
A Brief Introduction
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
The first few verses of Revelation give us a very complete picture of what the book is all about and help us to know how we should approach it. It is a revelation from the Father, given to Jesus Christ, which he then sends his angels to show the apostle John. The content of this revelation is “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ”, which then John testifies to others about it. John himself calls this a “prophecy” and from verse 4, it is also a letter to the seven churches. Notice that it is one letter to the seven churches, not the often-mistaken idea of the seven letters to the seven churches.
Taken together, we can draw two important conclusions about Revelation. First is that, however we want to interpret the book, it is all about “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ”. God and Jesus Christ are at the centre of the book. Any interpretation that overshadows God and Jesus Christ are most likely mistaken. Secondly, it is also a letter. This means that it must have been understandable to the original recipients. Any interpretation where the majority of the book takes place in the far future should be avoided. It is highly unlikely that the recipients received a letter where they can really only understand a small part of it and the rest are undecipherable to them until thousands of years later.
It is also significant in the fact that it is one letter to seven churches. As we will come to see in the chapters, Revelation is highly symbolic, often taking historical events, places, and churches to represent a cosmic, universal, and spiritual principle. Throughout the Scriptures, the number seven is a number of completeness or perfection (hence the “seven” or “sevenfold” spirits in verse 4). The seven churches then first refer to actual historical churches in those locations. However, these seven churches are then further taken to represent the complete Church – all the people of God throughout history.
This means that Revelation is also meant for Christians today. It is not just written to the people of God thousands of years back, but it is written for us. If we read aloud the words of this prophecy, hear it, and take it to heart, we are blessed because it is the testimony of Jesus Christ. This also means that we can and should be able to understand the book. It is not a book designed to mystify but to tell us more about the exalted Jesus Christ.
So, let us begin this series with great anticipation of what God will say to us, both in the sermons and in our studies. We are blessed as we do that together as the people of God. As we read it, it is my prayer that you will find that Revelation is easier to read than you have thought, with a grander vision of God than you could ever imagine, and end up with a faith that is stronger than you thought possible.