Welcome to the study of the last book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Many people today regard Revelation as the hardest book in the New Testament. It’s full of strange, lurid, and sometimes bizarre and violent imagery. You might have thought that in a world of clever movies and DVDs, stuffed full of complex imaginative imagery, we would take to Revelation like ducks to water, but it doesn’t always seem to work that way. As a result, many people who are quite at home in the Gospels, Acts and Paul find themselves tiptoeing around Revelation with a sense that they don’t really belong there. But we all do!
The book in fact offers one of the clearest and sharpest visions of God’s purpose for the whole of creation, and of the way in which the powerful forces of evil, at work in a thousand ways but not least in idolatrous and tyrannous political systems, can be and are being overthrown through the victory of Jesus the Messiah and the consequent costly victory of His followers. The world we live in today is no less complex and dangerous than the world of the late first century when this book was written, and we owe it to ourselves to get our heads and our hearts around Revelation’s glorious pictures as we attempt to be faithful witnesses to God’s love in a world of violence, hatred and suspicion. The Book of Revelation is vibrant, alive, and profoundly applicable to the times in which you and I live today.
It’s no accident that the Book of Revelation appears as the last book of the Bible. Revelation gathers all the threads of theme and historic events contained in the rest of the Bible, weaving them into a seamless whole. The entire scope of human history – and of eternity itself – comes into brilliant focus in the Book of Revelation. Someone has rightly observed that the Book of Genesis and the Book of Revelation are like two bookends that hold the entire Bible together. In Genesis we have the story of the origin of human sin; in Revelation we have the complete and final victory over sin. Genesis presents the beginning of human history and civilization; Revelation presents the end of both. In Genesis we learn the beginnings of God’s judgment and His grace toward mankind; in Revelation we see the awesome result of His judgment and the triumph of His grace. The great themes of these two books are intricately intertwined.
John, its author – sometimes called “John the Seer” or “John the Divine,” sometimes (probably wrongly) identified with the John who wrote the Gospel and epistles – is picking up a way of writing well known in the Jewish world of the time. This way of writing was designed to correspond to, and make available, the visions and “revelations” seen by holy, prayerful people who were wrestling with the question of the divine purpose.
Revelation – the idea, and this book – are based on the ancient Jewish belief that God’s sphere of being and operation (heaven) and our sphere (earth) are not after all separated by a great gulf. They meet and merge and meld into one another in all kinds of ways. For ancient Jews, the place where this happened supremely was the temple in Jerusalem; this is not unimportant as the action proceeds. Most humans seem blind to this, only seeing the earthly side of the story. Some are aware that there is more to life, but are not quite sure what it’s all about. Ancient Jews struggled to see both sides of the story, though it was often too much of an effort.
When John was writing Revelation, the early Christian movement grew and developed momentum throughout the latter part of the first century. Still, many questions emerged. What was God doing now? What were His plans for the little churches dotted around the Mediterranean world? Where was it all going? In particular, why was God allowing followers of Jesus to suffer persecution? What line should they take when faced with the fastest growing “religion” of the time, namely, the worship of Caesar, the Roman emperor? Should they resist?
There may have been several groups of Christians in ancient Turkey, where John seems to have been based. They would have been mostly poor, meeting in one another’s homes. By contrast, people were building grand and expensive temples for Caesar and his family in various cities, eager to show Rome how loyal they were. What would Jesus Himself say about this? Did it mean that, after all, the Christians were wasting their time, following a crucified Jew rather than the one who was rather obviously the “lord of the world”?
As we will see through our studies, Revelation is written to say “no” to that question – and say much more besides. At its center is a fresh “revelation of Jesus the Messiah” (1:1). John, with his head and his heart full of Israel’s Scriptures, discovered on one particular occasion, as he was praying, that the curtain was pulled back. He found himself face to face with Jesus himself.
Revelation Study Suggestions:
As you begin each study, pray that God will speak to you through His Word.
Read and reread the Bible passage to be studied.
Then after your study, pray to God thanking Him for what you have learned and pray about the applications that have come to mind.