The very first verse of Revelation confirms the fact that the contents of this book do not constitute an incomprehensible allegory of future events, but a revelation of things to come which God intends us to read and understand with the Holy Spirit’s help. The term revelation or apocalypse means unveiling, uncovering, or the opening of something which is concealed. The name of the book corresponds with the command of Christ in Revelation 22:10 where He says: “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book.” The message of the book is intended to be understood and proclaimed.
The origin of the prophetic message of Revelation is clearly stated in the opening verse:
Please note that it is not the Revelation of John. He is the author of the book, but Jesus is the Revelator! It is also important to note that the title of the book is in the singular form and not in the plural. It is not the Revelations of Jesus but the Revelation of Jesus. The book is focused on the coming, the appearing, or the revelation of Jesus Christ.
John says that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). The prophecies and judgements of the great tribulation must therefore also be related to Jesus. Even the unsaved people will be aware of this connection. When the powers of heaven are shaken they will exclaim that "the great day of the wrath of the Lamb has come, and who is able to stand?" (Rev. 6:17).
The Lord says that the purpose of these revelations is “to show His servants things which must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1). The word servant can also be rendered slave. True Christians belong to the Lord Jesus because He redeemed them with His blood (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). If the book of Revelation is still a closed book to many church-goers it is probably due to the fact that they are not yet blood-washed servants of the Lord. In Revelation 5:9-10 the elders in heaven not only testify of the redeeming power of the blood, but they also know that they will reign on earth as kings after the Second Coming of Christ! They know what the future holds for them.
Through this book the Lord gives a prophetic perspective to His children. He asks them to heed and understand its message. In Revelation 2 and 3 the command is often repeated: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). It was never the intention of God to conceal or veil this message for His children.
By writing it down, John ensured that this important message would find its way to the entire church of Christ. In verse 2 he states that what he has described is an accurate record of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. He is therefore merely a messenger of that which God Himself wishes to address to the church through Jesus Christ. Peter also plainly states the importance of the prophetic word:
The prophetic lamp has shone through the ages and lightened up the pathway of devoted pilgrims in a dark world. Abraham sojourned in tents in a strange land. Because he had a vision of a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10), he lived by faith as someone whose citizenship is in heaven – in the new Jerusalem. We must clearly realise that the narrow and the broad way will shortly reach their final destination. In Revelation, these two destinations are vividly contrasted with one another. The narrow way is heading for eternal glory in the new heaven, the new earth and the new Jerusalem, while the broad way is heading for the judgements of God in an eternal night of terror in the lake of fire.
In Revelation 1:1 it is also emphasised that the Lord wishes to show His servants things that must shortly take place. Many people wrongly conclude that these prophecies were to be fulfilled shortly after they were made known. The meaning of the text is rather that these events will rapidly follow one another once they start to unfold after the church dispensation. The word shortly is not a correct rendering of the Greek word tachei, which means quickly. Our word tachometer is derived from the Greek tachei and refers to a speedometer or a rev counter. The implication is that when the end-time events are activated by the catching away of the true church in Revelation 4, they will be fulfilled very rapidly.
For many centuries God was patient and long-suffering with humanity. Peter says:
The moment will come when God’s patience and long-suffering with a corrupt and unrepentant human race will be over. Then He will reveal Himself in wrath and anger. At that time, His judgements will follow one another in quick succession.
Apart from the judgements of the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the bowl judgements, there are also seven promises or Beatitudes recorded in Revelation. They are:
It is important to take these beatitudes to heart and to comply with the conditions for them. We must hide them in our hearts, often meditate on them, and order our lives accordingly. The Lord wishes us to realise that the time is short. Don’t push the book of Revelation aside and argue that it is still a very long time before these things will occur. In so doing, you will deprive yourself of great blessings apart from exposing yourself to dangerous complacency.
The people who lived in the time of the early Christian church, or during the Middle Ages, equally needed to live in the light of the Second Coming by preparing themselves to meet their God. They also needed a heavenly perspective to enable them to look beyond the temporal and secular things of this world to their eternal home in heaven. Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians that they had "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven" (1 Thes. 1:9-10). Only then will your priorities as a Christian be correctly determined by keeping your garment clean and pursuing things with eternal value. In so doing you will gather treasures in heaven you cannot be robbed of. Even if you die as a martyr, your works of faith will follow you to the judgement seat of Christ where rewards to faithful servants of the Lord will be given. The promise of the Second Coming should also motivate you to persevere in the midst of severe trials and persecution. You know that you are on your way to the marriage feast of the Lamb, and that you will enter the new Jerusalem through the pearly gates to inherit your eternal home in heaven.
Are you expecting the imminent Second Coming of the Lord Jesus and does it motivate you spiritually? John says that he who has this hope in Jesus purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 Jn. 3:3). Strive for doctrinal purity by studying the Word (Rom. 6:17; 2 Jn. 9), and moral and spiritual purity by cleansing yourself from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit (2 Cor. 7:1).
The message of Revelation comes from the Triune God. It includes letters addressed to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Since seven is the biblical number of fullness, and is often repeated in the book of Revelation, this message is addressed to the entire church of Christ through the ages.
The excellence of the Lord Jesus as Head of the church is extolled in a moving and lofty way. He is the One who loved us and washed us from our sins with His own blood. He is the One who is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him. He is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha means He is the beginning of the creation of God and of the plan of salvation for mankind. As Omega He is the One who will bring the Divine purposes to completion and through whom we shall obtain entrance into our final eternal home in glory.
John beholds Jesus as He is during the present dispensation of the church – moving among the golden lampstands, being intimately aware of everything that happens. The various congregations are depicted by the lampstands, as they are the vessels into which the oil of the Holy Spirit is poured. When the members of the churches are filled with the Holy Spirit, they will be shining lights in a dark world.
Jesus is portrayed in all His glorious appearance. He is clothed with a garment right down to His feet, and girded with a golden girdle, thereby emphasising His priestly and royal dignity. His hair, white like wool, symbolises His wisdom, while His eyes that are as a flame of fire, witness to His incisive judgement and omniscience. Nothing is hidden from His sight. His feet like fine brass as if they burned in a furnace, depict His absolute holiness and purity. Because of our sins, He went through the fire of God's judgements; through Gethsemane, Calvary and the grave, without flinching. Consider the great sacrifice that He made to walk this path. He left the glory of heaven to be rejected on this earth – despised, mocked, beaten and executed with criminals:
Paul likewise writes about the humiliating death that Christ died for our sins, but also refers to the indescribable honour and glory that was bestowed on Him in heaven:
It is the glorified Christ whom John sees in the midst of the lampstands. He, when He was on trial, offered no plea in His defence, He opened not His mouth (Is. 53:7), but now He speaks with a great voice as the sound of many waters. No one can dispute it, argue against it or challenge its authority. His words are like a sharp sword out of His mouth – it causes division, justifies and judges. His countenance is like the sun that dispels all the darkness, yet blesses and warms the hearts of all His own with His beneficent rays. His special witnesses are as bright shining stars in His right hand. They must cause the light of the Sun of Righteousness to shine upon a world shrouded in darkness. His feet are like brass as if they burned in a furnace. Likewise, His disciples must aspire to a holy walk in life and be purified through suffering.
Jesus Christ is the One around Whom the entire book centres. From the beginning people reacted differently to Him. Shortly after His birth, Simeon said to Mary: "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against" (Lk. 2:34). During the past 2 000 years Jesus has indeed been the cause of the rising into a new life for millions of people. On the other hand many have rejected Him, having loved the darkness more than the light, so have fallen under God’s wrath and into eternal punishment.
According to these two characteristics, the book of Revelation depicts Jesus Christ as Redeemer and as Judge. In the first place He is revealed as Redeemer and Head of the Church, as He walks in the midst of the lampstands. He speaks words of comfort to His faithful servants, reprimands the stubborn ones and calls to repentance the unsaved church members who only have a form of godliness. The glorification of the church and the everlasting kingship of Jesus are closely connected to His work of redemption.
In the second place, He is revealed as the Judge who exercises judgement over all those who have rejected Him. Until the last moment He offers them the opportunity to accept Him as Redeemer. Finally, when the fullness of time is reached, He passes judgement over all the followers of the Antichrist and the false prophet with the sword that issues from His mouth.
In righteousness, in glorification as well as in judgement, the determining factor is the relationship that every person has with Christ: for Him or against Him. This is what prompts John to state in Revelation 19:10 that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy". He is either the Saviour of your soul, or He will be the Judge of your soul. In the great tribulation a Christ-rejecting world will be brought to trial and get a last opportunity to repent and accept Jesus as Saviour.
The glorified Jesus addresses John directly, but the apostle is so overwhelmed with fear and humility that he falls like a dead man at the feet of Jesus. Shortly before the destructive end-time judgements are announced, the Lord lays a reassuring hand upon His servant and says: "Fear not". He has overcome the last enemy, death, and therefore he who truly belongs to Him, has no cause for fear; he "...shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (Jn. 5:24 KJV).
In Revelation 1:19 John is commissioned to write the things he has seen, the things that are and the things that shall be hereafter. The manner in which Jesus has formulated this commission, is an important key to an understanding of the book of Revelation, since three series of events are distinguished.
· First, John must record the things he has seen, that is, the glorified Jesus amidst the seven lampstands.
· Next, he must report the things that are. The year 95 AD, when John received the visions on Patmos, was within the dispensation of the church. At present, we still find ourselves in the same dispensation. John lived in the early years of it while we find ourselves very close to the end of the church age.
· The main part of the message of Revelation deals with the things that shall be hereafter, and includes everything that will happen after the consummation of the church age.
Viewed from this angle, it is evident that the book of Revelation has been written in a chronological order with regard to the clearly defined categories of events, i.e.:
It is clear that most of the events described in this book – from the revelation of the Antichrist in chapter 6 until the end of his career at the Second Coming of Jesus in chapter 19 – occur within a period of only seven years. This time-frame ties up with Daniel 9:24-27 in which 70 year-weeks of Israel’s history since their return from the Babylonian captivity are described. Every week represents a period of seven years. Of the 70 year-weeks, 69 expired at the crucifixion of Jesus when God’s clock for the divine history of Israel as a nation stopped. The times of the Gentiles then commenced, in which the gospel message was to be proclaimed to all the nations on earth.
However, according to Daniel 9:27 one year-week still remains to be fulfilled in Israel’s divine history. At the consummation of this week an end will be made to sin, while everlasting righteousness will be established and prevail in Israel according to Daniel 9:24. During this seven year period, Israel will be tried, tested and purified so that a remnant may be preserved and reconciled to the Messiah. On the day that Israel concludes a covenant with the false messiah, the count-down will commence for the last seven years before their national conversion takes place. Daniel 9:27 states clearly that this week will be divided into two halves of 3½ years each – that is 42 months or 1260 days each. In Revelation 11:2-3 and 13:5 reference is made to these two periods.
First, the church dispensation of Revelation 2 and 3 will be reviewed, which will be terminated by the unknown hour of the rapture. After that, the count-down of the seven years of the tribulation will start with the revelation of the Antichrist.