After I had delivered a seminar on how to understand the book of Revelation, a woman approached me. She appreciated the seminar because she said it was the first time she had ever heard teaching on the last book of the Bible which left her in a place of assurance and peace rather than agitation and fear. Her eyes were beginning to be focused on a sovereign God rather than middle eastern despots and terrorists. And so it should be if we understand the book properly.
The reason why she experienced the peace of God after the seminar is that Revelation has three main pastoral messages. And each pastoral message focuses our attention on God and bring peace to the soul, no matter where and how the winds of adversity blow, either in our own lives or in world events.
The first main pastoral message of Revelation is that the way of the cross, though painful and costly, is in fact the path to eternal victory.
The cross was the foundation of Christ’s victory over Satan. Christians are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. We follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4). This means refusal to compromise with the world system around us. The sufferings of believers in this present age, however, assure their victory over the powers of darkness. We suffer hardship now (1:9), but will share later in Christ’s kingly rule (1:6). Our spirit will be kept safe in the midst of physical suffering (11:1-7).
By contrast, though unbelievers presently carry out evil acts and appear to triumph (11:10), these acts serve only to form the basis for their final defeat and judgment (11:13, 18). One of the main purposes of Revelation is to exhort believers to remain faithful in the face of adversity, in the assurance of final victory. The closing section of the book (22:6-21) repeats this message.
The second main pastoral message of Revelation is that God is sovereign over human history.
God is described as the Alpha and the Omega (1:8), and as the first and the last (1:18). These two phrases signify God’s authority over the beginning of history, the end of history and everything in between. The visionary section of the book (chapters 4 through 22) is introduced by the vision of the throne room of God and the Lamb in chapters 4 and 5. In these chapters, the word “throne,” signifying God’s sovereignty, appears seventeen times. This vision demonstrates the authority of God and of the Lamb over all that is about to unfold in the remainder of the book. The trials of believers, the apparent victory of the enemy, the eventual destruction of the latter, and the victory of the church are all under the sovereign control of God.
The portrayal of the heavenly throne room, worship, and temple is meant to inspire and encourage us. When everything in life seems to conspire against us, this does not affect the fact that Christ is on the throne. Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 are still in effect. God is working all things out for good, but the key is to allow him to define the good. He has an infinite capacity to bring good out of the worst that this world and our supernatural enemy can throw against us. The various judgments pictured in the seals, bowls, and trumpets purify believers and make them more dependent on Christ, while serving as a foreshadowing of the ultimate judgment of Satan and those who follow him.
The third main pastoral message of Revelation is that God has a purpose within human history.
The last two chapters of Revelation indicate that the new Jerusalem is the true fulfillment of God’s plan to establish a garden-like paradise in which his temple would dwell. Adam failed in his commission to extend the boundaries of the original garden to the ends of the earth. Israel likewise failed in its commission to be a light to the nations. But Christ succeeded where Adam and Israel failed.
The boundaries of the kingdom do extend throughout the earth in the church age, though only in an imperfect manner. To use an analogy from the second world war, Christians live between D-day and V-day. Since the resurrection, our victory has been assured, even though its final fulfillment is yet to come. In the new Jerusalem, the garden and its temple are perfectly established forever. The serpent, allowed into the first garden, is cast out of the last garden. All God’s expressions of the covenant with men and women are fulfilled as they worship him in the final, perfect temple.
Revelation is not meant to be a strange or frightening book. It is meant to be one that brings blessing to those who read its words and obey them (1:3; 22:7).
Christians can have confidence that God is working out his purposes as they await the day when their present troubles will finally be over. In the meantime, they are to serve him faithfully in the extension of his kingdom. Their labour will not be in vain.