This sermon is number 1 in a series of 20
The Book Of The Revelation - Part 1
"Introduction To Revelation"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now turn with me to Revelation and chapter 1, and I think we'll read the first 9 verses - although we'll only really be looking at the first three tonight, and not in much detail. Tonight will really serve as an introduction to this book of 22 chapters, and there really is enough information in each verse to keep us there a week a verse - but we can't do that! But it will be slower to start with, and then hopefully we might be able, as we go through this series, to deal maybe with a chapter a night, at least on some occasions. But we'll start slow, so that we lay a good foundation that will help us in understanding the rest of this book in the weeks that lie ahead.
So let's begin at verse 1 of chapter 1, through to verse 8: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty".
Now, the first thing we want to deal with tonight is the title of this book. Like most of the Biblical books, we have within the first verse the title. Now, it depends what version of the Bible you're reading tonight, but most of you, I'm sure, will have the Authorised Version, and the title given in it, or most editions of the Authorised, is incorrect. It says that it is 'The Revelation of John', it is not the Revelation of John. It is, as you see from verse 1, 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ'. Now that is very important. Now it could mean 'the Revelation about Jesus Christ', or it could mean 'the Revelation that came from Jesus Christ'. In my opinion it could be both, and the first is correct, that this is 'the Revelation about Jesus Christ' - and if this last book of the Bible is about anything, it's about the Son of God.
Now the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, revealed the humiliation of the Lord Jesus Christ - and it's important to understand that: that the four Gospels were fulfilling prophetic Scriptures in the Old Testament. But prophetic Scriptures in the Old Testament are often seen to be quite jumbled up concerning the first coming of the Lord Jesus into this world to Bethlehem, to be the humble Servant of the Lord, to go to the cross and die for sins, rise again the third day, and ascend unto heaven - that's what they encapsulate, the humiliation and condescension of the Lord Jesus. Yet so many other Old Testament Scriptures speak of how Messiah would come as a King, would set up an earthly kingdom, and would rule with a reign of righteousness. So this book is a revelation of Jesus Christ, not in the sense that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John revealed Him, but rather than the humiliated Christ, we have in Revelation an unveiling for us of the exalted and glorified Jesus Christ. All the events of this book centre around visions and symbols of the resurrected Christ, who alone has authority to judge the earth, eventually to remake the earth, and then to rule over the earth in righteousness. So many people get caught up with the intricate details concerning future events, that they miss the point that the Lord Jesus Christ is the chief subject of this book. If you miss Him, you've missed everything.
Now look with me very, very quickly at chapters 1 to 3 - we see Christ as the exalted Priest King in the midst of His churches. We will look at that in more detail in weeks to come - chapter 2 and chapter 3 in particular - Christ is in the midst, ministering to His church. Then if you look quickly at chapters 4 and 5, we see Christ as the glorified Lamb in the midst of the throne, Christ is in the midst reigning. Then chapters 6 through to 18, a few more chapters, we see Christ as the Lion in the midst of the nations of the world, Christ in the midst judging. Then in chapter 19 we see Christ as the conquering King of Kings, and Christ comes into the midst returning. In chapter 20 we see Christ as the Heavenly Bridegroom in the midst of the marriage supper, and Christ is in the midst of His people rejoicing with them and over His new-found bride and wife, the church. Then in chapter 21 and 22, the last two chapters of the book, Christ is the light in the midst of eternal glory, Christ in the midst of the holy city, the New Jerusalem, shining.
I hope you can see that it's all about Jesus Christ. Someone put it well: 'He is the arbiter of the destinies of the church and of the world'. Whatever we find in these Monday nights in the book of the Revelation, we better find Christ, because this is the revelation about Jesus Christ! As the line of that hymn says: 'Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee Lord'. What have you come here for tonight? It's great to see you, but so many people are tantalised by prophecy. Sometimes I wonder, whilst I think we should be excited by it, is it at times the same excitement as a pagan has when they get someone to look into their tea leaves or a crystal ball? It's got to be more than that. I think of Charles Haddon Spurgeon's hymn, which was written, of course, in relation to the Lord's Supper, but it's so applicable to the second coming truth:
'If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs, but see not Him;
O may His love the scales displace,
And bid us see Him face to face'.
Don't get caught up with the signs of the times tonight and miss that this is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it's all about Him! It's His love that will cause the scales to displace from off our eyes, and we will see Him beyond the sacred page. If you think knowledge is the most important aspect to interpreting the book of the Revelation, you're wrong, it is love: love for the Lord, love for His word, love for His people. May I remind you in our introduction of 1 Corinthians 13:2: 'Though I have the gift of prophecy', Paul says, 'and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity', love, 'I am nothing'. Christ is the love of God to our hearts, let's not miss Him.
This is the Revelation about Jesus Christ, but the second understanding of this title, 'The Revelation that came from Jesus Christ', is equally authentic. If you look at verse 1, you will see that this revelation 'God gave unto him' - and that 'h' there of 'him', really should be a capital, because it's not speaking of John, it's speaking of Christ. God gave this revelation to Christ, 'to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent', God sent, 'and signified it by his angel unto his servant John'. Now follow with me the process here: God gave this revelation to Jesus Christ about His future, how He would be glorified, how the history of mankind would come to consummation in God's eternal plan. God sent that message by Christ, through an angel, to the apostle John. Now sometimes in the book John is spoken to by the Lord Jesus Himself, and other times an elder speaks to John. There are times we see a voice from heaven speaking to him, but the process of the delivery of this revelation was from God, given to Jesus Christ, sent by Christ by an angel to the apostle.
Now that's the title of the book: about Christ, from Christ. Let's look for a moment at the recipients of this revelation. Verse 1, right in the middle says 'to shew his servants things which must shortly', or quickly, or swiftly take place. Now right away that designates this book as being prophetic. It is speaking of things that as yet have not happened, but would come to pass. As we know from the last two chapters, chapter 21 and 22, that goes right until the eternal state, after Christ has returned, reigned for a thousand years, and set up an eternal Kingdom forever - so there's a lot of prophecy in this book.
Now let's look at the author, at the end of verse 1 he is designated as John. Now we believe that this is indeed John the apostle, the same John that wrote the 1st, 2nd and 3rd epistles of John, and of course the wonderful Gospel of John - four times within this book the writer identifies himself as John. Now some have cast doubt upon the fact that this is John the apostle, but the early church tradition was in unanimous agreement that this indeed was John the great apostle - who, of course, ministered many many years in the church of Ephesus, one of the churches of Asia which he writes to here. In verse 2 we read of John's circumstances as he authors the book, 'Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw'. In verse 9 he elaborate on his circumstances, 'I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ'.
John, the author, wrote this book from a vision he received on the Isle of Patmos, and the book was probably written in the late first century, around the 90s AD, which were the latter years of the reign of the Roman Emperor, Domitian. Now that's important, it's important as we'll see a little bit later, the message that this book conveys to these Christians and to ourselves today - to know that John himself was exiled as a persecuted Christian to the Isle of Patmos, and John, when on the Isle of Patmos, receives a vision to give and write to persecuted Christians in seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey.
Titus Flavius Domitian, this Roman Emperor, reigned when the empire was making great bloodthirsty strides. By this stage they had touched parts of Germany and, believe it or not, Great Britain. Domitian demanded of every member of the empire that they should worship him as Lord and God, and if you refused to do it you were severely persecuted - and tradition tells us that Domitian sent John to the Isle of Patmos, and condemned him to work in mines on that island which was a Roman penal colony off the coast of Asia Minor in the Greek Aegean Sea. There is a map of it on the screen, and you may be able to see the Isle of Patmos there. I just wonder was that one of the reasons why we find the word 'sea' 26 times in the book of the Revelation? John saw an awful lot of it! There is another picture of it - quite idyllic looking, I don't think it was as nice for John, but there we have it: that's where he was.
Now in verse 3, I want you to note something else. We've seen the title, the recipient, the author, and this book begins with a benediction in verse 3: 'Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand'. Now this benediction is, I believe, the motivation for studying the book of the Revelation. Now I will talk a little bit later about my own motivation for beginning this series, but this is a book with a blessing - and indeed it is the only book that is designated in such a way in the whole Bible. I'm not saying the others aren't blessed, of course they are, and you will accrue a blessing through reading them! But this is the only book that begins with this pronounced blessing upon those who read it, hear it and obey it; and ends, incidentally, in chapter 22, with another blessing upon those who imbibe it.
Incidentally, there are seven 'beatitude', blessings pronounced in the book of the Revelation. We've just read the first in chapter 1 verse 3, turn with me to the rest. The second is found in chapter 14 verse 13, speaking of martyrs during the tribulation period here on the earth, in chapter 14 verse 13 John says: 'I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth' - those martyred for the cause of the Lord Jesus are blessed. Chapter 16 and verse 15, we read there: 'Behold, I come as a thief', Jesus says, 'Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame' - those who are faithful until the coming of the Lord Jesus are blessed. Then turn with me to chapter 19 and verse 9, the marriage supper of the Lamb when the Lord Jesus will be united with His church, 'He saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb'. Then in chapter 20 and verse 6, we read: 'Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years' - those who rise when Christ raptures His church are blessed. Chapter 22 verse 7 Jesus, speaking of how He will come: 'Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book'. Chapter 22 and verse 14, the ending blessing: 'Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city'.
Seven, and you will encounter over these weeks the number seven and again and again - it is the number, biblically, of completion, of perfection and fulfilment. There is a complete blessing, chapter 1 verse 3 says, to those who read this book, who hear this book, and obey this book. Now I don't know about you, but I need a blessing! Am I the only one? Do you need a blessing? I think we all do! We need it every day! We need to count the blessings we have, surely, but we ought to be seeking more - so let's make these studies the blessings that they ought to be to us, that's what God wants, that's what I want, that's what you should desire - and make sure they don't become a curse!
Now please note in this verse 3, this benediction, it says: 'Blessed is he that readeth'. Now 'he', obviously, is in the singular. Now follow with me: 'Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy', now 'they' is in the plural. Now that's important: the 'he' is in the singular, and it insinuates that the person here who is reading is reading aloud. This isn't reading in your bedroom or in your study, and then the 'they' insinuates that the person reading aloud is listened to by a plural people. The hearing there is not in the physical sense, but in the responsive sense - that they are not just listening, but they are doers of the word - they are listening with responsive hearts of faith.
Now that is very significant, because the practice in the synagogue - we know this from Luke's gospel chapter 4 and other portions of Scripture in Acts - the practice was that there was someone got up, a man, and read the Scriptures, and everyone listened. They couldn't have Torahs, laws, for everybody to have, like you have Bibles this evening, so one read and the rest listened. It was the same, we believe, in the early church, in 1 Timothy 4 and verse 13 Paul told Timothy: 'Give attention to reading' - now that was the public reading of the scriptures in the assembly. They didn't have Bibles the way we have, a copy each.
Why am I telling you that? Because there has already been a tremendous blessing to me, as the one who is reading and expounding this book. I'm blessed, and I'm going to be further blessed over these weeks - but you should be blessed by listening, but oh to God that you would listen with responsive hearts, and then it could be said of you that you're not only blessed because you're reading too and you're listening, but you are doing, you are obeying this word. So this book is intended for public proclamation rather than a mere personal perusal, but it is intended to be kept - who of us will keep the sayings of this book? What a lesson! We could spend all night on this one alone: the most blessed will be the most obedient - that runs right through the whole of Christian experience. Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. May you know that blessing.
Then we see in this blessing at the end, we are to 'keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand'. Now the word for 'time' there in the original Greek that Revelation was written in, is the word for an 'epoch', or an era, a season of time in history. But he is saying that this time, this epoch is at hand. John is telling us that the great epoch, the next great epoch in God's redemptive history is imminent, it is at hand. Now the word 'imminent' is very important in Biblical prophecy, it means 'impending', something that is about to take place without delay. Now the word 'imminent' is different than 'immediate'. 'Immediate' is something that is going to happen there and then, but the second coming of the Lord Jesus, as it is portrayed within the whole of the Bible, tells us that we can expect it at any time - and yet 2000 years have passed and it still could be at any moment, because it is at hand, it's imminent not immediate.
Now whatever persuasion you are prophetically and theologically when it comes to prophecy, surely you have to agree that the coming of the Lord is at hand? I can almost hear the footfall, the hymn says, on the threshold of the door. Now, let me challenge you before I go on any further: there may be those among us who are not Christians, have never been born again; there may be those who are cold in their faith, backsliders; even believers need to study this book to get blessed, and it is my prayer that in the subsequent weeks you will be able to say:
'I am waiting for the coming
Of the Christ who died for me,
O His words have thrilled my spirit,
'I will come again for thee'.
I can almost hear the footfall,
On the threshold of the door,
And my heart, my heart is longing
To be with Him evermore'.
Is it? Will you be with Him evermore? Well, let's move on. For an introduction I want to give you four points tonight. The first is: my motivation for studying this book. The second is: the mystery that is often perceived in this book. The third is: the methods of interpreting this book. The fourth is: the message of the book.
My motivation for studying this book, if I can be personal for a moment or two. A number of people for some time have encouraged me to take on this subject, but that was never enough for me! Of course we need the leading of God in all these things, but during the summer recess I had occasion to be at one Bible Conference in our land, and heard of another one where the amillennial interpretation of Bible prophecy was advocated. If you don't understand what that means, just let it go by, you will by the end of the meeting. My problem was not with people holding this, I respect those who hold it, and some of you here tonight hold it. But this was delivered to what was essentially, in the right sense, an ecumenical gathering where people from different denominations were, and different theological persuasions - it was delivered as a standard, and what seemed to come across as the most credible interpretation of biblical prophecy. Now that disturbed me, and the more I thought about it, it was obvious to me that these speakers - good men and godly men that they were - obviously assumed that it was safe to teach this without being challenged. I wondered why that was, and I came to the conclusion that the reason is: prophetic truth of the pre-millennial return of the Lord Jesus that we will be expounding throughout this series has largely been lost to the church of the United Kingdom. So I felt compelled, and indeed stirred up, to present what we believe to be the only biblically credible interpretation of prophecy in this exposition of the book of the Revelation.
Now, that said, let me add a caveat to it: it is essential to distinguish in Christian doctrine fundamentals, fundamental issues, from issues that are important but not fundamental. Now listen carefully to this, because this will stand you in good stead for a lot of doctrinal disputes: it's important to distinguish between fundamental issues and important issues that are not fundamental. Now what do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is: the fundamental non-negotiable truth in prophecy is, Jesus is coming again! Anyone who denies that has denied a fundamental, and has put themselves beyond the pale of Christianity. You've got to understand that. But though that is the fundamental, how we understand prophetic scripture, and how Jesus will return again, is not a fundamental - and that's why we need much grace and love when we deal with a subject like this. There's much heat rather than light when it comes to prophetic preaching and teaching these days.
But though it is not a fundamental, let it be said that it is important. You see, there are fundamental issues, there are important but not fundamental issues, and then there are nonessentials which really aren't that important - but the teaching of prophetic truth and how we understand it is not a non-essential, it is something that is important because it has ramifications in other directions, not least how you interpret the Bible in many places. So what we are saying tonight is: we need much grace and love, because whether we are of a particular prophetic persuasion, though it is not all-important, it is important. That's why I'm stirred to teach it, and it's also the reason why many shy away from it.
So my second point is the mystery that is perceived in the book, some people are afraid of the book of Revelation because they just feel: 'I cannot understand it'. Often because they feel they cannot understand it, they believe that no one could. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Ireland, once said that to him the former Soviet Union was, I quote, 'A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma' - and to many people that's what the book of the Revelation is like! Joseph Scallinger was a 16th century critic, and he complimented the reformer John Calvin by saying, I quote, 'He has shown his sense as much by not commenting on the book of the Revelation, as he had by the manner in which he had commented on the other books of the Bible'. Often - and I have to echo this at times - there is a defeatist attitude when we come to this book. Now it has to be said that no one has all the answers concerning this book. We cannot be dogmatic on many things that we find within this book. But that being said, we must face, all of us, whatever our prophetic persuasion, the fact that this is the only book in 66 books of the Bible that is called 'a Revelation' - the opposite of a dark concealment! It is revealed!
'Apocalypsis', which is the Greek word for 'Revelation', unfortunately today has become synonymous with chaos and catastrophe - and a lot of films haven't helped that - but it literally means 'an unveiling', 'a disclosure', 'a revealing'. Now we find this type of Biblical literature in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, Ezekiel and Zechariah; and the only New Testament book that is apocalyptic is the book of the Revelation. Now when Daniel finished instructing in his apocalyptic book, in chapter 12 of Daniel and verse 4 we read: 'But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end'. He was told to close the book, conceal it; yet when we come to this book of Revelation, chapter 22 if you look at it and verse 10, John is told after having been given all these visions: 'Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand'. Why the difference? Both are apocalyptic literature, Daniel was told in the Old Testament 'Conceal it', John is told in the New Testament 'Reveal it'. Well, the answer is very simple: Calvary, Jesus died for sinners; the Messiah of God, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the King of Israel - He was buried, three days later He rose again, He ascended into heaven forty days later, ten days later He sent the Holy Spirit into this world. All of these events, these New Testament gospel events, ushered in what the Bible calls 'the last days'.
We read in Hebrews 1:1-2: 'God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds'. He is told in chapter 22 and verse 10, John that is, to reveal this apocalypse because the time is at hand. Now the total significance of this message, though we cannot understand absolutely everything contained within it, we must say tonight upon the authority of God's word that the total significance and focal message of this apocalypse is plain to the ordinary man and woman, it has to be if God's word is true. So don't be mystified by it all, whilst there's difficult things in it, don't be put off - you could put that phone off maybe! - don't be put off by the mystery that is in this book!
Now, the reason for the misunderstanding of the book is probably due to my third point: the methods, the various different methods of interpretation that are applied to it. Here are four - now if you don't have a notebook and pen with you tonight, you need to get one because you'll never remember all these things, or get the CD or tape and study these things again. There are four basic approaches to the book of the Revelation. The first is called the preterist school or approach. Really the preterist, which means 'past', he interprets Revelation as having already been fulfilled in the first century AD in the events after AD 70, which was after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the scattering of the Jews. They say it symbolises and records the struggle of the Christian church with the Roman Empire of the day, and now that is all past, it's all fulfilled - that's what the preterist says.
Now the strength of that particular approach is that it makes the book meaningful to the recipients who received this letter, it meant something to them. But the weaknesses are obvious, because although it might have meant something to them, it doesn't mean anything to us, it becomes meaningless to subsequent readers, and also there are many parts of it that are left unfulfilled. What it does is it robs the book of the Revelation of its prophetic nature and it becomes merely historical, and we know that it is a prophecy, as we've seen already.
Then secondly there is the historicist school. The historicists really believe that the book comprises the unfolding of Church history until the second coming of Christ. Now the strength of that view is that it makes it relevant to subsequent ages, and it has a meaning to other generations other than the generation to which it was written. It has to be said there are many parallels between truths in the book of the Revelation and things that have happened in Church history. The weakness of the historicist view is that though it becomes relevant to us, it becomes therefore irrelevant to the original readers, because they would have needed to have an extensive knowledge of history which hadn't happened yet, and even subsequent readers need to be au fait with history. Though there are parallels, it has to be said that the interpretation of this book by historicists is often in the light of Western European church history, it forgets the rest of the world - and there's a great divergence of opinion regarding what these symbols represent, and what historical characters they represent, among historicists.
The third interpretation of this book is given by the idealists, or the topicists, or topical interpreters. The idealists believe that this book is symbolising an eternal conflict between good and evil in the universe - it's not meant to be taken literally. Now the strength of that view is that there is a conflict going on between good and evil, rather God and Satan, and that would have been relevant to the recipients of this book, as it is relevant to us today. But the weakness of the idealists view is that it betrays the prophetic nature of this book, it also denies the correspondence between this book of Revelation and all the other prophetic Scriptures in the Old and New Testament, it doesn't harmonise them. So these passages in Revelation, they have to be seen as prophecy rather than mere principles - it's a prophetic book.
There's the preterists, everything is past; there's the historicists, this is Church history up to the second coming of Jesus; there is the idealist, it's just the principles rather than prophecy - then there is the futurist. They believe that this book depicts mainly the end times from chapter 4 right through to the end. Now the weakness of that particular approach is that often there are many way out interpretations among futurists, and I would have to say that often they do not seek what was the initial message to the recipients of the book - and if you miss that, you will misinterpret the rest of the apocalypse. I think highly speculative ideas, and even fictional works, though they have popularised the futurist position in recent years, have turned many Christians against it unnecessarily I would say. Please be careful: criticising the claims of certain futurists is very different from disproving the interpretation in general.
I am a futurist unapologetically, and I believe that from chapter 4 on we have what God is still going to do - but let it be said that I do believe there is certain merit in these three other interpretations. I agree with Sidlow Baxter who was a futurist, when he said: 'Thus my futurism can find some accommodation for all these other three, though none of them can possibly allow a place for my futurism'. Now maybe that's over your heads, but some of you will get it. What I'm saying is: there's no doubt that some of the descriptions of the second coming were foreshadowed in AD 70 for these early Christians, but it was not the complete fulfilment as we clearly see from the book of the Revelation. The historicist speaks to us of Church history, and there is no doubt that there are parallels for many of these passages. The idealist looks at principles that are right throughout in the symbols, and there's no doubt that they are there. But let us not rob the book of its essential prophetic nature: it's telling us about some things that are going to happen!
Now here are the reasons why we must look at this book from a futurist perspective. One: the futurist interpretation is the only scheme where the literal, grammatical, historical rule of interpretation is intact. Let me take time for this: literal, if it says what it says, that's what it means; grammatical, whatever it literally says in the Greek language, that's what it means; historical, whatever it says in the historical context and culture - pulling those three together, that is the rule of sound interpretation right throughout the whole Bible, and here as well. If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.
Now that is not espousing a wooden literalness when we come to the Bible. It's not a denial of the symbolism of the book of Revelation, but it is an acknowledgement that these signs and symbols in Revelation represent actual biblically interpretable realities. They are symbols and signs, yes, but they represent real things, literal things that are going to happen. If you have a working knowledge, particularly of the Old Testament, you will be able to interpret the majority of the symbols in this book, if not all. It's the only consistent method of interpreting the book of Revelation.
The second reason for futurism is that it's the only view that harmonises the Old Testament and New Testament prophetical passages. Now, while there have been partial fulfilments of some Old Testament prophecies, and there have been foreshadowings of many of those prophecies, it is only the future events of the book of the Revelation that will bring them to completion - and there we see them coming to consummation and conclusion. The third reason for a futurist approach is that it fits the chronological outline that John himself gives us in chapter 1 and verse 19. The Lord tells him: 'Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which are to come'. Now that simply says, as an outline - if you look at the screen, you'll maybe not see too much of it - but you will see there in that first column at the very beginning the things that you have seen, and he's speaking of the vision of Jesus Christ, that we will look at probably next week. The things which he has seen, the vision of Christ; the things which are - and when he speaks of the things which are in this next column, he's talking about the seven churches of Asia Minor that he deals with in chapter 2 and chapter 3, they were existent in his day. The things which are to come are the events that chapter 4 of Revelation right through to the end of the book speak of, things that are future: the tribulation period, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven key figures, the seven vials or bowls, and then we find the Lord coming and setting up His earthly kingdom and reigning for a thousand years, and then the eternal state and so on.
So John gives us that outline: the things that you have seen; the things which are, the churches; and the things which are yet to be. Let me give you a classic example of the significance of how your method of interpretation relates to your understanding of this book. Turn with me to chapter 20, this is a passage of Scripture that talks about Christ reigning for a thousand years on the earth, it's the famous millennium passage. Now the amillennialist school, if you look up at the screen, they spiritualise this passage and tell us that the first resurrection here is spiritual conversion. They say that the millennium, the thousand years, is a symbol of the church age, the period that we are now living in, which is also the tribulation - we're going through tribulation now, but we're also going through the reign of Christ in our lives, and then Christ will come and return and take us effectively into the eternal state.
Now what they, in effect, do if they spiritualise the book of the Revelation, and they spiritualise other Old Testament prophecies - I don't have time to go into it, but historically speaking what you're doing is using the Alexandrian interpretation that was later adopted, after Origen and other church fathers, by Augustine. It filtered its way into Roman Catholicism, and then eventually into Reformed theology, and it's still with us today in amillennialism. If you want to know more about that get a CD or tape that I did a few years ago on 'Crucial Questions On Christ's Return - Part 1', 'A, Post, or Pre Millennialism - Does It Matter?'.
You can see the danger of spiritualising and not taking this book literally. Then there is post-millennialism, again they see, as amillennialism, the first resurrection as a spiritual conversion, they see the church age and the millennium running together, but they believe that the preaching of the gospel and an improvement in humanity in general, like evolution but in a religious sense, will usher in the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the eternal state. They do the same as amillennialism, they spiritualise, but they actually invert the biblical order, because the Bible says things will get worse and worse and the Lord Jesus will come and He, at His coming, will usher in a better age in the millennial reign.
Then there is pre-millennialism, which is the futurist approach. It reads as the Bible is written, and as prophecy is written. It harmonises the prophecies in the Bible together, Old and New Testament, and it keeps the biblical distinctions that we have within the Bible, God's prophetic plan of history is not only for the church but it is for Israel, it is for the Gentiles and it is for the church. It keeps the biblical distinctions and yet marries together prophetic scripture in perfect harmony.
Now, finally, if you'll bear with me for five minutes: the message of the book. H.B. Sweet says this, and it is profound, and I want to spend a bit of time on it: 'In form this is an epistle', never forget that, this is a letter to seven churches that was circulated around Asia Minor. 'In form it is an epistle containing an apocalyptic prophecy', apocalyptic meaning, it's full of signs and symbols that are revealing something, it's a prophecy, it's pointing to the future. 'But', he says, 'in spirit and inner purpose it is pastoral'. Warren Weirsbe puts it well, who is a pre-millennialist and a futurist, he says this: 'Do not get lost in the details, but try to see the big picture and keep in mind that John wrote this book to encourage believers who were going through persecution. Every generation of Christians has had its antichrist and Babylon, and the hope of the Lord's return has kept those saints going when the going was tough'. Now, yes, it is speaking of the future - hope for tomorrow - but that hope for tomorrow is meant to give you strength for today. It has an application for today: it was a book that wasn't originally given to these early saints to satisfy their curiosity about the future, it was given to them pastorally to comfort them, to give them hope for the days that lay ahead. Remember what we said: it was written by John, a persecuted Christian; it was written to the churches of Asia Minor, persecuted churches; and it was written for the purposes of encouraging and exhorting them, by reassuring them of this central fact - don't miss it - Jesus Christ controls the course and the climax of history! The course and climax of history is in His control!
That's why I chose the title 'Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow', because our present difficulties, your difficulties now, have a connection with the future. The central message of this book is clear: God is in control of history, Christ is coming back and He will come in judgement, rewarding those who have remained faithful to Him. Irrespective of what interpretation you have, or what method you use, the central idea on which we all should agree is: Christ will return some time in the future, and that will be a welcome sight to His people, will it not? Warren Weirsbe puts it well: 'We are not the planning committee for the second advent, but we are the welcoming committee'. Our hope and prayer is, as John's, 'Even so, come Lord Jesus'.
Can I finish with this story that I think ties together these two aspects: strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, the fact that this book points us to the future but roots us in spiritual principles in the present. It's from the persecuted church in China, it's a conversation that was overheard by an author between an American pastor and a Chinese church leader.
This is how it went, and I'll just read it as it is, the American pastor asked the Chinese leader: 'What book in the Bible is most precious to you?'. The Chinese pastor said: 'Well, probably the book of Revelation, because...', and the American pastor interrupted him, 'Because your suffering makes you long for the end of the world, and you're strengthened by the vision of how it will end with Christ's victory? Yes?'. The Chinese pastor: 'That too, but we don't just take Revelation to be a description of the way the world will end, we see it also as a description of the way the world is now'. 'I'm not understanding you', the American pastor said, 'Surely Revelation is a book that tells us how the world will end?'. He agreed, 'Yes it is, but I am telling you that it is also a description of the way the world is now. Suffering has made this clear to us in China, clearly prosperity has hidden this from you in America'. 'You see', he went on, 'We had a Caesar here in China called Mao Tse Tung and he, like the Caesar of the early church period, demanded what was only God's - that he should be worshipped as a god. As in Revelation, he used a beast to coerce us, communism; and a false prophet to beguile us, false bishops. When we resisted this idolatry with the testimony of the Lamb, we were slaughtered and jailed. In this way we saw that Revelation is a description of spiritual warfare that always goes in any society, including yours'. The American pastor said, 'But it's not going on in America today - you say we have that hidden from us, what do you mean?'. 'Well', said the Chinese leader, 'this conflict is obvious to us in China. You could not miss that Mao Tse Tung was setting himself up as an idol and demanding worship, so the veil was removed and we saw the world as it really is - a place where idols are demanding our worship. But this is not obvious to you in America because it is more subtle'. The pastor from America said: 'Maybe it's not happening at all, we are a Christian country and we have a Christian president'. The Chinese pastor said: 'I tell you, there are Caesars or idols in your society just as much as in ours, and even in your churches - and there are false prophets telling you that the idolatry is biblical, and beasts coercing you. For example, your Caesar may not be a person but an idea. In our fellowship', he said, 'we have a clever young man who lived with an American family for a year whilst studying. The couple was generous, but he noticed something about them: they were always exhausted. Both worked incredibly hard, though they had plenty of money. They had three cars, two homes, expensive country club memberships - and, as far as he could tell, gave only a minimum to the Lord's work. They never asked him a single question about the Chinese church, and when he left they give him an envelope with $20 in it. He told us: I felt so sorry for them, they thought they were free but they were slaves. They were dropping from exhaustion because they had to live up to something called the American dream, but they never knew that the pursuit of that life had stolen their heart from Christ'. 'Hmmm', said the American pastor, 'If what you say is true, then consumerism could be a more effective killer of faith than communism'. The Chinese pastor said: 'You're right, and this is what we are afraid of here in China. Consumerism clutters up life so much that' - listen to this - 'we fail to see the world as it is: full of idols trying to steal our worship from God'.
Revelation is about the future, but do not miss its message for the present. It doesn't just describe the world as it will be, but that iniquity works already - it describes the world as it is! May we see that in the weeks that lie ahead of us.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "Introduction To Revelation" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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