It’s important to know that God rules over all. The world is chaotic and dangerous, so it’s good to know that God rules over all. This is really spelt out loud and clear in the New Testament book of Revelation.
Revelation has a reputation for being obscure and hard to read. Which is ironic. Firstly, because it’s meant to “reveal” not obscure and secondly because it’s meant to be a blessing.
Read Revelation 1:3.
So anyone and everyone ought to be able to read and understand, with a little work. No secret knowledge is required. You already have the keys to understand it!
Revelation has trumpets, thunder, beasts, a dragon, a prostitute and all manner of strange imagery.
- It’s like a massive painting with vivid images all over it.
- The painting uses a palette of Old Testament imagery, language, and phrases.
- The rest of the Bible is your key to understanding Revelation – your palette and interpreter.
We’re going to span the whole book in just 3 weeks. So we’ll be looking at the painting from a ‘stepped-back’ view, not up close.
Expect to be blessed.
This church matters to Christ (Chapters 1-3)
The book was written by John in prison on Patmos. That’s John, the brother of James, one of the Twelve disciples. Author of John’s gospel and the letters 1, 2, and 3 John.
We call Revelation a book, but it opens like a letter. Read Revelation 1:4. It’s not a theological text book – it’s a letter written to 7 specific churches all in difficult and different situations.
John opens “Grace and peace to you” – fairly typical opening. And glory is ascribed to Christ in beautiful terms: Read Revelation 1:5b-6.
- Notice that, because it’s really important for us.
- Christ’s glory is bound up with the fact that “he has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father”
- What does that mean for you and me?
- We’re under his kingdom rule (obedience, holiness)
- We’re to make him known and to intercede for the lost (pray to him for them).
John hears a deafening voice and sees a terrifying vision! It’s a vision of the risen Jesus – “like the son of man.” He’s described in terms that speak of dazzling purity, royalty, and supernatural power. Jesus is in the middle of 7 lampstands and holds 7 stars in his right hand. He explains what they mean to John. Read Rev 1:20.
Does each church have an angel? Revelation is a “#nofilter” version of reality; we see spiritual reality alongside our limited perceptions of reality. Jesus stands among his churches, and holds their full spiritual reality in his right hand.
The letter to Ephesus
And so John is to write down 7 letters to the 7 churches, dictated by Jesus. We’ll look at one as an example:
- Read Revelation 2:1. His identity is crucial: He walks & knows.
- Revelation 2:2. He knows they toil, they endure, and have integrity towards the truth of the gospel. He knows it.
- Revelation 2:3. Jesus knows what they’ve been through. But:
- Revelation 2:4. He knows that too. But he doesn’t give up on them: Revelation 2:5-6. A call to return, to repent. And a warning too. That’s grace.
- He ends with eternal promises (explained later in the book) in Revelation 2:7.
Each letter has similar shape and content: Jesus knows and cares, and so rebukes and encourages as necessary. Just as he did through Paul to the churches in Galatia and Corinth. Jesus does not easily give up on a church! In that, he is quite unlike many Christians, flitting about.
In fact, Jesus will never ever give up on a faithful church. His own glory and honour are bound up in it, in rescuing a kingdom of priests. No faithful church will be abandoned by him. Not in Nigeria, North Korea, China, or Ukraine.
And notice that there’s no mention of church size – or even church growth. Those aren’t measures Christ applies, ever. His passion is to see perseverance in godliness and witness among his people; growth (or not) is his business. “Anyone who has hears to hear to must listen.” This is how Jesus cares about and cares for all his churches across time and space. He cares for us. We matter to him.
We’re to keep going, persevering in godliness & witness. And yet: Everything seem so overwhelming! Covid. War. Persecutions. Revelation’s answer is to show those things for what they are – themselves overwhelmed!
God is on his throne (Chapters 4-5)
Immediately from writing down the letters, John sees a door into heaven! He is allowed to step through and get a glimpse. Now this is overwhelming.
- Read Revelation 4:2-3.
- He sees God, seated on this throne. He sits because he’s a reigning monarch, ruling and governing, never sleeping.
- He’s not adorned with gemstones – he is dazzling and brilliant in himself.
- Around the throne is a rainbow (presumably a full circle, as round the sun sometimes if you look).
- There are 24 thrones around the throne. There are astonishing living creatures representing all Creation – always before him, always worshipping.
- Those one the 24 thrones cast their crowns before the king on his throne.
- He is Government, and power, and dominion.
- He is worthy of praise and adoration – which they give.
John has stepped from writing letters to 7 little churches straight to the vision of God on his throne. That instantly and powerfully sets the right context for those letters – and also sets up the rest of the book too.
Those churches – and this church – serve the God who sits on the throne of the whole universe, who reigns and never sleeps. Revelation is like that door for you and me; behold your God! Read Revelation 4:9-11.
But then John notices a scroll in the right hand of the one on the throne. And the question booms out: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” (Revelation 5:2)
But no-one is, and John weeps bitterly. But then! Read Revelation 5:5.
- The lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir of David’s throne, the promised Messiah, has conquered! He is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals!
- Where is he, this mighty conquering king?
- Read Revelation 5:6, 9-10.
The victorious lion is the sacrificed lamb
His death (lamb) and resurrection (lion) has caused him to be uniquely counted worthy to open the scroll.
- It marks the end times – our times. From Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension through to his ultimate return.
- The scroll is God’s plan for humanity in these times. Today. Everything is known to him and under his Government.
- It could not be opened until Christ returned to heaven to open it – to begin the chapter of history that we’re in.
And Christ – the lion and lamb – is honoured and sung about. He is praised for his sacrifice that ransomed a people for God. In heaven, they praise Jesus for causing his people “to become a kingdom of priests for our God” – there it is again. His honour and is bound up with you and me being counted in his kingdom, witnessing and interceding.
This is the real Jesus. The Jesus who lives right now. Far removed from common imagery – statues on wooden crosses are reminders of what he’s done, but won’t help you see him now.
Christ is glorious, worshipped, and adored by all that is created. Read Revelation 5:11-14.
And he brings honour to himself through you and me. All of which is exciting, but also very helpful to you and me now.
Christ will strengthen you
His people bear his honour. You and this church matter to him.
- Of course you matter to him – he loved you enough to die for you to save you.
- And together we matter to him – he has given us each other so that we can build one another up in godliness (kingdom living), in witnessing to the lost, in prayer (kingdom of priests).
- And if he already has “future history” written down on a scroll, he’ll clearly work his plans out through his people, for his people.
That’s all encouraging and empowering when you hear it in a sermon. But then you think about the week ahead and you feel tired, daunted, overwhelmed. Does it seem sometimes that Jesus is, after all, quite a hard task-master, ambling through his lampstands / churches, waiting to catch you out?
Listen to Jesus writing to exhausted Christians in Philadelphia: Read Revelation 3:8-9. He knows where you are; he knows when you’re shattered and broken. And he wants you to know (and everyone else to know) that he has never loved you less or more than he does right now.
Get the full perspective from Revelation:
- God held the plan for humanity for these times in the right hand (the scroll).
- Jesus – the sacrificed lamb, the victorious and ascended lion of the tribe of Judah, took that scroll – he is worthy.
- That same Jesus today walks among his churches, his lampstands, knowing our pains, hopes, challenges.
- He holds the life of each church in his own right hand.
- His right hand holds power, strength, and life.
Don’t be afraid
When John first saw that Jesus, he was overwhelmed. Read Revelation 1:16-18. That same right hand stretches to you, touches you, with love and firm reassurance: Don’t be afraid.
The world is a mess. Don’t be afraid.
You’ll face opposition every time you witness. Don’t be afraid.
The news is overwhelming, with Covid, lockdowns, wars, curfews. Our lives too: Cancer, diabetes, old age, depression. But his strong hand is on you. Don’t be afraid.
He himself is your security and help. His purposes can’t fail. So, in his strength, the one big message of Revelation is this: Keep going. Under his rule and reign, in his kingdom.
As a kingdom of priests, witnessing to a lost world and interceding for them. For the honour of his name.