Revelation in a Nutshell
Revelation 1- 22
I must say that I am indebted to the hard work of Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins in their passion for the unification of Scripture and their guide on Revelation.
So let's dive in…
Firstly It’s not revelations it is revelation. Written by John. He states thatIt is apocalypse (an unveiling) - a type of literature known by the readers of the letter; similar to Ezekiel, Daniel, Enoch.
An Apocalypse was a type of literature steeped in symbolic references that recounted God’s perspective of current and future events. Essentially it was so that the present could be viewed in the light of the final outcome.
Now John says that this is a prophecy; which to many of us think predictive; however, he is speaking here in the Jewish historic understanding of prophecy which was always a declaration of God’s perspective on history. Take note here as this will become important!
So, John writes a letter to 7 real church in the Roman province of Asia minor. Again this is important; however, I’ll get to why!
And 7 is an important number to John as it means completeness and is woven into many aspects of this book.
So, John has through his introduction given us clear markers on how we are to understand this book.
This is not a code for the end of time; it is a message from God to His people about all time.
The symbols are drawn from the OT and so John is expecting his readers to go to the OT to discover what these symbols mean. And the fact that it is a letter it means that John is addressing the situation of the recipient; the readers; the seven churches of Asia minor.
So, although this book has much to say to later readers; it must be anchored in the historical context of those who first received this letter.
Section 1: The message to the 7 churches 2:1-3:22
John sees Jesus standing among seven burning lights. This is the symbol of the seven churches adapted from the prophet Zechariah. He lists the problems of each church, some were apathetic due to wealth others were morally compromised, others were faithful and were suffering for this. And Jesus warns that things are going to get worse, a tribulation will come upon the churches that will force them to chose compromise or faithfulness.
By John’s day the persecution of Christians was passed by Nero and Domitian was likely already implementing this persecution.
The temptation was to deny Jesus to avoid persecution or to join the spirit of the roman age.
The book of Revelation calls them to faithfulness through persecution so that they may overcome - literally in the Greek; conqueror. And a reward is given to each who overcome! Each reward is drawn by the final vision of the marriage of heaven and earth.
This opening section sets up the overriding narrative plot line that will carry on through the entire book: will Jesus’ people endure? Will they inherit the new world that God has in store? And why is faithfulness to Jesus described as conquering? The rest of the book is John’s answer!
Section 2: God on His Throne 4:1-5:14
From these letters, we are transported to the throne room of God. Surrounding God are many creatures and elders that represent all creation and human nations and they are give honour and allegiance to the one true creator God who is holy, holy holy!
In God’s hand is a Scroll; sealed with 7 wax seals. This symbolises the message of the OT and the sealed scroll of Daniel's vision;these are all about how God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
But it turns out that no one is able to open the scroll. Until John hears one who can; the lion from the tribe of Judah to root of David; he can open the scroll.
John hears that the root of David the lion of Judah is worthy. These are references to the messianic king who will bring God’s kingdom through military might (this is what John hears) but what John sees is a bloody lamb, who is alive.
This symbol of Jesus as a slain lamb is crucial to understanding the whole book! John is saying that the OT promise of God’s future victorious kingdom was inaugurated through the crucified messiah. Who overcame his enemies by dying for them.
Because of the resurrection Jesus’ death on the Cross was not a defeat it was his enthronement it was the way he conquered evil.
This vision ends with the lamb standing with the one on the throne and they are worshiped as the one true God, and the saviour of mankind; and the slain lamb begins to open the scroll; which is a symbol of his divine authority to guide history to its divine conclusion.
Section 3 the three cycles of seven: 6:1-20:15
We are now given another series of symbols; the seven seals, the seven trumpets and seven bowls. And each cycle declares God’s kingdom and justice coming here on earth as it is in heaven.
Now some think of this as a literal sequence of events; either past, present or future BUT Notice: John depicts that the bowls are contained within the 7the trumpet, trumpets within 7th seal. Each 7th is encompassed within the previous seven. Each set concludes with final judgment and they all have matching conclusions.
It is more likely that John is using each set of seven as the same period of between Jesus’ resurrection & return from three perspectives.
The Seven Seals:
The slain lamb opens the first four seals and we see four horsemen; from Zechariah 1 and they symbolise times of war, conquest, famine, and death; in other words an average day in human history
Seal 5 depicts the murdered Christian martyrs before God’s heavenly throne. Their cry goes up to God like smoke from the altar; and God tells them to rest; because more Christians are yet to die, we are not told why but we are told that this won’t last forever.
At seal 6 we see the great day of the Lord described in Isaiah 2 and Joel 2, and all the people cry out; who is able to stand; and John gives us an intermission to answer the question; we see an angel with a signet ring coming to mark God’s people with a seal of God’s protection to God’s servants who are enduring all this hardship.
Here are the number 144000 it is a military census as like in numbers 12thousand from each tribe.
But pay attention: this army is what John heard just like he heard the lion from the tribe in the beginning but again now what he sees; the slain lamb’s army of people from many nations.
This army is called to conquer in his name not by killing their enemies, but by suffering and bearing witness to the lamb.
After this the seventh seal is broken. Which shows the cry of the martyrs which is symbolised by the fire incense again taken from the altar that is thrown to the earth which brings the day of the Lord to its completion.
The seven trumpets:
Now John backs up and retells the story from the perspective from the exodus story.
We see the plagues that are unleashed from the exodus story now unleashed; however, the 6th trumpet we see the four horsemen released from the first four seals..
John is telling us that despite all these plagues the people and the nations did not repents. Just as Pharaoh didn’t in the Exodus story.
The message is clear judgement alone will not bring repentance. Then john pauses again with another intermission; and angel brings the unsealed scroll that was opened by the lamb, and just like Ezekiel john is told to eat the scroll and proclaim it to the nations.
The scrolls content is spelled out in two symbolic visions:
The first is the temple and John is told to measure the inner court; which is an image of protection from Zechariah 2. But then the out courts and the city are excluded and they are allowed to be tramped by the nations.
Again some take this to be literal; to mean the city of Jerusalem and this has happened in the past or will happen in the future.
More likely John is following the tradition of Jesus and all of the Apostles who all used the temple as a symbol for God’s covenant people.
This would mean that God’s people will suffer persecution by the nations; but this external defeat cannot take away God’s protection by the lamb.
This idea gets expanded in John’s second vision here, where we see two witnesses; they are prophetic representatives to the nations.
Once again some people think this is talking about two prophets who will come one day in the future. But John calls them lampstands which is one of his clear symbols for the churches. This vision is more likely about the prophetic role of Jesus’ followers. Who will take up the mantle of moses and Elijah and call idolatrous nations and rulers to turn back to the one true God.
But then a horrible beast appears (Daniel 7) and the beast kills the two witnesses.
But then God brings the witnesses to life and vindicates their message and the end result is that many nations repent.
Now stop and think about what has been communicated so far…
God’s warning Judgments through the seals and trumpets did not generate repentance; they only hardens people's heart; just like pharaoh's heart.
But the lamb conquered his enemies but loving them and dying for them and now the message of the Lambs scroll reveals the method of His army the church; God’s kingdom will be revealed when people see the church imitating loving sacrifice of the lamb, not killing their enemies but dying for them.
God’s mercy shown through Jesus’ followers will bring repentance to the nations.
This surprising claim of the message of the scroll is placed at the centre of the entire book. The last trumpet sound and the nations are shaken as God’s kingdom comes on earth.
So now we know How the church will bear witness to the nations. But who was the beast and how will the whole story turn out? This is revealed to us in the second half of the book of revelation.
We are half way!
Now after the trumpets John stops and gives a series of visions that he calls signs. The word literally means symbols and these chapters are full of them. These visions explore the message of the open scroll in greater depth.
The Cosmic Battle
The first one represents the cosmic spiritual battle that lay behind the suffering churches under Roman persecution.
It is manifestation of the conflict that started in Genesis 3. The serpent who representthe source of all evil is depicted here as a dragon.
The dragon attacks a woman and her seed which represent the Messiah and His people, then the messiah defeats the dragon through his death and resurrection and the dragon is cast to earth.
There the dragon inspires hatred and persecution of the messiah’s people. But they will conquer the dragon by resisting his influence, even if that means it kills them.
John is trying to show the churches that Rome nor any other nation is the real enemy. The real enemy is the dark spiritual powers at work. And Jesus’ followers announce Jesus’ victory by remaining faithful and loving their enemies just like their slain master.
Johns next vision tells the story of the same conflict; but this time it is in the pictures of Daniel’s animal visions.
The Earthly Battle
We see two beasts empowered by the dragon. One of them represents military power that conquers through violence. The other represents economic and propaganda power that exalts this power as divine.
These beasts demand full allegiance from the nations. And this is symbolised by taking the mark of the beast the beast's number 666 on the forehead or hand.
Now this is an infamous image and you won’t uncover its meaning by reading news headlines.
John is making a clear Hebrew Old Testament reference here.
First of all this mark is the anti-shema the writing on the hand and forehead is a clear reference to the shema - an ancient Jewish prayer of allegiance to God found in the book of deuteronomy. It was also written on the hand or forehead and was a declaration that you were devoting all your thoughts and actions to the one true God.
Now the rebellious nations demand their own allegiance and they force everyone to decide who they will follow.
Now there is the number of the beast. And this has fascinated readers for years. He spoke Hebrew and Greek. Now Hebrew letters are also numbers. If you count Nero Caesar and Beast in the Hebrew letters each amount to 666.
John isn’t saying that Nero is the only fulfilment of this vision; Nero is just a pattern that was set out by Daniel that the nations inevitably become beasts when the exalt their own power and economic status as a false god and demand total aligiance.
So Babylon was the beast in Daniel’s day, but that was followed by Persia, Greece and now Rome in John’s day.
And so it goes for any nation that acts in the same way.
Standing in opposition to the beastly kings and dragons is the slain lamb. He is with His army who have given their lives to follow Him and from the new Jerusalem their song of victory goes out to the nations; John calls this the eternal gospel, and they call everyone to repent and worship God and to come out of Babylon because it will fall; its days are numbered.
Then John sees a vision of final judgment symbolised by two harvests; one is a good harvest of grain. As King Jesus comes to gather up His faithful people to Himself. Then there is a harvest of wine grapes; and this represents humanities intoxication with evil and they are taken to the winepress and trampled.
Now throughout all these vision he is placing a stark choice before the churches; will they resist the lure of Babylon and follow the lamb or will they follow the beast and suffer its defeat?
Now to make the choice is more clear John brings about his vision of seven bowls.
What we must see from the scroll vision and the signs vision we see that at the end many do repent.
Now again we see God pour out the exodus plagues again and people do not repent the resist God just like pharaoh.
So all this leads up to the 6th bowl where the dragon and the beast gather the nations together to make war against God’s people at a place called Armegeddon. This refers to a plain in northern Israel where many battles were fought by Israel against invading nations.
Some people think that this sixth bowl represents an actual future battle. Others think it is a metaphor of God’s final justice on Evil. Either way John has clearly taken images from the book of Ezekiel about God’s battle with gog.
Gog is Ezekiel’s symbol of the rebellious nations gathered before God to face His justice. And that comes in the 7th bowl. This is now the fourth and final depiction of the Day of the Lord when evil is defeated among the nations once and for all.
Now, John has unpacked the message of the Lambs scroll. So now he goes back to unpack three themes He introduced earlier; the fall of Babylon, the final battle against evil and the arrival of the New Jerusalem.
And each one of these explores the final coming of God’s kingdom from a different angle.
The Fall of Babylon
An angel shows John a stunning woman who is dressed like a queen but she is drunk on the blood of the martyrs and the innocent. She is riding the dragon beast from the sign vision which is a symbol of the rebellious nations.
And she is called Babylon the prostitute. Now detailed symbols of these vision would have been very clear to John’s first readers; he has personified the military and economic power of the Roman Empire. But he is also doing more; in this vision has blended together words and images from every single Old Testament passage about the downfall of ancient Babylon to Tyre and Edom.
John is showing that Rome is simply the newest version of the archetype of humanity's Rebellion against God. they come together in nations to exalt their own economic and military might into a false god.
This is not something limited to the past or the future; it is the condition of man throughout history. And Babylons will come and go up to the day that Jesus comes to replace Babylon with His kingdom.
How will Jesus’ kingdom come?
The Final Battle:
Up to now the Day of the Lord has been depicted as a day of fire, or earthquake, or harvest and now it is depicted as a final battle and it is told twice; and results in the vindication of the Martyrs.
Now John takes us back to the 6th bowl where the nations have gathered to oppose God. and now Jesus appears; he is the great hero, the Word of God and he arrives riding on a white horse and he is ready to conquer the world's evil. But pay attention; he is covered with blood before the battle even begins because it is his own, and His only weapon is his mouth. This is an image adapted from Isaiah.
John is telling us armageddon will not be a bloodbath, rather the same Jesus who died for His enemies now comes declaring justice.
He will hold accountable those who refuse to repent from the way that they have participated in the ruin of God’s good world. And the destructive hellfire that they have unleashed on God’s good world justly becomes their own God appointed destiny.
Next John sees a vision of Jesus’ followers. Who have been murdered by Babylon and they are back to life and now reign with the Messiah for 1000 years.
Then after this the dragon who inspired humanities rebellion against God rallies the nations together to rebel against God’s kingdom. But before God’s throne they all face the justice of eternal defeat.
And so the forces of evil and everyone who does not want to participate in God’s kingdom are destroyed and are given what they want: to exist by themselves and for themselves.
And so the Dragon and all of Babylon are quarantined so that they can never again corrupts God’s new creation.
Now there is a lot of debate about the relationship between the 1000 years to these two battles. There are some who think this is a literal chronological sequence:
Jesus’ return - 1000 year kingdom - followed by God’s final judgment.
Others think that the 1000 years are a symbol of Jesus’ and the Martyrs spiritual victory over the forces of evil and the two battle depict the return of Jesus from two different angles.
The main point is clear when Jesus returns as king he will deal with evil forever and he will vindicate those who have followed him.
Now John concludes with the final image:
The Marriage of Heaven and Earth 21:1-22;21
The angel shows John a stunning bride who that symbolised the new creation that has come forever to join God and his covenant people.
God announces that he is coming to dwell with humanity forever and that he is making all things new.
John’s vision here is a kaleidoscope of OT promises he speaks of it as a New Heavens and Earth (Isaiah).
It is called a new garden of Eden (the paradise of God) it is not simply a return back to the garden it is step forward into a New Nerusalem where human cultures all their diversity work together in peace and harmony before God.
And in the most surprising twist of all there is no temple in the new creation because the presence of God and the Lamb permeate every aspect of the new world. And there is a new humanity there drawing us back to page one of the bible; who will now rule on the earth as God’s image; to partner together with God in taking this creation into new and uncharted territory.
And this is end John’s Apocalypse and also the story of the entire Bible. John did not wright this book as a secret code for you decode the secret timetable of Jesus’ return. It is a symbolic vision that brought hope and challenge to the 7 first century churches and to us today.
Revelation reveals history’s pattern and God’s promise. That every human kingdom eventually becomes Babylon and must be resisted in the power of the slain lamb. But the promise; Jesus who loved and died for this world will not let Babylon go unchecked he will return one day to remove evil from his world and make all things new.
And that should motivate faithfulness.
And that is the entire message of Revelation.