Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 01 (“Preface, Greetings and Doxology”)
[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 06 May 2018)]
We live in an age where the majority of Christians learn their doctrine from Christian novels and from American popular culture. This is a sad situation because Christians are supposed to learn their doctrine from the pages of Holy Scripture. One such a doctrine, is the doctrine of “The Antichrist.”
Lots and lots of confusion and differences between Christians are about the interpretation of the “signs of the end,” “the millennial age,” etc. (Afrikaans: “die duisendjarige vrederyk”).
Many people don’t want to read the book of Revelation because it’s too complicated according to them and cannot be interpreted. Yet those who study it with care, agree that it is a unique source of Christian teaching and a book of timeless relevance. It may well be that, with the exception of the Gospels, the book of Revelation contains the most profound and moving teaching on Christian doctrine and discipleship found anywhere in Holy Scripture.
Nothing should discourage us from pursuing Christian truth in this marvellous book with the title, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” – please note, that it is not “Revelations” (plural), but “Revelation” (singular), because the whole book contains only one revelation by Christ, given to John either between A.D. 54-68, or the alternate and more generally accepted date of between A.D. 81-96.
When we study the book of Revelation, we must always read the prophecy together or in tandem with the Old Testament prophetic books, as well as Jesus’ eschatological announcements in the Gospels (Afrikaans: “Jesus se uitsprake oor die ‘eind dinge – dood, oordeel and ewige bestemmin”).
There are basically four models to use as reference and exposition (Afrikaans: “Bybel verklaring of -uitleg”):
Dispensationalism: Dispensationalists (also called Pre-millennialism) argue for a literal interpretation of all prophetic portions of Scripture. This means that all of the Covenantal promises made to David and Abraham in the Old Testament are to be fulfilled literally in a future millennial age (Afrikaans: “duisendjarige tydperk – of vrederyk”). Israel will regain the land God promised by a prophecy which they believe was fulfilled when the modern nation of Israel was born in 1948. The literal fulfilment of these two covenants (the Abrahamic and the Davidic) figures prominently in their system.
Dispensationalists also insist that God’s redemptive plan focuses on national Israel, with provision made for Gentiles during the “Church age.” The “Church age” is the period between Jesus’ offer of a Messianic Kingdom to Israel (which was fulfilled in 1948) and the beginning of the great tribulation, which commences with the rapture (Afrikaans: “wegraping”), when the Gentile Church is removed from the earth – this is the next great prophetic happening that will occur any time now. The rapture occurs when Jesus Christ secretly returns to earth at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period (the so-called “seventieth week of Daniel,” which the Dispensationalists do not see as a fulfilled Messianic prophecy but as a future event – Dan.9:24-27). We are now, according to them, in the so called “Church age” or “age of grace,” where God is dealing with Gentiles. Then the “tribulation period” starts with the secret rapture. After the tribulation, Christ returns again. The millennium then starts and the kingdom of God is fully manifested on earth. Glorified believers will rule with Christ during His reign over all the nations.
After the Millennium, eternity will commence.
[Proponents of Dispensationalism are J.N. Darby (“The Scofield Bible”), John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie (Ryrie Study Bible), Hal Lindsay (“The Late Planet Earth”), Tim LaHaye (“Left Behind- series”), Jerry B. Jenkins (sold 50 million products), John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, Norman Geisler, Charles Feinberg, Dave Hunt, Jack van Impe, John Haage, the Charismatic Churches, as well as the Apostolic, and Pentecostal Churches, John MacArthur, etc. There are also two sub-forms of Dispensationalism, or Pre-Millennialism, namely, Progressive Dispensationalism and Historic Premillennialism, but I don’t think that it is important enough to look at these sub-groups at this stage].
Postmillennialism: Although there are different varieties of Postmillennialism, they all affirm that the millennium is a period of universal peace and righteousness yet to come – right now we are however, in the Church age. They teach that the millennium will be a glorious age, foretold by the Old Testament prophets and has five essential characteristics:
o During the millennium, Christianity will experience a tremendous expansion, not only in numerical growth and missionary success but also in terms of spiritual vitality (Afrikaans: “lewenskragtgheid”).
o During the millennium, Christian influence will spawn increasing peace and economic well-being all over the world.
o Large numbers of ethnic Jews will come to faith in Jesus Christ.
o At the end of the millennium age, a short period of apostasy will occur (Afrikaans: “geestelike afvalligheid”).
o Then Christ will return, followed by the resurrection and the final judgement.
(Theologians in this camp include men like Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and B.B. Warfield, R.J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, Gary North, Marcellus Kik, Gary DeMarr and Kenneth Gentry).
o Amillennialism: The majority of Reformed and Lutheran theologians hold to the Amillennialism. Amillennialists hold that the promises made to Israel, David, and Abraham in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Jesus Christ and His Church during this present age. The millennium is the period of time between the two advents of our Lord with the thousand years of Rev.20 being symbolic of the entire “interadvental age” (between Christ’s first and final, or second coming). After the second advent, Christ will return, followed by the resurrection and the final judgement.
(Theologians in this camp include men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Abraham Kuiper, Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Anthony Hoekema, Cornelis Venema, Meredith G. Kline, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Ian Murray, Don Carson, John Piper, and many other).
My personal viewpoint went through a sort of “transitional period,” but I am convinced that the only explainable and acceptable viewpoint, must be the “Historical viewpoint” (A-Millennialist) and that then will be our point of departure when looking at the book of Revelation.
2. THE STRUCTURE OF REVELATION:
Revelation is unique in its use of the Old Testament. While it does not contain a single direct quotation, there are more than 400 verses where John refers in one way or another to the old Testament Scripture.
John (the author of Revelation) refers frequently to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and also repeatedly to Exodus, Deuteronomy and the Psalms.
The main contents of Revelation is arranged around four key visions and this is mainly the structure that we will use in working through Revelation:
o The vision of the Son of man among the seven Churches (chs.1-3).
o The vision of the seven-sealed scrolls, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls (chs.4:1-19:10).
o The vision of the return of Christ and the consummation of this age (chs.19:11-20:15).
o The vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth (chs. 21 and 22).
3. MAP OF ASIA AND THE SEVEN CHURCHES:
4. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.1:1-8 (ESV) ~ “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
5. THE PREFACE TO THE REVELATION (1:1-3):
The first three chapters of Revelation form a unit and are comparatively easy to understand. They are the most familiar part of the book and contain an introduction to the whole book (1:1-8); the first vision: “the Son of Man among the seven lampstands” (1:9-20); and the letters or messages to the seven churches in Asia (2:1-3:22).
The first eight verses introduce the whole book. They are freighted with theological content and detail. After a brief preface (vss.1-3), John addresses the book to seven Churches of Asia in an expanded ancient letter form (vss.4-8).
In the preface we find a description of the divine source of the book (“a revelation of Jesus Christ”), a reference to the author (“John”) and a statement that the book was meant for public congregational reading (“Blessed is the one who reads”).
The word translated “revelation” is crucial. It means “unveiling,” or “disclosure of what was formerly hidden or secret.” This unveiling may refer to some present or future aspect of God’s will (Luke 2:32; Rom.16:25; Eph.3:5) to persons (Rom.8:19), or especially to the future unveiling of Jesus Christ at His return in glory (2 Thes.1:7; 1 Pet.1:7, 13). This single occurrence of the word “revelation” refers to the revelation from Jesus of “what must soon take place.” Christ conveyed this revelation to John, through an angel and John must be the final conveyer of the message to the intended recipients.
The words in vs.1 ~ “…the things that must soon take place” implies that the revelation concerns events that are future (Dan.2:28-29, 45; Mark 13:7; Rev.4:1; 22:6). But in what sense are we to understand that these events will take place “soon”? From a Postmillennial point of view, “soon” means in John’s day. Others translate “soon” as “quickly” and understand the author to describe events that will rapidly run their course once they begin (Afrikaans: “Wanneer gebeure begin sal dit vinnig sy gang gaan”). However, it is better to understand the word “soon” in the light of the words “the time is near.”
We read in vs.2 about the “Word of God.” By using this expression, John refers to and expands on the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament as well as the apostles of the New Testament. In Rev.19:13, Jesus calls Himself “the Word of God.” The Book of Revelation is therefore the very Word of God to us.
The expression, “…one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy” in vs.3, reflects the early form of worship in which a person reads the Scriptures aloud on the Lord’s Day.
Vs.3 ~ “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” The benediction part, “blessed” (Greek: “makarios”) in the preface (Afrikaans: “voorwoord”) pronounced on the reader and on the congregation, emphasizes the importance of the message that they will hear – not only John the prophet’s words, but actually the inspired Word of Christ.
One last and important thing that we must keep in mind, is the fact that a prophecy, like the Book of Revelation, involves not only future events, but also ethical and spiritual instructions and warnings for today.
6. GREETINGS AND DOXOLOGY (1:4-8):
In vss.4-8, John addresses the recipients of his book ~ “…to the seven churches that are in Asia.” These seven churches actually existed in the Roman province of Asia. And almost immediately he introduces an expanded form of the Christian Trinitarian greeting that turns into a doxology (Afrikaans: “lofrede”) to Christ (vvs.5b-6) and is followed by a staccato exclamation calling attention to the return of Christ to the world (vs.7).
The Father (vs.4): John started off in this greetings and doxology part by referring to God the Father in a unique way which is only to be found here in Revelation ~ “…who is and who was and who is to come.” Each name of God in the Bible has revelatory significance (Afrikaans: “openbarings betekenis – om Sy karkater en identiteit te beskryf”). It is generally understood to be a better phrase of the Divine, the name presented in the Old Testament by the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH ~ “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex.3:14).
The Holy Spirit (vs.4): Secondly, John mentions the Holy Spirit, by referring to Him as “the seven spirits before His throne.” But why “seven spirits”? Some understand John to mean the “sevenfold spirit,” i.e. the Holy Spirit in His fullness. Borrowing from the imagery of Zach.4, where the ancient prophet sees a lampstand with seven bowls supplied with oil from two nearby olive trees, John seems to connect the Church (“lampstands,” vs.20) with the ministry of the Holy Spirit (3:1; 4:5; 5:6). The “seven spirits” represent the activity of the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit in and to the seven Churches. This image brings great encouragement to the Churches, for they serve God ~ “…not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord almighty” (Zech.4:6).
The Son (vs.4b): Finally, greetings come from the Son – from “Jesus Christ.” John immediately adds three descriptive epithets (Afrikaans: “beskrywende bynaam”) to Jesus. He is first the “faithful witness.” His credibility was proved in the past by His earthly life of obedience; it is proved in the present by His witness to the true condition of the Churches; and it will be proved in the future by the consummation of all things in Him (Afrikaans: “Tydens Jesus se aardse lewe is Sy betroubaarheid bevestig; dit word bewys deur Sy getuienis aan die Kerk en dit sal in die toekoms bevestig word wanneer alles tot voleinding kom.”). Christ’s being a reliable witness to God’s Kingdom and salvation (Joh.7:7; 18:37; 1 Tim.6:13) – even to the point of suffering death at the hands of the religious political establishment of His day – is an encouragement to His servants who also are expected to be loyal to Him, “even to their death” (2:10, 13).
The fact that He is “the firstborn from the dead” brings further encouragement. As Christ has given His life in faithfulness to the Father’s calling, so the Father has raised Christ from the dead, pledging Him as the first of a great company who will follow (7:13-14). Nowhere else does John refer to Christ as the “firstborn.” Firstborn does not mean that Christ was the first-created being but rather that He is the Source, Ruler, or Origin of all creation. Christ’s being the “firstborn” of the dead thus signifies not merely that He was the first in time to be raised from the dead but also that He is first in importance, having supreme authority over the dead (1:18) (Afrikaans: “Eersgeborene, dui op Christus se gesag, Sy oorsprong en Sy heerskappy, asook dat Hy die belangrikste van alle wesesns is, omdat Hy gesag oor die dood het”).
Christ’s rulership of the world is a key theme of Revelation (11:15; 17:15; 19:16), therefore John calls Christ “the ruler of the Kings of the Earth.” Jesus Christ is indeed the Supreme Ruler. But who are “the kings of the earth” over whom Jesus Christ rules? John could mean the earthly rulers of his day, such as Emperor Nero. Another possibility is that Jesus rules over the defeated foes of the believers, e.g., Satan, the Dragon, sin, and death (1:18). The third approach sees the believers as the kings of the earth (2:26-27; 3:21). All three ideas are possible, so it is difficult to decide which was uppermost in John’s mind.
Doxology to the Son (vss.5-6): The mention of the person and offices of Christ leads John to a burst of praise to the Saviour: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (vss.5-6). In the present, Christ loves us. Through all the immediate distresses, persecutions, and even banishment, John is convinced that believers are experiencing Christ’s continual care. Moreover, in the past Christ’s love was unmistakably revealed in His atoning death, but which He purchased our release from the captivity of sin, Christ’s Kingly power is chiefly revealed in His ability to transform individual lives through His “blood” (i.e. His death; 5:9; 7:14). Through His death on the cross, He defeated the devil, and those who follow Christ in the battle against the devil share this victory. “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:11).
The Return of Christ (vs.7): What Christ will do in the future is summed up in the dramatic cry in vs.7 ~ “Behold (or “look”), He is coming.” This is a clear reference to the return of Christ (22:7, 12, 20). The reason why the Lord shared this with John was to encourage the believers, because the believers were most probably suffering and were persecuted by the world, this is why the believers, in response to Christ’s promise in Rev.22:20 that He is coming soon, cried out… ~ “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
Christ’s second coming (the 2nd advent) will be supernatural (“with clouds”) and it will be open and known to all (“every eye”), even to those who ~ “pierced Him” (i.e. those who were responsible for His death).
The Father’s Guarantee (vs.8): God Himself speaks now in vs.8 and, with His own signature, vouches for the truth of the coming of Christ. Four of the many Names of God that reveal His character and His deeds are given in this verse, “Alpha and the Omega,” “the Lord God,” “who is and who was and who is to come,” “the Almighty.” Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; the meaning here is similar to “the First and the Last” in vs.17 and “the Beginning and the End” in 21:6 and 22:13. God is the absolute source of all creation and history. Nothing lies outside of Him. Therefore, He is “the Lord God” of all that is continually present to His people as “the Almighty” (4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22; 2 Cor.6:18).
7. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
We must realise that it is important to all of us to the Book of Revelation, because it is part of God’s Word and therefore important to have the right approach i order to understand it correctly.
Revelation is furthermore crucial, because it unveils future events