Because the book of Revelation has become a playground of interpretations, we in the church tend to avoid studying it, seeing it a book we can’s understand. Revelation 1:1 clearly states that it is a book written in signs and imagery, but to really understand Revelation, we have to look at the book through First Century eyes. Avoiding getting bogged down in details can help us see the big picture. It is a book meant to be read and understood by Christians.
Revelation is the final chapter to everything preceding it. It contains over four hundred allusions to the Old Testament. The term overcome appears twenty-four times in the book, describing an overcoming or prevailing over death and the trials of this world. It is written in a time when Emperor worship supersedes all in Roman government. It is a time of conflict and persecution for Christians, so God delivers a message of prevailing over death. John 16:33, Roman 3:4, Romans 12:22 – all these verses contain the idea of prevailing in God.
The number seven is used repeatedly in Revelation, a number that, like ten and one thousand, denotes spiritual completeness. It is a perfect number of completeness in semitic culture, and Jesus uses it this way in Matthew 18 when discussing forgiveness. It is a combination of the divine number three and the four corners of the world – all of Creation and the Creator.
Seven Messages of Hope
William Hendrickson suggests there are seven cycles in Revelation telling the same basic story, a progressive parallelism that begins after the introduction of chapter one.
- Revelation 2-3: The Seven Churches. In the letters to the seven churches, Christ assures these congregations that He knows them personally. He knows what they are going through. he knows their cares, and He calls upon them to stay faithful. If they overcome, they will receive eternal rewards of life with God.
- Revelation 4-7: The Seven Seals. The second cycle, beginning in chapter 5, describes a scroll sealed with seven seals. It is perfectly closed to prying eyes. This sealed scroll is in God’s right hand, and none are found worthy to open the seal at first until a Lamb appears that appears once killed but now alive. Through the following chapters, the seals are opened with 144,000 along with a countless multitude in white praising God. Chapter 7:14 describe these worshipers as those who have overcome persecution and tribulation. They are awestruck at the outcome of the sealed scroll.
- Revelation 8-11: The Seven Trumpets. The seven trumpets herald warnings. Chapter 11:15 records the final trumpet signaling God’s assumption of His people in His kingdom. No nation can stand against this kingdom, and the temple of God opens revealing the ark of His covenant. Judgment is delivered to those who reject God, and His people are brought to their reward.
- Revelation 12-14: The Enemies of God. Satan is identified as a dragon in Revelation 12:9. The nation of Rome, the act of emperor worship, the enforcing military forces are described as allies of this dragon. As this cycle concludes, the theme of hope returns, promising rest from labors for those remaining steadfast in the Lord’s work.
- Revelation 15-16: The Seven Bowls. These bowls depict God’s wrath with God’s patient warnings giving way to judgment. The theme of hope repeats even among these terrible events. Those clothing themselves with Christ and acts of righteousness escape judgment. Jesus says to watch, remain prepared, and keep our garments of holiness clean.
- Revelation 17-19: The Judgment of Harlot. A key to revelation is identifying the harlot city of Revelation 17. It is described as the great city that rules over the world – directing attention away from Jerusalem and onto Rome. Her expressiveness makes the world rich, but an angel proclaims how great her fall will be. In this fall, God’s saints praise Him for purging the world of this corrupting influence.
- Revelation 20-22: The Final Judgment and Reward. The final cycle depicts the marriage supper of the Lamb and His church, arrayed in the white garments of the righteous acts of her members. Chapter 20:11 describes a great white throne before which none could hide. The Book of Life is opened, and all are judged according to their works. Death is no more, and God’s realm is described as a garden much like Eden, repeating the promise of hope to the faithful.
We may not face the same persecution as those First Century saints, but we still have to remain faithful. We have to keep our robes unblemished of the world, clothed in acts of righteousness. We, like those Christians, look forward to a home with our Father. We see a message of hope and of reconciliation with God through John’s vision that he shares with us in Revelation. We can be washed in the blood of the Lamb. We can know victory in Jesus if we hear the words of our Lord and we overcome the trials of this world.
lesson by Tim Smelser