Thoughts about studying the book of Revelation are often accompanied by feelings of fear and trepidation. Many immediately think of how they have seen the text abused by sensationalistic preachers who purport to be able to identify every symbol and image with a current event, place, or person.
I was converted to faith in Christ in 1989 and spent the early 90’s as a baby Christian. My first sermonic introduction to the book of Revelation involved being told that the locusts were symbols of U.S.S.R. helicopters, Mikhail Gorbachev was the antichrist, and super market scanners were going to secretly give us the mark of the beast.
I remember reading Revelation and failing to see any of those things in the book but I figured the problem must have been with my limited understanding. But I also noticed that there were others Christians who totally rejected the notion Revelation was about helicopters, Gorbachev, and supermarket scanners, but they offered no constructive explanations of what the symbols meant. Their approach to the sensationalism was to denounce it and then proceed to ignore the book of Revelation altogether.
Neither of those pathways is the least bit helpful. The book of Revelation is meant to vividly appeal to the reader or hearer’s imagination but one’s imagination is to be constrained by what the text actually says and means. Simply ignoring the book is also tragic, especially in light of the books own promise: “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” (Rev 1:3). Below are some quick thoughts on preaching Revelation.
Revelation Helps Clarify Jesus and his Kingdom—Not Confuse
The point of the book is to reveal, not hide or obscure. The message of Revelation makes Jesus and his kingdom more clear here-and-now. The book has a down-to-earth, this-worldly focus to help suffering believers persevere. It helps to see the triune God’s control over the future through the eschatological triumph of Christ to remind readers and hearer’s that things are not only as they seem in the present. The first words of the book provide the promise that the book contains, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Greek word apokalypsis (“revelation”) means something unveiled, revealed, or made known. In the New testament, it also carries the idea of supernatural revelation of divine truths incapable of being discovered by men on their own. Revelation unveils with more clarity and greater specificity the glorious triumph of the Lamb, our Lord, Savior, and King—Jesus Christ.
Revelation’s Purpose is Practical—Not Speculative
I have had people tell me that they do not study the book of Revelation because they focus on more practical parts of the Bible. They leave the book of Revelation to the scholars. We would do well to remember that the book of Revelation is addressed to seven actual churches in Asia Minor (1:11), and written to be read aloud in those churches. The believers in the seven churches of Asia Minor were facing great difficulty and persecution. John received his vision that he recorded while banished to the Isle of Patmos as a political prisoner for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. It appeared that the small churches in Asia minor would soon be swept away by Roman power under the tyrannical and cruel reign of Domitian. John makes it clear that any believer may hear and profit from it (Rev. 1:3). John did not send this book to the churches in order to satisfy their speculative curiosity about the future , but to encourage them while going through intense persecution. As they heard and embraced Revelation, its message, would give all of them hope.
Revelation is the Bible’s Story—Not Alarmist Entertainment
The book of Revelation presents itself as the culmination of the biblical story and the climax of prophetic revelation. There are Old Testament references and allusions in almost every single verse of the book of Revelation. We are not meant to read Revelation apart from understanding its Old Testament connectedness. To understand the amazing imagery in the book of Revelation we are not left to our own mental ingenuity, we must be familiar with the rich imagery throughout biblical prophetic literature. The unity of the book of Revelation with the biblical narrative is also seen in the fact that the conclusion of Revelation echoes the imagery and language of the very beginning of the Bible, but now in light of Christ’s consummation of the kingdom (Gen 1-2, Rev 21-22). Put simply, Revelation does not tell us a weird fantasy story to entertain, it tells us the Bible’s story to strengthen and empower us.
Revelation is Christ-Intoxicated—Not Headline-Intoxicated
The message of the book of Revelation is the movement from gruesome warfare to victory in Jesus Christ. Revelation is permeated by multi-ethnic worship that ultimately centers on the victory of the Lamb who was slain, risen, and now reigns forevermore. He is the one, and the only one, in the throne room who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals (Rev 4:1-6:17). Likewise, he is the one who sets up his kingdom and opens the scrolls of judgment (Rev 19:11-20:15). His enemies will be defeated and destroyed, as martyrs will be vindicated, and he will inaugurate a consummated Kingdom, a new heavens and new earth (Rev 5:9-10, 12, 13, 7:10-12, 11:15-18, 15:3-4, 16:5-7, 19:1-7). Revelation is centered with the promise: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). Revelation weans us off of the lie that what we see around us is all there is to see as if the daily headlines define reality. If we get drunk on the headlines we will be spiritually sluggish and impaired. We must be intoxicated with Christ and his kingdom in the here-and-now, while always longing, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:21).