These are my personal thoughts on Revelation after studying the book chapter by chapter. This is not a commentary or theological argument, but how Revelation has spoken to my mind and my heart.
The Ultimate Love Story
Revelation is the ultimate love story. It is the sum and substance of God’s love for humanity revealed in Jesus. The lover comes in the flesh, so his lover can know him more intimately. He lays down his life for his true love. He comes back to life and goes off to fight battles for his lover. He fights the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. He comes back to rescue his bride who is waiting faithfully. He comes riding on a white horse, he slays the dragon and takes his bride with him to live in a new Eden paradise. The amazing thing is – this is not the plot to some fantasy movie. This is the story of God’s love for me and every word is true.
The book of Revelation is a message to God’s people; to his church specifically. If we claim we are a part of God’s church we must pay attention. If we don’t, we are like a long-distance lover who doesn’t read the love letters written to us across the ocean. Letters containing words of encouragement and promise; letters containing words of warning – warnings of an urgent nature that will keep us safe if we take them to heart. These are words from a faithful lover who only wants the best for us and to be reunited with us again, not only in spirit but face-to-face, when the battle is over.
Revelation begins with specific messages to the seven churches. These messages are relevant for all churches and people who profess to follow Christ. Here are some of the messages that stood out in my mind. Within the church, there will be distortions of the truth. Be on alert, and don’t depart from God’s word. While truth is always important, it must be combined with true love of Christ. Love and truth go together – one cannot survive without the other. Jesus calls us to be faithful in love and truth, even to the point of death. In John’s day, Jews slandered their fellow Jews who followed Christ faithfully. In our day, “Christians” will slander other Christians who follow Christ faithfully. Jesus warns about not making compromises with the world, or with God’s word. Remember your first love for Christ – nurture it and keep it alive. We must keep repenting when we fall. Christ will give us the power, through the Holy Spirit to do good deeds according to his will if our relationship with him is strong. We must hold on to what we have in Jesus – We must not let anyone or anything take him away from our hearts.
Our privilege is to share this love of Jesus with others. We must not pass up the open door of opportunity when it arises, or the door will be shut and opened to someone else. Beware of pride, self-sufficiency and not needing anything. Jesus says of people who feel these things – “you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Only in Christ do we find strength. Christ will refine our characters when we submit to him. The invitation of salvation is for everyone, but God does not force himself in. He is not controlling, or manipulative, or abusive. No wonder the devil has attacked our earthly relationships, our families, and our marriages. Satan desperately wants to distort the true character of God. God simply offers true love, and the freedom to reject it. He knocks on the door and waits patiently for us to open it.
Meanwhile, we are in the middle of a cosmic controversy that is much bigger than we can imagine. There is a spiritual battle raging in the universe about who God is, and if God truly is worthy to be on his throne. Satan has accused God and has accused God’s followers of not being whom or what they say they are. But the root of his rebellion is pride. Satan desires to take God’s place in the universe and in the hearts of humans. However, there’s a small problem. There’s only one who IS love. There’s only one who can create out of nothing. God is the only one worthy to be worshipped – to receive glory, honor and power. Why? Because he is the only one who is the Creator of all things and died for your sins. This is a key concept in the entire Bible and especially in the book of Revelation. Jesus is worthy to receive power, honor and glory. With his death and his shed blood (God’s blood – the Creator’s life blood) he purchased men for God from every tribe, language, people and nation. No other creature in the universe can do this, including Satan, because no one else is God, the Creator.
Revelation pulls back the heavenly curtain and gives us a glimpse of the glorious enthronement of Christ at Pentecost after he ascended to Heaven. Wow! Jesus is now our king and high priest. He forgives us, cleanses us, and gives us the power to follow and obey him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He offers peace the world cannot understand. It is a spiritual peace – that eventually will be an eternal literal peace. But in this world there will continue to be trouble and tribulation. Trouble is almost guaranteed if we follow Christ with our whole hearts. Ready or not, we are in a spiritual war zone. The battle is for our hearts and minds. When we accept the gospel God marks us with a seal – the promised Holy Spirit. The warning to us is this. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit with whom you were marked for the day of redemption.” With this gift – the Holy Spirit – we are ready, through Christ’s atoning blood, for anything that comes our way. Praise God!
Revelation unfolds the pages of earth’s history in cryptic, apocalyptic language, which on the surface seems complicated and difficult to understand. But uncovering the layers of meaning using other references of scripture, important biblical truths begin to emerge. God is the same from Genesis to Revelation. He is the beginning and the end and he does not change, but he meets people where they are. God’s judgment falls on his own people first – when they do not obey his laws. Why? – To bring them to repentance. Because of God’s great love for us, he will do whatever it takes to wake us up and convince us to follow his ways, because he knows his way is the only way to life eternal.
God will always warn us of what is to come. Maybe not in the specific way we would like, but he gives us what we need. Thus in Revelation, seven angels blow seven trumpets. Like trumpets in Old Testament Israel they are a battle cry, a signal from the priest, a reminder that the Lord will save us. They are a warning for us to wake up because the battle is here. Are we on Lord’s side? The cry is given, “Woe to you”, who dwell on the earth (who haven’t been sealed with the Holy Spirit). Woe to you because the devil is filled with rage because his time is short. He knows that Christ is winning, but he wants to get his revenge by taking as many humans down to destruction with him as possible. He is pulling out all the stops – persecution, deceit, torment, and even death. No wonder there’s so much evil in the world. The devil is the master of deceit, a liar from the beginning. He tries to get people to blame God for the bad things that happen in the world. He tries to misrepresent God’s name. But we have a defense. We can and must put on the full armor of God – the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness that comes with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
In Revelation, we learn that we do not and will not know it all. There is a mystery about God that we cannot fully understand. Even John was not allowed to write down all he heard. But we are given enough. We have what we need to believe and be saved. God’s people are those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Here again is love of Christ and truth combined. They always go together. Jesus, through his angel, gave John a peek at the future in symbolic language. We must take a peek at history to understand how the symbols have found meaning in the unfolding of history. The dragon was enraged and made war against the woman. The church (the woman) suffered great persecution for many years after the fall of Rome and the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire. Followers of Christ who held on to the teachings of the Bible as their final authority had to flee into wilderness hideouts or be persecuted, often to death. Many protestant reformers – Luther, Calvin, Huss, and Wesley – saw in the papal system the sea beast of Revelation. (Interestingly enough, there were not many different interpretations of who the sea beast was at that time, as there are now). These reformers were persecuted for teaching the Bible was the final authority and not the church. Tyndale who worked diligently to translate the Bible into the common language was burned at the stake for his efforts to get the Word of God into more people’s hands. All this persecution was done in the name of religion – in the name of God. It is worth reading up on the middle ages. It helps make the sea beast of Revelation make sense. However, the Roman papal system was not the only guilty party. Some reformers also began to persecute those that did not adhere to their beliefs which they believed were sanctioned by God. Herein lies the root of the problem. When we as a church, a system, try to become God and be the judge of others – we are in deep trouble. We can share what we believe to be true, but can take a stand. But we must not be a part of any church, system or movement that judges and persecutes others in the name of God (sometimes to the point of death) because their beliefs differ from ours. That is God’s job and his alone.
Revelation speaks of the blasphemous nature of the sea beast and the prostitute and how they attack the saints. Daniel speaks of the little horn power that is blasphemous and matches the description of the sea beast in many ways. The seven messages to the churches warn of allowing compromise into the church. Again a look at history gives more meaning to these descriptions. Very early on, the Christian church allowed pagan practices to mix with religious ones to make the change from paganism to Christianity more easy and inviting. Many un-biblical doctrines were introduced by the papal system throughout the middle ages. The reformers abandoned some of these un-biblical beliefs and practices but held on to many. We must test our traditions and be sure they have not replaced God’s laws or contradicted God’s word.
Those whose names are written in the book of life will not worship the beast, the image of the beast, or receive his mark. Many will be purified, made spotless, and refined – in heart and deed. I don’t want to worship the beast. I want to follow the Lamb, wherever he goes. Refine my heart oh Lord and show me the path to walk on. This is my prayer. Those destined for captivity will go to captivity, but praise God, we are destined for freedom. Jesus came to free the captives, to release the oppressed. The apostle Paul urges, “Don’t let anyone take you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition…” (Col. 2:8).
I don’t think we know yet what the image of the beast is or will be. We don’t know exactly how the mark of the beast will be forced on people. But to be like the sea beast it will be a political/religious power that claims to have the authority of God – to speak for God. It will look good. It will have a religious face. It may be “Christian” in appearance – but will not hold firm to biblical teaching. We must know our Bibles for ourselves. We must continue to study diligently. With God’s Holy Spirit guiding us we do not need to be afraid. But we must be willing to follow Him and his truth wherever it leads. This takes courage and putting on the whole armor of God.
In Revelation 14 God sends his angels with a message to the earth. This is a message for you and me. It is also a message to share with those who do not know God. “Fear God and give him glory. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Incredibly the language echoes loudly words in the Sabbath commandment. The question is; who has the final authority in our lives? God or human tradition? Then the angel says, “Babylon is fallen”. Man’s way doesn’t work. Follow the Creator – not the created. Don’t worship the beast or his image, or receive his mark. There will be no rest for the wicked; God’s judgments will fall. Have patient endurance. Obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Here it is again – love and obedience together. This is why Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Two things are for certain in Revelation. First, God’s wrath will come – in full. Secondly, God will deliver his people. But one thing God leaves up to us. Which side will we be on? Who will we follow? – The Creator or the created, God or man, God or Satan, God or the beast. We are in the middle of a spiritual battle for our hearts and minds. Jesus has already overcome Satan at the cross. He is faithful and true. He will overcome fully at the end of time when he will do away with sin forever. But he will leave our free will intact. Are we willing to follow the Lamb wherever he leads? They say pride goes before a fall. The pride of Babylon, the great prostitute certainly leads to her fall. Let us put aside all pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, conceit, selfish desires, greed, comforts that make us feel artificially secure, and lay them at Jesus feet. He will wash all our sins away when we confess and give them to him. Then we can come out of Babylon and not receive of her plagues. Let us also give our cowardly natures to him. We are weak but in Him we are strong.
Revelation does not leave us in the turmoil of beasts and deception. The wedding motif describes again God’s abundant love for his people. “Rejoice for the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). The wedding metaphor is so beautiful for expressing God’s relationship and love for us. Jesus left his father’s house in heaven to come to his bride’s house on the earth to become betrothed to her. (In the Hebrew tradition, the couple was now considered husband and wife – even though the wedding had not taken place yet). Jesus paid the bride price (the dowry) with his blood on the cross. He went back to heaven to prepare a home for his bride and promised her he would come soon to get her. Meanwhile, his bride (that’s us – the church) prepares herself for his coming by putting on the wedding garment he has lovingly given her. The fine linen, bright and clean are the righteous acts of the saints. Not by her own will or power does she do these, but only through the gift her groom has given her. When all is ready the bridegroom will come in glory to take his bride to the wedding feast – that great celebration in heaven. I am his bride. You are his bride. After the feast, he will create a new home for us – a new heaven and earth where we will live happily, forever. The amazing thing is, this is not a fairy tale. He is faithful and true and what he says will happen. All we must do is believe and submit. Trust and obey.
The Bible summoned up in Revelation is the greatest love story ever told. The plot is complete with villains, deceit, unfaithfulness, repentance, redemption, great sorrow, great joy, bloody battles, tragedies and victories. The players are real – some are easy to recognize, others disguise themselves, hiding behind masks in a twisting, hair-raising plot. But the hero prevails and unmasks everyone in the end. No one is exempt. Everyone’s hearts are exposed. The hero of the story is Jesus – the Creator God – who humbled himself and became flesh because he loves us more than words can describe. He defeated the villain once and for all on the cross. But he did not stop fighting for us. Now he fights for our hearts – our full surrender to his love. He won’t force us, or manipulate us, or deceive us. He loves us so much he would let us go, rather than cage in our free will. He is preparing a home for us – full of love and beauty beyond our wildest dreams. He knows the road from here to there is rough and narrow and steep. Jesus holds out his hand and says hold on to me. I am your only salvation.
Jesus has said to my heart, “I will carry you through. Don’t be afraid. I am all you need. I am faithful – I will never leave you. I will keep you safe even through death. I will carry you through to the other side of death to life eternal. But you must trust and obey me. You say that you love me. Well, if you love me, keep my commandments. Don’t try to do it your own way. Don’t try to do it alone. You won’t make it. Don’t follow the crowd, or some other path because it looks more familiar or is more comfortable or wider. I love you more than anyone – more than your mother, more than your best friend, more than your husband, more than any lover you’ve ever had. Please trust me and follow me. I have given you my written word – the Bible – and I have given you my Spirit in your heart. Follow them both – together. They will agree with each other because they are both from me. They are my love letter to you.
Jesus calls, “Come!” My prayer is that we will all follow where He leads us.