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The Revelation of Jesus Christ - Part 1

Tom Pennington Revelation 1:1-3


Tonight, as I begin the book of Revelation, I understand a lot more the prayer of Martin Luther each time before he stood up to preach. It was something like this, according to his biographer, "Lord, I can't make this turn out well, won't You make it turn out well." That, in the end, is how I feel when I come to a book like this one. Tonight, we begin what promises to be an exciting journey through the last book in our New Testament, last both physically and chronologically.

I remember the first time I heard an exposition of Revelation. It was at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, where Sheila and I attended from 1987 to 2003. It was in November of 1991 that John MacArthur began to teach through this book. Just over three years later he completed it, in March of 1995.

The first time that I personally studied this book in any detail was a year later, in the fall of 1996. I was serving as Managing Director of Grace to You, and John asked if I would write the first draft of the notes for Revelation for the MacArthur Study Bible. It was a great privilege for me, but a heavy weight and responsibility as well. And so, for a number of months that project consumed every non-working, non-sleeping hour. I started by creating a grid to identify the words, expressions, and ideas that needed to be commented on in order for people like myself to understand this great book. That was a very helpful exercise in itself. And then, slowly, methodically, verse by verse, I began to draft concise explanations, using John's sermon notes to do so. That's really, those many months during that period of time, is when I developed an appreciation for this book and why I am eager for us to study it together in the months ahead.

Someone asked how long this would take. You know, is this going to be like to the rapture? Well, only if in the Lord's purpose, the rapture is soon. But I hope to take this book, obviously tonight we'll deal with some introductory matters, so you'll wonder, you know, how long is this going to take? But once we get into the book, my plan is to take it in fairly significant chunks, much like we did Daniel, so that you get a flow of the book. So I don't see this being Romans, alright, so relax, it's not going to be that. But I want to go slowly enough that we really grasp some of the amazing truths that are in this great book.

The book of Revelation is generally considered to be the most difficult book in the Bible to understand. Winston Churchill once famously described the former Soviet Union as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." I think that's how many Christians view the book of Revelation. It's strange symbols, it's apocalyptic visions tend to drive them to sort of throw up their hands in despair of ever understanding what this book really means. In fact, I read several fascinating quotes on the Internet this week from people who said, "Just forget it, it's not even supposed to be understood." As a result, those who conclude that you can't understand it also conclude that this book is largely irrelevant to our lives.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because those conclusions are common doesn't mean they're true. When Christ gave us this book, He didn't intend to confuse us. He didn't intend to hide the truth of what's going to come to pass from us. He intended for His people, you and me, members of seven little churches in Asia Minor to understand what was coming. In fact, verse 1 of this book says that this book exists, notice what it says, "to show His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place." That's you, that's me. This book, the truth is, is absolutely essential for every true follower of Jesus Christ.

Why do I say that? I love the way D. Edmund Hebert puts it in his Introduction to the New Testament. As he writes in this book, he says this,

The book of Revelation is the true capstone of the Bible. Without it, our Bible would be quite incomplete, like a stirring story without an ending or a drama without a climax. It brings the eschatological expectations of the church to their fitting conclusion. It supplies the finishing touch to the whole panorama of the biblical story. It is truly the book of consummation, that which is begun in the book of Genesis is brought to its conclusion in the book of Revelation. It is irreplaceable. For those who have spiritually illuminated eyes, the apocalypse is one of the most precious and extraordinary writings in the world.

That's what I believe that we will see over our journey ahead.

Now tonight, as I said, my goal is really to primarily introduce it to you, so buckle up. We're going to cover some issues that we need to know in order to get into this book in detail. Let's start with just understanding the uniqueness of the book of Revelation. In the New Testament this book is truly unique. It's the only prophetic book in the New Testament. Other books include prophetic sections, such as the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 and 25, where Jesus talks about end times. But this book alone calls itself a prophecy, according to verse 3 of chapter 1, and consists primarily of prophecy. It also has more allusions to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book. It doesn't quote it very often. In fact, it rarely quotes it verbatim, but one scholar has gone through verse by verse connecting it to the Old Testament and some 278 of its 404 verses allude to Old Testament passages.

Its primary focus is eschatology. While it touches on all the great doctrines of the Bible, and we will encounter those, it focuses primarily on eschatology. That is, the doctrine of last things, those things that are going to come at the end of the age. It perfectly fits and completes the prophecy that was begun in Daniel. And in fact, it alludes to Daniel more than it alludes to any other Old Testament book. These two books, Daniel and Revelation, fit together beautifully. That's why, having completed Daniel, we're going to Revelation. When I was in seminary my father-in-law taught a class called Daniel and Revelation. They fit perfectly together. This is truly a unique book in the New Testament.

So who gave us this book? From a human standpoint, obviously the author is ultimately the Holy Spirit, but who is the author of Revelation? Four times, in the book, the writer identifies himself as John. In chapter 1 verse 1 we read, "He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John." In chapter 1 verse 4, "John to the seven churches that are in Asia." In chapter 1 verse 9, "I, John, your brother." And then at the very end of the book in chapter 22 verse 8, "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things." There are two other pieces of information about the author in the book itself. One is that this John was in prison for his faith on the island of Patmos, a small island I've had the privilege to visit in the Aegean. In verse 9 of chapter 1 we're told that is true. And then in chapter 22 verse 9 we're told that this John was a prophet. So the author, okay, was clearly John.

But the question is, John who? That seems obvious, but I just need to admit to you that throughout church history, various possibilities have been proposed. One author proposed John Mark, another John the Baptist. A number of folks have proposed an anonymous John, that is, one we know nothing about other than this book. But next to the traditional view, which I'm going to present to you in a moment, and which I personally believe there is overwhelming evidence for, next to the traditional view the view that is most common was first proposed by a man named Dionysius and later Eusebius, the church historian, and they think it was written by a man mentioned in the writings of Papias, the church father, a man called John the Elder. Now, frankly, if you read what Papias wrote, in context John the Elder is likely just another name for the Apostle John. So it's probably a moot point.

But the evidence, as you look at it, is compelling and overwhelming that Revelation was written by the John we know, John the Apostle. We're talking about one of the twelve, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, the cousin of Jesus, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The author of the Gospel of John, the author of the New Testament letters entitled First, Second, and Third John. That's the author of the book.

How do we know? Well, first of all, there is some evidence within the book itself, internally. Four times, as I mentioned to you, the author identifies himself as John. But that's all. In other words, this person who wrote this book was well known enough to the seven churches that he didn't need to describe himself further. And in fact, he could write with authority and they accept it.

On what basis would they do that? Well, there is evidence from multiple sources that dating back to the second century that the Apostle John left Israel in the mid-sixties A.D., shortly before Paul was martyred in Rome. And John left Israel and he traveled to Asia Minor, modern Turkey. And there he spent the rest of his life, some 30 years, ministering to the churches in Asia Minor, with his primary base in Ephesus, and ministering to the other churches around the very churches that are described in this book. He wrote his gospel and his three epistles, along with Revelation, primarily for the benefit of those churches that he served and ministered to. Those same sources tell us that after many years of ministry there in Ephesus and in all the surrounding communities, the Apostle John was exiled to Patmos to work in the salt mines. So it all fits together. Here you have an author calling himself John, who writes to the churches in that area, and does so without identifying himself further, but with great authority.

A second piece of internal evidence is this, the books of the New Testament were accepted as part of the canon of Scripture only if they were either written by an apostle, which is the bulk of the New Testament, or under the direction and authority of an apostle, such as Mark or Luke or Acts, each of those written under, Mark under Peter's direction, Luke and Acts under the Apostle Paul's direction. And so, they were written and received by the church. Why? Because they were either written by an apostle or they were written under the authority of an apostle. Revelation, we have clear evidence, was immediately accepted in the early church. Why? Because it was connected to an apostle, in this case, the Apostle John. That's the most obvious reason.

Also, the author of Revelation uses terms that only the Apostle John uses. I'll give you a couple of examples. Only three New Testament books refer to our Lord as the Logos, the Word, John 1:1, John 1:14, 1 John 1:1, and Revelation 19:13. Another example is, Revelation refers to Jesus as the Lamb, not an analogy but as a name, the Lamb, the Lamb who was slain, 28 times. The only other places in the New Testament where Jesus is referred to that way are in the Apostle John's gospel, where a similar word is used and Jesus is described as the Lamb.

So there is internal evidence that points us to the Apostle John, but there is also overwhelming external evidence that the author was John. Before the third century the church unanimously identified the author as the Apostle John. Justin Martyr, who lived in Ephesus, think of that now, he lived in Ephesus and he was part of one of the seven churches in Revelation, wrote early in the second century, about 135 A.D., and this is what he wrote, "There was a certain man with us whose name was John, one of the Apostles of Christ, who prophesied by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem and that thereafter the general, and in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place." Where is that found? Only one place, the book of Revelation. And he says John the Apostle wrote it.

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, again in the second century, says this. Oh, before I tell you what he said, let me tell you one more interesting about Irenaeus. Irenaeus grew up in Smyrna, another one of the seven churches. As a boy, Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who actually knew the Apostle John and was discipled by the Apostle John. So we're talking second generation here from the Apostle John. Irenaeus introduced a series of quotations from almost every chapter in the book of Revelation with these words, "John, also the Lord's disciple, when beholding the sacerdotal and glorious advent of His kingdom, says in the Apocalypse." Notice, he connects book of Revelation to John the Apostle. By the way, Irenaeus also identified this John as the one who leaned on Jesus' chest in the last supper. Clement of Alexandria also wrote in the second century that John the Apostle had been exiled on Patmos, the same island where the John who wrote Revelation was held.

Even a gnostic author, not a book we would recommend, but a gnostic author writing in the early 100's, in the Apocryphon of John cites Revelation 1:19 and says it was written by "John the brother of James, these who are the sons of Zebedee." So even really enemies to the orthodox faith that we hold affirmed the authorship of John. Tertullian, Origen, Apollotis, all used and attributed Revelation to the Apostle John. Victorinus, who wrote a third century commentary on Revelation, attributed it to John the Apostle.

The truth is, the first attack from within the church on the authorship of Revelation came in the third century from a man called Dionysius or Dionysius. He was opposed to the concept of a millennium because of how that concept had been abused in the church, and he desired, therefore, to discredit the book of Revelation because of that. And he argued that it wasn't John the Apostle who wrote it. That was the only way he could discredit it. His arguments are easily answered. So, what I want you to see is the evidence both internal and external, confirms that the author is the Apostle John. And so throughout this study, that's how I'll refer to the writer of this book.

When was it written? Now, please stay with me here because this is going to seem a bit unnecessary. It's like, why do you belabor this? It's because there is an interpretational issue that is very important that's tied to the date. So stay with me. When was it written? Well, there are two primary dates that scholars propose for the writing of Revelation. The first is near the end of the reign of Nero, somewhere around 67, 68 A.D. Many of those, in fact I would say most of those, who promote this date do so because they hold to one particular interpretation, what's called the preterist view. I'll explain that later but, basically it's a group of people who believe that Revelation primarily describes events that happened in conjunction with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Well, if you're going to have a book that describes the destruction, that prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., when does it have to be written? Before 70 A.D. And so they propose this date because it's the only one that makes sense in their scheme of things.

The second date that's offered is near the end of the reign of Domitian, who reigned from 81 to 96 A.D., and many propose a date somewhere around 95 to 96 A.D. There are compelling, I would say overwhelming, arguments that support this late date. Let me give them to you. It's the overwhelming view of the early church. Again Irenaeus says, "We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist [bless him], for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision." In other words, John would have told us who it was. "For that was seen not very long time since, but almost in our day towards the end of Domitian's reign." So he clearly says when John had these visions. Other key church fathers, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Victorinas, Eusebius, Jerome, they all affirm that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian.

Another argument, not only the overwhelming view of the early church, but also the circumstances of the seven churches. When you look at what's described in the book of Revelation, you find Laodicea was a rich city when this book was written, but that was not true in the mid 60's. Why? Because there had been a devastating earthquake to Laodicea in 60-61 A.D. and it took a significant amount of time for it to rebuild and for it to become a prosperous city again. Also, what you read in the book of Revelation among the seven churches is that this was a time of increasing persecution. John had been exiled for his faith, according to chapter 1 verse 9. At least one man, probably a pastor by the name of Antipas, had been martyred, according to chapter 2 verse 13. And even greater persecution was looming, according to chapter 2 verse 10. It's coming. This fits far better, while there was persecution near the end of Nero's reign as well, the overall picture fits far better with the end of Domitian's reign, particularly when combined with these other arguments.

A third argument is the unhealthy spiritual condition of the churches, described in chapters 2 and 3, doesn't match the state of the church in the mid 60's. Most of these churches had just been founded. They were young, they were strong, they were first generation Christians. The apostles had just been there. The ministry had prospered. What you find in these chapters, chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, is there had been serious spiritual decline. That serious spiritual decline requires longer than a 60's writing. Because what you would have then is Paul founds these churches in the early 60's, and by 68 they're all off the cliff. That's not likely. It doesn't fit what's described. Also, just one other note on that front, we're going to meet a group in Revelation called the Nicolaitans. They were present in the time of Revelation, but they are never mentioned in Paul's letters.

One other detail that weighs in in terms of the overall circumstances of these seven churches is the time of John's arrival in Asia Minor. Tradition, as I said to you earlier, is strong that John left Israel to move to Asia Minor at the time of the Jewish revolt, which was 66 to 70 A.D. The timing just doesn't work. He probably didn't even arrive in Asia Minor during the reign of Nero. But even if he did, there had to be time for him to sufficiently provoke the authorities to be exiled. And none of that fits.

So what I want you to see is the evidence overwhelmingly supports a 95 to 96 A.D. writing. Why does that matter? Well, it matters on a couple of fronts. One is, it makes it the last book of our Bible that was written, and nothing could be more fitting than that. But it also is important, in fact crucial, because once you arrive at the mid-90's for the date, you immediately rule out the view called preterism; it's off the table as a possibility of what this book teaches.

So, with that background, let's consider how we should approach this book. I mean, there are different ways to come at this book. G. K. Chesterton, who was known for his little pithy sayings, once joked that, "Though Saint John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators." That would be true. Since it was written, students and scholars have approached this book using four primary interpretive models, and we have to decide which one to land on, because we have to take an approach to this book. There are four potential, the first one is the one I've already alluded to the preterist model, the preterist model. This view sees the events in Revelation as fulfilled mostly, almost entirely, or completely in the first century.

The word preterist comes from the Latin word praetor that means past, it's referring to things in the past. This view says that the events recorded in Revelation were fulfilled in the first century Roman Empire, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Now, there are two paths of this. One of them is heresy and one of them is not, so you need to make sure you distinguish them. The first one is called full preterism. This is the heretical position that all of the events in Revelation were fulfilled in the first century, including the second coming. They deny the future bodily return of Jesus Christ. They say He came at the destruction of Jerusalem. This is obviously a heretical position. It's not an extremely popular position, certainly it's not at all among evangelicals, but there are liberals who hold to this view.

The other preterist view is called partial preterism. This is the nonheretical position that most of Revelation was fulfilled in the first century, but the second coming, the judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth are still future. This was the view of R.C. Sproul and of others. But understand, now that we've established the date for this book, this view is gone. It's not even workable. Because for this view to be viable you have to have a date before 70 A.D. when it's prophesying all of those things. So now you understand why I took the time to lay that foundation.

A second approach to Revelation is the historicist, or the continual historical model. This view says that all of the events recorded in Revelation are fulfilled chronologically throughout church history. Now, this model was first introduced in the twelfth century by a man who claimed that he had received it in a vision. That ought to give you enough pause to begin with. But this is the view, basically, that the events recorded in Revelation are a prophetic overview of western church history, describing the entire sweep of the church age from the first century until the second coming. In other words, you read it like a history book and everything that's going to happen between the time of the Apostle John and the second coming is somehow, all the important events are alluded to in those intervening chapters.

Those who hold this view claim that Revelation predicts the barbarian sacking of Rome, the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, gives details about several of the popes, talks about the rise of Islam, and even the French Revolution. Now, if you haven't seen those things in the book of Revelation, don't fear, it's because they're not there. What this view does is it descends into incredible subjectivism because there is no standard by which to discern what those events are. It's not a normal reading of the book of Revelation, like you would read the rest of the Bible or read anything else. Instead, you're looking at, sort of, artificially laying history as we know it over the book of Revelation and saying, what connects, what kind of relates? That's really what you're left to doing. Extreme subjectivism.

I've read some of the views of those who take this approach, and it's really astonishing what they can find in Revelation. It reminds me of when my kids were young, one day I wanted to show them that you can't approach the Bible with subjectivity. You know, everybody's always saying, well, what does it mean to me? Well, who cares what it means to you? What does it mean? That's the question. And so I wanted to teach my kids this. So one morning at breakfast, I said, "Look girls, you don't need to bring your Bibles to our Bible time this morning. I've found something really illuminating in the newspaper this morning I want to share with you."

I picked out the front page of the Dallas Morning News and I picked an article at random. It was an article about some aging rock group playing at the American Airlines Center. I think it was the Eagles or something. I don't remember. But I picked this article and they're sitting there listening, you know, like Dad's going to teach us something, you know, spiritual. And so I started just going down through this article and choosing little phrases and sentences at random and giving it my own meaning, you know, trying to make it spiritual. And so, I'm waxing eloquent and, you know, the girls at first are sitting there thinking, well, okay, okay, well, that's interesting.

And then as I went along, I could see their faces start to change. You know, now they're not smiling. And pretty soon, out of the corner of my eye, I see them kind of making eye contact with each other. Like, you know, is something wrong with Dad? I mean, is he on something or I mean what's going on? And so, I stopped and I said, "What?" And my oldest daughter spoke for the rest of them and said, "Well, Dad, that's not what that article means." Which was exactly what I wanted her to say. I said, "Well, it's what it means to me," and then, of course, went on to explain, you don't do that to the newspaper, and you don't do that to the Bible, either. That's what this view does. It, frankly, just descends into that kind of subjectivity. You might as well use an article in The Dallas Morning News about the Eagles.

Thirdly, there's the idealist or spiritual model. This says everything in the book of Revelation is fulfilled symbolically. This is a uniquely modern view. It says the events in Revelation, listen carefully, the events in Revelation are not an historical record of past events, like preterism says, nor is it a prophecy of future events. Rather, it is a collection of stories that symbolically describe the timeless battle between good and evil that rages in every age. It's a symbolic representation of the fundamental spiritual principles which govern the life and existence of the church. Again, you can see how this is pure subjectivism. How in the world do you land on anything in this way?

The fourth approach is the futurist model, the futurist model, which says the events of Revelation are fulfilled mainly in the future. This was the interpretive model of Revelation, as I've even shared a quote with you already, employed by the early church fathers until Origen introduced his allegorical approach to the Scripture. Revelation 4, after the seven churches, Revelation 4 to Revelation 22 is predictive prophecy using symbolic language, describes real people and real events that will come at the end of human history. D. Edmund Hebert describes it this way, "Beginning with chapter 4, the book sets forth end time events, which will be fulfilled in the period immediately preceding and culminating in the return of Christ and the establishment of His millennial kingdom."

How do you land on this interpretive model? This is what I love. You simply read Revelation the way you read any other human document, and this is where you land. It's what's called the historical grammatical hermeneutic. That's the approach you take. You look at its historical context. You look at the grammar. You look at the syntax. You look at a literal read of the book. It doesn't mean, by the way don't be confused, it doesn't mean we take every figure of speech literally.

I am not going to tell you that a sword is coming out of Jesus' mouth, and any intelligent reader knows that's not describing a sword coming out of Jesus' mouth, that He speaks and destroys His enemies. Those are common ways we speak in language. There are figures of speech that are symbolic, that are metaphors. Revelation uses a lot of those, but they are not incomprehensible. They are the way you would read any other human document.

The book itself often shows us how to interpret its figurative language. Let me give you an example. Turn to Revelation 8, Revelation 8:12, "The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way." Now look at that word stars. So, there is figurative language used here. But notice the word stars and the rest of the context. You have, in verse 12, the sun, the moon, and the stars. So what is the most likely way to interpret, in this context, the word stars? Stars. Okay, that's pretty clear. Okay, so keep that in mind. It's right here in the context. You don't have to be brilliant to figure this out, thankfully for me.

Go over to chapter 9 verse 1. Same basic context, but different usage. "Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to earth." Okay, wait a minute, maybe we're talking about another body in the heavens. Well no, because watch, the context tells us,

I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit

So, what in the context, what clues lead us to say, now we're not talking about a heavenly body, but we're talking about a person? It's right there. It's in the context. This is how we can go through the book of Revelation and it makes sense. If you take a normal hermeneutic and you allow the author to help lead you by the hand along through what he intends to write.

I mean, we do this folks, we do the same thing with the English word star. We go outside on a moonless night and we look up and we say, "Look, at all those stars." We turn on the television and we watch the red carpet deal for one of the big shows and all of the, who arrive? All the stars. And you don't go, "Oh man, that's so hard to understand."

So what I want you to see is what we're going to do with the book of Revelation is take a normal, literal approach. Not literal in a wooden sense where, you know, everything has to be interpreted, you know, like a sword coming out of Jesus' mouth. No. Instead, we're going to let John the Apostle and the Holy Spirit lead us through contextually and look at it in its context in the ways that make sense.

Now, when it comes to this futurist model of interpretation, which is obviously where we land because that's where a normal hermeneutic takes us, and we're going to see that as it unfolds. A normal method of interpretation leads us to this futuristic model. But when you take this futurist model of interpretation of the book, there are two extremes I want to warn you to avoid. And I'm going to avoid them as I teach it.

First of all, there is a danger, and we're not going to have this danger here, but there is a danger on the part of some who, once they hear this that, you know, it's about the future, they just say, "Well, it's basically incomprehensible and irrelevant, so let's just ignore it." There are Christian people that we love and respect who, for reasons I cannot understand, don't want to know the end of the story. That's the wrong approach. A second wrong approach, and unfortunately this is more common, I think, in our specific circles, is to assume that we understand every symbol and every detail, and become so fixated on it that we ignore other parts of the Scripture and begin to see these things in everyday newspaper articles and blog posts. That's the other extreme. We have to walk a midline, which is a rational, reasonable, logical and a normal reading of the text, and go as far as the Holy Spirit and the Apostle John allows us to go without bringing, you know, all the news sites up here and showing how all of it fits into Revelation.

Okay, so you know where we're going, we're going to look at this book the way you look at any other human writing, and we're going to let the author unfold it to us, what he means. And he is describing, starting in chapter 4 through the end of the book, he's describing real events and real people who will actually come at the end of the world, at the end of the age.

All right, so let's move on, then, to an outline of Revelation. There is universal agreement that the book begins with a prologue, the first eight verses. And there is universal agreement that the book concludes with an epilogue, chapter 22 verses 6 to 21. That's where the agreement stops. There's a lot of disagreement about how to outline the book from there. I personally agree with many that Jesus' words to John in chapter 1 verse 19 provide a natural framework and outline for the book. Look at verse 19 of Revelation 1. Jesus says to John, "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things." Now some look at that verse and see two divisions. You say, wait a minute, there are three phrases. Yes, they would say the first phrase, "the things which you have seen," is like an overview, everything you see. And then there are two divisions, "the things which are," and they would say that starts at chapter 1 verse 9 and runs through the end of the letters to the churches in chapter 3. And then you have "the things which will take place," in the future, beginning in chapter 4 verse 1 through chapter 22 verse 5 to the epilogue basically. Okay, that's the two division approach to this verse.

And that's possible, but I think, and many commentators agree, that it's better, based on the parallelism that you can see in English but is clear in the Greek text, to see three divisions in this verse. You have "the things which you have seen," that is the vision of Christ that begins in chapter 1 verse 9 and runs down through verse 20. You have "the things which are," which has to do with the churches that John had ministered to and that still existed, and to whom the letters to the seven churches are written in chapters 2 and 3. And then you have, "the things which will take place after these things," beginning in chapter 4 verse 1 and running through chapter 22 verse 5. That makes very good sense.

And let me give you, using chapter 1 verse 19 as a framework, let me give you an initial outline and show you what that looks like. First of all, you have "the things which you have seen." I've called this the setting of Jesus' prophecy. It begins in chapter 1 verse 1, runs through the end of chapter 1. You have an introduction to the book in the first eight verses, you have the vision of the risen Christ in chapter 1 verses 9 to 18. And then you have the commission of the Apostle John to write in verses 19 and 20. Those are "the things which you have seen," the setting of Jesus' prophecy. The second part of this letter is "the things which are," and I've called this the state of Jesus' church. Again chapters 2 and 3, and you have His letters to the seven churches there in Asia Minor. The churches where John served and ministered.

And then the third part of this book is "the things which will take place after these things," the things that will take place in the future. And I've called this and, you know, give me room to change this as we go, I might tweak it, but I've called it for now, the stages of Jesus' final triumph, the stages of Jesus' final triumph. It begins in chapter 4 verse 1, runs through, that should say chapter 22 verse 5.

And you have these stages that unfold. You have the Lamb and the seven seals scroll in verses 4 and 5. You have the seven year tribulation in chapters 6 through 18. You have the second coming in chapter 19. You have the thousand year kingdom in the beginning of chapter 20. You have the final rebellion of Satan and Earth's inhabitants in the middle of chapter 20. Then you have the great white throne of judgment at the end of chapter 20. And then you have, in chapters 21 and 22, the eternal state. Those are the stages, and I think we're to understand this as a progression as Jesus takes back what is rightfully His. These are the stages of His final triumph. And then in chapter 22 verses 6 to 21, you have the epilogue.

So, with that background, let's begin our verse by verse study of this wonderful book. It begins with, "the things which you have seen," and I'm just going to touch briefly here, "the things which you have seen," the setting of Jesus' prophecy in chapter 1. It begins with an introduction to the book. Let me read it to you. Revelation 1:1-8,

The Revelation of Jesus the Messiah, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

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, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood - and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father - to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

Now look at those eight verses and you can see a structure there. The first three verses are a preface to the book. Then you have, in verses 4 through 6, a kind of typical address and greeting in first century letters. And then, in verses 7 and 8, we'll see the book's theme presented. So that's the structure of these eight verses. Let's begin by looking at the preface. And in the preface we see in these three verses, verses 1 to 3, a number of details or specifics about the book. I just want to look at one. I just wanted to start the book. I had to start the book. So we're going to look at the title, the title of the book.

In most of our English Bibles, if you look back to the very beginning of the book and the, sort of, subject title that's put at the head, it'll say something like The Revelation of John or The Revelation to John. That follows the earliest Greek manuscripts of this book and it identifies, of course, the human author. But the book identifies itself with the first three Greek words. In English those three words are translated, notice verse 1, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" or "The Revelation of Jesus Messiah."

The Greek word for revelation is apokalupsis. You recognize the word. It's the word from which we get our English word apocalypse. I was told I couldn't use Tom Bezwick's title, Apocalypse Wow, so I didn't. But the book itself says it is an apocalypse. It's an apokalupsis. That exact Greek word occurs 18 times in the New Testament and the entire word group occurs some 44 times. It comes from two Greek words, one which means from and the other which means cover. Literally it means to remove the cover from or to uncover, to unveil. When you come to the New Testament it's used, not literally like that, but metaphorically, it refers to truth made known, truth revealed, truth disclosed.

Interestingly enough, it's used of the truth in Romans 16:25, "the revelation of the mystery which was secret." It's used of Christ's incarnation in Luke 2:32, Jesus is the "'Light of revelation to the Gentiles.'" And it's also used of His second coming in three places. In 1 Corinthians 1:7, we are "eagerly awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Second Thessalonians 1:7, "the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels." And 1 Peter 1:7, "the proof of your faith," "will be found to result in praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ." So it's used in those ways. In other words, the second coming then will unveil the one who has been hidden since His first advent.

So this book, literally, is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Ironically, here in the first three Greek words in verse 1 we come to our first controversy. Yep, that's right. How do we understand the revelation of Jesus Christ? There are two primary views. It's the revelation from Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ reveals this book, or it's the revelation about Jesus Christ, this book reveals Jesus Christ. So either He's the source of the book or He's the theme of the book. Which is it? Well, I think it's both, because you see, John likes to do that.

I won't go through this in detail, but you remember, in John 2, he's the one who includes Jesus speaking of "'Destroy this temple'" and He was speaking not of the Temple but of the temple of His body. In John 11 he's the one who quotes Caiaphas saying, "'one man needs to die for the people,'" and it says that had a double meaning; he meant it, we need to get rid of Jesus to save the nation, but because he was high priest that year God meant him to say, Jesus was going to die for the sins of the people. And so John loves that. And so I think when John said the revelation of Jesus Christ, he intended both meanings. The book is the revelation from Jesus Christ, verse 1 says that, "He sent and communicated it by His angel." So the revelation is from Jesus Christ. Chapter 22 verse 16, "'I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches.'" Clearly it's the revelation from Jesus Christ.

But I think this book is also the revelation about Jesus Christ. It's about Him. It's about His person. Look at this, this is how He's revealed in Revelation. He's "the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth," "the Alpha," "the Omega," "the Lord God, the one who is and was and is to come, the Almighty," "the first and the last," "the living One," the one with "the keys of death and of Hades," "the Son of God," the one who has "the seven Spirits of God," the one "who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one will open." He's "the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." He's "the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David." He's "the Lamb of God who has been slain," the "Lord, holy and true;" Christ, who will "reign forever and ever," "faithful and true," "The Word of God," the "King of kings and the Lord of lords," "the root and descendant of David and the bright morning star." This book is from Jesus Christ, but it's about Jesus Christ. It's about His person.

It's also about His work, His work of redemption. I love the way the first few verses put it,

from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins in His own blood, made us to be a kingdom, priests to our God and Father - to Him be the glory and dominion forever

And in heaven, of course, they sing as we sang tonight, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain." It reveals His work in the church, in chapters 2 and 3. His work in the judgment of the world, in chapters 6 to 18, as He takes back what's His and judges sinful, rebellious men. It describes Him in the second coming in chapter 19, His kingdom in chapter 20, and His creation of a new heaven and a new earth in chapters 21 and 22. And His blazing glory bookends this book, because in chapter 1 we see that risen Christ in His glory. And in the end, when there's a new heaven and a new earth, you know what we're told? There doesn't need to be a sun. There doesn't need to be a moon. There don't need to be any stars. Because the Lamb is it's light. That's what this book is about.

The question is, why? And this is where I want us to end tonight. Think about this with me. Why is this book a revelation about Jesus Christ? It's because of what was going on when it was written. You see, the political situation in Rome had begun to deteriorate significantly as worse and worse rulers sat on the throne. The church was in a state of spiritual decline. Many of the churches were week. One church had no spiritual life at all. There was a growing hostility from the culture toward Christians, a growing resentment toward them. The church in that context, when you read chapters 2 and 3, was tempted to compromise, to fit in, just to belong so that they could protect themselves from feeling the full weight of the culture's hostility. In other words, it was a time just like ours.

And what they needed to know was that even though things would get worse, we know that now, things got worse in Rome, things got worse for the church, persecution ramped up even as Jesus said it would, but they needed to know that we win. And guess what, folks? We live in a time just like that, and you need to know that Jesus Christ wins. He's revealed in His glory. He's revealed, as we will see it, in His ultimate triumph, as He destroys eternally His enemies and brings eternal blessing to His saints. This day is just like then, and we need this message more than ever. Let's pray together.

Father, how can we ever adequately thank You for giving Your Son this revelation. And Lord Jesus, how can we ever thank You enough for passing it on to us, Your slaves, so that we can know the things that are coming. So that whatever happens around us, however bad things are, just like those Christians in the first century, the end of the first century, we're reminded that Jesus Christ is "the ruler of the kings of the earth." He is "the King of kings and the Lord of lords." And His purpose will be done. Lord, open our minds to really grasp, to understand this magnificent book. And may it encourage us, just as it encouraged those to whom John wrote in the first century. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.


The Revelation of Jesus Christ - Part 1

Tom Pennington Revelation 1:1-3

The Revelation of Jesus Christ - Part 2

Tom Pennington Revelation 1:1-3

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