Few things in the Bible are more fascinating to us than the book of Revelation. It has scenes of heaven, scenes of earth in the future and speaks of incredible spiritual battles, plagues and worldwide wars. But what is the ultimate meaning of Revelation? Why was the book written and what are 21st century Christians to take from it (and what are we not to take from it)?
To approach the book properly let’s first get a clear understanding of what we are NOT to take from the last book in the Bible. It is not designed to give us a clue, much less a clear understanding, of when Jesus will return and bring this age to a close. We don’t draw this conclusion just from the book of Revelation itself but directly from the mouth of Jesus (as captured in the book of Matthew) and pen of Paul (in the letter of 1st Thessalonians) and Peter (in the letter 2nd Peter).
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man… Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24: 36 – 39, 44 [ESV]
For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 1st Thessalonians 5: 2 – 3 [ESV]
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 2nd Peter 3: 10 [ESV]
Thinking the Bible gives us clues as to the date of the end of time became a problem when in the past some spread the belief that Jesus would return within a generation (40 to 60 years) of Israel becoming a sovereign country again in 1948. That statement, however, is nowhere in the Bible and it misled and disappointed many people. What Jesus said was that the destruction of the Jewish Temple would occur within a generation after He was crucified (which happened exactly as prophesied about 40 years later).
So what then are the lessons of Revelation? The first lesson, drawn from the first 3 chapters, is simply that church attendance is critical to a Christian and that believers must be careful to stick to the doctrine taught in the Bible (not letting it be twisted by the human mind, culture, etc.) and we must be people who serve in and through our churches. And our works of service must be done to glorify God and not to draw recognition to ourselves. Those who believe they can be good Christians without church attendance and church service have convinced themselves of something unbiblical, an incorrect thought Revelation was designed to correct.
The other main lesson of Revelation is just as simple as the first. In the end, God wins! The book circles through history multiple times and uses dramatic apocalyptic language, complete with symbolic themes of actions taking place in heaven and on earth. But the lesson is straightforward – though the schemes of man and the devil are opposed to God and His church and though economic systems, political ideologies and false religions will draw people away from Christ and persecute those who remain committed to Christ, Jesus still wins in the end! And when He wins, things get really awesome really quick.
You are not to spend your days in speculation about who the antichrist might be. Instead, knowing the world ends one day and that Jesus wins and then comes to judge, we are to live fruitful, holy lives. I will give the Apostle Peter the last word.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness 2nd Peter 3: 10 – 11 [ESV]
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.