Apocalypse; Jesus Christ; Rev. 1:1
The study of Revelation frequently brings out people who are interested in having their curiosity satisfied, people who just want to know about the future, people who want to be somehow stimulated by a study of what is happening in the Middle East, in the world, and how current events fit into biblical prophecy. This is a major error and a common misconception, that somehow current events fit into biblical prophecy.
There are basically three different ways to interpret prophecy that are prevalent today and we have to understand these because of their popularity. The first view is called the Preterist view. If we just remember past, present and future we will remember this. Preterist is past, and this is the idea that everything talked about by Jesus in Matthew 24 and most of Revelation has already been fulfilled in the past, and that what we have is symbolic language to talk about the reign of Nero in the Roman empire, code language to talk about the fall of Jerusalem, that everything was fulfilled prior to 70 AD, and that Jesus returned spiritually in 70 AD. This is becoming more and more popular today and it is amazing how many respected Bible teachers have become seduced by Preterism, or at least partial Preterism, in the last few years.
Historicism, though, is a view that is more popular. Historicism is interpreting the events of Revelation as ongoing during the present church age, and the idea there is that this is an unfolding of history down through the church age until Jesus returns. According to the historicism view you can turn to one of the chapters in Revelation and figure out where you are and what is happening in history and start plugging in the events of the Middle East, or whatever, into a prophetic scenario. Often people will say, "Well these are the signs of the times." But if you study the use of the signs of the times in Matthew 24 these were signs related to the second coming of Jesus Christ. No prophecy is fulfilled necessarily in the church age related to the church age or the ending of the age. There is no prophecy that has to be fulfilled before the Rapture can occur. This is based on a doctrine called imminency, that Jesus Christ can come back at any moment. Nothing must happen in human history or on the prophetic timetable before Jesus Christ can return in the clouds for the church. Many people have thought that they have been able to identify the Antichrist. But various attempts to even identify the Antichrist really is a part of historicism. In historicism you think you can identify these things here and now, and there have been many attempts down through history to identify the Antichrist. We don't know who the Antichrist will be, he is not revealed, according to 2 Thessalonians chapter two, until after the restrainer is removed. The restrainer is the Holy Spirit, so as long as church age believers are present on the planet and the Holy Spirit is indwelling believers, then the Antichrist is not going to be revealed. We may guess, but we will not know if our guess is right until after we have been raptured. So Christians don't need to be speculating about who the Antichrist is. We are not supposed to be looking for the Antichrist, we are supposed to be looking for the return of Jesus Christ for the church at the Rapture, and that is the next thing on the prophetic scenario. Many people are caught up on speculating on how we fit into biblical prophecy, and we don't know. As we will see as we get into the prophetic aspects of the book of Revelation there is a time lapse between the end of the present church age, the Rapture, and the beginning of the Tribulation.
The seven-year period of the Tribulation, which is also known as the time of Jacob's trouble, is known as Daniel's seventieth week—Daniel 9:24ff. It begins when the Antichrist signs a peace treaty or covenant with the nation Israel. That is what kicks off the Tribulation.
When the Rapture occurs that is the next event prophetically, but that is not saying the same thing as saying that no prophecy is fulfilled in the church age. The next thing that happens on God's prophetic timetable is the Rapture. There is no prophecy that has to be fulfilled before the Rapture. However, if time goes by and certain things that are going to take place in the Tribulation are set up at the end of the church age then there may be prophetic fulfillment during the last few years of the church age. But this doesn't have anything to do with the church, it doesn't have anything to do with the spiritual life, it doesn't have anything to do with the timing of the Rapture. It does set things up so that once the Rapture occurs then various things that are going to take at place at the beginning of the Tribulation can take place. For example, before the Tribulation can start there has to be a nation Israel. What starts the Tribulation? The Antichrist signs a peace treaty with the nation Israel. The conclusion is that a nation has to exist known as Israel, not a regenerate nation but an unregenerate nation. It is clear from the Old Testament that there are two returns of Jews to the land that are prophesied. One is the return in unbelief and the other is the return in belief. We are seeing the return in unbelief, and this has been going on for the last 100 years. Jews are returning to the land and they have established a nation. That means that that nation is going to play a prominent role once the Rapture occurs. This is a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in Ezekiel 34 and 35 and other passages that there will be a return to the land. There must be a return in unbelief before the Tribulation can begin.
Why is it important that we should study prophecy? According to the Bible it is a valid and important dimension to our spiritual life today. Twenty-eight per cent of the Bible was prophetic when it was revealed. Fifteen per cent of the Bible is still unfulfilled prophecy. To say that we really shouldn't study prophecy or that it is not that important because that is what is going to happen in the future is to say that one seventh of the Scripture is not important, and that is in contradiction to the clear statement of 1 Timothy 3:16, 17, "All scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Eighteen per cent of the New Testament epistles (one out of every five verses) is unfulfilled prophecy. The New Testament epistles are written to church age believers. One in twelve verses in the New Testament refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ. One in ten verses in the epistles refer to the second coming of Christ. The interpretation of sixty per cent of verses in the New Testament is affected by eschatology issues in order for them to be properly understood. In other words, there must be a correct view of prophecy or sixty per cent of the verses in the New Testament will be misinterpreted. That tells us that prophecy is important. Prophecy builds on every other dimension of theology. Other areas of theology all have to be understood before we are going to properly understand a lot of eschatology.
We must understand that the study of prophecy is not about solving questions related to human curiosity about the future. It is a normal thing for us to be curious about what is going to happen in the future. Jesus gave the discourse in Matthew 24, called the Olivet Discourse, in order to answer the disciples' question about the future. Not only that, but God reveals a tremendous amount of information about future things in Daniel and many of the Minor Prophets, and the New testament was not going to be considered complete and therefore the Scripture not sufficient until it was capped off by the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the final book in the New Testament.
Why, then, is prophecy given? What is the biblical reason for the giving of prophecy? Four reasons: a) The giving of prophecy is designed to encourage believers in times of adversity. Prophecy teaches that God is in control of the events of human history. History is moving in a direction, it is not just endless, cyclical periods that repeat themselves, which is what we find in eastern thought—Hinduism, Buddhism, and in a lot of mysticism. In Christianity history is going somewhere, there is a plan and a purpose and there will be resolution; b) To inform believers about a future coming evaluation, that we are to be motivated by the fact that we are going to be evaluated on the basis of what we do with our Christian life. That is the judgment seat of Christ. We need to prepare for that. There is an evaluation for everyone. The evaluation for unbelievers at the great white throne judgment is related to their salvation; evaluation for believers is not related to salvation but it is related to our future role and responsibilities in the Millennial kingdom. So prophecy is designed to inform us about that and to motivate us in that area; c) Prophecy is given to provide details about the end-time events for the encouragement, protection and direction of Tribulation saints. This information is given to Israel in Matthew 24 to tell them that when they see certain signs take place they are to flee to the mountains. There is a time for them to leave Jerusalem and to flee to the mountains and God will protect them. It provides encouragement for Tribulation saints no matter how horrible it becomes; d) To complete God's revelation to mankind with reference to the sufficiency of Scripture. With the conclusion of this book the New testament canon was complete and God could say that He had given the human race everything they needed to know in order to live their spiritual life. And part of that was to have an understanding of events of history and the resolution of history.
As part of the second point it was stated that believers were to be informed about the coming evaluation and that this would be a motivation. Passages in the New Testament emphasize how prophecy was designed to motivate the church age believer. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Paul is talking about marriage, "But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passes away." The point that he is making comes out of verse 29: "The time has been shortened." Paul thought the Rapture would occur in his generation. He has a sense of urgency about living the Christian life carrying out the mission of the church. Part of the test for the church in the 21st century is that 20 centuries have gone by and Jesus didn't return, so the test is one of complacency. E.g. He could come back tomorrow but He won't so why should I have this sense of urgency about the importance of living the spiritual life? Philippians 4:5, "Let your gentle spirit be known unto all men. The Lord is near." Here we have the Greek word EGGUS [e)gguj]. What Paul is saying is that the Lord is near. This is our motivation to live the spiritual life, because the Lord's coming is at any moment. We need to be serious about living the Christian life today. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep [be complacent], as do others; but let us watch and be sober [objectively minded as a result of doctrine in the soul]." So the challenge here is that at any day the Lord could return. But we need to be ready, we need to be thoughtful, we need to be looking for His return, living each day and making each decision in light of the fact that we need to be ready for the Lord's return. Hebrews 10:24, 25 builds on the same idea, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but encouraging one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching." In other words, there should be an increase of this. As we realize that Jesus' return is closer and closer it should stimulate us to spend more time in Bible study, more time in application, more time focused on spiritual growth, more time focused on spiritual priorities, and as a result of spiritual growth, spiritual service and utilizing our spiritual gifts. "… as you see the day approaching [drawing near]," has the verb form of the noun mentioned above. "Drawing near" is EGGIZO [e)ggizw]. EGGUS is the noun; EGGIZO is the verb. James 5:8, "You, too, be patient; strengthen your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is near [at hand, imminent]. So be ready. Nothing has to happen before the Lord can come back. No prophecy must be fulfilled before the Lord can return at the Rapture, so we need to be ready, to be patient, and pursuing our spiritual life and spiritual growth. 1 Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is near [EGGUS]: therefore be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer." What is to be the motivation for living the Christian life today? It is the recognition that Jesus could come back tomorrow. Are we ready? 1 John 2:18, "Children, it is the last hour: and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour." Revelation 22:10, "And he said to me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy [close it to understanding] of this book: for the time is near."
This is the importance of studying prophecy. It is to stimulate us, to motivate us, to challenge us to be ready. It is to prepare us for the fact that Jesus Christ is going to return. At the point of the Rapture we have the judgment seat of Christ. This is our evaluation and we need to be ready for that because that will determine our role and our responsibilities in the Millennial kingdom and on into eternity. So we are preparing today for what we will be in the future. The decisions we make today are decisions that will determine who we will be and where we will be and what we will be doing in the Millennial kingdom. We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that our decisions don't have any real consequence. This is why we have challenges such as Ephesians 5:17 to redeem the time. We only have a certain number of days, weeks and years in each of our lives. How are we using that time? We need to be prepared because the Lord's coming is near.
Revelation is really simple to understand, it is not a complex book. If we can understand what the structure is then we have something to relate all the details to. There are three basic divisions based on Revelation 1:19.
Chapter one is the past preparation.
Chapters two and three: The present preparation of the church in light of future evaluation and judgment.
Chapters 5-22: The prophecy of the coming judgments and judge.
A key element in understanding this book is that it is a book about judgment. The seven letters to the seven churches evaluate each church according to what they are doing right and according to what they are doing wrong, and what they need to change. In chapters 4-22, the things which will take place later, describes the judgment on rebellious mankind and the coming of Jesus Christ as the judge, as the King of kings and Lord of lords in chapter 19. Then there is the establishment of the Millennial kingdom in chapter 20 which ends with the great white throne judgment. That sets up the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.
a) The Rapture of the church and the opening of the scroll, chapters 4-5. The scroll is the title deed to the kingdom. Before the kingdom can be established there has to be a judgment.
b) The seven-year Tribulation includes the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments, chapters 6-18.
c) The coming of the Judge, the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, chapter 19.
d) The establishment of the kingdom, chapter 20.
e) The new heavens and earth and eternity, chapters 21 and 22.
Revelation 1:1, 2, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his servants things which must shortly take place; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John: who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, for all things that he saw." The first chapter focuses on the past preparation, "the things which you have seen." This is in essence the prologue to the book. The chapter can be divided into three sections. The introduction or prelude is in verses 1-3. Then there is a greeting to the seven churches in verses 4-8. Then the first vision in the book (there are seven in the book), the appearance of the Son of Man to the apostle John in verses 9-20.
This is "the revelation of Jesus Christ." This is made up of three words in the Greek: APOKALUPSIS IESOU KRISTOU [a)pokaluyij I)hsou Kristou]. The first word is APOKALUPSIS. This is the standard Greek word for revelation. For many people this is an alternate title for the book. People refer to the book as The Apocalypse and the first seal as the "Four horsemen of the apocalypse." The title of the book is The Revelation of Jesus Christ. In the old King James version of the Bible it was often referred to as The Revelation of St. John the Divine. This is a misnomer. John is not the one doing the revealing, he is doing the recording. It is Jesus Christ who is the one revealing the future; it is John who is receiving the revelation. Apokalupsis means an unveiling, a disclosure, make something unknown, known. The idea is a disclosure. This is an unveiling; it is a form of communication. To make something clear. The purpose is to disclose, not to hide. So Revelation is not given in order to confuse or mystify people, or to be a basis for division.
"The revelation of Jesus Christ." How are we to understand this? The second and thirds words in that opening phrase is in the genitive; "revelation" is in the nominative case; Jesus Christ is in the genitive. There are two different ways by which you can understand this kind of a genitive. You can understand it as an objective genitive or a subjective genitive. What is meant by that is that the basics noun is "revelation", which is called a noun of action. It is like "love." Love is a noun but it describes an action. Faith is a noun, but it is a noun of action. When you have a noun of action with the genitive it can be either directed to the genitive or it can be coming from the genitive. So if you talk about the phrase "love of God" it can mean love for God and it can mean love from God. In other words, the believer's love to God or God's love, meaning God's love directed toward the believer. The difference is whether it is understood as an objective genitive or a subjective genitive. This is an interpretive decision that a pastor needs to make. So when we have this opening phrase, "the revelation of Jesus Christ," you could understand it as revelation about Christ, and that this book is about the ultimate revealing of Jesus at the second coming and all of the events surrounding it. Or you could understand the phrase as Christ giving certain information to the apostle John about the future. This could be understood by either the phrase "Christ's revelation" or "the revelation that Christ gave." Those are two different ideas. The interesting thing is, and an interpretive problem, is that they are both true. This book is about the second coming of Jesus Christ and all the circumstances surrounding it; that is true. It is also true that this is a revelation given by the Lord Jesus Christ to the apostle John. The basic principle of interpretation in literal, plain hermeneutics is that a sentence can only mean one thing. It can't mean two different things. Now those are two different things, so that when John wrote this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he meant only one of them. That is a principle called single meaning of Scripture. This is foundational and it is being blown away today in many different places. Here, the second way is the way it should be understood because of the context. We look at the context and we read, "The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him." God gave Jesus Christ something to give John. God didn't give Jesus Christ Jesus Christ. That would be the first sense. God didn't give Jesus Christ the disclosure of Jesus Christ. He gave Jesus Christ information about the end times that Jesus Christ was then to disclose to the apostle John. That information would necessarily include information about Jesus' second coming and the events surrounding it. So we must understand the opening phrase as revelation given by Jesus Christ which God gave to Him to show His bondservant.
The word "bondservant" is the Greek word DOULOS [douloj], which means a slave. We are viewed as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we are born into the kingdom of Satan and darkness we are slaves of sin, not servants. The word "servant" implies an option, but you don't have an option. You are under Satan's dominion and authority and under the dominion and authority of your sin nature. But when you become a believer you are positionally free from the enslavement to the sin nature and you are positionally removed from the kingdom of darkness. You are now in the kingdom of Christ and you are a slave of Christ. What Paul is basically saying in many of the New Testament passages related to the Christian life is that now we need to act like we are a slave of Christ. Whenever we sin we are acting like a rebellious slave of Christ. Now we are to act as obedient slaves of Christ. That is the point Paul is making in Romans 6:13 and following. We are slaves to whomever we obey. If we are slaves of Christ we should obey Christ, and we should implement all of the mandates of the Scripture into our life.
So John begins his description of this disclosure as the revelation Jesus Christ gave to him, which God gave to Jesus Christ, to demonstrate to His slaves (believers in the Lord Jesus Christ). So this tells us that this disclosure is not for unbelievers, it is not for the world, it is given to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then it says, "things which must shortly take place." The idea is not that they will take place shortly, i.e. in a short time from now, but that once they begin they will take place quickly. Once the Rapture occurs these events will domino very rapidly in succession.