What if you had known the winner of the Super Bowl before the game was played? If I were a betting man (which I’m not), I could have made a good deal of money with that knowledge. It would pay me to know who wins beforehand. In the book of Revelation we are told who is going to win before the contest is over. Knowing that Jesus is the sovereign victor over every evil should likewise guide me in how I live my life today.
The book of Revelation is possibly the most popular book of the Bible, due to its end-time focus. Though its general idea is widely known, comparatively few may have read it through or studied it in depth. Possibly, this is because of the challenge it presents in understanding it. Gordon Fee aptly notes: “When turning to the book of Revelation from the rest of the New Testament, one feels as though he or she were entering a foreign country. Instead of narratives and letters containing plain statements of fact and imperatives, one comes to a book full of angels, trumpets, and earthquakes; of beasts, dragons, and bottomless pits.” But we should not ignore this book because of its challenges. It holds rich truth for God’s people. Even so, there have been four main approaches to understanding its message.
Schools of Interpretation
(1) The preterist approach believes “Revelation is simply a sketch of the conditions of the empire in the first century.” That is, it is simply of historical record of that time.
(2) The historicist view “contends Revelation is a symbolic presentation of the entire course of the history of the church from the close of the first century to the end of time.”
(3) In the idealist approach, “the Revelation represents the eternal conflict of good and evil which persists in every age, although here it may have particular application to the period of the church.”
(4) The futurist approach usually argues “all of the visions from Rev. 4.1 to the end of the book are yet to be fulfilled in the period immediately preceding and following the second advent of Christ.”
This latter approach seems to be the most straightforward. Notably, the theme is not simply about the end-times, but is preeminently “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1.1). Jesus is revealed not as a suffering lamb, but as the victorious warrior and king, coming in all of his power, majesty and glory. This book tells us clearly, “Jesus is going to win!”
The first three verses of chapter one give us a general summary, telling us the source of the book, its purpose, and the blessing to be given to those who read it and respond as obedient hearers to its message.
This is then followed by a fearful vision of the glorified Christ (1.9-20). Note that verse 19 gives us a clear outline for the book, where John is then commissioned by the Lord to write down things past, things present, and things to come.
The next major portion of the book is focused on the Lord’s messages to seven churches – the things present (2.1-3.22). The message to each church spoke not only to that particular church in its own setting, but speaks to every church in every age. The pattern of each message normally contains a rebuke and a promise, as well as a self-description of the risen Lord.
The largest section of the book relates to the things to come (4.1-22.21). In this, John is invited to “Come up here” to be shown “what must take place after this.” In this heavenly vision, John sees God’s holiness (4.1-4.11) and the redemption provided by the Lamb, who is really the Lion of the tribe of Judah (5.1-5.14). From this point, we are drawn into the tribulation period (4.1-18.24) and the series of horrific judgments that occur in groups of sevens. Finally, we see a series of seven ‘last things’ (19.1-22.5). Jesus completes the book Himself, with a message that He is indeed “coming soon”. He appeals to the churches to be ready, invites those who hear and are thirsty “to come” to Him, and issues a warning to those who would unwisely add to the words of this prophecy.
Jesus Christ is in control of human history. His story is moving toward a victorious and glorious conclusion. He is also in control of your story. Whatever happens, you and I need not fear if we are in Christ (1.17). He will be with us from beginning to end. Until then, we should follow him faithfully and be ready to tell His story to those who have not heard it and to those who want to hear over again.