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How to Read the Bible Book by Book: Revelation

Revelation 1:18-19: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of Death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.”

Well, we have finally done it. After over a year and a half of writing, we have finally made our way to the last book of the Bible. This series of articles started out with the intention of making a summary of every book of the Bible. My hope in doing this was that it would serve you as a guide for your own Bible reading. Each article laid out the overall pattern of the particular Biblical book and gave you some hints about its structure and how best to read it.

As we come to the final book of the Bible, we come to the most challenging of all the Bible’s 66 books to summarize in one short article. So many things are going on in the book of Revelation it is hard to do it justice in one essay. But we will do our best here today as we wrap up this series on the Bible.

Chapter one and verse nineteen serves as a good outline for how the book unfolds. John is to write what he sees currently, what is taking place now, and then, finally, what will take place later. Chapter 1 represents what he sees at the moment, which is a vision of the resurrected and exalted Christ. Chapter 2 and 3 represent what is now, which is a picture of the seven churches of Asia Minor, and then finally, in chapters 4 through 22, we have a description of what is to come later.

There are many different ideas about how the book of Revelation should be read and interpreted. I have held several of those views over the course of my life, but the view I have settled on is a fairlystraight forward and literal reading of what is happening in these 22 chapters. When I say literal, I do not mean to imply that there is no figurative language in Revelation. There is lots of figurative language! But unlike many interpretations of Revelation which assign intricate and complicated meaning to each figure or symbol, I will argue that the most straightforward reading makes best sense of the book. Some day we will do a more thorough study of this book and I will try to clarify what I mean. But for now, a short summary will have to do.

The first three chapters are not hard to understand. John is receiving a vision of the exalted and resurrected Christ. Christ has a message to share with his church, which will be given specifically in the form of letters and a vision for the seven churches of Asia Minor. While it is clear there is a specific message intended for these seven historical churches, it is also clear that once you get beyond chapter 3, the message of the book is for the church universal. The apostle John is the writer of this book, and he is exiled on the island of Patmos when he receives this vision. Each of the seven churches are given a message about what Christ is pleased with about them, but then is also given a warning about things that might cause damage to their church, and even cause Christ to come and take away their congregation. So the opening chapters set a serious tone.

Beginning in chapter four is where things get more difficult. I will split the remainder of this article into four different sections in order to best capture the layout of this portion of the apocalypse.

The Throne Room in Heaven

First, in chapters 4 and 5 we get a vision from the throne room of heaven. John is given a majestic vision of God on his throne, surrounded by heavenly host and strange angelic like creatures. A scroll is presented that is sealed with seven seals, but there is weeping in heaven because no one is found worthy to open the scroll. The scroll represents God’s will for the earth. One might even say it is the title deed for the earth. But when all hope seems lost, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah steps forward, and yet, as the scene unfolds, the Lion is transformed into the picture of a wounded lamb. It is obviously a picture of the Son of God. He is worthy and he will open the scroll. There is joy in heaven as all of this unfolds.

Seven Seals, Trumpets and Bowls

As the scroll is opened, we then begin to see God’s final judgments upon the earth begin to unfold. This will be represented by a series of seven seals (the seals on the scroll), then seven trumpets, and finally seven bowls of God’s wrath. These events are spread out over chapter 7, chapter 8, and finally chapter 16. My own opinion is that these are not sequential events that happen in numerical order (as in first there are the seals, then the trumpets, and then the bowls), but instead what we see is three different descriptions of the same judgments. Each list of seven brings further detail of the devastation that is coming. The general pattern goes as follows. First there will be a false peace that breaks out, likely under the reign of the Anti-Christ. That peace will be broken which will give way to war among the nations. That war will bring on world-wide famine, plague, and death. But in the midst of this, God will unleash his wrath which will include such terrible things as large hail falling from the sky, the opening of the demonic abyss to torment people, the death of all sea life, and people trying to hide in the caves as they realize that God’s judgment is falling upon them. Think of the ten plagues of Egypt, but now on steroids. This is how God will bring an end to the wickedness of the earth. He will punish the rebellion of all people and he will do it worldwide.

The Sealing of God’s People

However, in the midst of this, at different portions of the book, we get glimpses of good news. Despite this judgment that is falling upon the earth, God is still caring for his people. Many of God’s people will undergo persecution during this tumultuous time, but as the people of Israel were sheltered from the worst effects of the ten plagues, so also will God’s people be sheltered from these terrible judgments. In chapter 7 we see 144,000 Jewish people who are converted to Christ and are sealed to be his witnesses against all the ungodliness of the earth. Along with them is a great multitude of Gentile people, many of whom are martyred, but who are specially cared for by God. In chapter 11 we learn of two witnesses who will be brought forward to preach and prophesy during these final terrible days. They will preach and convert many and will be hated and eventually killed. But they will rise again three days later, and no one will be able to stop their work.

The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet

Also being presented in these final chapters of Revelation are a presentation of what the evil of the earth will look like. In chapter 12 we get a cosmic picture of Satan and how he tried to stop the birth of Christ. Having been unsuccessful at doing so, he is cast down to the earth where in these final days he will make war against God’s people. He will not be alone as he makes this war. In chapter 13 we get a picture of a beast who rises out of the sea. The sea is often a symbol of chaos and evil in Biblical literature. What is this beast? It is final empire that will dominate the world in the final days, headed up by a man who will control its power. He is Satan’s version of Christ—his own manifestation of his ungodly power. This being is often referred to in popular verbiage as “the Anti-Christ.” The beast will be accompanied by a false prophet (a second beast) who will spread the blasphemies of this man’s power and kingdom. It will be a government built upon human achievement, the second coming of the spirit of the tower of Babel, and it will be hostile to the true people of God. It will control the world, and only those who bow to its demands will be able to do business within it.

The Final Judgment

With this terrible vision of the beast that is presented, some good news returns in chapters 17, 18, and 19. God’s judgment is going to fall upon the beast. In chapter 17 we see a picture of the false religion of this empire being thrown down. In chapter 18 we see its commerce utterly destroyed. And then finally in chapter 19 comes the climactic moment we have all been waiting for…Christ returns victoriously with all his saints accompanying him. As the nations have been gathered together for a great war, Christ will return and smite them all with power of his word. The kingdoms of this world have now become the kingdom of our Christ and he will reign forever and ever.

The brutality of God’s judgment in chapter 19 gives way to a thousand year peaceful kingdom of Christ and his saints upon the earth in chapter 20 as a reward for their faithfulness. All of God’s people from all of history will join with Christ to rule over the earth, thus completing creation’s mandate. However, the story is not completely done yet. We find out at the end of chapter 20 that Satan will be released for one last rebellion. But he will quickly be put down, and then we will enter into the final phase of human history—the eternal kingdom.

The New Heavens and Earth and the New Jerusalem

The book ends with the most beautiful of pictures in chapter 21 and 22. All things are made new. The heavenly Jerusalem descends from the sky as it is put in place on a new earth. All evil has now been cast out. All suffering is done away with. Death is no more. The tree of life returns, and the dwelling of God will be directly with his people. No longer will we need the light of the sun or the light of the moon and stars, for God himself will give us his light. There will be no temple there because the Lamb himself will be our temple. And we will have all of eternity to reign with Christ, to explore the wonders and depths of God, and to enjoy everlasting fellowship with one another.

Is there a better way for the Bible to end? Is there a better way to end these articles? This is what our hope is aimed at. God will make all things new. Don’t you want to be there? Isn’t it worth everything to obtain that kingdom?

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