In a time of declining faith, we need the Revelation message
Living faith in God is one of the burning issues of our time. That’s because for all practical purposes God is dead to many Christians. They may profess to believe in God, but they think and live as if he did not exist.
Many see Revelation mainly as a forecast of specific events that can be pinpointed in our day. But Revelation does not offer — nor has it ever offered — a blueprint of future events.
Revelation was originally written to help the first-century church with its spiritual concerns. However, its message is applicable to all Christians at all times.
Revelation explains God’s purpose and the causes of the world’s problems, giving assurance and hope to those who follow God’s will. Its main themes include:
1. God is Supreme Ruler.
2. Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain to redeem his people.
3. Jesus is worthy of worship
4. Jesus is the Judge of the living and the dead. His final judgment of the nations will take place after his second coming.
5. God’s faithful people must live in a spiritually corrupt world until Jesus returns. In spite of trials, his people remain spiritually secure.
6. Christians must remain faithful in their trials and not give their allegiance to the corrupt world characterized by “Babylon the Great.”
7. The patience and faithfulness of the suffering saints will result in their receiving a glorious inheritance at the return of Jesus Christ.
Such a crisis of faith among Christians is not new. The first-century church also had its own problems of faith. Like today, some Christians of that time were dying spiritually. Many Christians were pressured to compromise with the pagan society they lived in. Many in the church were enticed by the alluring immoral world to break faith with God.
The church was small, persecuted and hated. At times violent persecution tried the church’s faith. With the passage of time, expectations that Jesus would return soon gradually diminished. With uncertainty and evil abounding, the church was asking two faith-related questions: Why hasn’t Jesus returned as promised (2 Peter 3:4)? How long must the suffering go on (Revelation 6:10)?
False teachers, meanwhile, advised accommodation with pagan beliefs and Roman politics. They led many converts away from Christ and back into the world.
Then a book we know as Revelation or the Apocalypse was written to encourage the church and to restore the faith of the members. Most conservative scholars believe the book of Revelation was written about A.D. 96.
Seven short, stylized letters in chapters 2 and 3 graphically describe the major faith-destroying ideas gripping the church. These letters, written to seven churches in what is now western Turkey, address problems symptomatic of the church as a whole.
We don’t know whether most of the members in the first-century churches accepted the urging of Revelation to become rejuvenated in their faith. But those Christians who took the book to heart would have experienced the power of renewed faith.
Although Revelation was written to the late first-century church, its message speaks to us as well. The book can help stir us to a powerful faith in God. The message of Revelation helps us understand that Christ is the foundation of our faith.
Revelation’s main concern is with spiritual survival. It reveals how the church can survive in a hostile world. The book proclaims the wonderful, faith-building news that, despite appearances to the contrary, God is in charge of history, the world and our lives.
Revelation assures us of a future in which evil will end, even though we may not personally live to see it. The book tells us that the many adversities and sufferings Christians endure are not in vain. Christians may suffer in this life, but in the end the returning Christ will judge the world and save his people.
The final message of Revelation is that God will intervene in human history through Christ and forever eliminate evil and reward the faithful. It tells us the future belongs to those who put their faith in the crucified and glorified Savior of humanity — Jesus Christ.
J. Ramsey Michaels, professor of religious studies at Southwest Missouri State University, puts it well: “At the heart of the Book of Revelation is a story, the same gospel story that echoes throughout the entire New Testament, about a slain Lamb victorious over death and evil and a God who makes everything new” (Interpreting the Book of Revelation, page 147).
Lord of history
Revelation encourages persecuted and suffering Christians to find strength and hope in God’s power, love and justice. To this end, in the book’s fourth chapter, God is picture figuratively as sitting on the throne of the universe (Revelation 4:1-11).
In the fifth chapter, we see Jesus Christ, the Lamb, who has made salvation possible (Revelation 5:1-14). He is the key to the book of Revelation and safeguards the destiny of the church. Chapter 5 closes with a chorus of praise for the glorified Christ: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (verse 12).
Revelation tells us Jesus Christ has won the victory over every evil. Through every trial, even death, his people are spiritually safe and secure through faith in him. Thus, the book of Revelation answers the question every Christian has asked: Where is God, and why are we suffering?
The book of Revelation reaches across the centuries to lift the hopes of those who trust in Christ the Lamb, and exhorts them to persevere. It has provided hope for many generations of Christians.
That same message motivates those who follow Jesus Christ today. No matter what happens to the church, God knows the needs of his people. Even though some are killed for their faith, he will vindicate the cause of the righteous. Despite appearances to the contrary, God rules in human affairs, and he will bring his people through every trial.
Revelation proclaims the joy of salvation in the midst of a turbulent and corrupt world. It focuses on the reality of the eternal kingdom of God — the new Jerusalem — in which “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
God will then be with all his people in a final way when the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Revelation 11:15). Until then, as members of the body of Christ, the church, we must be patient — follow God — keep the faith — trust him to work out his wonderful plan — and “wait a little longer” (Revelation 6:11).
Worthy Is the Lamb
One of the most paradoxical parts of Revelation is John’s vision of the lion followed immediately by a slain lamb. As the vision opens in Revelation 5:1-5, John is told that the Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the scroll sealed with seven seals.
But as John looks for a lion, he sees a lamb instead (verse 6). It is a grisly sight, for the lamb appears to have been slaughtered. This is the first occurrence of lamb imagery in Revelation. It’s as though the image has been kept for its dramatic entrance precisely until this point.
The Lamb is Revelation’s defining title for Christ. This lamb imagery, in turn, is connected to the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The imagery is central to the prophecy of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. There the future sacrifice for sin is pictured as a lamb being led to the slaughter. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, for he was the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world.
In the book of Revelation, this lamb metaphor has a double image. It tells us the slaughtered Lamb is coming a second time as the Word of God’s wrath to deal with all who oppose him (Revelation 6:16; 19:7, 9, 11-16).
But Jesus Christ, the Lamb, first shed his own blood. That is what makes him worthy to open the scroll and reveal the message of the book of Revelation. The angelic hosts of heaven praise the Lamb, saying he is worthy to open the book’s meaning because he was killed. With his blood he purchased people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Thus, there is a paradox about the picture in Revelation 5. Though its central figure has triumphed (the Lion), he appears to have been conquered and killed (the Lamb). Jesus overcame the world by sacrificing himself. His supreme act of triumph was accomplished by shedding his own blood (Revelation 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11).
Jesus’ death as the Lamb of God gained a victory over the cosmic powers in opposition to God. The Lamb of God defeated Satan, sin and the power of the grave. That is the message of Revelation 5: Jesus has won the victory over his enemies by sacrificing his life as the Lamb. Through this act he is worthy to return as the “Lion” to rule the nations.
Thus, Jesus as Lamb tells Christians — his lambs — that they are to suffer the outrageous darts of their oppression in patience. They must be submissive to God and place their unswerving allegiance with him. He will vindicate the cause of those whose faith remains in him.
Author: Paul Kroll, 1995, 2013