The book of Revelation is nothing like any other New Testament writing. It is a book so packed full of imagery and symbols to leave the mind boggling. And yet, when you persevere (preferably with a study guide at your side!), it unlocks a whole further aspect to one’s understanding of the gospel and relationship with Jesus. It is impossible in so few available words to go into detail of John’s visions and their meanings, and there are many study guides that do a far better job than I ever could. Instead I want to share some of what we can learn from Revelation, with the hope of encouraging you to read it for yourselves.
Have you ever found yourself trying to piece together what, as a Christian, you have been told to believe in terms of what happens when we die? Where is heaven? Who goes to heaven? When will Jesus return?
We are often expected to know the answers to these questions. And many people point to Revelation as the place they claim to have found these answers. But I do not think this is the purpose of Revelation. I do not believe that God’s intention is to reveal precise details of the where, when, who and how in terms of when Jesus will return, who precisely (in number or identity) will be saved and how it will happen. Revelation is essentially a recording of John’s (his identity is much debated) vision of being in the throne room of God, and of what he has seen in the throne room.
The whole book is about God re-establishing his rule on earth as revealed to John through these visions. Much of John’s visions are symbolic rather than literal. They tell of spiritual battles and of the final victory won by God.
So what can we learn from Revelation?
1. Revelation informs us of and helps us to understand the spiritual battle that is currently going on.
In chapters 4 – 14, John’s visions give us a glimpse into this spiritual battle that is happening during the now and the not yet that we find ourselves in (i.e. before Jesus returns). It shows us that though Jesus has won the victory through his death and resurrection, God has not yet brought down the final judgement onto Satan and all of evil. Throughout these visions, we see God warning people to repent and follow him.
Alongside this, there are visions of those whom have been martyred for Christ pleading with God to bring about the final judgement and end all suffering. And yet, God delays his judgement. Why? Because he is waiting.
Revelation shows us that God is playing the long game. He is waiting to give as many as possible the chance to repent and follow him.
So why does John inform us of this spiritual battle? To encourage us to pray and intercede.Much of what we read in Revelation can seem scary on first reading. But actually the imagery is powerful and shocking not to fill us with fear, but to implore us as a church to get on our knees and pray.
When John stands in the throne room, he realises that he isn’t just a spectator. He realises that he, along with all other Christians, has a role to play within this spiritual battle. And much of this role is to pray for those whom do not yet know Jesus to come to know him, and for God’s kingdom to come.
2. Revelation reminds us of our role as Christ’s followers within this spiritual battle.
John talks of the suffering Jesus’ followers. There is constant reference to the fact that it is the sacrifice of Jesus’ followers that contributes to God’s victory over evil. God has chosen to involve his church in the defeating the enemy. The challenge to us is that as Christ’s followers we should not shy away from suffering and sacrifice.
Indeed Revelation goes further than this. John suggests that sacrifice and suffering are the very weapons we have been given in order implement Christ’s victory over evil. There are plagues sent to earth to warn people to repent. Yet these plagues are not effective. It isn’t until the people of God are seen to be sacrificing even their own lives that the people begin to repent.
This is both an incredibly powerful and at the same time terrifying message. But it isn’t meant to invoke fear. In fact the challenge is there to encourage us to keep going. It reminds us that our suffering is not in vain. We are not discouraged, for we know that ultimately our sacrifice will help lead to the end of all suffering.
3. We have this book to inspire and grow our faith.
At the end of Revelation (Chapter 21) we finally see God’s glorious victory, his unending reign over the new heaven and earth established. This is, unsurprisingly, the best-known part of Revelation. Finally everything makes sense.
All of the battles prior to this chapter, all of the evil that we see in our world, are put into the context of what is waiting for us: the incredible promise that we, his bride, will one day be with our God, that there will be no more suffering, and that we will live with him in a way that is far and beyond anything we could ever imagine. There could be no greater promise and no greater encouragement as we persevere in following Christ.
My name is Henrietta, though most people know me as H. I live in Brixton with my husband and children. I am ordained but currently spend most of my time immersed in the chaos of looking after my 3 small children and squeezing in some ministry when I can.