Saturday, August 6, 2016

What is Clear in Revelation

There are many things about the Book of Revelation which are not clear.  Good, Bible believing, Jesus following, smart, gifted Christian teachers, writers, preachers, and church members disagree about the interpretation of Revelation at many levels.  We disagree about the timing of fulfillment, the degree of symbolism, the specific meaning of many of the symbols, and much more.  I am not claiming to have some super insight which will settle all these disagreements.  What I do have is a clear understanding about a major purpose of the Book of Revelation.

James tells us that we are to “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).  How do we “do” what we “hear” in the Book of Revelation?  The answer becomes clear when we understand the purpose of Revelation.  I’m not claiming this is the only purpose, but it is a clear purpose and one that is relevant to every Christian living on this planet.  Here it is:


Through the Book of Revelation our Lord encourages all of us, His followers, to persevere in the way of the cross.


What Do I Mean by “The Way of the Cross”?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NIV).

Jesus won His great victory for us by the most surprising method imaginable:  He allowed Himself to be crucified.  But crucifixion is not the end of His story. His suffering and death lead to resurrection, victory and glory.

Jesus invites all of us to join Him in glory.  But to get there He asks us to take the same path He took.  This path involves making choices which lead to sacrifice and suffering.  He does not offer us any other path.

The path of sacrifice and suffering for the cause of Christ is the right path, but it is not an easy path.  The world, our flesh, and the Devil try to pull us off this path by luring us with false promises of pleasure, safety, or comfort.  When “pulling off the path” doesn’t work, these same enemies try to push us off the path of Christ through threats, our own fears, and outright attacks of all kinds.  To stay on the path we need encouragement, and lots of it.  God gives us encouragement through His Word (Romans 15:40).  His Word includes The Book of Revelation, which is full of this encouragement to persevere on the hard path that leads to glory.

How does the Book of Revelation help us to persevere on this difficult road?

God speaks to us through John in Revelation in many ways to encourage us to stay on the path of temporary sacrifice and suffering which leads to eternal joy and glory.  Here are five of the ways we are encouraged:

1.  We are called to join a fellowship of others who are suffering for the same great cause.

John identifies himself this way:

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9 NIV)

The human author of Revelation is not asking us to do anything which he himself has not been doing.  He also reminds us that while we often feel like a tiny remnant in this age, one day we will be part of a great multitude of people who are so glad that they chose to follow Jesus (Revelation 7:9).

More important than inviting us to join himself on the path, or even inviting us to be part of this great multitude, John reminds us that our Lord Himself is among those who suffered for God’s cause (Revelation 5:6).  When we choose to suffer for God, we are in really good company!

2.  In Revelation, our Lord explicitly encourages His people to persevere in suffering.

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown. (Revelation 2:10 NIV)

3.  Through John’s vision, we see the real nature of the world that tempts us.

The world can appear good and desirable.  But through Revelation we see that the world system which lures us is comparable to monstrous beasts and harlots deserving of wrath.  Seeing the spiritual reality behind temptation to compromise with the world makes compromising look a lot less attractive!

4.  Revelation reminds us that God is in control

When we are down here on earth in the midst of chaotic-feeling painful realities, we can lose track of Who is in control.  When we read Revelation we see over and over again that God is on His great, majestic throne.  Powerful angels, angel armies, and nature all obey His commands.  Satan and his angels are no match for God Almighty!  When we choose the way of the cross, we are choosing the winning side!

5.  Revelation tells us how it all turns out

In this present age, it often appears that those who compromise with the world are doing great, while we who are faithful to Jesus get trampled on.  There’s truth in that, and Revelation does not pretend otherwise.  But this situation is temporary.  In the end things turn out really, really badly for those who chose to follow the ways of this world.  And things turn out wonderfully good, far beyond our ability to imagine, for those who have followed Jesus in the way of the cross.

I’ve only scratched the surface!  Read Revelation.  You’ll be blessed.  And one of the blessings you will receive is encouragement to persevere in the way of the cross.

Applications in Our Lives

I want to close with some applications for our lives.  When we think about the way of the cross, it is true this may include things like being imprisoned or even being killed for Jesus.  But for most Christians it does not include these “extreme applications”.  It is vital to see how “the way of the cross” applies to people like you and me who have not been put in prison for Christ.  Every disciple is called to walk the way of the cross, but the specific applications vary greatly.  Here are some examples of the way of the cross:

1.  Choosing to be a faithful husband and father instead of chasing after pleasures, “fun”, wealth, and power in this world.
2.  Giving up your own time and dreams and freedom to be a caregiver to those who need extra care.  This would include mothers of young children, those who care for the sick, and those who are caring for elderly family members, among others.
3.  Being a faithful church member who gives up some of the few precious hours you have left after work and family obligations to worship and serve in your local church and gives up some of your hard earned money to support God’s work even through your own family budget is always tight.
4.  Taking a stand for truth and righteousness which may cost you some relationships or even your job, or in some places may land you in jail or cost you your life.
5.  Leaving your “comfort zone” to serve God in some place or way that involves sacrifice.  Sometimes this involves crossing the oceans, other times it involves crossing the street.

There is still a lot of mystery in Revelation.  But I hope you can now see that a major purpose of Revelation is to help us make the hard choices God calls us to make as we follow Jesus in the way of the cross.  In this way, Revelation is harmonious with the rest of the Bible.  Read it and find courage!

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

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