Friday, August 11, 2017

The Book of Revelation is Practical and Applicable

Many Christians become so wrapped up in debates about how to interpret John’s vision that they miss Revelation’s power and purpose.  I’m going to propose something radical.  One of the main points of Revelation does not depend on any of the following:

    Is a premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial view correct?
     Was most of Revelation fulfilled in the first century, does it refer to events all throughout church history, or is it focused mainly on the last seven years of this age?
     Who are the 144,000?
     Who are the beast and the false prophet?
     What role will modern Israel and other nations play in fulfilling John’s visions?
     Are the locusts and fire-breathing horses a vision of modern military weapons, demonic beings, or something else?

I’m not saying it’s wrong to ask such questions, think about them, and discuss them.  I have.  I do. But I am saying that there is a danger that we can get so wrapped up in these questions that we miss the main point and purpose of Revelation. We miss the forest for the trees. God help us.

The book of Revelation is practical.  It is designed to be helpful in the life of every Christian who lives from the time John recorded his visions until Jesus returns. The purpose of John’s book is the same as the purpose of the Psalms, the purpose of the prophetic books, and the gospels, and the epistles:

NIV Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

I’m claiming, and I hope to show you, that what is true of “everything that was written in the past” (relative to Paul) is also true for the book of Revelation.  The book of Revelation is intended to give us endurance and hope. Before we see how Romans 15:4 applies to Revelation, let’s think about how it works with the story of David and Goliath.

David fought a literal nine foot tall giant.  It is very unlikely you will ever be called upon to do that!  Yet, it is not difficult for us to see how the story of David and Goliath is relevant to our lives.

We apply the story of David and Goliath by seeing that we need to trust God when we face giant problems. A similar method of applying the Bible can be used with other stories, prophecies, and the Psalms.  These often tell or are based on historical events which are very different in their details from what we experience.  Yet, we are able to  see how God can use these parts of the Bible to give us endurance and hope in the difficult details of our own lives.

Now, let’s apply the same method of applying the Bible which we use with David and Goliath (and many other parts of the Bible) to four parts of John’s visions.

The Deceiving False Prophet

In Revelation a “second beast” appears.  This beast is a false prophet whom the Devil uses to lead people astray.  There are many interpretations concerning who this false prophet is, when he will live, and how he will work.  But no matter which interpretation is closest to the truth, you need to ask how John’s vision of the false prophet applies to your life here and now. Here are some of the many possible applications:

* We need to seek God’s help, work, and pray in order to see people set free from false religions such as Buddhism and Islam, and false world views such as atheism and secularism.
* We must resist and equip others to resist the false narrative of unguided evolution.
* We need to be on guard against false teaching and false prophets in the church.  I’m not talking about minor differences of interpretation. I’m talking about teaching which denies or creates doubt and confusion about the core beliefs of true Christianity.
* All this means that we should be constantly and vigilantly reading, meditating on, studying, and teaching God’s Word.  Knowing God’s truth is our best defense against the Devil’s many lies.

The Seducing Whore of Babylon

In his vision, John sees a prostitute riding a seven headed beast.  The prostitute is identified as “Babylon”.  She is wearing gold and expensive clothes:

NIV Revelation 17:4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.

As with the other symbols in Revelation, there are endless interpretations, each supported by wearisome arguments.  But notice this:  you can and should apply this vision to your life today no matter which of these interpretations are correct.

You will be tempted to compromise your faith and/or your morals to enjoy some of the luxuries and pleasures this world has to offer.  Don’t do it! The prostitute is an image of temporary, seductive power and pleasure.  But Revelation reveals that in the end she suffers and is destroyed.

Here are some of many possible practical applications:

* Don’t give in to the temptation to “enjoy” an affair, or one night stand, or fling, or anything else you want to call adultery.  It may very well bring some short lived pleasure, but the end will be suffering, and if you don’t repent, destruction.
* Don’t compromise to make money.  Don’t lie.  Don’t cut corners.  The benefits you gain will not be worth the price you pay in the long run.
* Don’t turn to alcohol or drugs or porn to numb your pain and find a little bit of fun and good feelings.  The fun will soon be gone and the payment will be heavy.

The Economic Pressure of 666

If deception and seduction don’t get you to compromise, there’s always economic pressure.

In John’s vision, everyone has to get the mark of the beast:  666.  If you don’t get the mark, you are not allowed to buy or sell.

Some Christians are worried about whether they will be asked to get a 666 microchip.  Others are confident that they will be raptured away first.  Either of those views might be true, but focusing only on those interpretations may cause us to miss the practical applications which Christians around the world face today.

Consider the economic pressure some Christians face:

*  In communist nations, it has often been much easier to go to university or get a good job if you are a member of the party.
*  In Muslim nations, Christians sometimes have a much harder time getting licenses and permits needed to do business.
*  In western nations, if you don’t go along with the radical homosexual agenda, you could be fined and have your business shut down.

Are you beginning to see how John’s visions are urgently relevant and practical to the lives of Christians today, as they have been throughout the history of the church? Let’s consider one more character from Revelation.

The Persecuting Beast

For those Christians who are not deceived by the false prophet, or seduced by the whore of Babylon, or compromised by economic pressure, the devil has another strategy:  violent persecution. In John’s vision, those who refuse to worship the beast get their heads chopped off.
Is this relevant for Christians in the world today?  Perhaps if you are reading this in the relative safe haven of the US or other “western nations”, you might not feel how frighteningly applicable John’s vision is.  Yet, around the world today, Christians are beaten, imprisoned, and killed for their faith.  Some have literally been beheaded.

It doesn’t matter if you are preterist or futurist, a pre-, a-, or post- tribber, or which of a hundred detailed interpretations of Revelation you hold to.  The application is the same.  When you are threatened with physical violence or even death for being a Christian, stand firm.

The Main Point

I’m not saying that the following is the only purpose of Revelation.  In fact, I believe and have written about other glorious truths seen in Revelation (see here). But I am convinced, based on long study of Revelation and based on experience with Christians facing pressure around the world, that the following is a good summary of one of the main purposes of Revelation:

Revelation is written to encourage Christians to stand firm for Christ and not compromise even when we are surrounded by deceptive worldviews and religions, infiltrated by false prophets and teachers, lured by tempting wealth and pleasure, and threatened with economic pressure and violent persecution.

Revelation encourages us to stand firm in many ways:

*  We are reminded that many other believers have faced the same pressures.
*  When we suffer, we are following not only the example of other Christians, but of the Lamb of God, who is also the Lion of Judah.
*  We are shown that, in the end, evil will be destroyed and those who gave in to evil will wish they hadn’t.
*  We are reminded that far above this evil world and all the forces of darkness, our Lord Jesus Christ reigns supreme.  He will shepherd us through the dark times and bring us safely to His Kingdom.
*  In the end, all our temporary sacrifices and sufferings will be worth it.  We will live and reign forever with God and Christ in His glorious, eternal kingdom. He will graciously reward us who have stood firm to the end.

So . . .

He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen. (Rev. 22:20-21 NIV)

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

1 comment:

  1. Great insights and application of God's Word. Thanks for the encouragement... and challenge, today!