The Focus of Revelation: Part 1

Norbert Lieth

There are as many different views on the last book of the Bible as there are grains of sand in the sea. But the first chapter makes it clear where the actual focus of Revelation lies, and what that means for our lives.

Christmastime at school. The teacher asks a boy, “What would you most like to get for Christmas?” The boy thinks of a framed photograph of his father. He is no longer there, and the boy misses him. Quietly, he replies, “I want my father to step out of the frame and be with us again.”

Jesus Christ has gone from us and has returned to heaven. We have Him before us in the image of the Bible. But one day He will step out of the frame of heaven and return to us. Until then, we long for Him like that boy longs for his father. The book of Revelation shows us how Jesus steps out of the frame to re-enter our world.

Revelation is a book of hope. Hope means blissful anticipation. The victorious Lord will certainly come back, and the kingdom of God will certainly be established. Thus, Revelation is about the fulfillment of the messianic kingdom announced in the Old Testament, in the Gospels, and in the first chapters of Acts.

“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ […] We give thee thanks, O LORD God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned” (Rev 11:15-17). “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev 19:6b).

It’s about our Lord Jesus Christ’s claim to power. The content of Revelation makes it clear how God continues the series of Old Testament prophets, especially in reference to the book of Daniel, but also Ezekiel, Zechariah, Isaiah, and Moses. The book reveals God’s path with Israel and the end-times nations. It is the book of the restoration of Israel and of all things: the eventual fulfillment of the prophets’ statements.

“But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets” (Rev 10:7). “And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done. Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Rev 22:6-7).

Thus, Revelation makes reference to the Old Testament prophets. It impressively portrays the fidelity of God, who fulfills all promises and arrives at the goal of the messianic kingdom with Israel.

The prophet Isaiah emphasized, “But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end” (Isa 45:17). It can hardly be stated more clearly. And that statement, as well as many others like it, finds its ultimate fulfillment in the time of Revelation.

“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of water of life freely” (Rev 21:5-6).

Peter, who held the “apostleship of the circumcision” (Gal 2:8), confirmed this truth when he called the people of Israel to repent. He said, “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21).

The Israelites did not repent in the days of the apostles. Their restoration, therefore, doesn’t take place until the time of repentance has come; and this in turn happens as soon as Revelation begins to be fulfilled.

The book of Revelation is clearly Hebrew in character. The many visions, pictures, numbers, objects, and angels are reminiscent of the Old Testament, of Israel. And there are innumerable parallels to the prophetic statements of the Old Covenant. In particular, the first verses of Revelation show where the focus of the book lies.

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Rev 1:1; cf. 22:6).

The word for Revelation used in the original Greek text means “to disclose.” We also know it as the term “apocalypse,” which means “uncovering.” “The Revelation” are the first two words in this book. The future is revealed because the whole of Revelation is prophetic. It shows us what God intends for the last days.

These “words of prophecy” (Rev 1:3; cf. 22:7) are the which must shortly come to pass” (Rev 1:1-4; 22:20; 22:6, 16). The church should be informed of God’s plan (Rev 22:16). But it’s also about those who live as servants of God in the time of the Apocalypse. For these, the things recorded here will be infinitely important.

Israel is called “servant” under the old covenant: “Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people” (Deut 32:43). And so Revelation says, “For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand” (Rev 19:2; cf. Lev 25:42, 55; Luke 1:54, 69; Isa 65:8-16). Above all, the prophets and those who served God among the Jewish people were given the title “servant” (Neh 1:6; Luke 2:29; Rev 10:7; 11:18; 15:3). The apostles also called themselves “servants” of the Lord (Phil 1:1; 2 Pet 1:1).

In the end-times discourses of the Lord Jesus, the term “servant” appears frequently with regard to Israel (Matt 21:34-36; 22:3-4; 24:45-50; 25:14, 19, 21; Luke 12:38). And Revelation calls the 144,000 Israelites of the twelve tribes “servants of our God” (Rev 7:3). The martyrs in heaven also receive this title (Rev 6:11). The whole book of Revelation is always addressed to the servants of God.

The formatting of Revelation 1:1 puts us back in the Old Testament books. For example, in the words of the prophet Amos, who writes, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7 NIV). That’s precisely what Revelation is about.

Revelation shows “things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev 1:1). That is, what should happen quickly. It’s about fast-moving events, about a compact time that, once started, will be done quickly. “I the LORD will hasten it in his time” (Isa 60:22b).

God must judge this world, and He will do it through Jesus Christ. Our Lord will punish this world in a short time and quickly, and then establish a long and lasting blessing. Contractions before childbirth come on suddenly; they are very violent and, once started, get faster and faster. But in proportion to a human life, they are short. So it is also said of the suffering that Christians are going through: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17).

It was an angel who gave the revelation to John (Rev 1:1; cf. 22:16). This angel is a personal messenger of the Lord, who assists John in the course of his visions by repeatedly giving him instructions; and whom John later attempts to worship, but the angel refuses (Rev 19:9-10; 22:8-9, 16).

This means that God the Father has entrusted the revelation to His Son. Jesus Christ passes it on to His angel. This angel shows it to John. And John records it for us. He therefore says of himself that he has testified to “the word of God [the Father], and the testimony of Jesus Christ [the Son], and of all things that he saw” (Rev 1:2).

John could have written Revelation’s introduction last, since it is in the past tense. That is, John first wrote down the visions that the angel had sent to him from the Father and Son, and then he wrote the introduction to the text and put it at the beginning.

Angels are ministering spirits for the elect; that is, the church (Heb 1:14). But especially often angels are called servants and messengers of Israel (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2). The church today, in the age of grace, is not taught by angels, but by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the reverse is true: the church doesn’t learn from angels, but angels learn from the church, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:10; cf. 1 Pet 1:12).

The apostle Paul even warns the church against encouraging an interest in angels: “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Col 2:18).

To this day, there have always been people who say that angels have appeared to them and given them messages or visions. Often, they boast by asserting that it was God who sent the angel to them. But that is very dangerous, “for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

The one who hears the revelation is praised by God as “blessed”: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Rev 1:3). Toward the end of Revelation, the same message is repeated: “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Rev 22:7).

Far too many Christians and churches regularly dismiss this precious promise, by not concerning themselves with Revelation at all. One might think that many believers can’t read properly, and thus understand the words of the Lord to mean, “Blessed is he who readeth not the words of this prophecy, and keepeth not those things which are written therein: for the time is not at hand…”

The doctrine of the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His kingdom is a major theme of the Bible. God’s Word speaks of His second coming roughly three times more than His first. The apostles counted on the return of the Lord Jesus within their lifetime. Therefore, Bible teacher William MacDonald admonishes us, “It is not enough to have kind thoughts about the Savior’s return. The crown of righteousness is reserved for those who love it enough to let the truth mold their lives. It is not enough to hold the truth about His coming; the truth must hold us.” Full of longing, we should be focused on Jesus’ return!

Revelation describes the end and purpose of God with His creation. It is the culmination of God’s counsel for the world through Jesus Christ. Revelation is the final triumph of the effects of Jesus’ first coming, death, and resurrection. Therefore, it is said that He is the firstborn from the dead and has given His blood for salvation (Rev 1:5); that He is the One who was, and is, and is to come (v. 4, 8); that He was dead and yet lives (v. 18); and that He has the keys of death (v. 18).

Midnight Call - 05/2019

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