22 March 2016

Overview of the Apocalypse: A Summary of the Book of Revelation

Doing some studying this afternoon in preparation for a Bible school class tonight and came across an article I had written for a group of high school students in a Bible study several years back. Enjoy and Lord bless!

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The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1) contains 22 chapters, 404 verses, and 12,000 words. It was penned by the apostle John (who wrote 4 other New Testaments books bearing his name – the Gospel of John and the epistles 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John), but we know that the words came from God Himself (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Preliminary Observations

First, it is essential that we note the placement of the book. Revelation is the last of the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible. It is placed last in God’s order of books because one cannot rightly understand this book without a working knowledge of the prior sixty-five books. However, because of its fascinating subject matter, many Christians want to begin their Bible reading and study with it and many ministers want to teach it to their congregations before they have taught the rest of the Bible. This inevitably leads to confusion and misunderstanding.

The book of Revelation does not stand by itself. It is the culmination of God’s dealings with men, angels, devils, and planet Earth. All that has gone before has led up to this summation. Without knowledge fo the former, one can only misinterpret or misapply the latter. In fact, 278 of the 404 verses in the book contain references or allusions to the Old Testament.

Those who begin their Bible study with Revelation end up interpreting its strange statements by trying to fit them into the accepted findings of modern science. Those who look to this book for exciting sermon materials end up subjecting its contents to the headlines in the daily newspaper.

Only God knows how many outright lies have been declared as “new truth from the book of Revelation” by those who did not know the scriptural foundation for its contents. We must not begin the Bible where God ends it.

Second, the book of Revelation is divided into three distinct sections. Chapters 1-3 give a chronological picture of the church age, and chapters 19-22 give an orderly picture of the summation of all things. The material in chapters 4-18 shows the outpouring of God’s wrath and judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth in response to their rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Revelation is given by God to show us how each crisis will end and how each problem will be solved. Because of this, it is best to study Revelation by themes (for example: the beast, God’s wrath during the first 3½ years, destruction of nature, etc.) rather than by chapters. If one studies the book by themes, much of the material will be found to overlap and supplement other portions of the book.

Second, there is much debate as to the proper method of interpreting Revelation. Some teach that the book is historical and presents a mystical look into the history of past ages. Others hold that the book is symbolism and seek to find the secret message in each verse.

However, the text itself declares that the book is one of prophecy, looking to events which would take place after John’s departure from this life. We are told seven times in Revelation that the contents of the book are prophetic (1:3; 10:11; 19:10; 22:7, 10, 18-19).

One final principle that is essential to the proper study and interpretation of any passage of scripture and is absolutely imperative for the student of the book of Revelation is the principle of literal interpretation. Unless the scripture explicitly states otherwise, it means exactly what it says. Where the Bible uses allegory, it is very careful to point this out (Galatians 4:24). When Jesus spoke a parable, He was always very careful to say so up front (Matthew 21:33; Matthew 24:34; et al.). When the Bible uses pictures and symbols, it is very careful to define what they represent (Mark 4:13-20).

So when the Book of Revelation speaks of locusts (chapter 9), it’s not talking about military helicopters. When the Bible says that the third part of the trees will be burnt up (chapter 8), that’s exactly what it means will happen. When the book makes reference to a star called Wormwood (chapter 8), it doesn’t mean a spaceship. You get the point.


Contents of the Book

The instruction John was given by the Lord to write the Book of Revelation well summarizes the contents of the record:

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter (Revelation 1:19). 

THE THINGS WHICH THOU HAST SEEN…

In chapter 1, John sees a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory standing in the midst of 7 golden candlesticks. He is instructed to write the things he has seen and pronounces a blessing upon those who read, hear, and keep the words of the prophecy…for the time is at hand.

THE THINGS WHICH ARE…

Chapters 2 and 3 consist of 7 letters to the 7 churches of Asia Minor. Each is given a commendation (with the exception of Laodicea), a rebuke (with the exception of Philadelphia), and a promise to those who overcome.

Not only did these churches literally exist and receive these letters in the days of the Apostle John, the content of the letters serve to form an outline of the history of the church that Jesus established:

EPHESUS (2:1-7)
  34-170 AD
    The apostolic period (see the book of Acts)

SMYRNA (2:8-11)
  170-312
    Rome persecutes the church

PERGAMOS (2:12-17)
  312-606
    Rome accepts the church

THYATIRA (2:18-29)
  606-1517
    Rome controls the church

SARDIS (3:1-6)
  1517-1750
    Churches pull out of Rome

PHILADELPHIA (3:7-13)
  1750-1881
    The modern missions movement

LAODICEA (3:14-22)
  1881-present
    Lukewarm mega-church
                 
These letters serve as a helpful benchmark for any individual or group of Christians. We should use the strengths and weaknesses addressed in the various churches to examine ourselves on a continual basis and determine if our lives and the activities of our fellowships are pleasing to the Lord.

THE THINGS WHICH SHALL BE HEREAFTER…

• The Catching Away of the Church

Chapter 4 opens with a call to “Come up hither!”  This represents the upward call of God’s saints when Jesus returns to the clouds and catches away the believers. This is commonly referred to as the rapture and is described in 1 Corinthians 15:49-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

The activities of chapters 4 and 5 take place around the throne of God. There the saints cast crowns before His throne and offer songs and shouts of worship and praise to the Lamb who is found worthy to open the 7-sealed book.

Those who heard the call to “Come up hither!” (4:1) are not seen again until Jesus Christ returns to the earth to destroy the antichrist and his army at the battle of Armageddon and establish His kingdom in Jerusalem (19:11-21).

For this and many other reasons, we are certain that no believer will be “left behind” to experience the horrors that will come upon the earth and its inhabitants during the 7 years of Great Tribulation, as revealed by this book.

• The Tribulation

Following this great catching away of the believers, there will be a period of time spoken of in the prophetic scriptures, both Old and New Testament, as the Tribulation. It is described in chapters 6-19 of the Apocalypse.

The Tribulation will last 7 years with two distinct 3½ year periods (Daniel 9:27 w/ Genesis 29:27-28; Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 12:6; Revelation 13:5).

At the beginning of the tribulation, the antichrist will rise to power. He will rule over a one-world government, consisting of a ten-nation confederacy (Revelation 17:12-14; Daniel 7:7-8, 19-28). He will be a master-deceiver and people will worship him as the Messiah (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Revelation 13:5-6, 15).

He will make a peace treaty with the nation of Israel and allow them to offer sacrifice in the temple. But after 3½ years he will break the treaty and set up an idol in the holiest place of the temple (the abomination of desolation spoken of in Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11; Matthew 24:15).

That’s when all hell breaks loose. He will cause all men to take a mark, without which no man can buy or sell. Refusal to take the mark will result (if they catch you) in death by beheading (Revelation 13:16-19; 20:4).

The antichrist will wage war against those who trust the Lord during this time, but they will be miraculously protected by the Lord when they flee to the mountains outside Judaea (probably a place called Petra – Matthew 24:15-21; Revelation 12:6, 14-17).   

At the end of the Tribulation, the armies of the antichrist will be gathered to the plain of Megiddo or “Armageddon” (Revelation 16:12-16). The emperor Napoleon viewed this place as the most perfect battlefield in all the world. There the Lord Jesus Christ will come to the earth with the armies of heaven following and will utterly destroy His enemies, banishing the antichrist to the lake of fire forever (Revelation 19:11-21). This event is referred to in scripture as “the end of the world” (Matthew 13:36-50).

• The 21 Tribulation Judgments

Chapters 6-19 of Revelation reveal 21 plagues that come upon the earth and its population during the time of the tribulation. These are as follows:

THE 7 SEALS (6:1-8:5)
  1. 1.     White horse: the rise of antichrist
  2. 2.     Red horse: war
  3. 3.     Black horse: famine
  4. 4.     Pale horse: death
  5. 5.     Martyrdom: souls under the altar, saints persecuted, aid promised
  6. 6.     Great earthquake: sun blackened, moon turns to blood, stars fall, men fear
  7. 7.     Half hour of silence in heaven…opens to the 7 trumpets


THE 7 TRUMPETS (8:6-11:19)
  1. 1.     Hail and fire mingled with blood: 1/3 of the trees and all grass burnt up
  2. 2.     1/3 of the sea becomes blood and 1/3 of the sea creatures die
  3. 3.     The star Wormwood: 1/3 of the rivers smitten
  4. 4.     Sun, moon, and stars give off 1/3 of their light
  5. 5.     Locusts: torment men 5 months, men seek death and cannot find it
  6. 6.     2,000,000 horsemen: slay 1/3 of the population
  7. 7.     Heavenly announcement…opens to 7 vials


THE 7 VIALS (16:1-21)
  1. 1.     Boils: infest those who have taken the mark of the beast
  2. 2.     Sea becomes blood: all living souls therein die
  3. 3.     Rivers become blood
  4. 4.     Sun scorches men with heat
  5. 5.     Darkness: men gnaw their tongues for pain
  6. 6.     Euphrates dries up: kings gathered to Armageddon
  7. 7.     It is done: thunder, lightning, earthquake, Babylon falls

The book of Revelation well demonstrates the truth of Romans 2:4. It is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance. His judgment (though just) only further hardens those who have already rejected His love.

• The Millennial Kingdom

The events described in chapter 20 are intriguing indeed. Following the battle of Armageddon, Satan will be bound, and Jesus Christ will rule and reign as King over all the earth with His saints for 1,000 years. He will restore the creation to its original condition (Isaiah 35), and there will finally be peace on earth (Isaiah 2:1-5; Luke 2:14). Those who survived the Tribulation and were kind to God’s people are allowed to enter this kingdom in their human bodies (Matthew 25:31-46). The saints of all ages will also be present, howbeit in our glorified bodies (2 Timothy 2:12).

At the end of the 1,000 years, Satan will be loosed and will mount one final effort against the Lord of glory. He will gather an army from the four quarters of the earth (those born during this kingdom who are not fond of the king) and come to battle at Jerusalem. But God will send fire down from heaven and annihilate the entire host. Satan will then join the antichrist in the lake of fire.

After the 1,000 years is the final judgment where all those whose names are not found written in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once.

• Eternity

The final 2 chapters of Revelation give us a small glimpse of God’s eternal kingdom. God creates a new heaven and a new earth for all His saints to inhabit.

New Jerusalem (heaven) will be the eternal home of all those who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior from the time that He died and rose again until the time that He returns to the clouds to take His church to heaven. The gates are made of pearl. The streets are pure gold. From the throne runs a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, with fruit trees growing on the banks. There will be no more need for the sun. God’s glory will light up the entire city, which by the way is 1,500 miles3.

The earth (and the planets, Isaiah 45:18) will be inhabited by those who followed God prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and following His return to the clouds to catch away His church.

The Bible doesn’t say much about what we’ll be doing for eternity. But this much I do know, every time the scriptures bring us to the throne of God, there is a multitude that is giving Him the praise and worship He so deserves. I don’t know about you, but I look forward to joining that company.

EVEN SO COME, LORD JESUS…


Concluding Thoughts

The Book of Revelation is terrifying to read – if you have any feeling that you might be around on the earth to experience it. The hope of all true believers is to be caught away by the Lord prior to this time when His wrath is poured out upon the earth (God has no desire for us to experience His wrath, 1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Consider the following comparison:

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come (Joel 2:31).

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come
(Acts 2:20). 

Notice the difference. What Joel describes as terrible, Peter merely views as notable. Why is that?  Peter is a believer, and there’s no chance that he’ll be around to experience the terror that will come upon the earth during that time.

Examining the truth about the apocalypse – and the horror connected with it – ought to cause us to examine ourselves and make sure of our standing before God. When Jesus comes, will we go with Him, or will we be left?  NOW is the time to make sure you have your sins forgiven. And the only way to do that is to go to God as a sinner, believing with all your heart that what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross is the only way for you to be forgiven. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).

  

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