Bible Passage: Revelation 1:1-8
Big Idea: Do not be Afraid of what you are about to Suffer
Intro: Morning friends, visitors and those online. My name is Matt Johnson and for the first time in 20 years – I’m attempting to tackle the biblical book of Revelation. So please join with me in prayer.
Well as we begin, I want to say today is TEACHING, not preaching. I’m giving you the background to Revelation. What’s more, we have so much ground to cover – that I’m not even giving you a nice illustration to get you started. If studying the book of Revelation itself – is not a BIG ENOUGH HOOK to draw you in – I don’t know what is? So without further ado – let me say Revelation was written at a time of increasing persecution.
Point 1: John writes Revelation in the Midst of Rising Persecution
Show: Rev.1:9 (Slide 2; READ).
Explain: Well as you can see the apostle John says he is on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. PATMOS is a small rugged island in the Mediterranean – that was sometimes used as a prison. It appears John is in the NAUGHTY CORNER because of the Word of God. And if you look back to verse 4 you’ll see it says; (Slide 3; Rev.1:4). So the apostle John is writing to churches in modern day Turkey.
The first question is – A) who put John on Patmos? The slightly more popular opinion is that John was exiled during the reign of a Roman Emperor named DOMITIAN in the early 90’s AD. THE REASON most people think Emperor Domitian is that an early church father named IRENAEUS said JOHN WROTE REVELATION DURING THE REIGN OF DOMITIAN.And most people take this pretty seriously, because IRENAEUS was the student of guy called Polycarp and Polycarp was the student of the apostle John. So there’s only like two degrees of separation from John.
But if Irenaeus is correct – we can throw one common interpretation of Revelation out the window straight away. You’ll find something in your handout called the PRETERIST interpretation of Revelation. I’ll put it up on the screen (Slide 4). Now if Irenaeus is correct – then Preterism which is a very common interpretation method of Revelation for Catholics and Anglicans becomes null and void. The preterist interpretation makes no sense – if John wrote Revelation in the 80’s-90’s AD. Just keep that in mind.
However, despite Irenaeus’ GOOD PEDIGREE – there are a few historical sources that point to Revelation being written during the days of the ROMAN EMPEROR NERO mid 60’s AD. An early edition of the SYRIAC BIBLE says John wrote Revelation in the days of Nero. Also a papyrii in the MURATORIAN CANON (that’s just for Pieter Reynders) and a couple of other early documents suggest Nero.
Ultimately, it is hard to be DEFINITIVE on Domitian or Nero. But I personally lean towards NERO. 1) Although, we know there was some Christian persecution in the days of Domitian, it was MUCH FIERCER in the days of Nero. 2) We also know 1 & 2 Peter were written to churches in Turkey experiencing suffering and persectuion before 70AD. Johns letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 reflect similar experiences. 3) What’s more, in Revelation 11, John is told to go and measure THE TEMPLE. This suggests the temple in Jerusalem still stands, which gives us a date before 70AD. 4) Finally, some of the stories in Revelation seems to better match the days oif Nero, than Domitian. So let me tell you briefly about the situation in Rome during the days of Nero…
Emperor Nero (the leader of the known world) began by marrying his sister (at least his half sister). I know it’s already sounding incestuous and demonic. But it gets more-messy. Nero came to the throne aged 16 (and his mother AGRIPPINA) kind of stole the throne. She had political opponents murdered and even fought the Roman Senate. She herself was a very wicked lady.
Now if you stand back and kind of squint – Nero and his mum start to look a bit like the beast in Revelation 17, with with the wicked Jezebel riding on the beasts back. In fact, there is this really cool thing called GEMATRIA. Every Jewish letter has a corresponding numeric value. So if you take Nero’s Greek name, transliterate it into Hebrew and then add up the Gematria numbers it adds up to 666. Cool hey? Now I’m not saying that is necessarily right and NO, I’M NOT A PRETERIST. But there are a lot of typological similarities to the days of Nero..
Anyway, lets get back to Nero. NERO – got sick of being married to his sister, so he murdered her. Then he also murdered mum. (Now the beast is starting to look like Satan. Remember, Satan was a murderer from the beginning. (So like father, like son). Meanwhile, Rome faced 1)terrible inflation, 2) messy government and 3) riots started in Jerusalem because; “Jewish Lives Matter.” But seriously big riots in Jerusalem. So Nero started printing money. He rounded up all the silver denarii, halved their size and doubled the quantity (and told everyone its still worth a day’s wage. Say what?!). Basically, he did exactly the same thing as the US Fed has been doing since the GFC in 2008. He also cut taxes for the richand for a while everyone loved him. He then married his second wife and probably murdered her too. There is a story of Nero kicking her to death in a fit of rage.Then, in July 64AD – Rome caught on fire (and burnt really, really badly). People were ticked and Nero needed someone to blame for all the problems. So he blamed the Christians – and all of sudden Christians were 1) being thrown to the lions, 2) forced to fight gladiators and 3) burnt alive. And no, I’m not making this stuff up. It was a very messy time to be a Christian.
Now during this persecution THE APOSTLE PAUL was beheaded and the APOSTLE PETER was crucified upside down. And I think there are allusions to this in Revelation 11 – which talks about two great Christian witnesses being murdered in the great city that is figuratively known as Sodom and Egypt.
Now hear me carefully because I don’t think Revelation 11 is actually prophesying about Peter and Paul. But I think the two witnesses in Revelation 11 are a type of Peter and Paul. Jesus always sent out his disciples two by two. And I think any Christian who read Revelation 11 in the first century – couldn’t help but think of Peter and Paul. The first generation of Christians came to a close with the martyrdom of their two greatest leaders and perhaps John is telling us that the last generation of Christians will come to a close with the martyrdom of two great Christian leaders. I’m not a preterist. But I see parrallels.
Now after this Nero became exceedingly proud. He was like the little horn mentioned in Daniel 8. In 67AD he actually competed in the Olympics. But he demanded the Greek’s add two new sports. The first “SPORT” was 1) singing and 2) the second was acting. (Again, I kid you not). Then, of course, when Nero – sang and acted – they awarded him gold medals. And in response – Nero waved all taxes in Greece until the end of his reign. So they worshiped him. But then a short time later in June 68AD Nero committed suicide. So the Greeks tax-free status didn’t last for very long…
Apply: But somewhere in all this chaos – I think Revelation was written probably just after Peter and Paul’s martyrdom. And during this time emperor worship was a temptation for Christians in Turkey. CHRISTIANITY had done very well in Turkey. But there were also IMPERIAL TEMPLES for emperor worship on every corner. And as persecution of Christians increased, it appears nominal church goers started going to the imperial temples and pretended to worship Nero – so they couldn’t get accuised of being Christians. Look like a Christian, smell like a Christian – you could easily end up food for the kitty cats in Rome. It was messy. And I want you think for a moment about how Christians probably felt – 1) with Peter and Paul being martyred; 2) John locked up on Patmos and 3) lots of nominal church goers starting to commit apostasy…
Point 2: John writes Revelation telling the Church to prepare for jail & death
Show: (Slide 2 – Rev.2:10).
Now if you want AN APPLICATION in todays sermon – that’s it. Are you ready to go to jail and/or die for Jesus? Could you say – OK? I’M READY. If you can’t answer “YES” to that question – I think we may have a problem as Christians. John is telling the church to prepare themselves 1) emotionally, 2) mentally and 3) spiritually – to go to jail and/or die for Jesus if necessary. Of course, that is part and parcel of being a Christian in many parts of the world.
But for the last 70 years the message of Christianity in the west has been “Come to Jesus and have your nicest, bestest middle-class life now.” Yet, I suspect it may only be a couple of years now – before some Christians are going to jail, simply for biblical truth. And as this begins to happen a stack of other so-called Christians – will probably deny Jesus and commit apostasy. So, I’d say one of the biggest applications in Revelation (increasingly relevant to us) is that faith must overcome fear AND courage must overcome cowardice. And this is serious. At the end of Revelation we are told who misses out on heaven. And guess who tops the list? (PAUSE) Well let me show you (Slide 6 – Rev.21:8). THE COWARDLY refers to Christians who denied Jesus to save their own skin. This is serious. Are you ready to die for Jesus?
SEGWAY But of course, most people aren’t interested in the Christian application of Revelation. Rather, like Nostradamus, we want to know what Revelation is predicting will happen before Jesus returns. And this is where it gets messy. The waters of Revelation are probably more muddied than any other biblical book. So you’ve got to get a handle on why different churches are preaching differernt things? I also want to say there was a reason I preached Romans 9, 10 & 11, before I preached Revelation. If Romans 9, 10 & 11 speaks about a future salvation of the Jews before the end of the world; perhaps that may turn up in Revelation. (So if you haven’t tackled Romans 9, 10 & 11 – I’d recommend going to our website and listening to those sermons).
Alternatively, I discovered last week that the Geneva Bible printed in 1560 (at the beginning of the Reformation) – had footnotes, like a study Bible. So you can look up the Geneva Bible on the internet and see that John Calvins student – THEODORE BEZA – wrote footnotes into Romans 9, 10 and 11 explaining the future salvation of the Jews, exactly like I explained it, 2 years ago. This is significant because if you;
Point 3: John writes Revelation and talks about a Millennium
Show: Rev.18:11-20:10 (READ)
Explain: Well friends, this is the POINTY END of Revelation. This is where the church basically divides into TWO MAIN CAMPS. Revelation 19 – pretty much describes the end of the world (as we know it). But one group of Christians – called PRE-MILLENNIALISTS believe Revelation 20 happens straight after Revelation 19. So A) Jesus defeats the beast and the false prophet (in Revelation 19) and then throws Satan into the Abyss for 1000 years (Revelation 20). This kind of makes sense – because Satan, the beast and false prophet all worked together in Revelation 13 forcing people to get 666 tattoos on their forehead. So, it kind of makes sense that they all get punished together. But if this is correct, it means Jesus returns defeats Satan, the beast and false prophet and this then starts another 1000 years (before heaven). So what happens in this 1000 years and why? This question is rarely answered.
So the other group of Christians, called A-Millennialists say that Revelation 19 does record Jesus’ final victory over evil. But Revelation 20 actually happened in 30AD – when Jesus died on the cross.” A-Millennialists say Revelation 20 is like a FLASHBACK in a movie. They say, Jesus actually bound Satan when he died for our sins, rose from the dead and poured out the Holy Spirit. And the 1000 years in Revelation 20 is not literal. It is simply symbolic of the whole period of time between Jesus’ first and second comings.
Now we know 1) Jesus did defeat Satan at the cross. (GOSPEL) Satan demanded that everyone had to go to hell with him, because like Satan we have all rebelled against God. So, A) if God is going to punish Satan and send him to hell, B) then God really has to punish us and send us to hell too, otherwise God is not just. So Satan thought he had God between a rock and hard place. If God pardoned humanity, he really had to pardon Satan too OR if God condemned Satan He really had to condemn us too – otherwise He was not true to His own justice. But when Jesus died on the cross – he took the punishment for our sins. So sin was punished and God could show mercy to Jesus’ followers without perverting His own justice. THE GOOD NEWS IS – if you believe Jesus died for you, ask for forgiveness and repent of your sin – you no longer have to go to hell with Satan. Satan is snookered.
But did Jesus really bind Satan in the Abyss – at this point? The Abyss is like a prison for evil spirits. So if you say Jesus did bind Satan in 30AD – it creates some real difficulties reading Revelation. I mean if Satan is bound in 30AD – how is Satan putting people in jail in Smyrna and having a throne in Pergammum (in Revelation 2) around 67AD. Then Satan is also fighting 1) against the archangel Michael in Revelation 12 and 2) forcing people to get a 666 tattoo in Revelation 13. So, in what sense is Satan bound OR when in Revelation is he released? These questions are not answered very well.
Now are you still with me – because it’s about to get HARDER? The problem is these are not just theological questions. They are POLITICAL QUESTIONS. Revelation is perhaps the most POLITICAL BOOK in the history of the world and its interpretation is driven by political allegiances.
Point 4: The Interpretations of Revelation have been Driven by Politics
Show: Rev.11:15 (READ)
Explain: That is power and politics. The problem is Revelation talks about Jesus’ 1) GOVERNANCE of the world and 2) SUPREME POWER over the world (and everyone wants a slice of that action). This is a book the Christian church (in all its different manifestations) has often used to further their own political ends, rather than Jesus’ kingdom. So, lets talk politics for a moment.
Throughout the Old Testament the power and politics of God’s kingdom revolved around Jerusalem. It just did. FAITHFUL JEWS sincerely believed that one day Jerusalem would be the center of the world, AGAIN. Even the 12 apostles displayed this tendency. In Acts 1, after Jesus’ death and resurrection they ask him; (Slide 7; Acts 1;6-7). Now Jesus doesn’t say – wrong question. He just says “its not for them to know times or dates set by the Father.” So naturally enough some early Christian Jews started to believe that God would restore the Kingdom to Israel & Jerusalem in the 1000 years of Revelation 20. This belief is called HISTORIC PRE-MILLENNIALISM and it was perhaps the dominant view in the early church.
But around 400AD the Roman Catholic Church came up with A-Millennialism through Bishop Augustine. Augustine began to teach that the 1000 years in Revelation 20 is symbolic and represents the whole period of time between Jesus first and second comings. But this is where it gets interesting and you’re going to have to concentrate. This is me trying to pack a PhD (I wanted to do) into a paragraph.
Augustine also argued that the true City of God (in a book called the City of God) was a SPIRITUAL REALITY that only really existed in heaven. Now think about that. DOES THE TRUE CITY OF GOD – ONLY REALLY EXIST IN HEAVEN? (PAUSE) If you say “yes” – you’re siding with Plato, not the Bible. The premise comes from Greek philosophy, not biblical theology. But (with this premise) Augustine went on to explain there are pale reflections of the City of God on earth – wherever true believers worship Jesus and obey the Bible. So A) the true City of God is in heaven and B) pale reflections of the City of God can be anywhere on earth – because place, body, physicality is irrelevant to God. (Now in my opinion this is very, very close to a Christological heresy). But politically, it was wonderful for a church based in Rome. It meant the truest City of God (on earth) no longer had to be in Jerusalem. It could be anywhere, including Rome. And like that (click) the center of Jesus’ Messianic kingdom forever shifted from Jews to Gentiles and from Jerusalem to Rome. Rome and millennial thinking could not really go together, because the millennium = Jerusalem restored (in some way).
But the power and politics didn’t stop there. During the middle-ages the church developed what is now called a “historicist” way of reading Revelation. (Slide 3) Historicists argued that Revelation does not really record the end of the world. Rather it records all major events – in church history between Jesus’ first and second comings. So, in the 1500’s the Protestant Church took this historicist interpretation and used it against the Catholics. The Pope became the antichrist, cardinals became false prophets and every evil thing in Revelation correlated to something in the Cathollc church. Now does that sound like A) good faithful Bible reading OR B) a political power play? Sadly, it doesn’t stop there…
For some reason – the Pope – didn’t like being the Antichrist. So in the early 1600’s a Catholic Jesuit scholar named LUIS DE ALCASAr who came up with A-Millennial Preterism.
This was the beginning of Preterism. Preterism said (Slide 9). This was convenient because the Catholics were no longer the evil guys in Revelation. It was the Jews again. According to them – Revelation finishes with God destroying Jerusalem in chapter 18. THE PROBLEM IS Revelation 18 talks about the destruction of Babylon, not Jerusalem. But when you start reading Revelation symbolically (and you throw in a stack of politics) – you can make it say pretty much whatever you want it to say – and herein lies a huge problem.
Now to make matters worse – a crazy Irishman then came along in the mid 1800’s called JOHN NELSON DARBY. Darby took historic Pre-Millennialism in the early Christian church and turned it into. Dispensational Pre-Millennialism. This says (Slide 10). Now I’d say this view of Revelation is really, really dangerous. John tells us to be faithful to the point of death. But Dispensational Christianity says (if you’re a Christian) you don’t need to worry about any of these warnings because we’re all going to be raptured and taken to heaven before anything bad starts to happen. So don’t worry. Be happy. What do you think is going to happen to such Christiuans who have not mentally, emotionally or spriritually prepared themselves for persecution – when things get bad?
Apply: Friends, I hope you can see A) the spiritual battle in Revelation includes a spiritual battle for Revelation. I think Satan has been trying to muddy these waters. So as we begin this study of Revelation – I will say my current position is closest to Historic (or Classic) Pre-Millennialism. So as I finish I want to quote a historic premillennialist from the early church. Its about 150AD and Justin Martyr a Gentile is trying to convince Trypho a Jew, to become a Christian. This is what he says – (Slide 16, 17, 18). Please note – Justin acknowledges some other true Christians who he respects think differently. And I think this is a helpful finish. Given what I have shared with you today – I think – it is little wonder Christians are confused about this book. What we have been raised and taught in various denominations – will have a strong influence.
So (as we study Revelation together) we need to be gracious with one another, while still pursuing the truth of 1) what Revelation is saying and 2) recognizing the error of what Revealtion is not saying – so that we can properly prepare ourselves for the attacks of the evil one – which seem to be drawing near.