Big Idea: Revelation records a Spiritual Battle that is both Now, & Future.
INTRO: Well morning friends, visitors and those joining online. My name is Matt Johnson and last week we started studying the book of Revelation. Revelation, records THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE taking place in this world between good and evil that reaches some sort of crescendo, before Jesus returns and saves his people. So as we begin – let me pray, because we are in a spiritual battle that is bigger than us…
Now friends, I know last week was heavy and we covered a lot of ground. But there was one area – I still didn’t get to – which influences our interpretation of Revelation. Is God finished with Israel and the Jews? Of course, this is a HOT POTATO subject – with all sorts of issues now arising between Israel and Palestine. Sadly, more politics, that most Christians want to avoid…
So let me point out I intentionally preached Romans 9-11 (two years ago) before I preached Revelation. Some years ago – I realised I could never preach Revelation properly until you saw for yourself that the apostle Paul speaks about a future salvation of Israel (in Romans 11). Paul explains that Jewish branches were broken off from God’s promises to the Patriarchs, so that we Gentiles could be grafted in. But Paul is adamant that ultimately the Jews will be grafted back in because God’s purposes in election still stand. Then all Israel will be saved.
Now if I have interpreted Romans 9-11 correctly – we may expect to find hints of this Jewish salvation in Revelation. In fact, if we concede that God is going to do something significant among the Jews (drawing them back to himself) – then references to Israel and/or Jerusalem in Revelation may be literal (and not just symbolic).
Now if you have no idea what I’m talking about – go online and find my sermons from Romans 9-11 preached in 2020. The series is called “All Israel will be Saved.” What you decide about Romans 11 – will ultimately influence the way you read Revelation and much of the Bible.
But I recently discovered, you can also look up the most famous Reformation Bible online – the Geneva Bible. It was written in 1560 and it was actually a study Bible. Theodore Beza (a co-worker of John Calvin) wrote all the footnotes in the Geneva Bible. In Romans 9, 10 & 11 he explains that in the last days – the whole nation of Israel “without exception shall come to Christ”, his words. In fact, the footnotes are very similar to what I explained 2 years ago. So, it’s not just a wacky pastor in Redfern talking about a future salvation of Israel. It is written in the footnotes of the most significant Protestant Bible of the Reformation.
Now what I’m saying is very significant because Amillennialism and Preterism has no clear place for this salvation of Israel in their eschatology. Nowhere does it really fit. Consequently, all references to Israel, Jerusalem and the Jews in Revelation tend to be read symbolically as referring to the church. This gives you a veryt different reading of Revelation. My point is that what you ultimately decide about Romans 11, will shape the way you read Revelation.
Point 1: Revelation is a Prophecy that includes Events of the Last Days
Show: Rev.1:1-3 (READ)
Explain: Well Revelation begins with John explaining how he got the content of this book. God the Father revealed to Jesus what would soon take place. Jesus then revealed this information to John through an angelic vision. And John recorded EVERYTHING he heard and saw in this book.
So Revelation comes to John in a supernatural vision – which he calls prophecy. You can see this in verse 3. It says “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy…” And Revelation finishes with a big warning that I believe I must show you (Slide 4-5; Rev.22). Again it’s called prophecy and there is an emphasis on the actual words. Don’t add or take away from the words.
So given this book is called prophecy I think we should read it like other prophecy in the Bible. We read Scripture, plainly, literally and in context seeking to be true to the authors original intent. Of course, that includes recognizing when an author is using an image or speaking symbolically. John tells us in Revelation 11 (Slide 6; Rev.11:8). Or again, in Revelation 17 (Slide 7 – Rev.17:11). So we try to read Revelation plainly and literally, while acknowledging that some is symbolic and figurative. This is the normal way we read the Bible.
BUT as we begin, I’m going to get A BIT TECHNICAL because some academics try to convince –Christians that Revelation is NOT A) plain old prophecy, but B) a special type of writing called apocalyptic literature. They then claim – you have to read everything in Revelation symbolically (and with a grain of salt) because it’s “apocalyptic literature”. Now I don’t think all these academics are trying to mislead us. Its just Satan has weaved such an insane web of lies to stop us understanding Revelation – that many of these academics believe what they say. Now the word “APOCALYPTIC” comes from verse 1. The Greek word behind “REVELATION” (in Rev.1:1) is apokalupsis. But this is just THE NORMAL WORD for revealing. It has no special meaning.
What’s more, prior to Revelation – there are only two Jewish books in existence (that I can think of) that are similar to Revelation. The first is the Old Testament book of DANIEL written around 500BC and the second is a Jewish book called 1 ENOCH, (about 300BC). These are only 2 Jewish books written before Revelation vaguely similar to Revelation. Hardly, what you’d call an established apocalyptic genre.
So academics then appeal to a whole lot of other Christian books written after Revelation – saying “look here’s other examples”. But these other so-called examples are all written 100-300 years after Revelation. These other books ALL pretend to be written by some significant bible character like Moses or Peter (to give them credibility in the church). But it’s a lie. They’re fradulent. What’s more, I’d say all these so-called “apocalyptic books” show a familiarity with Revelation and copy the style of Revelation (with the sole purpose) of influencing the way the church reads Revelation – either A) in a pro-Israel or B)anti-Israel way. Every one of them uses deception – to influence the Christian attitude for or against Jerusalem, Israel and the Jews. If anyone wants to do a PhD – I’d say all these books are politically motivated (and it would not be hard to prove it). Just read them.
But my point is – saying the book of Revelation follows the norms of apocalyptic literature is (in my opinion) very poor scholarship because the apocalyptic literature all copied Revelation. So the former was not shaped by the latter. And the only books similar to Revelation and written before Revelation are Daniel and 1 Enoch. So when Revelation calls itself PROPHECY its best to accept it is PROPHECY, not some other thing called “apocalyptic literature”. Revelation is PROPHECY. Plain and simple. And just like other, prophecy – Revelation involves both forthtelling and foretelling. If you look down to Revelation 1:19
Show: Slide 8; Rev.1:19
Apply: Now as you can see Revelation prophesies about A) things now and B) about things in the future. Revelation 1, 2 & 3 are clearly talking about events taking place around 67-68AD. John is in prison. Laodiceaea is luke warm. So, John applies God’s Word to the 7 churches in Asia (and calls them to repent). That’s what all the prophets in the Old tetament did. But at some point, in Revelation, we know John starts talking about THE FUTURE. PreMillennial Christians generally think Revelation starts talking about the great tribulation around Revelation 6 or 7. Meanwhile A-Millennial Christians usually think Revelation only speaks about end times, later in Revelation 19. So which bits are A) present reality and which bits are B) future reality?
Well I think the great tribulation begins in Revelation 6 or 7. Revelation 6 says (Slide 4; Rev.6:17). Now the GREAT DAY OF GOD’S WRATH is usually associated with judgment day and the end of the world. Now some A-Millennial Christians say the great day of God’s wrath is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. But this means ignoring so many details in chapter 6 – that I can’t accept that is correct. What’s more, in Revelation 7 we see a great multitude of people worshipping God. Then, John is told (Slide 4; Rev.7:14). So in some sense the great tribulation (that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 24) has already begun in Revelation 7. So, Revelation 6 & 7 seem to have moved from NOW events to end of the world events.
The point is Revelation is prophecy and like all biblical prophecy it speaks about present realities and future realities. So as prophecy, I believe it should be read like ordinary prophecy. Now of course, if some regular-joe blow pastor in Redfern tells you how to read Revelation (and makes PhD recommendations) – ITS PROBABLY FAIR TO CONCLUDE HIS GONE MAD. So let me show you instead one of the most respected evangelical Anglican Bishops in the history of the church (Slide 5 – J.C Ryle). If you want to read more – JC Ryle; Prophecy.
Point 2: Revelation is Grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Show: Rev.1:4-6 (READ)
Explain: Well like many New Testament letters – Revelation begins with a traditional Christian greeting. A) It offers GRACE and PEACE; B) it then has a kind of Trinitarian formula and C) comes to focus on Jesus. First, we are told Jesus was a faithful witness. This is important because Revelation says we are meant to be faithful witnesses for Jesus – even if it means we have to die like Jesus. But dying is ok, because Jesus is the firstborn from dead. That means if we die being faithful witnesses for Jesus – we will be second-born from the dead.
Finally, we are also told Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Throughout the great tribulation, I believe we will need to hold onto this truth, by faith, not sight. I suspect there will be points in the great tribulation – where it looks like SATAN AND HIS MINIONS are controlling this world (and perhaps even that Jesus has lost the battle). So it really important we hold on to the fact that Jesus is the King of Kings and he is coming for us – just on the other side of the great tribulation. But I suspect we will really, really need to live by faith and not by sight, because if I’m ready Revelation correctly – things are going to get very, very messy.
Now the next crucial thing that John reminds us is JESUS SAVED US – at his first coming. You’ll notice Jesus’ LOVE of us is “present tense” because Jesus has loved and always loves us. But the truth that Jesus FREED US and MADE US priests are both “past tense.” Jesus freed us from our sins – at the cross. AND Jesus made us a kingdom of priests to serve God – at the cross. So another thing we need to remember is that A) people are eternally saved at Jesus’ first coming, B) not his second coming. There are A) FOUR BOOKS, (four gospels) about Jesus first coming and B) ONE BOOK about Jesus’ second coming. Perhaps that gives us an indication of how much time we should spend talking about Jesus first coming, versus second coming. People can know everything about Revelation.
But if they don’t understand Jesus’ death on the cross, or his blood, they still go to hell. DON’T FORGET THAT! (GOSPEL) As sinners who have rebelled against God – we all face the GREAT WHITE THRONE of God’s judgment and we deserve condemnation. If we have sinned (and we have all sinned) God must punish that sin – in order to be a just God. God cannot pervert justice. So knowing we all had a snowflakes chance in hell of avoiding hell, God sent Jesus to save us. In 30AD when Jesus died on the cross – he was taking the punishment for your sin. Jesus loved you so much that he literally died and went to hell, in your place, so you can be spared. THAT MEANS 1) if you believe in Jesus, 2) ask God to forgive you and 3) begin to repent of your sin – you are already saved.
But here’s the deal. 1) If you are not a Christian and Jesus suddenly returns (its too now late) and you miss out on heaven. So if your not a Christian – you need to make a decision. 2) But if you are a Christian you are already FREE FROM BONDAGE to sin. You are no longer controlled by sin. So show your appreciation to Jesus – by repenting of your sin and serving God as a priest straight away. We don’t have to wait until heaven to do these things. The Kingdom of God became A)an inaugurated reality at Jesus’ first coming and it will B) be a consumated reality at Jesus’ second coming.
Illustrate: But this is where things get tricky for us to grasp. There is a NOW aspect to Jesus’ kingdom (first coming) and there is a NOT YET aspect to Jesus’ kingdom (second coming). Some Christians (like Sydney Anglicans whom I love and they have taught me a lot) like to put so much emphasis on Jesus’ first coming that his second coming is just like the icing on the cake. The favorite words of Sydney Anglicans – is Jesus’ cry from the cross – “Tetelesthai – IT IS FINISHED.” I love those words too because the price was paid and we really were set free. But does this mean everything is finished? That may be pushing Jesus’ words beyond their intention – BECAUSE we know rising from the dead and pouring out the Holy Spirit – were still pretty significant.
Illustrate: The Christian church tends to OSCILLATE between two extremes. Mainstream protestant churches tend to put so much emphasis on Jesus first coming (the NOW), that Jesus’ second coming (the NOT YET) is often seen as little more than a mopping up exercise. But as Paul writes in Romans 8 – “who hopes for what he already has.” No. There are still some pretty significant things to happen – including the salvation of the Jews to mention one.
Meanwhile, many other churches so focus on Jesus’ second coming (the NOT YET) that all they talk about is the 7 heads on the beast probably being the G7 and the mark of the beast being a digital microchip implant to buy and sell. But these churches rarely talk about the cross or the blood. THIS IS WRONG and it is a real danger for those who get into Revelation. So as we begin this book John tells us “don’t forget the blood.” People are set free and made priests at the first coming.
Point 3: Revelation is like a Jewish Midrash of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse
Show: Rev.1:7 (READ)
Explain: Friends, this is A CLEAR PARAPHRASE of Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew, Mark & Luke. But it also alludes to the origin of Jesus’ words in Daniel and Zechariah. I’d say, Revelation – is actually a JEWISH MIDRASH of this one verse (and what it means in detail).
Let me show you the similarities to Jesus (Slide 15). Revelation 1:7 says. And (ENTER) Matthew 24:30 says. Now most Christian scholars agree the similarities between Revelation 1:7 and Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26 & Luke 21:27 are hard to deny. But we now have a time reference for when Jesus is coming on the clouds (ENTER); At that time – the Son of Man will come on the clouds. What is that time? (Now please stay with me because I’m not going to put a date on Jesus’ return. Sorry! Bible says I can’t do that. But I am about to eliminate the preterist interpretation of Revelation entirely).
If you go back to Matthew 24; Mark 13 & Luke 21 (a bit later) you’ll see A) Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. The Preterist notices this and then decides Jesus’ coming on the clouds is linked to the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus comes on the clouds in judgement. HOWEVER – after speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem – Jesus goes on to explain B) there will then be an unprecedented time of trouble called “THE GREAT TRIBULATION”. In this time 1) there will be false Christs performing miracles. In this time 2) Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles is complete. In this time 3) Jesus says the sun will be darkened and the moon not give its light. And then we are told – AT THAT TIME, the Son of Man comes riding on the clouds to gather his people.
So is “AT THAT TIME” referring to A) the destruction of the temple in 70AD or is “AT THAT TIME” referring to B) the great tribulation that precedes Jesus’ return? I think that if you say the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD is the worst thing that ever happens in the history of the world, there may be some Jews from Auschwitz who’d disagree with you. Also, Jesus tells us that when he comes riding on the clouds – he will blast the trumpet and gather his people. That certainly didn’t happen in 70AD. Jesus also says in in Matthew 24 that when he comes its going to be visible to everyone – like lightening lighting up the sky. But Jesus didn’t light up the sky after the destruction of Jerusalem.
So a far more natural conclusion is that when Jesus says “at this time” he is referring to “THE GREAT TRIBULATION” that precedes his return. In fact, Revelation speaks about all the things Jesus mentioned – including false Christs performing miracles; Jerusalem being trampled by Gentiles and the sun being darkened and the moon not giving it’s light. By by beginning Revelation with Jesus’ words in Matthew, Mark and Luke – John is telling us the period of time he will be focussed upon – the great tribulation. And he fact, that Revelation 7 also speaks about “the great tribulation”, suggests we are on the right track. Revelation is primarily focussed on the period of unprecedented distress.
This distant future orientation is also confirmed by the Old Testament passages behind Jesus’ words. Again, let me show you (ENTER – Dan.7:13-14). Now this is where Jesus and John’s words come from originally in Daniel. You’ll notice the Son of Man comes riding on the clouds and then all the nations begin to worship him. This has a particularly Gentile focus. But when do all the Gentiles begin to worship Jesus? A) You could perhaps argue that it’s talking about 30AD – when the Christian church began. B) But directly before Jesus comes riding on the clouds – we’re told THE COURT was seated, THE BOOKS were opened and THE BEAST is thrown into the blazing fire. Then Jesus comes riding on the clouds and everyone worships him. That sounds like second coming. But what you cannot argue is this “coming on the clouds” in Daniel 7; equals 70AD. It is impossible. Jesus being given authority, glory and sovereign power does NOT equal the destruction of Jerusalem – in any Bible I know. So the preterist interpretation of Revelation that equates 1) Jesus coming on the clouds 2) in judgment on Jerusalem in 70AD – CANNOT be supported by Daniel 7.
Further, the other reference in Revelation 1:7, comes from Zechariah 12. Let me show you (ENTER). Please notice this now focusses on Jews. The reason the Jews (and the house of David) are mourning is that God has given them a special grace (and supplication) to recognize they made a big mistake when they pierced Jesus with nails. That’s why they are mourning. And Zechariah goes on to tell us that EVERYONE – literally “ALL THE TRIBES IN THE LAND” are grieving bitterly – because of the one they pierced. Jesus is the one they pierced. And John has just linked 1) all the Jews grieving bitterly for Jesus – 2) with Jesus coming on the clouds. Now I know all the Jews DID NOT grieve about piercing Jesus in 30AD when he ascended on the clouds. And I know all the Jews DID NOT grieve about piercing Jesus in 70AD when he supposedly came in judgment on the clouds. But Romans 11:26 – tells us about a point in time – when the deliverer comes to Zion and all Israel is saved. Is Zechariah 12 – talking about the same event
In just one verse John has blown open the book of Revelation. TAKE 1) Jesus’ comment in Matthew 24, combine it with equal measures of 2) Daniel 7 and 3) Zechariah 12 – KEPT IN CONTEXT (and you already know 90% of the book of Revelation). Revelation not focussed on the destruction of Jerusalem (because that is an impossible conclusion given what we’ve just seen). Rather, REVELATION is focussed on the GREAT TRIBULATION and finishing the story in Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12 – before Jesus comes riding on the clouds to finish the greatest story ever told. Revelation 1:7 screams – the Lion of Judah is coming – not just for the Gentiles, but also for the Jews – so stop playing politics.