How to Read the Book of Revelation

A Book Like No Other

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.

Rev. 1:1

Apocalyptic writing tells a symbolic story by which eternal insight is given by an angel to a visionary prophet. This heavenly perspective explains God’s eternal purposes to a church that is struggling on earth with persecution, oppression, trials, and sorrow. Apocalyptic literature uses powerful images to prick the imagination and draw the reader into God’s eternal perspective on the events of this world.

First, seventy per cent of the symbols’ meaning are drawn from the original context of  the Old Testament’s use of that symbol. Second, John’s symbols are also pulled from the contemporary Roman world using pagan images to illustrate sources of evil in the world. Third in our culture, we tend to think of symbols as meaning something less than real or true.

John’s symbols are intended to convey deep theological meaning while simultaneously impacting our spirits and emotions. We tend to read a text “literally” as opposed to reading it “symbolically” as if a literal interpretation makes the text more true. In the Bible, symbols are understood to be just as “true” as other more historical or literary passages.

Before Apocalyptic literature can be applied to our day, the text must be read in the light of its original context. In other words, the writing must make sense to the readers of the first century before it speaks to a reader in the twenty-first century.

Apocalyptic literature was written not only to inform the church, but to impact believers’ emotions and encourage their spirits as well. We need to read the Book of Revelation with our hearts as well as our minds. Apocalyptic literature is designed to uplift our emotions by strengthening our wills with the truth of God’s sovereign grace and the power of his redeeming Cross.

What then is the Book of Revelation’s message?

1. That God is awesomely majestic, as well as sovereign in all our troubles.

2. That Jesus’ sacrifice as the Lamb ultimately brings complete deliverance for those who trust in him.

3. That God’s judgments on the world are often to serve notice on the world that God will avenge his people.

4. That regardless of how things appear in the short run, “sin does not go unpunished,” and God will judge.

5. That God can accomplish his purposes through a small and persecuted remnant; he is not dependent on what the world values as power.

6. That worship leads us from grief over our sufferings to God’s eternal purposes seen from a heavenly perspective.

7. That proclaiming Christ invited persecution, the normal state of committed believers in this age.

8. That Christ is worth dying for.

9. That a radical contrast exists between the God’s kingdom (exemplified in the bride, the new Jerusalem) and the world’s values (exemplified in the prostitute, Babylon).

10. That the hope God has prepared for us exceeds our present sufferings.

11. That God’s plan and church ultimately include representatives of all peoples.

Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIVAC (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 41.

The Bible: Easy to Understand?

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

Psalm 119: 105

 

The Bible is the Word of God by its immeasurable majesty, moral purity, essential unity, and time-tested faithfulness. The Bible is unique in its power to convince and convert our hearts, comfort and build-up our spirits, and divide and measure our motives. The Bible is encouragement in trial, insight into the tribulations of life, and guidance in the midst of confusion. The Bible is the only book whose author can personally and directly apply its truths to our daily lives.

The Bible is to be believed, obeyed, trusted, digested, and honored. When we read the Bible, the Spirit leads us to repent that we may be made holy; hear God’s voice that we may be drawn nearer to Christ, renounce the world that we may be transformed into the image of Christ, revived as the people of God that we may be a light unto the world, and prepared for the Second Coming of Christ that we may be ready to see Christ face-to-face.

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship.

Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Søren Kierkegaard

HT: Joe Carter

 

The Book That Understands Me

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 19:7 ESV

In his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel, Bill Arnold relates what happened to French philosopher Emile Cailliet. During World War 1, as a 20-year old youth, he was confronted with the horrors of war. He asked:

What use, the ill-kept ancient type of sophistry in the philosophic banter of the seminar, when your buddy – at the time speaking to you of his mother – dies standing in front of you, a bullet in his chest? Was there a meaning to it all? A [person] can endure anything if only it appears meaningful. But what of the caprices of Fate, what of random killing, of senseless ordeal? Deep in the mud during long winter nights when silent knives became arms of predilection on both sides, I wondered. By then, my thinking had no longer anything to do with philosophy taken for the sake of a qualifying exam… I too felt, not with my reason but with my whole being, that I was naked and – war or no war – destined to perish miserably when the hour came.

He descended into a state of utter pessimism:

The moment came when I was overwhelmed by the inadequacy of my views. What could be done about it? I did not know. Who was I, anyway? Nay, what was I? These fundamental questions of human existence remained unanswered.

Then Cailliet was shot, but was saved by an American field ambulance crew. After his recovery and discharge he resumed his graduate studies. He reflected:

During long watches in the foxholes I had in a strange way been longing – I must say it, however queer it may sound – for a book that would understand me. But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own private use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses I would file passages that would speak to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leather-bound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would lead me as it were from fear and anquish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation.

Eventually he put the finishing touches to “the book that would understand me”. He sat down under a tree on a beautiful sunny day and, as he read his precious anthology, found himself becoming increasingly disappointed. As Arnold comments:

Instead of speaking to his condition as he expected, the passages only reminded him of their context, of the circumstances of his labor over their selection. Then, Calliet says, he knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of his own making.

That same day, in quite an extraordinary manner, his wife came into the possession of a Bible. Prior to this Emile had been adamant that religion would be taboo in their home and he had never even seen a Bible by the age of 23. But on that day he was eager to read the Bible and recalls:

I literally grabbed the book and rushed to my study with it. I opened it and ‘chanced’ upon the Beatitudes! I read, and read, and read – now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within…. I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me. This was the Book that would understand me! I needed it so much, yet, unaware, I had attempted to write my own – in vain. I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom I spoke, the One who spoke and acted in them, became alive in me.

The Bible – the book that understands me!

Bill T. Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 87-89.

HT: Face-to-Face Intercultural 

Be Alone with the New Testament

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

Ps. 119:130

Perspicuity of scripture is the belief that the Bible is sufficiently clear for open-hearted and spiritually-seeking individuals with some degree of faith to understand the Bible’s intent enabling them to come to faith and repentance in Christ. Evangelicals affirm that a man or woman with some measure of literacy can pick-up the Bible and understand it sufficiently to come to saving faith in Christ.

In fact, Evangelicals believe that the difficulty with the Bible is not understanding it, but obeying it. This is the rub, do we make the Bible complicated because we want to avoid the obvious truth of the Word? Do we avoid Scripture study because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit and his desire to conform us to Christ? Are we afraid to be alone with the New Testament?

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

Søren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Soren Kierkegaard , ed. Charles E. Moore (Rifton, NY: The Plough, 2011).

HT: Scott Howard

Grace Unites Scripture (NT)

 

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Tim. 3:16–17 ESV

In my previous post, Dane Ortlund discussed the unity of the Old Testament as found in the grace of God. Today, I post the grace theme as found in the New Testament books.

Remember, grace is pardon and power. Grace is the person, Jesus, extending himself to us in love. A love that relentlessly pursues us and never stops until he wins our hearts. His grace is a love which condescends, surrenders, and assists, a love which is gracious to the unloving, and patience with the unthankful. God’s grace is unmerited favor, but also power to overcome for the weak and needy. Grace lifts us out of the pit of our sin: grace renews, grace empowers, and grace elevates us into God’s presence.

Matthew shows God’s grace in fulfilling the Old Testament promises of a coming king. (5:17)

Mark shows God’s grace as this coming king suffers the fate of a common criminal to buy back sinners. (10:45)

Luke shows that God’s grace extends to all the people one would not expect: hookers, the poor, tax collectors, sinners, Gentiles (‘younger sons’). (19:10)

John shows God’s grace in becoming one of us, flesh and blood (1:14), and dying and rising again so that by believing we might have life in his name. (20:31)

Acts shows God’s grace flooding out to all the world–starting in Jerusalem, ending in Rome; starting with Peter, apostle to the Jews, ending with Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. (1:8)

Romans shows God’s grace in Christ to the ungodly (4:5) while they were still sinners (5:8) that washes over both Jew and Gentile.

1 Corinthians shows God’s grace in favoring what is lowly and foolish in the world. (1:27)

2 Corinthians shows God’s grace in channeling his power through weakness rather than strength. (12:9)

Galatians shows God’s grace in justifying both Jew and Gentile by Christ-directed faith rather than self-directed performance. (2:16)

Ephesians shows God’s grace in the divine resolution to unite us to his Son before time began. (1:4)

Philippians shows God’s grace in Christ’s humiliating death on an instrument of torture—for us. (2:8)

Colossians shows God’s grace in nailing to the cross the record of debt that stood against us. (2:14)

1 Thessalonians shows God’s grace in providing the hope-igniting guarantee that Christ will return again. (4:13)

2 Thessalonians shows God’s grace in choosing us before time, that we might withstand Christ’s greatest enemy. (2:13)

1 Timothy shows God’s grace in the radical mercy shown to ‘the chief of sinners.’ (1:15)

2 Timothy shows God’s grace to be that which began (1:9) and that which fuels (2:1) the Christian life.

Titus shows God’s grace in saving us by his own cleansing mercy when we were most mired in sinful passions. (3:5)

Philemon shows God’s grace in transcending socially hierarchical structures with the deeper bond of Christ-won Christian brotherhood. (v. 16)

Hebrews shows God’s grace in giving his Son to be both our sacrifice to atone for us once and for all as well as our high priest to intercede for us forever. (9:12)

James shows us God’s grace by giving to those who have been born again ‘of his own will’ (1:18) ‘wisdom from above’ for meaningful godly living. (3:17)

1 Peter shows God’s grace in securing for us an unfading, imperishable inheritance no matter what we suffer in this life. (1:4)

2 Peter shows God’s grace in guaranteeing the inevitability that one day all will be put right as the evil that has masqueraded as good will be unmasked at the coming Day of the Lord. (3:10)

1 John shows God’s grace in adopting us as his children. (3:1)

2 and 3 John show God’s grace in reminding specific individuals of ‘the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.’ (2 Jn 2)

Jude shows God’s grace in the Christ who presents us blameless before God in a world rife with moral chaos. (v. 24)

Revelation shows God’s grace in preserving his people through cataclysmic suffering, a preservation founded on the shed blood of the lamb. (12:11)

by Dane Ortlund

Grace Unites Scripture (OT)

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.

John 5:39 ESV

While the Bible is not uniform, it is unified. The many books of the one Bible are not like the many pennies in the one jar. The pennies in the jar look the same, yet are disconnected; the books of the Bible (like the organs of a body) look different, yet are interconnected. As the past two generations’ recovery of biblical theology has shown time and again, certain motifs course through the Scripture from start to end, tying the whole thing together into a coherent tapestry–kingdom, temple, people of God, creation/new creation, and so on.

Yet underneath and undergirding all of these, it seems to me, is the motif of God’s grace, his favor and love to the undeserving. Don’t we see the grace of God in every book of the Bible?

Here is his OT list:

Genesis shows God’s grace to a universally wicked world as he enters into relationship with a sinful family line (Abraham) and promises to bless the world through him.

Exodus shows God’s grace to his enslaved people in bringing them out of Egyptian bondage.

Leviticus shows God’s grace in providing his people with a sacrificial system to atone for their sins.

Numbers shows God’s grace in patiently sustaining his grumbling people in the wilderness and bringing them to the border of the promised land not because of them but in spite of them.

Deuteronomy shows God’s grace in giving the people the new land ‘not because of your righteousness’ (ch. 9).

Joshua shows God’s grace in giving Israel victory after victory in their conquest of the land with neither superior numbers nor superior obedience on Israel’s part.

Judges shows God’s grace in taking sinful, weak Israelites as leaders and using them to purge the land, time and again, of foreign incursion and idolatry.

Ruth shows God’s grace in incorporating a poverty-stricken, desolate, foreign woman into the line of Christ.

1 and 2 Samuel show God’s grace in establishing the throne (forever—2 Sam 7) of an adulterous murderer.

1 and 2 Kings show God’s grace in repeatedly prolonging the exacting of justice and judgment for kingly sin ‘for the sake of’ David. (And remember: by the ancient hermeneutical presupposition of corporate solidarity, by which the one stands for the many and the many for the one, the king represented the people; the people were in their king; as the king went, so went they.)

1 and 2 Chronicles show God’s grace by continually reassuring the returning exiles of God’s self-initiated promises to David and his sons.

Ezra shows God’s grace to Israel in working through the most powerful pagan ruler of the time (Cyrus) to bring his people back home to a rebuilt temple.

Nehemiah shows God’s grace in providing for the rebuilding of the walls of the city that represented the heart of God’s promises to his people.

Esther shows God’s grace in protecting his people from a Persian plot to eradicate them through a string of ‘fortuitous’ events.

Job shows God’s grace in vindicating the sufferer’s cry that his redeemer lives (19:25), who will put all things right in this world or the next.

Psalms shows God’s grace by reminding us of, and leading us in expressing, the hesed (relentless covenant love) God has for his people and the refuge that he is for them.

Proverbs shows us God’s grace by opening up to us a world of wisdom in leading a life of happy godliness.

Ecclesiastes shows God’s grace in its earthy reminder that the good things of life can never be pursued as the ultimate things of life and that it is God who in his mercy satisfies sinners (note 7:20; 8:11).

Song of Songs shows God’s grace and love for his bride by giving us a faint echo of it in the pleasures of faithful human sexuality.

Isaiah shows God’s grace by reassuring us of his presence with and restoration of contrite sinners.

Jeremiah shows God’s grace in promising a new and better covenant, one in which knowledge of God will be universally internalized.

Lamentations shows God’s grace in his unfailing faithfulness in the midst of sadness.

Ezekiel shows God’s grace in the divine heart surgery that cleansingly replaces stony hearts with fleshy ones.

Daniel shows God’s grace in its repeated miraculous preservation of his servants.

Hosea shows God’s grace in a real-live depiction of God’s unstoppable love toward his whoring wife.

Joel shows God’s grace in the promise to pour out his Spirit on all flesh.

Amos shows God’s grace in the Lord’s climactic promise of restoration in spite of rampant corruption.

Obadiah shows God’s grace by promising judgment on Edom, Israel’s oppressor, and restoration of Israel to the land in spite of current Babylonian captivity.

Jonah shows God’s grace toward both immoral Nineveh and moral Jonah, irreligious pagans and a religious prophet, both of whom need and both of whom receive the grace of God.

Micah shows God’s grace in the prophecy’s repeated wonder at God’s strange insistence on ‘pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression’ (7:18).

Nahum shows God’s grace in assuring Israel of good news’ and ‘peace,’ promising that the Assyrians have tormented them for the last time.

Habakkuk shows God’s grace that requires nothing but trusting faith amid insurmountable opposition, freeing us to rejoice in God even in desolation.

Zephaniah shows God’s grace in the Lord’s exultant singing over his recalcitrant yet beloved people.

Haggai shows God’s grace in promising a wayward people that the latter glory of God’s (temple-ing) presence with them will far surpass its former glory.

Zechariah shows God’s grace in the divine pledge to open up a fountain for God’s people to ‘cleanse them from sin and uncleanness’ (13:1).

Malachi shows God’s grace by declaring the Lord’s no-strings-attached love for his people.

by Dane Ortlund

HT: Justin Taylor 

 

Christ Unites Scripture

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,

Luke 24:44-45

As a young Christian, I tended to read the Bible as a handbook: I picked out the bits and pieces that helped me to survive emotionally and spiritually. I would looked for advice, devotional strength, and commands to obey.

As I grew in grace, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see the larger whole. Christ in the Old and the New covenants, Christ in the stories, Christ in the types and images of worship, and Christ in the mouths of the prophets. Christ as grace flowing through all the pages of the Bible. All of Christ, not as allegory, but as the Second Person of the Trinity operating in the lives of all the saints before and the after the birth of Christ.

You [God] taught your servant Athanasius that Christ unites Scripture and all things, for Scripture, as much as the world and human existence and history, is all about Christ. Scripture everywhere teaches about Christ. His life, death, and resurrection are the hinge on which the drama of Scripture turns, and you taught Athanasius to find shadows of Christ in the Old Testament, shadows that break forth in light with the fulfillment of the New. And you taught that Christ is the pattern not only for the Scriptures but for all things.

Peter J. Leithart, Athanasius, Foundations of Theological Exegesis and Christian Spirituality Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), xvii.

Every part of Holy Writ announces through words the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, reveals it through facts and establishes it through examples . . . For it is our Lord who during all the present age, through true and manifest adumbrations, generates, cleanses, sanctifies, chooses, separates, or redeems the Church in the Patriarchs, through Adam’s slumber, Noah’s flood, Melchizedek’s blessing, Abraham’s justification, Isaac’s birth, and Jacob’s bondage.

Hilary of Poitiers cited in Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 192.


A Gushing Spring

 

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 119:103 ESV

The Bible is the Word of God by its immeasurable majesty, moral purity, essential unity, and time-tested faithfulness. The Bible is unique in its power to convince and convert our hearts, comfort and build-up our spirits, and divide and measure our motives. The Bible is encouragement in trial, insight into the tribulations of life, and guidance in the midst of confusion. The Bible is the only book whose author can personally and directly apply its truths to our daily lives.

The Word of God is in your heart. The Word digs in this soil so that the spring may gush out.

Origen quoted in Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings, Lectionary Cycle B, ed., Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby [Kindle Edition] (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011).

His Blood Is Bibline

A Life That Is Bible Saturated

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that ethe man of God2 may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV

The Bible is the Word of God by its immeasurable majesty, moral purity, essential unity, and time-tested faithfulness. The Bible is unique in its power to convince and convert our hearts, comfort and build-up our spirits, and divide and measure our motives. The Bible is encouragement in trial, insight into the tribulations of life, and guidance in the midst of confusion. The Bible is the only book whose author can personally and directly apply its truths to our daily lives. The Bible is to be believed, obeyed, trusted, digested, and honored. When we read the Bible, the Spirit leads us to repent that we may be made holy; hear God’s voice that we may be drawn nearer to Christ, renounce the world that we may be transformed into the image of Christ, revived as the people of God that we may be a light unto the world, and prepared for the Second Coming of Christ that we may be ready to see Christ face-to-face.

Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.

I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems — without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.

”Mr. Spurgeon as a Literary Man,” in The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Compiled from His Letters, Diaries, and Records by His Wife and Private Secretary, vol. 4, 1878-1892 (Curtis & Jennings, 1900), p. 268.

Bible-Based Convictions

Beliefs vs. Convictions 

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.

Psalm 119:33

Are our Christian beliefs just interesting advice, or good counsel, or pleasant thoughts? Or, are our Christian beliefs true convictions that we will not violate, even if, our commitment to those truths cost us precious time, important relationships, and real money?

To pursue holiness, one of the disciplines we must become skilled in is the development of Bible-based convictions. A conviction is a determinative belief: something you believe so strongly that it affects the way you live. Someone has observed that a belief is what you hold, but a conviction is what holds you.

Jerry Bridges, Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994), 154.