The book of Revelation can be daunting and confusing to read, with its vivid imagery and sounds. However, John’s aim is not to confuse the reader, but rather to bless them (Revelation 1:3). Therefore, reading Revelation should be a blessing! Revelation uses “picture language” – pictures that describe various events and people (often based on visions from the Old Testament). These pictures present truths which are applicable throughout the church age (between Christ’s ascension and return).
Seven churches in Revelation
Revelation is a letter (Revelation 1:4-6) addressed to seven churches. But there were more than seven churches in Asia, therefore, these seven churches represent the church through all ages (seven is symbolic). Thus, much of Revelation describes what the church will be like and experience until Christ returns, which enables us to have right expectations of life now for the Christian and the church.
Chapters 2 and 3 address the churches, five of which have faults to varying degrees. This gives us a glimpse of the church from a human view point. From chapter 4 onward, Revelation draws back the curtain, as it were, so we can see the spiritual reality of what is happening in the churches: that God is on his throne and is reigning (chapter 4) – a great comfort in the light of what John will later reveal. Chapter 5 is similar to chapter 4 (note the parallels), but the focus now is on Christ, who has redeemed his people.
Sequence of sevens
Revelation 6:1-8:1 introduces the first in a sequence of sevens (seven seals, 6:1-8:1; seven trumpets, 8:2-11:18; seven plagues, 15:1-8; seven bowls, 16:1-21). The scroll represents the problem of human sin (since no-one is worthy to open it apart from the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:5-6)), therefore each seal is judgment on sin. Since these judgments (seals 1-4) parallel Mark 13:5-8 (where “the end is not yet,” Mark 13:7), the events of the seals describe any period within the church age. The fifth seal represents persecuted Christians and the sixth the end of the world and judgment. Revelation 7 is then a flashback (given that the angels are not allowed to harm the land or the sea, Revelation 7:2-3, but the events of Revelation 6:12-14 would have completely destroyed them): therefore, in Revelation “events which follow one another in the NARRATIVE … do not always follow one another in TIME.” The pattern of the seven seals is then repeated with the trumpets – looking at the same events but from a different perspective (e.g. both seals and trumpets 1-4 bring judgment on the earth).
Battle between Satan and the church
Revelation 11:19-15:4 pictures the battle between Satan and the church (Revelation 12:13 – the women represents the people of God, cf. Gen 37:9-10), and chapter 13 shows the means the devil uses: political powers (Revelation 13:2, the horns represent strength) and false ideologies (deception, Revelation 13:11) – both are seen at work in the churches in chapters 2-3. Despite all this, the church is kept safe by God, Revelation 14:5 (144,000 representing the whole people of God).
Chapters 17-19 “describe the systematic destruction of every enemy of God,” culminating with the saints praising God (Revelation 19:1, 4, 6). The last enemy to be destroyed is Satan himself. After Satan’s destruction is the final judgment of mankind, Revelation 20:11-15 – salvation from this judgment is dependent on a person’s name being written in “the book of life” (Revelation 20:15), which occurs by believing that Jesus Christ is both Lord (King) and Savior (cf. Acts 2:36-38; Revelation 22:14). Finally, with all evil destroyed, God re-creates his creation – he reverses the effects of Genesis 3. God’s people will dwell with Christ on the new earth (Revelation 21:2) in perfect unspoiled relationship for every.
God’s sovereign rule
The big theme of Revelation is God’s sovereign rule (chapters 4-5) over his church and history, and therefore even though Satan is still at work now, Satan and his minions will be destroyed and God will bring about his perfect new creation. Therefore, believers are strengthened to press on and endure (e.g. Revelation 2:7) to their certain future even though the present may be hard and involve opposition and persecution.