Someone in my Sunday school class suggested studying the book of Revelation. Someone else immediately vetoed the idea. She didn’t want to spend much time being scared.
Lots of people apparently think Revelation is scary and that therefore they shouldn’t read it. Actually, it’s the only book in the Bible that promises a special blessing for anyone who does read it (Revelation 1:3). In fact, the only people who ought to be afraid of it are the scoffers who won’t bother to look at it.
When the book of Revelation is explained, we can face it calmly and hopefully
A place to call home
Everyone will stand before God in judgment someday. For believers, Jesus is our advocate. He has already prepared a place for us. We see it at the end of Revelation, where the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven.
Instead of a scary book, the church should see it as encouraging. God, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, waits for the time his people will return.
The entire Bible invites people to turn to God. And when anyone does God will throw a party—in Revelation, called the wedding feast of the Lamb. One of my former pastors suggested that God will greet each of us saying, “Welcome home! Let me take your bags. And I want to see your slides.”
Since no one takes slides anymore, we can update the greeting to “I want to see all the pictures on your phone.” The point is that most people would find looking at all of them boring. But God really cares that much about us.
Ultimately, some people will refuse to return. They must not enter heaven, because they wouldn’t enjoy it and would spoil it for everyone else. Those are the people who ought to be afraid, because God must destroy anyone whose presence in heaven would destroy it.
A brief overview of Revelation
So Revelation begins with warnings to seven representative churches. In each case, Jesus makes a promise to all who overcome. Overcome what? All the temptations to stray from his love.
Then, John sees a door open in heaven. That door remains open for all who die in the Lord. John entered while still in the flesh. And God commanded him to write down everything he saw.
- A man who could only see three physical dimensions, where heaven might have as many as five (length, width, height, depth, and breadth—not one of which quite duplicates any of the others)
- A man who could see only the visible light spectrum, not the infrared or ultraviolet ends
- A man who could hear within only a limited range of frequencies
This man, John, had the task of describing the indescribable. We can imagine that heaven is beautiful, but John hardly noticed. He saw God enthroned in majesty, sovereignty, and glory. Everyone else likewise focused all their attention on him.
John also saw the end of the existing earth and heaven, with its spectacular disasters and acts of judgment. And if you read carefully, you can see God still trying to win some of the last of the rebels. He sends the 144 thousand witnesses. He sends the final two witnesses. But most people remain hard hearted.
Believers and the scary parts of Revelation
Remember Pharaoh in Exodus. He hardened his heart, and so God hardened his heart. God will tell determined rebels, “All right, if you insist, be that way.” The story will not end well for them. It’s their destruction that enables the story to end well for everyone else
At some point before the worst of the end, God will take the church out of the world. Why? Not to protect us from suffering. If he wanted to protect us from suffering, he would already be doing it. But the church intercedes for a lost world. Removing the church removes the prayer and enables the devil’s forces to exert their greatest display of power. All to no avail.
All the seal judgments, trumpet judgments, and bowl judgments come with the offer of grace until, at last, no one is left to accept it.
The people who suffer the last plagues will be plenty afraid. Just not afraid enough to refrain from blaspheming their only savior and rejecting the grace he offers.
Alpha and Omega
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He encompasses all of time on earth and in heaven.
By the way, we’ve all probably heard that there is no time in heaven, but Revelation 8:1, there’s a half an hour of silence there. That’s time. Jesus opens seven seals in sequence. Seven trumpets sound one after another. Angels pour out seven bowls in sequence. That’s time. There’s just no relationship between time here and time there.
Throughout earthly time, God asks only one thing: that we open our hands to accept his. He offers grace and provides the faith needed for salvation. Our part is to believe him, by his grace become like him, and receive what he offers.
God does not put his promises in our hands, but he puts them close enough that we can reach out our hands and grasp them. Something is still required of us, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not much. All who are willing may come. Until only the unwilling are left.
Revelation ends the written Bible. But instead of getting to the last verse and reading, “The end,” we should read “The beginning.” Past the last verse, all that Adam lost in the fall will be restored. And then some.