I’ll never forget spending Christmas Break at home, the semester after I took Daniel and Revelation at Welch College. My father, a hardcore premillennialist, was sitting next to me on the couch one night. We were watching TV. During a commercial, I piped up, “Dad, I’ve come to the conclusion that much of Revelation is figurative and symbolic.” And without looking at me he said, “Yeah, me too.” This stunned me. After a few seconds, I said, “Are you serious?” And he said, “No. And neither are you.”
Oh Eschatology, how you unashamedly divide Christianity.
Fire and Brimstone…and that’s just in the debates.
That one short exchange led to the first of many heated discussions he and I had over how to interpret end times passages in the Bible. I was young and brash and refused to back down on my newfound beliefs. He was equally as stubborn. And we regularly went at it over the Rapture, Israel, the 1,000 years in Revelation 20 and other similar topics. And our family played audience to it all, typically letting me know I was losing the argument.
I’ll be upfront that I’ve never minded disagreeing in Christianity. I think disagreeing within unity (which is essential to our faith) shows maturity and humility. But I also advocate strongly that we constantly seek to rally around beliefs that unite us. As such, I’ve written about this before in the Arminian-Calvinist debate, citing things Arminius wrote that most Calvinists can agree with. Behind that division, Revelation may bring about the most fiery clashes Christians have. As a result, today I submit these five truths from the first seven chapters of Revelation that we should proclaim, for the sake of unity:
1. Revelation highlights the continuity and cohesion of the Bible.
As I have taught my church the first seven chapters, I have cited at minimum 20 other books of the Bible. As a result, God has taught me that Revelation is not as enigmatic as its reputation. Here are just a few examples:
- Paul wrote the phrase “Firstborn from among the dead” in Colossians years before John in Revelation 1:5.
- John’s words in Revelation 2:9 about poor and rich sound very similar to James 2:5-6.
- Knowing the story of Balaam and Balak from Numbers 22-24 is essential to understanding Revelation 2:14.
- Jezebel, mentioned in Revelation 2:20, is likely a reference to the wicked woman from the Old Testament.
- Much of what John heard and saw in the throne room of Heaven in Revelation 4-5 are things Isaiah, Daniel and/or Ezekiel already experienced (the four living creatures, the rainbow, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” song, etc.). Furthermore, the presence of thunder and lightning in the throne room hearkens back to God on Mt. Sinai in Exodus (as well as passages like Psalm 77:18 and Jeremiah 10:13).
- In Revelation 5, John refers to prayers as incense, similar to David’s words in Psalm 141:2.
- Revelation 6 corresponds well to Jesus’s discourse in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.
- In Revelation 7:17, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” is a phrase we can find first in Isaiah.
And there are many more, which we will see below. Revelation is consistent with whole of Scripture.
2. Revelation teaches the Deity of Christ.
In Revelation 1:7, John says of Jesus, “Look, he is coming with the clouds” and later refers to him as the “son of man” (Jesus’s most common self-designation in the Synoptic Gospels). These two phrases are used together by an unknown God-man in Daniel 7:13-14. And Jesus uses both together of himself multiple times in the New Testament, including the aforementioned Matthew 24 passage. Yet most notably he uses them when standing trial before the high priest in Mark 14. He was immediately deemed a blasphemer and condemned to death, lest there be any confusion as to what he was claiming.
Further, John in Revelation 1 also describes Jesus as having white hair and an appearance of blazing fire. This also comes from Daniel 7 as a reference to the “Ancient of Days”. Daniel is no doubt seeing and giving a name for God.
Additionally, the first few chapters of Revelation give Jesus the same titles as God the Father (“First and Last,” “Shepherd” in 7:17 [cf. Psalm 23:1], etc.) and ascribes to him the same worship as God the Father (Revelation 5:12-13; 7:10).
Lastly, John declares that Jesus shares the throne with God the Father (3:21, 7:17). I do not think it is a stretch to see this as the same thing Jesus also claimed in Mark 14:62 before the high priest when he said he would sit at the Father’s right hand. This would have been a familiar phrase to Jewish leaders, taken from Psalm 110:1. And they would have known it was a claim to deity.
3. Revelation makes much of the atoning death and miraculous resurrection of Christ.
Revelation 1:7 also says, “every eye will see him, even those that have pierced him”. This is from Zechariah 12 and a prophecy of Jesus’s crucifixion. The early chapters of Revelation also uses phrases of Jesus like, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain,” “and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation,” and “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”.
Also, Jesus says in Revelation 1, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” And in Revelation 5 Jesus was found worthy to open the seals to the scroll because he has risen. It says, “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’.”
Everything in Christianity hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We better find unity in these two historical facts. Revelation doesn’t miss them.
4. Revelation deals repeatedly with Christians finishing the race.
The most oft-repeated phrase to the seven churches in Revelation is “to the one who overcomes”. And this is followed by a reward in heaven. Revelation 2:10 makes it most clear: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you a crown of life.” Revelation even uses the same terminology of Christ finishing. As the verse above in regards to his resurrection states. His resurrection means he “triumphed”. He finished.
The rest of the New Testament makes a big deal about this as well. Jesus prayed in John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
As a matter of fact, Jesus said that the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22, 24:13). And Hebrews 3 states, “We have come to share in Christ if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. ”
This is a prominent aspect of our faith that Revelation teaches as clearly as any book.
5. Revelation does not shy away from the difficult tensions about our God.
As with the rest of our Bible, Revelation presents Jesus as both a lion and a lamb. I doubt any two animals could be more distinct. The lion is the king, majestic. He defeats all enemies. The lamb is meek and mild, and in this case, went willingly into death (Isaiah 53). Jesus absolutely is both images. (Interestingly, and also in typical Biblical counterintuitive fashion, the lamb is the one who has wrath in Revelation.)
Additionally, regardless of when you think the tribulation of Revelation 6-7 takes place, it is in perfect harmony with the whole of Scripture that it presents both great suffering and great hope. Jesus redeems and provides hope, yet the horrific circumstances do not go away. This is often taught as the “Already-Not Yet” aspect of Christ’s kingdom. He has already accomplished what he came to do. “It is finished”. And he is alive. Yet the world is still ruined and groans for redemption. And even if you believe these chapters are post-rapture, you can still appreciate the tension of these two truths.
We serve a God who claims to be three persons yet one in essence. And a God who is both 100% man and God. Who teaches things like “the first will be last”. And “blessed are they that mourn”. And asks who can straighten what he has made crooked. Instead of vice-versa. Revelation joins the other 65 books in presenting these types of beautiful quagmires about our God.
After the 15th Round…
I’ve always been fascinated by how boxers can pound each other for 40 solid minutes and then hug and smile afterward. And while I think boxing is probably a bit too intense to represent Christian disagreement, that point is the same: We can disagree and debate and still hug and smile afterward. We have plenty to talk about that brings us together. The doctrines we agree on are mighty and should unite us across all lines—denominational, political, ethnic and otherwise. Even in Revelation. Let us utilize this most mysterious and divisive book to celebrate our common ground of essential truths.
- You Don’t Have to Understand to Obey - March 20, 2020
- 500 Words or Less Review: “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Spoiler Free) - February 24, 2020
- Five Truths from Revelation That Should Unite the Church (Part 1) - February 21, 2020