There are basically two ways of reading the book of Revelation. One is to read it as a code book which predicts the end times. The other is to read it as a letter from an imprisoned church leader to his flock, to encourage them to keep the faith. This second way is how I read this book. Let me explain why.
John was in prison on the island of Patmos. Patmos was a sort of Alcatraz for the Romans; it’s where they sent criminals who were enemies of the state. We do not know the charges that were levied against John. But it is clear that he felt that Jesus was the king of all, including Caesar. That alone would have been enough.
But he was a loving pastor of his churches. These churches were under pressure from the Roman emperor Domitian to worship Caesar and go with the Roman flow. Domitian was the worst of all the Caesars for persecution to Christians. John, according to the first verse of our passage, was writing to these churches. He was not interested in providing you and me with a code book, so we could figure out the end of the story 2,000 years later. His churches were in trouble, and he was writing to them to encourage them to 1) remain strong in their faith, 2) be patient and endure the current hardships. He did this by showing them the big picture; that God would win in the end. In order to get this message out of prison and past the Romans, he wrote it in an ancient literary style we call Apocalyptic literature. This made no sense to the Romans, but it made perfect sense to John’s readers. Unfortunately, much of the imagery is also lost on us. But the message John sent to them is just as important to us. Let’s take a look.
- Verse four is jam-packed with “stuff”, so we need to break it down.
- First, John names himself as the sender and who this letter is for—the seven churches in Asia (present-day Turkey).
- Next, John sends them greetings from God (that is the one “who is and was and is to come”).
- These greetings also flow from the seven spirits that are before the throne in heaven. (In the verses that follow, these seven spirits are identified as the seven churches in Asia.)
- In verse five the greeting also comes from Jesus. Notably in this verse, Jesus is given three titles:
- The faithful witness—a reminder that we should all be faithful witnesses.
- The firstborn of the dead—a reminder that we shall live forever.
- The ruler of [all] the kings of the earth [including Caesar]—a reminder that Jesus is the Lord, and not some Roman emperor.
- Verses five (b) and six continue by reminding us that:
- Jesus loves us.
- Jesus freed us from our sins by his blood.
- Jesus made us [all] to be a kingdom of priests serving God the Father.
- Verse six ends in a little impromptu praise to God for all of the above.
- Next is a reminder that Jesus is coming back, and everybody will get to see him. Even those who crucified will see him. The whole earth will wail, presumably because Jesus is coming to judge them all. (v. 7)
- God Himself concludes this passage by stating that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. If I were to paraphrase this verse, I’d translate it as “I started this creation, and I’m going to finish it. I was here at the beginning, and I’m seeing it through to the end.” (v. 8)
John makes it clear from the start of this book that God is the one who is in control. We are his servants, and should follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We have been saved forever by Jesus’ blood. We should be faithfully obedient, serving Him as a kingdom of priests, or a “nation of ministers”.
In the previous chapter, chapter 4, Peter and John were put in jail for preaching the Good News. The next morning, they were called before the council, and told to quit their preaching. Peter refused, and they continue their healing and preaching. This landed them in jail again, in Acts 5:18. But during the night, an angel released them, and they went back to the temple to preach. The next day, the council went to get them, and found that they’d escaped! After some searching, they found them at the temple, and presented them to the council.
- They’re brought before the high priest, who reminds them that he gave them strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name or to bring his blood on the council. (vv. 27-28)
- Peter makes it clear who he answers to—“God, rather than any human authority”. These are bold words coming from a man who denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. What is the difference? The Holy Spirit now dwells in Peter. (v. 29)
- Peter is bold enough to remind the council of their implication of Jesus’ crucifixion. (c. 30)
- Verse 31 is interesting in that not only does Peter tell them that Jesus is now at God’s right hand, but that the council could still receive forgiveness of their sins, if they would repent. They will not repent, of course. (v. 31)
- He concludes by stating that they are eyewitnesses to all of this. They must obey God by doing what they are doing, through the strength they receive from the Holy Spirit. (v. 32)
We, too, have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We can have the boldness of Peter, to speak up in front of our adversaries. We have the Spirit to help us, when we preach and teach in His name.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Was it the Jews who crucified Jesus or the Romans? Before we place the blame totally on Jews, we must remember that Jesus and his disciples were all Jewish, as were most of his followers. Many openly or secretly assisted him all along his journey.
These are the closing lines of the Gospel of John, his conclusion to the gospel story.
- This is Jesus’ first appearance to all the apostles, after his resurrection. Well, except for Judas and Thomas, that is. Somehow, Jesus infiltrates the room, in spite of the locked doors. Yet, he is not a ghost, because the apostles are able to touch his wounds. What an interesting event! (vv. 19-20)
- Next, he tells them that they must continue the work that he had started. He then breathes the Holy Spirit on them, to give them the power they need for the task. (vv. 21-22)
- He further explains that they have the authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness of sins. (v. 23)
- Now we hear that Thomas was not present. When Thomas returns, he doesn’t believe that Jesus was there. He has to see for himself. (v. 25)
- Jesus appears the following week, and Thomas is there. Jesus does not scold Thomas for being skeptical. Instead, he is patient and understanding. “Put your finger here… Do not doubt, but believe.” Thomas doesn’t even need to touch Jesus, he believes on the spot. (vv. 26-28)
- What Jesus says next is more for us for Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (v. 29)
- In verses 30 & 31, John explains why he wrote this all down. It wasn’t so that we would have a complete biography of Jesus’ life. He wrote down just enough for us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God…”
Let’s look at Jesus’ reaction to Thomas’ behavior. Long before this, Jesus told them all that was going to happen. That he was going to die and be risen from the dead. Yet, Thomas doesn’t believe. Jesus had every right to be angry with Thomas. Instead, he has patience and understanding. In my times of doubt, I am always comforted by this. I know that my Lord understands, and loves me in spite of my moments of doubt.