Turn to the end of the book!
Proverbs 27:1 says “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth”. How true that is! None of us knows what’s round the corner. COVID is obviously uppermost in a lot of people’s minds at this present time with the surge in cases as the “second-wave” hits us. People are worried about the future, worried about jobs, worried about how it will all work out. But it’s not just COVID. You just don’t know what will happen, and that’s the problem.
Every now and again we read a book that we call a page-turner. You can’t put it down. What happens, how does it end? The book cleverly doesn’t give the ending away and you’re drawn in to keep reading to find out. But you can turn to the back pages to find out how it ends, and suddenly the suspense goes.
You’re not supposed to look at the back pages until the end of the book. It spoils everything. It’s cheating! Unless it’s the Bible. As a Christian you’re supposed to look at the end of the book. You can find out how it all ends now and cut the suspense.
We’re living in very uncertain times. Where is it all going? Reading a thriller novel is fine, but when it’s for real it certainly isn’t! What better time to turn to the end of the book, and look at what it has to teach us. What better thing can we do than to see how it all turns out and not have to wait in suspense. But as we turn to the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, how are we to understand its message?
Sadly, a lot of people either don’t understand or they misinterpret Revelation and it actually just adds to all the confusion and the uncertainty. But correctly understood, the book of Revelation helps us see what’s happening in our lives right now from God’s perspective – and helps us see that our future is entirely safe in His hands.
If we’re honest most of us have found Revelation confusing and perhaps even frightening. And if we’re honest we probably don’t read it much. But I believe a couple of simple keys can help unlock the book:
1. See the wood for the trees. Step back and look at the big themes rather than trying to put a meaning to the detail. I realised this some years ago when I read the first part of Zechariah. None of it really made sense. Why were some of the horses described red and some brown and some dappled? Was there some meaning to the colours? It finally dawned on me that the book was just painting a dramatic picture, and it all fell into place. Like Zechariah, Revelation is a book of pictures and picture language. So sometimes the detail is there just to create the dramatic picture. Step back. Look at the big themes.
2. In western culture a story starts from the beginning and tells the story chronologically as it unfolds. But in other cultures, you often tell something by themes. So for example in Genesis 1 & 2 – it’s the same creation story in each chapter, but told from different perspectives. So here in Revelation, the same things keep repeating. For example:
a. Chapter 6: 14 – the sky recedes, people call on the rocks to cover them – the final judgement
b. Chapter 19 – the beasts are thrown into the lake of burning sulphur as part of the defeat of everything evil
c. Chapter 20 – the devil appears to be free again, but then there’s the final judgement again, everyone standing before the great white throne
Is there more than one final judgement? Is the Devil freed after he is judged? Is there evil after evil has been defeated? It doesn’t make sense. Until you realise that John isn’t giving us a step-by-step history lesson. He’s telling a story through themes. The pictures tell the same story but from a different angle. They cover the same time period and the same events, but using different pictures to emphasise different lessons.
I’m aware that there are different interpretations of the book. And I don’t want to create any controversy. But my understanding is that Revelation is a series of pictures, with an introduction and epilogue as “book-ends” either side of the pictures. And each picture covers the period from the resurrection of Christ until the final day. So you have:
The churches – foremost in God’s thinking, with the risen Christ walking amongst His churches. We are what matters most to Him
The seals – the unfolding of history and of a plan
The trumpets – sounding warnings of a judgement to come
The beasts – spiritual enemies and spiritual warfare
The bowls – the beginnings of judgement
The fall of Babylon – evil is in the world, but there will be an end to all the evil of this world
The thousand years – God gives the Devil rope – as we see in our world today. But only for a period, until the final judgement, when all wrongs will be put right
And as “book ends” on either side of the series of pictures you have an introduction and a finale:
The introduction – John’s vision of the risen, victorious Jesus Christ, triumphant over death and hell
The finale – when John sees the new heaven and new earth – telling us where it’s all heading
Throughout the book we are privileged to go “behind the scenes”. With each picture theme John describes, he also takes us to see what’s happening behind the curtain as he unfolds his revelation.
When you see the book this way, it answers the “big” questions of life. Issues of injustice. The evil that seems to be everywhere in our day. Disease, suffering, death. Is God really in control? Why isn’t He doing something? Where is it all going? John shows us that the risen Jesus rules over it all, bringing about God’s plan of rescuing people from the mess of this fallen world and from the consequences of sin. And where is it going? John tells us of a new heaven and a new earth where there will be “no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (chapter 21: 4).
Are you a Christian? If so, then through all the uncertainties and fears and sadness of this life you can trust that everything to God and trust that you are 100% safe in His hands. Turn to the end of the book!
We will develop this further in another blog to see how this works out for us now
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®