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(This article is in rememberance of my NT teacher-Bob Lowery who went to be with the Lord in april 2011. What a wonderful and great man of God he was, and what a priviledge for me was to be in his classes.)

National Preaching Summit

Indianapolis, Indiana March 25-26, 2002

Prepared by Robert Lowery, PH D

Professor of New Testament and Associate Dean

Lincoln Christian Seminary

“Critics are madder than poets…And even though St. John the Evangelist

saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as

one of his own commentators.”  G.K. Chesterton

How in the world does one preach the Revelation responsibly?  When we read this book we may, at various points, think we have picked up a demented copy of the National Geographic Magazine filled with grotesque creatures—a slaughtered Lamb standing, a dragon with its tail sweeping stars out of the sky, or a beast with seven heads and ten horns.  Or we may think that we have been surfing with our remote controls and we have come upon the weather channel revealing a world gone amuck with lightning and thunderstorms and hundred pound hailstones and raging seas and fierce tsunami-like conditions.  Or perhaps we may think we have picked up a jigsaw puzzle with 5000 pieces and we have no picture of what it is we are trying to piece together or a puzzle book with crossword puzzles and page after page of scrambled letters where we are supposed to circle hidden words or phrases.  Or perhaps we may think that we have picked up a college level higher mathematics book with incomprehensible numbers and equations, with threes, fours, twelves and multiples of twelve, and tens and multiples of tens and times, time and half a time.  Or perhaps upon reading through the book in one sitting we conclude that it reads like a poorly directed film whose director and editor did not know when and how to end the movie.  Or perhaps we think someone has typed in the words “The End” on some apocalyptic search engine and we have come up with web sites never dreamed of.

Indeed, when we open this last book of the Bible we experience a collision of sounds, smells, and sights.  The book assaults our senses.  We see a funeral procession, a wedding celebration, a brothel, a homecoming, a banquet, a dance; we smell incense and we see falling stars; we taste bitter waters; we see storms on the horizon and a childbirth; and we feel the winds of judgment; and we hear beautiful praise choruses or dire warnings too horrible to contemplate.

We can’t believe what we see or what we hear.  And we are tempted to close the book and think:  Never again. Never again will I read this book.  There is not a chance that I’ll preach this one.

No wonder many preachers never make it past the third chapter.  Is it worth the trouble to read this book let alone preach the Revelation?  I am convinced that it must be preached.  It must be because it is as inspired as Romans or Jude.  It must be preached because of its profound message about the nature of the Christian life and the nature of Church life and the nature of the world in which we live and hope to hold out a witness to the Gospel.  It is a book that appeals to a postmodern world with all of its sights, sounds, and smells.  It is a book that speaks to the eternal struggle that God’s people have experienced, always living on the edge, and always living under the shadow of threats to destroy the Church or threats to domesticate the Church.

But how does one preach this book?  Many of us are intimidated.  Why?  “Imbalance” is the word that comes to my mind.  “Imbalance”--An obsession with Antichrist and Armageddon, one word never found in the book and the other only once.  An obsession with tribulation and timetables, with rapture and resurrection, with speculation and sensationalism, with the millennium and the Middle East and an obsession of being afraid of “being left behind.”  “Imbalance.”

We either ignore the book in preaching or become obsessed and think that all clear passages of Scripture can be shaped by a handful of obscure passages.  Or perhaps we are tempted to focus on the easiest to understand sections or those passages that produce the most fireworks, lighting up the sky with marvelous and frightening scenes.

If God has given us this book to be heard, read, prayed over, and obeyed, how in this world does one preach Revelation responsibly?

We can do so only if we work hard at keeping our balance.

I offer to you five categories to keep in mind that will assist you in keeping your balance so that God will be honored in the study and in the pulpit.  For if he is not honored in the former, he will not be honored on Sunday.


I refer to the book’s Scriptural and historical environments.

There are three areas where we need to try to keep the balance.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  We must place Revelation in its scriptural (or canonical) setting, seeing it in light of the Bible as a whole.  Let me illustrate the importance of this in two ways.

First, there are more than 500 allusions to the writings of the OT, from Genesis to Malachi—references drawn from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Kings and Joshua and Judges and the major and minor prophets.  One of the major reasons why Christians fail to understand Revelation is that they lack an awareness of the use of the Old Testament that permeates the book.

John used familiar language and imagery, sometimes modified, at other times unchanged.  He communicated marvelous truths revealed to him by God through word pictures which were thoroughly familiar to his first readers.  If we would realize this, perhaps there would be less of a tendency to read current events back into a first century text.  It is the first century setting and Old Testament images that help us interpret the book, not today’s headlines.

Second, the message of John complements the message found in the other NT writings.  Taken together, all of the NT writings emphasize that eschatology has to do with Christ’s first coming and all that happens until his final coming.  All of the authors proclaim that whenever and wherever the Bible speaks about Christ’s final coming, its purpose is always to challenge Christians’ beliefs and behavior and remind us of our message and mission.  Christians are to live lives that reflect that Christ has come and that Christ is coming.  Whereas Paul speaks in generalities about the principalities and powers we fight (Eph. 6:10f.), John gives us the details in spectacular images.  But their message is the same.  We fight not against flesh and blood, not against Roman tyranny or terrorism but against the Prince of Tyranny, Temptation and Terror.  We are called upon to liberate prisoners of war.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the Macro and the Micro.  We must work hard at seeing the forest rather than get lost by looking at the trees and their trunks, branches, and even leaves.  There are times when you will look at a passage and you will be tempted to throw up your hands in despair and wonder who in the world are the twenty-four elders in Revelation four or who are these living creatures and why does God look like jasper and carnelian rather than an old man with white robe, hair and beard.  And we may well miss the heartbeat of that vision:  the ongoing worship of God in heaven—a worship service which gets at the heart of worship, that is celebrating in God and showing loyalty to God.  The ceaseless worship of God in heaven is to be matched by Christians worshipping 24-7-365.
  2. We need to keep the balance between the Cultural and the Cross-Cultural.  This perhaps is one of the biggest mistakes made in today’s popular studies of this book.  There is a failure to bridge the gap.  I am guided by a fundamental truth about all of the books in the Bible:  All writings must have had a meaning for their first readers.  But something happens when many preachers approach the Book of Revelation.  Many don’t pay a bit of attention to what this book said to the people at the end of the first century.  Rather we are self-centered and we want to know only how it speaks to us today.  We cannot do this with any other book of the Bible; we dare not do it with this one.  Again, every book of the NT must have had a meaning for their first readers.

Why did God give John this revelation?  How did it speak to John and his comrades in the faith?  Only when we make the journey back to the first century do we dare try to build a bridge to the twenty-first century.  I am convinced that most of today’s popular literature from Lindsay to LaHaye, if it could be transported back via a time machine to first century Ephesus, such literature would be viewed as nonsense, bogus, irrelevant.  John’s readers wouldn’t have a clue concerning the  message of “The Left Behind” series.  Again, if we do not know what it meant to Christians back then, it is impossible to know what it means to us today.

Conflict describes the situation in John’s day.  There is conflict when two forces or ideas or individuals are trying to occupy the same space at the same time for opposite reasons.  The Kingdom of God versus the Kingdom of the Dragon.  And the terms “suffering” and “seduction” describe the situations the Christians were facing in those days.  The greatest menace facing the Christians was not in the form of direct persecution, even though there was some of that and there would, no doubt, be more.  No, the greatest menace facing the churches was the temptation to compromise with culture.

Like Babylon of old, Rome acted as seductress, using all of its moral, social, economic, religious, political and military might to lure Christians into compromising relationships and complacency.  And if that would not work, Rome would force itself upon the Christians.  Resisting the power of cultural seduction is sounded repeatedly in the book.  Some Christians had clearly capitulated while others had remained loyal to Christ.  Many needed to be shaken from their spiritual lethargy and challenged to accept the cost of discipleship.

Or in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words:  “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  And I have no doubt that John would say “Amen.  There is no other way than to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, and where he goes may involve incredible suffering but incredible blessing.”

When the church refuses to be seduced by culture, it should not be surprised to experience rejection.  On the other hand, when seduction is successful, the church will be ignored and or tolerated.


I am talking about genre.  What kind of book is this?  We have gospels, history, and letters, but what about this book?  Where would Barnes and Noble shelve this book?  It would have to create a new category.  A genre mistake is made by many preachers.  They read Revelation like a “Book of Acts” with a twist, a kind of “Book of Future Acts.”  Revelation tells us in great detail what is going to happen, so we are told.  And we can draw up our charts and we distribute our videos.  But remember this:  Every single person or school of thought or church group who has done this have been consistent…consistently wrong, from the Millerites in the 1840s to the LaHaye-ites in the twenty-first century.

A genre mistake is made because we ask the wrong questions and therefore we don’t get the right answers because we impose our agenda on this book.  We don’t allow God to set the agenda with the literary form that he has chosen to reveal himself.  The bottom line is this:  A book must be interpreted naturally in light of its genre.

Revelation is a hybrid work, combining three well-known ancient genres.  It is a Christian apocalyptic-prophetic-circular letter.  As an apocalypse, it was written in tough times to make a tough people and used symbolism considerably; as a circular letter, it was meant to be shared with the church throughout the ancient world to speak to their needs like other NT letters; and especially as a prophecy, it was a call to arms, a call to obedience

There are three areas where we need to keep the balance.

  1. We need to keep the balance between foretelling and forthtelling.  Listen to Revelation 1:3---“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and obey it . . .”  Prophecy is both foretelling and forthtelling.  It certainly proclaims the future in the most general way:  Christ has come and he is coming again so be prepared.  There will be reward and punishment.

But most prophecy in the Bible is not concerned with predicting the future.  The heart of prophecy is forthtelling, declaring God’s Word and Will for a people who are tempted to compromise or who are discouraged because of the rejection and outright suffering they may be experiencing.  I will say more about this below, but I always encourage my students in seminary to ask of any passage in Revelation:  Is there a word of comfort or a word of challenge in this verse?  Or perhaps is there a combination of both comfort and challenge.

The book tells us not only what God intends to do in the most general way, it tells us what God expects us to be and do in specific ways and it offers comfort through the images of hope that we worship a reigning Lord and a redeeming Lamb.

As a prophet, John strips away the scales from our eyes and forces us to see the church in all of its strengths and weaknesses as well as this world with devils filled.  The prophet warns us to beware of listening to the spirit of the age rather than to the Spirit of the God of the ages.  The pastoral and the prophetic, the encouragement and the exhortation, foretelling and forthtelling, the visionary and the hortatory are intertwined.  What God has brought together, let not preachers separate.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the present and the future.  Here I am talking about typology.  John sees persons, things, or events in the OT as foreshadowings or patterns of persons, things or events in the NT or even in the future of the world—Babylon, Egypt, Moses and Elijah, Nero, the city of Rome, the practice of worshipping the Roman emperor as a god.  I am talking about type and antitype.

We find it often in the New Testament.  “As Jonah was in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of Man be in the earth” . . . “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  Jonah and Noah were the types or models, and Jesus was the anti-type or fulfillment  (See also the use of typology in Hebrews.).

For John, Babylon was the type, Rome the antitype.  For us, Rome is the type and some other godless or seductive or oppressive culture is the antitype, perhaps even the USA!  Hence, in describing for his readers the downfall of Rome, Rome is a type for the destruction of all godless cultures leading up even to the destruction of the world when Christ comes in glory.

  1. We need to keep the balance between prediction and promise.  This point complements the above.  The book not only predicts Jesus’ final coming it also declares the promises which Jesus’ first and final comings fulfill.

A prediction is a fairly flat affair.  Either it comes true or it doesn’t.  But in predictions we often find detailed promises.  And a promise is much more than a prediction.  It is one thing to predict the end of the world, which is what John does in a general way.

Again, in using Rome as a model, John is saying as Rome was judged by God and came to an end, so will any culture which opposes God, so indeed the whole world.  But in making predictions, often promises are made.  John predicted the fall of the Roman Empire but stars did not fall from the sky nor did the moon turn to blood.  But a promise is different.  It has a dynamic quality that goes beyond the external details involved.

For example, there are many promises made to believers (see the end of each of the messages in chapters two and three as well as promises made in others chapters like 7, 21—22).  The promises were made in terms that would have been understood by the original recipients.  But the promises may well be kept in deeper and fuller ways.  In other words, all of the promises about future reward will be enriched and enhanced when kept.  On the other hand, if we are not in Christ, all of the horrible promises about punishment will be enriched and enhanced when kept.

We must not fail to see the living and “transformable” quality of promises which were probably understood quite literally at the time of their giving.  But just because the promises exceed our hopes or fears does not mean that the promises were not kept.  Changed circumstances and the end of the world may well enable the promises to be kept in a different way, without emptying the promises of their purpose.  To insist on literal fulfillment of prophecies means we may well overlook their actual nature within the category of promise, with the potential different and progressively superior levels of fulfillment.  When someone insists that a prediction or promise must be interpreted literally, that person is overlooking the actual nature of a promise found in the prediction, a promise that may have superior levels of fulfillment.

Let me illustrate this way.  Let’s say it is 1985 and a seven year old boy sees his dad’s typewriter and he is captivated by it.  He desperately wants one.  And he asks his father if he can have one someday.  Yes says the Father, when you finish high school so that you can use it when you are in college.  Ten years pass and at the graduation party the parents give the teenager a computer with word processing, internet capability—the works.  And a color laser printer.  Has the promise been kept?  Yes and no.  No, the boy did not receive a typewriter but yes in the sense that the father (who in 1985 knew about computers but had not yet bought one) fulfilled the promise in a much richer and more beautiful way.  So the promises in the Revelation.


I know of no interpreter, denials notwithstanding, who interprets everything in Revelation literally, plain and unadorned.  No one believes that Jesus is literally a door or a Lamb or that the Devil is literally a Dragon.  There are those who say that anyone who does not interpret Revelation literally is denying its inspired message.  This is a bogus perspective.  Such accusers themselves do not practice such an approach to language.  Once again, we must interpret a book of the Bible naturally in light of its genre.  It was the nature of such apocalyptic works in the ancient world to use symbolism.

Rev. 1:1 as translated in the KJV highlights the use of symbolism:  “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.”  He sent and signified it . . . Unpack one verb, signify.  God signified it, that is, God made the message known in signs.  As John revealed Christ through the signs in the Gospel, so Christ is revealed through signs in the Revelation!

There are three areas where we need to try to keep the balance.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the literal and the figurative.  By literal I mean the plain, unadorned meaning of a word; there are no hidden layers of meaning.  By figurative, we mean that something may mean something other than its original, natural sense; a word is like an onion and has to be peeled.  Truth is expressed in both literal and non-literal or figurative ways.

There is a God and Christ and Spirit and Church and Devil, simply put, but they may be described in fantastic images:  God is like jasper and carnelian; Christ is like a lamb; the Spirit is like blazing lamps; the Church is like two witnesses and the Devil is like a dragon or a serpent.  John actually saw scorpions, beasts, and locusts, but the emphasis is on the reality they symbolize.  John speaks of realities beyond human descriptive experience.  He points to something real, but the images are not reality itself.

Moreover, we must interpret the symbols in light of their context, both Old Testament and in the Revelation itself.  I don’t read the Book of Revelation with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.  Today’s headlines are not the interpretive key to Revelation.  Understanding the meaning John’s readers would have seen in it.  We must discover the source of the symbolism and more often than not we will find it in the Bible itself.

Furthermore, we must beware of pressing the details; they may belong to the overall picture or they may be used for dramatic effect.  Do not let the big picture be obscured by bits and pieces.  Look for the central meaning of the picture.  Look for the essence rather than for exactness.

  1. We need to keep the balance between truth and parody.  Parody is understood as a feeble imitation of the real or of the true.  By its very nature, parody assumes that there is truth.  On a theological level, the forces of evil acknowledge that there is truth by their very efforts to imitate truth!  And this is a feature highlighted in Revelation.  Evil often parades or tries to present itself as good.

Consider the parody that goes on in Revelation:  God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit , the Holy Trinity, are mocked by the Unholy trinity, the Dragon, the Sea Beast and the Earth Beast; the sea-beast has a fatal wound yet lives thereby mocking the Lamb of God who has a fatal wound and yet lives; the earth-beast has horns like a lamb but speaks like a dragon whereas Christ is the Lamb of God and speaks with authority; we read of a tale of two cities, Babylon the great versus the New Jerusalem, the former being a symbol for people who follow the dragon and the other being a symbol for the redeemed people of God; white is associated with both evil (Rev. 6:1f.) and with good (Rev. 19:10f.); Christians are sealed by God (Rev. 7) whereas followers of the Dragon have the mark of the beast (Rev. 13); we read of a Whore who seduces and of a Bride who keeps herself pure; as there are two witnesses testifying to the Gospel there are two beasts opposing the two witnesses of God.  Begin to make your own list early and you will marvel at the beauty of the images.

  1. We need to keep in balance the plain and the paradoxical.  The word “plain” means “clearly understood; evident; obvious” whereas “paradoxical” means “a statement contrary to common belief; a statement that seems contradictory, unbelievable or absurd but may be true in fact.”  Surely I do not need to focus on the plain in Revelation: the reality of church, of evil, etc.  But consider the images of paradox: a Lamb defeating a Dragon; a Lamb shepherding people; a people following the Lamb wherever he goes; victory achieved by sacrifice.  Love, purity, holiness, and faithfulness will defeat all earthly power.


Revelation is a notoriously difficult book to analyze structurally.  There really is no parallel to it in the Bible.  (It is acknowledged, by the way, that two other writings by John, the Gospel and the First Letter are difficult to outline).

There are three areas where we need to strive to keep the balance.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the visual and the aural.  Revelation’s message is to be both seen and heard.  Time and again we read such phrases as “I heard” (nearly 30 times) or “I saw,” (more than 50 times).  The Hebrews were called to worship with the words: “Hear, O Israel” . . . And John continues that tradition:  “Blessed is the one who hears and obeys

. . . I heard . . . The one who has ears to hear, let that one hear . . .”

Preaching, the Revelation is like music: it is meant to be heard.  Even though Revelation’s message appears to lean towards visions, in reality they, too, are heard.  Yet do not minimize what is seen.

Perhaps we could say that the visions are like stage scenery.  They may enhance the drama or they may so dazzle the viewer that we do not “hear” the lines being spoken.  They get our attention: they move us to wonder, they overpower us with a sense of the supernatural and transcendent.  But the word pictures do not convey the message alone.  Beware of explaining the props to the audience and rob them of the plot.  Often what is seen is explained (Rev. 1:20; 13:8; 17:9-18; 19:8; 20:4-6).  But what is seen and what is heard are meant to provide either comfort or challenge.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the earth and heaven.  Pay close attention to the movement between heaven and earth and you will find unlocked some key truths. In one of your early readings of Revelation, ask of each paragraph the question:  Is the scene in heaven or on earth or a mixture?  This is incredibly illuminating.

Take Revelation 4 and the theme of worship.  Heavenly perspective often helps us make it through this life.  What is going on in God’s presence needs to go on while we live on earth.  Or consider Revelation 12, the first half taking place on earth and the second in heaven, but both concurrently, and both emphasizing the defeat of the Dragon.  Or take Rev. 20:1-15, which moves back and forth between heaven and earth, with the implication that the paragraph about the saints reigning for a thousand years does not take place on earth but in heaven and therefore is a word of encouragement:  those who die faithfully will reign with Christ upon their death!  (20:1-3 on earth; 20:4-6 in heaven; 20:7-10 on earth; 20:11-15 before God since heaven and earth have passed away)

  1. We need to keep the balance between the sequential and the spiral.  Failure to understand this aspect has led to much misunderstanding.  Many people think that Revelation is like reading a novel; the story begins and continues on a straight line.  Of course, there is a degree of sequence in the book.  There is a beginning and an end and John moves from the first coming of Christ to the final, to be sure.  But he does so time and again.  It is the in-between that creates some confusion.

There is a spiral-like effect.  One definition of spiral is “advancement to higher levels through a series of cyclical movements.”  Although we usually visualize a spiral as circular, we can actually have points of contact that are at the opposite ends of a cycle.  In Revelation John moves back and forth from the present to the future, from his day (or ours) to the end of the world.

Consider the relationship between the seven seals, trumpets and bowls.   It appears that each set of seven leads the reader up to the final coming of Christ which results in the punishment of the wicked and the rewarding of the saints (6:12f.; 11:15f.; 16:17f; cf. 14:14f.;19:6f; 20:11f.).

John is not a chronologist.  For example, the trumpets do not necessarily follow the seals in strict chronological order.  It may help us to see John as a composer.  His Theme—a message of judgment and hope—is stated and then restated in different ways.  If John’s Theme is the end of the world, then each series of seven is a Variation that adds to the composition.  Each one heightens and intensifies the final, climactic confrontation between God and the forces of evil. There is intensity as the piece progresses (with the opening of the seven seals, one fourth of the earth is affected; with the seven trumpets, one third and with the seven bowls, all).

Each series of seven moves the reader closer to the end not because each follows the preceding series in a purely chronological sense but because each heightens and intensifies the final and climactic confrontation between God and his people and Satan and his allies.  Moreover, there are interludes between the sixth and seventh categories, the one in Rev. 7 showing security of God’s people, the one in 10 and 11 showing the responsibility of God’s people, and the brief one in 16 emphasizing the watchfulness of God’s people.

It is the theological message, not a strict chronology, that really counts.  The seals remind us that evil exists only by permission from God.  The trumpets call people to repentance.  The bowls emphasize God’s complete judgment of evil.  Thus, the various series offer visions of world history from the ascension of Christ to the end of the world, looking at the world from different viewpoints and gradually building up to the end of the world and the new heaven and new earth.


Only by paying attention to the setting, style, symbolism and structure of the book are we then ready to ask:  What is the significance of the book?  How does it speak to us today?  I have chosen to spend less time on this today because if we get the above right then the significance will certainly become clearer.  There can be no shortcuts taken in the previous four categories without risking missing God’s intended meaning of this great book.  If we are not willing to follow the first four categories, then we must not preach Revelation.

The Book of Revelation was not written to satisfy our curiosity about the future.  We must not use it to work out in detail a schedule leading up to the end of the world.  It was not given to us to scare the hell out of people.  All who have done this, contemporary authors included, have been wrong, without exception.

By placing this book in the contexts of Christ’s first and final comings, John impressed upon his audience an awareness of the Christian life and mission.  It was a context in which Christians were called upon to choose between holy living and unholy living.  Revelation asks the Church today:  Are you going to be seduced by the whore or are you going to be a faithful and pure bride.  No compromise is allowed.   There were no shades of gray in the book.  Throughout, John sets up stark contrasts between good and evil and invites believers to make a choice.  Christians are exhorted to choose between two clearly opposed sides.

Accordingly, there are three areas where we need to strive to keep the balance.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the indicative and the imperative.  Indicatives abound in Revelation.  There are statements made about God, Christ, evil, the Church.  They express reality; they express truth; this is what I mean when I use the word “indicative.”  And these truths about God and Christ provide the foundation for all of the imperatives, that is the commandments.

John adopts several strategies to exhort Christians.  Let me give some of the ways in which he does.  He exhorts them through numerous imperatives: repent; do deeds; be faithful; be watchful; listen.  He exhorts them in describing them:  they are the people of God; servants; saints; called; chosen; and faithful.  He exhorts them by rebuking and commending (“I know your works . . .”).  He exhorts them by promising and threatening.  He exhorts them through the seven beatitudes found in the book (“Blessed are . . .”) and he exhorts them in the of lists of virtues and vices (14:4-5; 21:8,27; 22:15).  There are approximately one hundred paragraphs in Revelation and eighty per cent of them contain one or more kinds of imperative.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the corporate and the personal.  The Christian life is a life-in-community.  American culture worships individualism, but a reading of Revelation shows us that it is imperative that we maintain a balance between the personal and the corporate.

The Christian is never viewed in isolation from others.  Note that each of the messages in chapters two and three begin with a call to the whole church (“to the angel of the church in Ephesus” and then the church as a whole is evaluated) but each one ends with a call to the individual:  “to the one who overcomes, I will give to that person . . .”

Satan’s efforts to destroy the Church in its early days are referred to in Revelation 12 and when he is unable, according to Revelation 13 he turns his attention to individual Christians (e.g., “If anyone is to be carried into captivity . . .  If anyone has wisdom, let him calculate the number of the beast . . .”).

The messages are addressed not simply to the churches but also to their individual members; both the praise and the blame and the promises of reward and loss apply to the individual members as well as to congregations.  The individual’s victory over evil depends, in part, upon the faithfulness of the Church as a whole as well as the influence of the Church also depends upon the individual members.

The book teaches that only the Church corporate can be designated as “eternally secure,” while the individual believers who make up the church maintain their position only as they remain faithful to their original commitment by God’s grace.  Revelation does not teach a radical individualism in which the importance of the community is diminished or denigrated.  The individual Christian is always the individual-in-community.  As a hostile and seductive world is confronted, the Christian life is a life lived out in close relationship with Christ within the Christian community.  We are a band of pilgrims journeying home under God’s grace.

  1. We need to keep the balance between the local and the global.  As the Church seeks to carry out its mission, the Dragon will do all in its power to afflict and/or seduce the Church locally and globally.  Satan and God have one thing in common:  they both want this world and its inhabitants.

It is significant that the term used most frequently for Christians is the word “saints” and that the phrase “those who dwell upon the earth” (the “earthdwellers”) is the one that is used most to describe non-Christians.  The saints and the earthdwellers are found throughout the world.  Time and again we read such a phrase as “tribe, language, nation and people,” or “the four corners of the earth,” or “the earth and the sea.”  There is no institution, structure, group, power, system that Satan will not use to control the world.

John says to the Church of his day and to the Church of our day:  Because of the world’s sinful, seductive and suppressing ways, God calls upon the saints to remember that their vocation is to be a Christian and that their specific task is that of witness.

Every major section of Revelation reminds Christians and congregations of their responsibility to be involved in mission locally and globally (Rev. 1:5b-6; 22:17).  Wherever you have a word spoken about Christ by Christians, there should be lives which authenticate the spoken words.  Wherever you have acts done in the name of Christ by Christians, there is the need for words to be spoken about Christ.  In Revelation there is a blending of lifestyle and verbal evangelism.

The reminder in Rev. 1:5b-6 that we are a kingdom of priests is a reminder to be concerned for witness to the whole world.  Priests represent God before a watching world.  John’s brothers and sisters no longer dwelled in safe and secure Jerusalem.  They found themselves walking the streets of Rome and Ephesus and other metropolitan centers as well as rural areas.  There is no use pretending to be a disciple of Jesus if we are unwilling to walk the streets of Rome because it is scary, difficult, corrupt, and intimidating.  Jesus belongs in Rome; he belongs in Rome in spite of its persecuting and perverse ways.  There is no use pretending to be his disciples if we are dodging Rome.  A call to be witnesses to God’s grace is at the heart of such images.

G.R.Beasley-Murray (The Book of Revelation, p. 181) observed that “…the Church has something more important to do than simply to survive.  It is set in the world to bear witness to men, even when the witness is resisted with force.  The darker the hour, the more need for the Churches to be what they are: lamps, through which Christ’s light shines.  Witnesses may be crushed, and lamps put out, but in the end both witness and light achieve their desired object:  men give glory to God.”

Before I close, there is one more balance that I need to share; it is one not found on the study guide but it is, I believe, a critical one—the balance between the good news and the bad news—a word of gospel and a word of judgment . . . a word of gospel and a word of judgment.