Last week’s Bible study on the book of Revelation was the final meeting of the year for the medical students at Loma Linda. There was so much additional information that I wanted to include in this Bible study and so I would like to share some written comments on the book of Revelation over the next several months. These thoughts have been stimulated by studying Revelation with my wife Dorothee, as well as an excellent class we have been attending on the book of Revelation, led by Dr. Sigve Tonstad.
It is difficult and usually painful to unlearn something but that is exactly what I have had to do with the book of Revelation over the last 10 years. I realize now that for most of my life I have read this book with an entirely false premise. My mindset had been, “If I study this book hard enough, God will lead me to discover a future timeline and a future end-time schedule of events.” Looking back, I recall having unhealthy desires primarily to understand things such as the next major tragedy that would strike planet earth or that perhaps God would lead me to discover something about the next pope, U.S. President, or about the next major world-war. For me, there was a complex mixture of fear and excitement involved in studying this book. It certainly had not occurred to me that “discovering Christ” was to be a part of the reading experience.
I know that many are in the same boat that I used to be in. Every month I receive e-mails from people who read Bible prophecy and “discover” all kinds of incredibly specific things about the future. Just recently I was told that a verse in Revelation “clearly proved” that Israel would bomb Iran “in the near future.” I have also heard some point to specific passages that “foresaw” our current financial collapse. But should we really study Revelation for the purpose of predicting tomorrow’s headline story? I believe that any study of the Bible that leads to a pre-occupation with timelines and a future schedule of events actually leads us away from what should be our central focus which is to know the truth about God’s character and to know him intimately and as a Friend. But does the book of Revelation say anything at all about God’s character?
We need to read the book of Revelation in a different light! In fact, the opening words of the book tell us how we should be reading it: “This is the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:1). Notice that the book doesn’t open by saying, “This book is a mystification of future events that no one could possibly understand.” No! This book is to reveal and to clarify something about the Person of Jesus Christ! This central theme is emphasized again and again in this book but somehow we have been conditioned to gloss over these passages in the context of beasts, dragons, horns and fire:
“Christ made these things known to his servant John by sending his angel to him, and John has told all that he has seen. This is his report concerning the message from God and the truth revealed by Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:1,2)
“The dragon was furious with the woman and went off to fight against the rest of her descendants, all those who obey God’s commandments and are faithful to the truth revealed by Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17)
“I am a servant together with you and with other believers, all those who hold to the truth that Jesus revealed. Worship God! For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets.” (Revelation 19:10)
“I also saw the souls of those who had been executed because they had proclaimed the truth that Jesus revealed and the word of God.” (Revelation 20:4)
Five times in the above passages it is proclaimed that those who are on God’s side hold to “the truth that Jesus revealed.” What truth did Jesus come to reveal? Could this be referring to “the truth that sets us free”? For a full discussion on this subject click here to read “The Real Mother of All Wars (PDF), but in a nutshell, Jesus came to reveal the truth about God’s character (John 17:3-6). Jesus came to reveal that God is love personified, that God is humble, kind, supremely forgiving, and entirely worthy of our trust. The heart and center of the book of Revelation is to direct our eyes to this truth about God that Jesus revealed as well as to reveal and expose the adversary who has been spreading lies about God’s character from the very beginning. This is the primary light that is revealed in this book and we will miss the message that God has for us in this book if we are focused merely on a timeline.
The structure of the book is rather simple but yet I think there is something very significant in this:
- Prologue: 1:1-6
- 7 Churches: 1:7-3:21
- 7 Seals: 4:1-8:1
- 7 Trumpets: 8:2-11:19
- The Great Controversy: 12-14
- 7 bowls of God’s wrath: 15:1-22:5
- Epilogue: 22:6-21
Notice that the 7 churches, 7 seals, 7 trumpets and 7 bowls of God’s wrath all revolve around a section on “The Great Controversy” between God and Satan which occurs between chapters 12-14. Many commentators have noted that “Revelation 12 constitutes the structural and thematic centre” (1) which climaxes with Revelation 14 which is “the high point of the Apocalypse.” (2) According to Bowman, chapter 14 represents “the climax of [John’s] theme toward which all that precedes builds up and from which all that is subsequent falls away.” (3)
We will explore this in much more detail, but as Sigve Tonstad convincingly describes in his book, “Saving God’s Reputation”, this entire core passage builds up to Revelation 14:12 which points to “the faithfulness of Jesus.” What does this mean? Listen to Sigve’s interpretation:
“While ‘faithfulness’ is hardly sufficiently comprehensive for the meaning, [this term] encompasses reliability, trustworthiness, constancy, and even conscientiousness. In the light of the cosmic conflict and the attempt to subvert the divine government on the part of ‘the ancient serpent’ it also means that the person that is thus characterized is not capricious and arbitrary…In the context of the cosmic conflict, the essence of the satanic subversion is the charge that God has not been fair, honest, reliable, and constant…To the extent that God is thought to be at fault, or rather, to the extent that intelligent beings are perplexed with respect to God’s ways, only God can redeem God’s reputation. Assuming this problem to be evident in the storyline, the present interpretation has emphasized ‘the faithfulness of Jesus’ [which] explicates the faithfulness of God, thus absorbing and expressing the issue that lies at the core of the cosmic conflict. In Christological terms this can only be done when the intimate relationship between God and Jesus is maintained on the level of character and ontology.” (4)
I believe that the entire book is to open our eyes as to the issues in the cosmic conflict and to contrast between the character and government of God and the character and government of Satan. The coercive, manipulative and forceful methods of Satan are seen in contrast to those of God who is described as knocking at the door rather than breaking it down. God is revealed as a Lamb that lays down his life in contrast to Satan who is shown to be a fierce dragon who devours and forces people to their knees. God is described as having wrath like a Lamb while Satan’s wrath is described in a very different manner, “How terrible for the earth and sea! For the Devil has come down to you, and he is filled with rage…” (Revelation 12:12) Satan is shown to be untrustworthy and filled with lies, while God’s character is fully vindicated. The book ends with God riding on a white horse and it is very significant that his name “is called Faithful and True.” (Revelation 19:11) Meanwhile, Satan goes out “to deceive the nations” (Revelation 20:8) for he is neither faithful nor true. Finally, God is tenderly pictured as marrying his bride and “wiping tears from [her] eyes.” (Revelation 21:4) By contrast, at the end of this book Satan can no longer hide behind the beasts and false prophets that he established – now, he stands alone, fully exposed as the originator of the sin problem and as the one responsible for the pain and suffering that has been the history of our world.
So, I would encourage you to study the book of Revelation over the next few months. Let’s see if we can understand it in a new light – the light of God’s character as revealed by Jesus Christ.
– Written by Dr. Brad Cole
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, 161
- Lohmeyer, “Offenbarung”, 119
- Bowman, “Revelation to John”, 446
- Tonstad, “Saving God’s Reputation”, 178, 188