As John begins to wrap up his work, he brings to a close many of the themes he introduced in his prologue (Rev 1:1-8). He has not only been told what to say, but shown by an angel “what must soon take place . . . for the time is near” (22:6, 8, 10; 1:1-2 ESV). But the Revelation does not belong to John as a matter of authorship, for the One who gave it is himself “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13; 1:8)—the book is in truth, “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). And so John, in both his first and final benedictions, points out the blessings that come to those who read and heed the message of their Savior:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. . . . Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. . . . Blessed are those who [do his commandments], so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Rev 1:3; 22:7, 14; see ESV margin)
The readers of Revelation then watch as each of the main actors in the drama leave the stage for the last time: first the angel (Rev 22:6-11), then the Lord Jesus (22:12-17), and then John himself (22:18-21). As the angel departs, he reemphasizes the immediacy of what he has shown the apostle: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (22:10). So near, in fact, that for many in John’s day it may already be too late to repent: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy” (Rev 22:11; see Dan 12:4, 9, 10). Many had seen the plagues God wrought throughout history, but failed to perceive the power behind them, and so they too would be swept up in the destruction (9:20-21; Rom 1:18-23).
It may be at this point that the book of Revelation has much more to do with you than you think. Consider the list Jesus himself gives of those who live apart from God for eternity: they are “the dogs [male cult prostitutes; Deu 23:17-18] and sorcerers and [fornicators] and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev 22:15). But his list is not exhaustive; Paul tells us neither adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers or swindlers “will inherit the kingdom of God” (1Co 6:9-10).
But the good news of Christ is not that we must (literally or figuratively) sleep in the bed we have made; it is that through his grace, we have the opportunity to turn to him in obedient faith (Rev 22:14) for the cleansing only he can bring. As Paul continues in the next verse, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God” (1Co 6:11). Every saint has a past they’re not proud of, but in Christ God has a future prepared for every man, woman, and child who turns to him.
And as John tells us, that turning begins by accepting Jesus and everything he has said as the trustworthy, true, and sufficient revelation of God to man: “‘These words are trustworthy and true.’ . . . I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev 22:6, 18-19). God’s word is spoken in creation (Gen 1:3), it lives in our hearts (Deu 6:6), it shapes our lives (Deu 32:47), and it will never pass away (Mat 24:35). The Scriptures are alone sufficient for all things because Jesus is alone sufficient for all things; he is the Word through whom all things were made, and through whom we have eternal life (2Ti 3:16-17; John 1:1; 6:68).
In the Bible, this obedient faith and heartfelt repentance receives the Spirit of Christ in the waters of baptism (Mat 28:18-20; Acts 2:36-38). Notice how John weaves together the themes of the Spirit, the church, faith, baptism, and grace: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come, let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17, emphasis added). This is that moment the Christians at Corinth had been washed of their sins, made holy in Christ’s blood, and declared innocent through God’s own righteousness (see Acts 22:16; Rom 3:21-26; 6:1-7). At the moment of our baptism we are clothed with Christ’s royal robes (Rev 1:6, 9; 5:10; 14:1-5; Gal 3:26-29), we are sealed with the name of his Spirit (Rev 7:1-4; 2Co 1:22; Mat 28:19), we embody the power of his resurrection (Rev 11:1-14; Rom 6:1-7; 1Pe 3:21), and we become his bride (Rev 19:7; 21:2, 9; Eph 5:25-27).
But there is also a message here for the church as “the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9). We Christians must not only do a better job of reaching out to the lost with the gospel call, we must also recommit ourselves to praying for the coming of Christ himself. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (22:20)! For many of us, these words may be hard to pray. We love our family, we love our neighbors, we love our country, we may even love the world in the worst way (1Jo 2:15-17). So perhaps the last thing that comes to mind when we bow our heads is, “Lord, please come and judge the unbelievers and take me away!”
For John, though, that same love of family, of neighbor, and of place, was what helped him suffer for the sake of the kingdom while he proclaimed God’s word to “many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (Rev 1:9; 10:11). The immediacy of Christ’s coming gave John both hope in the midst of suffering and purpose in his mission to the lost. For eternal victory is reserved for those who “have conquered . . . by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:11).
The message of Revelation is really only confusing because we have made it so. Rather than seeing it from the perspective of the seven churches (Rev 1-3) and from God’s own throne room (Rev 4-5), man has made it about us in the worst possible way. And because of that, we have overlooked what Revelation actually does say about our situation. Whether we are lost or saved, whether we are comforted or afflicted, whether we have or have not, we need to understand Revelation as a description of the life we are called to lead between the first and second comings of Christ. As Ray Summers writes,
This message is particularly relevant today — the call to choose eternal rather than the temporal; to resist temptation, to refuse compromise with pagan secularism, to place the claim of conscience above all demands against it; to cherish the confidence of ultimate victory for the kingdom of God, not only in the age of Domitian but also in every other chaotic period of world history . . . . Find the greatest enemy of Christ (whether corrupt religion, godless government, social anarchy, or any other) . . . and see its eventual failure as the living Christ, the redeeming Lamb, marches to victory over chaotic world conditions—Worthy Is the Lamb. (Summers 93, 208)
The message of Revelation is the message of redemption. The Spirit and the Bride still say, “Come.” The ones who hear say, “Come.” And those who belong to the Christ say, “Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with [all the saints]. Amen” (Rev 22:21; see ESV margin).
The following files are now available for free viewing and download:
Audio Recordings **Both recordings are currently pending upload**
The Benedict Option
Rod Dreher, The American Conservative
The Dominican Option
C.C. Pecknold, First Things
A Franciscan Moment
Timothy George, Patheos
The Calvary Option?
Carl R. Trueman, First Things
Sojourners & Strangers
Russell Moore, Patheos
Seeking Shalom in our Cities
Matthew H. West, First Things
SERMON: Embodying the Love of Christ
Jon Burnett, Waldorf Church of Christ
In the wake of God’s cataclysmic judgment against the city of man, how should the city of God respond? On one hand, Christians throughout the Empire inevitably lost friends and family as their communities and borders deteriorated. But for those who looked down from heaven upon the onslaught, their response was one of joy, of feasting, and of victory. When hell’s harlot had been defeated, the departed saints could cry out to their Lord, “Hallelujah! . . . Praise our God . . . !” (Rev 19:1, 3, 4, 5, 6 ESV). While judgment fell on Rome, the faithful rejoiced over her downfall (19:1-5); the battle had been won (19:11-21), and the reign of God confirmed (19:6-10).
And yet, surprisingly, it is this victorious reign of God over the rulers of the earth that poses the greatest problem interpreting the book of Revelation (Rev 20:1-6). But neither the actor, the set, or the prop is new: “the ancient serpent,” “the bottomless pit,” and “the key” (20:1). All three appeared before in Revelation 9:1, when Satan (“a star fallen from heaven to earth;” see 12:9) was “given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.” From this pit, God allowed him to call forth his demon-driven armies for a time, but Satan’s assault soon focused on a target of God’s choosing: the very city that ruled by the strength of Satan’s power (9:1-21; 13:1-10).
But as John would no doubt remind us, Satan does not own the key to the abyss, it belongs to Christ (Rev 1:18); so we now see it back in the hands of an angel, who “seized the dragon . . . and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while” (19:2-3).
It’s this last sentence that confuses many people. After all, if Satan is still deceiving the nations (2Co 4:4), doesn’t that mean the millennium is still in the future? And if John says that he will be released again, won’t it be followed by a literal tribulation, then the second coming of Christ? Maybe so. But given Revelation’s symbolic use of numbers, and the breakdown of time throughout the book due to recapitulation, we can’t make confident claims about sequence from these words.
Instead, when we compare the numerical representation of Satan’s influence to the reign of God we are revealed the ultimate, ever-present supremacy of the Great I AM over our Enemy. Satan will trample us for only ten days (Rev 2:10) or maybe even 1,260 (11:2-3), but we will reign with God for one thousand years (10 x 10 x 10 = the number of perfection multiplied to the factor of heaven, 3; Rev 20:4-6). The difference is presented as quantitative because it represents a complete qualitative distinction between the influence of Satan and the reign of God—they’re not even on the same plane.
And for the first-century Asian believers suffering under the imperial cult, this was a great comfort. For in the face of death they found not defeat, but victory: “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4). The disembodied souls who had previously cried out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long . . . ?” (6:9-11) were now reigning with Christ awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the redemption of their bodies (20:-6; 1Th 4:14-17; Rom 8:23; Ecc 12:7; Php 1:19-23; Job 19:25-27).
The millennium therefore serves as a sort of hinge around which Revelation turns. On one hand, the city where God reigns has already been established through creation, and confirmed through Christ’s incarnation, miracles, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (Heb 11:10, 13-16; Mat 2:2; 12:28; 16:28; Col 1:13). And all those who belong to Christ—whether dead or alive—are children of the heavenly King and heirs according to the promise (2Ti 2:11-13; Gal 3:25-29).
But on the other hand, there is a sense in which we wait in patience and purity for a kingdom yet to come (1Co 15:50; Eph 5:5; 2Ti 4:18; Mat 6:10); though limited in power and freedom, the devil is still on the loose, as are his servants (1Pe 5:8; 2Co 11:13-15). But just as God had destroyed the godless forces of Gog and Magog before (the Seleucids; see Eze 38-39, Summers 206-207), he promises John that he will do so again: “And [Gog and Magog] marched over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown down into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:9-10; see 20:12-15).
And with evil and its servants shoved aside, everything we see will change, “a new heaven and a new earth” will appear, and the city of God will descend from heaven as the radiant bride of Christ (Rev 21:1-2, 9-11; Eph 5:22-27). It will be a place of perfect fellowship: where God descends to dwell (Rev 21:3), where the righteous are at home (21:4-8), and where the sea no longer stands between God and his people (20:11; 4:6; 15:2; 21:1). It will be a place of perfect protection: with 12 foundations, 12 pearly gates, 12 angelic sentries, an area and height of 12,000 stadia, and 144-cubit-thick walls. And the perfect paradise, in which the curses of old have been undone: the serpent has been crushed, the Seed has conquered, the woman is dressed in white, man walks and talks with the Lord in his garden, and God’s children partake freely of the un-forbidden fruit (Mat 19:28; Gen 3; Acts 3:21; Rom 8:18-25).
Whether we realized it or not, though, we’ve also just answered the most difficult question about Revelation: When does the book of Revelation actually talk about us today, and what about the end times? In short, everything until the millennium (Rev 1:1-19:21) found immediate fulfillment in the first-century church, and applies to us today only by extension. And everything from the millennium to the end of the book (20:1-22:21) applies to all Christians in every age, and the one hope all Christians share in an eternity with our Lord (Eph 4:4; 1Th 4:16-17).
In other words, the Book of Revelation has always been about us; we just have to shift our vantage point to see things from the throne room of God (Rev 4-5; 20:1-6). We too have been added by Christ to his kingdom of priests (Rev 1:6, 9), we share in his kingdom life and his kingdom victory (5:10), we are his innumerable army (Rev 7), the witnesses to his resurrection from the dead (11:1-14), the disciples clothed in his own righteousness (14:1-5), and the citizens of his own eternal city (19:1-22:5). As the church of Jesus Christ, we are the saints who live in the last days, the millennial reign of the Messiah (Acts 2:17; 2Ti 3:1; Heb 1:2; Jam 5:3; 2Pe 3:3).
And the promise of that city remains open to all: “The one who conquers . . . I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. . . . Blessed are those who [do his commandments], so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates” (Rev 3:12; 22:14; see ESV margin).
The following files are now available for free viewing and download:
Audio Recordings **All but Part 3 are currently pending upload**
An America Without Churches
Dominic Bouck, First Things
Kirk Cameron: Fornication is Still Public Enemy No. 1
Greg Garrison, AL.com
Preparing for Stage Two Exile
Steve McAlpine, The Gospel Coalition Australia
Rallying a Generation for Reform
Ryan T. Anderson, The Boston Globe
A Revolution in Conscience
Matthew H. Young, First Things
So Now What? Legal Issues We Now Face
Bobby Ross, Jr., The Christian Chronicle
Will Marriage Dissidents Be Treated as Bigots or Pro-Lifers?
Ryan T. Anderson, The Federalist
One of the many themes throughout the book of Revelation is the concept of one’s city. And though the word appears often throughout the book (thirty times in the ESV), all but eight instances are concentrated in John’s sixth episode. On one hand, there is “the great city that [spiritually] is called Sodom and Egypt, where [the] Lord was crucified,” and where the blood of many would flow (Rev 11:8, 13; 14:20; 16:19 ESV, see margin). And on the other, there is “the holy city,” which would be trampled for forty-two months, but would ultimately triumph as “the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven” (11:2; 3:12).
Having witnessed the terrifying judgment of God upon his enemies in Revelation 16, several questions naturally arise in the mind of the reader, all of which revolve around these symbolic cities: Are these prophecies really fulfilled in the fall of Rome? Does this mean that Christians are to blame for the demise of the Empire in the West? And when does the book of Revelation actually talk about us today—what about the end times? We’ll take a look at these first two questions this week, and the others (Lord willing) in the week to come.
That Rome is the subject of John’s visions is clear from the description of “the great prostitute” in chapter 17. She is identified as “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth” (17:18); she sits upon seven hills (17:9); and she reigns over all nations, leading them into lewd and luxurious lifestyles of sin (17:2, 4, 15). Additionally, the description of the beast she rides upon parallels that of the first beast in chapter 13, which we have previously identified with the Roman principate, personified as Domitian. He is “full of blasphemous names” (17:3; 13:5-6); he has “seven heads and ten horns” (17:3, 7; 13:1); he has fallen in defeat, but regained his former strength (17:8, 11; 13:3); and he is the primary cause of persecution for Christians in the province of Asia at the end of the first century (17:14; 13:7-10).
This is not, though, all old information. John is told that the seven heads are “also seven kings,” plus an eighth (Rev 17:10-11). Ten other kings (probably ethnic rulers throughout the empire) will also make an appearance, sharing authority with the beast and joining in the war against the Lamb, but later turning on the city herself (17:12-17). The number ten appears to be used in the same symbolic sense that Daniel used centuries before (Dan 2:35, 44), but the interpretation John is given of the seven kings (and the eighth) seems to argue for something more specific. It is possible, for example, that the first five kings represent the Julio-Claudian emperors (Augustus, Tiberius, Calligula, Claudius, and Nero); the fall of the beast refers to the civil war of AD 68-69 (in which Galba, Otho, and Vitellius vied for power); and the remaining three kings represent the Flavian dynasty: Vespasian “is” (he is still “on the throne” in the eyes of the senate), Titus is “to come” (always his father’s right hand and heir apparent) and the eighth is Domitian, who “goes to destruction” (17:11).
Whether taken literally or figuratively, however, what is clear is that Domitian (“soon;” Rev 1:1, 3; 22:6, 7, 10, 20) and Rome (eventually) would experience the Lamb’s judgment as a result of their systematic corruption. Though completely ignorant of the Lord’s designs, by the time the seven churches received the book of Revelation, the Romans knew Domitian’s time was coming. In AD 96 (within only months of John’s writing), Domitian was stabbed to death in his own palace by political opponents and members of his own household, and “the senate ordered that every reference to him on public monuments should be erased” (Freeman 485).
What the Romans did not see coming (or perhaps merely refused to acknowledge) was where their own (not-uncommon) pattern of sin and bad policy were heading. On the policy front, Rome outsourced her security to the very peoples she had been fighting, and when she no longer wanted to pay what the barbarians were asking, they made sure she wouldn’t forget it. In 410, the Visigoths carried out the first sack of Rome in 800 years. “It was a move which had a devastating shock effect on the Roman world, far beyond its importance as an act of destruction. Rome was no longer an eternal inviolable city” (Freeman 543, 611; see Rev 9:13-19; 16:12-16). And it only got worse from there: administration eroded, soldiers abandoned their posts when their pay failed to arrive, and the Germans simply moved south. By the time the senate dissolved in 580, Rome had shrunk from a metropolis of 100,000 people to no more than 40,000 (see Freeman 615, 616, 624; see Rev 16:19).
But as Revelation makes clear, Rome’s bad policy was only the means to her judgment; it was Rome’s sins that ultimately brought about her downfall. And for Christians (at least) this should not have been surprising, because God had done the same thing to Babylon and Tyre (and Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem, for that matter). Like them, Rome became an unclean haunt (Rev 18:1-3; Isa 13:21-22), she received a double portion for her sins (Rev 18:4-8; Isa 40:2), and her mirth was turned to mourning (Rev 18:9-24; Isa 47:7-9; see too Eze 27:32-36; Jer 51:49, 63-64; 25:10). Her persecutions, her fornication, her hedonistic life of luxury, and her blasphemous hubris had finally caught up with her (Rev 17:1-5; 18:3-8).
Edward Gibbon was only half right: Christianity didn’t cause the collapse of the Empire; Rome fell because of her own sins. Augustine, however, was much closer to the truth:
Augustine’s last great work, The City of God, was prompted by the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 . . . . Although the physical damage was not immense (and the Christian Visigoths [actually Arians—JB] left the city’s churches untouched [Rev 14:9-12?]), the psychological shock certainly was. It seemed as if the world as all had known it was at an end. Much of the book is concerned with pointing out the failure of traditional Roman religion to save the city or provide anything more than a self-glorification of the state. . . . Augustine argued that the true ‘city’ was, instead, that inhabited by the believers loved by God, a community which extended from earth into heaven. An earthly city, even one so great as Rome, was only a pale reflection of the heavenly one and it was to the heavenly city that the aspirations of men and women must be directed. (Freeman 603)
The following files are now available for free viewing and download:
Molly Oshatz, First Things
Christ is Still King
Dominic Bouck, First Things
The Courage to Be on the Wrong Side of History
Ryan Shinkel, Public Discourse
Gay Marriage: WWJD?
Jacob Rutledge, Start2Finish
Loving Service: The Only Path to Societal Renewal
Dan McConchie, The Gospel Coalition
Pray, Listen, Remember, Prepare, Persevere
Brian Orme, faithit
Witnessing with Conviction & Kindness
Russell Moore, The Washington Post