Why did God give us the book of Revelation? If you had asked me this question when I was a young Christian, I might have said, “To help us discover when Jesus will return to earth,” “To help us make sense of events in the Middle East,” “To give us nightmares about the tribulation so that we don’t get lax and miss the rapture,” “To give Christians something to argue about,” or, simply, “To confuse us.” My answer today is different: God gave the Apocalypse shown to John in order to bless us — to do us good, to convey His grace, to fortify our hearts. In Revelation, God promises His blessing seven times (a symbolically significant number): to those who hear and hold Revelation’s message (Rev. 1:3; 22:7), who die “in the Lord” (14:13), who stay awake and alert (16:15), who attend the Lamb’s marriage supper (19:9), who share the first resurrection (20:6), and who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb (22:14; see 7:15).
God gave the book of Revelation neither to tantalize nor to satiate our curiosity about His hidden timetable but rather to arm us for the spiritual conflict that we face every day. At the end of my commentary on Revelation, Triumph of the Lamb, I asked, “What should this book do to us?” Below are the answers I offered in response to this query, and I believe they show how Revelation should be applied.
REVELATION HELPS CHRISTIANS SEE OUR SITUATION IN ITS TRUE PERSPECTIVE
Appearances can be deceiving. We often gauge how “the war” is going by the way things look to us today based on headlines about political and economic trends or global crises. The paradoxes in Revelation’s visions remind us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Christ’s cross looked like the slaughter of a helpless lamb, but it was actually the triumph of Judah’s Lion (Rev. 5:5–10). When faithful martyrs shed their blood, their foes seem to have conquered (11:7; 13:7). In fact, the martyrs are the true victors who vanquish Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:11).
REVELATION SHOWS OUR ENEMIES IN THEIR TRUE COLORS
Our enemy is stronger and savvier than we are: “the great dragon . . . that ancient serpent . . . the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). But the seed of the woman has come, conquered the Serpent, and ascended to heaven (v. 5). Satan can no longer accuse: his charges have been silenced by Christ’s sacrifice (vv. 10–11). Frustrated over his defeat at the cross, Satan vents his wrath against the church on earth (vv. 12–17). His weapons are violent persecution (the Beast), plausible deception (the False Prophet), and seductive pleasure (the harlot Babylon). The sovereign state, civil religion, and luxurious indulgences may seem to be “saviors.” Don’t be fooled: they aim to destroy. Revelation’s symbolism peels back the façade that often hides the grotesque hollowness of Satan’s counterfeits.
REVELATION REVEALS OUR CHAMPION IN HIS TRUE GLORY
As its title promises, this truly is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). It unveils Jesus and fixes our hearts and hopes on Him. He is the hero of each dramatic scene. He is the Son of Man foretold in Daniel 7, luminous in divine glory, who by His resurrection seized death’s keys and now walks among His churches. He is Judah’s Lion who conquered by being slain, redeeming people from all the earth’s peoples. He is worthy of worship from every creature everywhere. He is the Captain of heaven’s armies, riding into battle against His and our enemies, defending beleaguered saints, and finally destroying the Dragon and his beasts. Our Champion lifts our weary hearts with His promise: “Surely I am coming soon.” We reply: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).
REVELATION ENABLES US TO SEE OURSELVES IN OUR TRUE BEAUTY
Jesus’ messages to the churches of Asia show that His fiery eyes (1:14; 2:18) see us accurately, commending our faithfulness but exposing our flaws (chaps. 2–3). Nevertheless, as mottled as the church’s spiritual complexion is now, our Bridegroom loves us and will not rest until He presents us to Himself “as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2), clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure” (19:8). Revelation paints our coming wedding in such vivid colors that we long to pursue now the loveliness that will then be fully ours (1 John 3:2–3).
REVELATION SUMMONS US TO ENDURE AS WE SUFFER
Revelation was originally addressed to Christians who were suffering for their faith. They experienced poverty, slander, prison, and even death (2:9–10, 13). Writhing in his death throes in the aftermath of the cross, the Dragon escalates his assault against the saints until Christ returns to consummate history. Jesus does not promise a painless escape from this war of the ages. Instead, He promises His presence as the one who is “alive forevermore” (1:18). In response to that promise, we must heed the King’s call to patient endurance (1:9; 2:2–3, 10, 13, 19, 25; 3:8, 10; 13:10; 14:12).
REVELATION CALLS US TO STAY PURE WHEN COMPROMISE INVITES
Some of the first-century churches, like many churches in the twenty-first century, faced a subtler threat than persecution. Satan, the father of lies, tried to mislead believers through purveyors of false teaching (2:15, 20). Material comfort and compromise with the paganism of the surrounding culture also proved alluring (2:14; 3:17). Such insidious assaults on wholehearted allegiance to Christ are still with us. Against the Devil’s lies and invitations to idolize pleasure and prosperity, Revelation calls us to keep our hearts and lives pure as befits those who will be the Lamb’s whiterobed bride (3:4–5, 17–18; 7:9, 14; 14:4; 19:7–8; 22:14–15).
REVELATION ENCOURAGES US TO BEAR WITNESS AS GOD WAITS
Lest Revelation’s summons to endure and stay pure incline us to withdraw into bunkers, hiding from the dangerous and defiling world, we need to heed Revelation’s encouragement to bear witness to “the testimony of Jesus.” Our word martyr is derived from the Greek word meaning “witness” (martys, 2:13). John was on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). The church is symbolized in two witnesses who announce God’s word, sealing their testimony with their blood (11:4–12; 13:7). Christ’s witnesses suffer not in timid silence but for their bold declaration that Jesus is Lord of all. Through our testimony, God is fulfilling the vision of Revelation 7: “Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” (7:9–10).
God gave us the book of Revelation not only to inform our minds but also to transform our lives. It gives us insight into the realities of our situation, our enemies, our Champion, and our true identity, and it calls us to patient endurance, hopeful purity, and courageous witness.