Snorkeling in Hawaii put me in awe of God’s great hidden world – of swarms of brilliantly colored fish that I hadn’t even known existed. Together, we are about to plunge into Revelation, a world that has been hidden to many of us because it seemed just too unfathomable. This week we’re going to get our bearings and next week we will do all of Revelation 1. This week has a lengthy introduction, but it will not always be that way. So, hold on!
Revelation peels back the corner of heaven to help God’s children live victoriously — not just for the end times, but for now!
So, here we go!
If you don’t have this book, get it now. The author is in Canada, so we need to get the book from Amazon. If you belong to Amazon’s Kindle program, you can get it for free. If you want the kindle version, look for this:
If you want the paperback, look for this:
The man God gave the visions of Revelation to is the Apostle John, the same writer of the gospel of John and the letters of John. He was the only one who did not flee when Jesus was crucified, but was there, in the shadow of the cross. He was the first of the apostles at the empty tomb (beating Peter in the race)!
My favorite gospel is John, and the only whole book I have memorized is John’s 1st letter. So why did I shy away from John’s Revelation? I’d heard so many various & confusing views on the end times that I put Revelation on the back burner. Then I read an article with a convincing Scriptural argument that Revelation primarily concerns us NOW. That drew me in. So I pulled Revelation to the front burner and began to study in earnest. Then, as I shared last week, God brought Dr. David Campbell into my life, a theologian and author of two clear commentaries on Revelation, who offered his help to us. That sealed the deal for me. So here we go!
Yet last week it hit me hard to realize anew how various views of this book can cause division, and some are opting out for this study, not wanting to contribute to that. I respect that, though I want everyone here to feel free to share their hearts and thoughts. When Jesus prayed we would be one, I don’t think He meant we can’t disagree, but that when we disagree, we do so in love, grace, and humility, asking Him to guide us. I loved the verse that our own Bing brought last week concerning this:
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15)
This will be challenging, and on this blog, we will have a smaller active group. I am open to being corrected, for I am a sojourner too. For example, last week I e-mailed Dr. Campbell and mentioned that I was beginning to wonder about something I’d said when we did our “overview” study on Revelation. I had quoted this from another good commentary, but now was beginning to have second thoughts. The author said, on Revelation:
I said, “As I study, I wonder if it might be more accurate to say “the pictures are a puzzle.” Dr. Campbell wrote back this so helpful explanation:
I have great
respect for Prof. Poythress, but you have this exactly right. The visions are not meant to be
self-explanatory. They are like the parables of Jesus and the prophetic actions of Ezekiel or
Isaiah and are ultimately based on the plagues of Egypt – they are signs from God that either
draw people into deeper inquiry and seeking of truth OR cause people to depart even further
from God and have their hearts hardened. I really like the “pictures that are a puzzle” and I will
use it from now on!
We have the Spirit, the Body, and a mentor to help us in this journey, and let us continually pray for His Word to be a light to our path.
Now, as to “the pictures are a puzzle!” Let’s think of them as symbols, for symbols represent several truths. Think of a wedding ring, flags of countries, or the cross. They tell us more than one thing. There are many symbols in Revelation that are mysterious: the trumpets, the seals, the horsemen, the Lamb who was slain, the number 666! I can already hear our own dear “Laura-Dancer” saying, “Why doesn’t God just say what He means?” That’s the first question we will answer this week, but first, I must tell you of my continuing spiritual conversations with my young stylist, for last time she asked me that exact same question: “Why doesn’t God just say what He means?”
I will call her Lydia, and I’ve been going to her and praying for her for years. I came on too strong years ago and had to sincerely apologize for I sensed her deep offense. Along with my apology, I brought her a gift of her favorite gourmet cheese and promised I’d follow her lead in talking about God in the future.
In time, she told me that she had been put off by a Christian relative who preached at her but never listened. He said, “Lydia — What are you going to do about hell?” Then he walked away. Because he neither listened to her nor clearly explained the gospel, what she heard was: “Lydia — you better be a nicer person or you are going to hell.”
Tim Keller says we must diffuse the mistaken idea that Christianity equals morality when we share the gospel, or we will offend and build a wall instead of a bridge. Lydia put up her hackles when I first started talking about God. It took years before she opened up. I had to simply wait and pray.
And then Covid happened.
Lydia is young, beautiful, with a great husband, two darling children, and a new home in the country. She had, she told me, “Everything I ever wanted.”
Then, a year ago, she got a severe case of Covid and still has not fully recovered. She shut down her shop for seven months. She has trouble breathing. And her four-year-old asks, “Mommy — why are you always so tired?”
Near the end of 2020, we had the first conversation when I sensed the door opening a crack.
“What are you learning from this hard trial, Lydia?”
With emotion in her voice: “That I’m not in control.”
I nodded. Tears sprung up in my eyes. Lydia is so young to feel like an old woman.
“Have you ever read John’s Gospel? I think you could do it in an hour and it would really help you.”
She shook her head. That’s all I said. Then, a few days later I got this text:
What is that book by John somebody that you said would really help me?
I texted back. Oh, Lydia, that’s a book in the Bible. Would you be offended if I sent you a Bible as an early Christmas gift?
Not offended at all. I would read it and ponder it in my heart.
If indeed, as I believe you will see in the study, that the trials and the suffering prophesied are not just about the very end times but about the whole time of the age of the Church, then we should not, therefore, be surprised by suffering or to assume it means Christ is at the door, though He certainly could be! God is sovereign and He brings good out of our suffering, not wasting our sorrow if we have tender hearts. (I was moved by our own Sharon’s story of how her baby’s death to SIDS made her realize she was not in control, but God was.)
He also uses suffering to bring unbelievers to Him. That is what I am hoping is happening with my stylist as a result of her suffering, for she seems much more open. I also see God is surrounding her with believers. Last December she had to close her shop again because of her exhaustion and the continuing Covid pandemic. She opened up again in late March and I saw her for the first time since sending her a Bible. I prayed she would bring the conversation up, and she did.
“I tried to read John’s book but it’s so hard. It’s like poetry. What is ‘the Word’?'”
“That’s Jesus. It’s another name for Jesus. We know that because in the 14th verse it says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus left heaven to come and rescue us.”
“Well, why didn’t John just say that?”
“I think it is because pictures can say a thousand words, and a title like “the Word,” tells us so many things — like Jesus is the way God communicates with us, He is the One who, with the Father, spoke the world into being. And so much more. One good source says the Bible has 198 names or titles for Jesus.” He’s so magnificent and beyond us, that He needs that many names.”
Her scissors stopped mid-air. “Wow,” she whispered. We’re talking now, and God gave me a chance to explain the gospel to her, so she could explain what Easter means to her children.
Will Lydia press in or not? The choice she makes will not only reveal her heart but also, will either soften or harden her heart. (I’m considering telling her that — pray for wisdom for me.) As David Campbell writes in the preface to his revised edition:
“God designed Revelation in one sense to be a mystery, just like the parables of Jesus. Confronting this mystery in sincere faith causes genuine believers to seek out its true meaning, while unbelievers who reject it will have their hearts further hardened to God.”
Again and again in Revelation Jesus says: “He who has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says…”
Watch this 4 minute video on what it means to have “Ears to hear”
Oh Lord, may this be true of us.
Sunday: Getting Started
There is more homework than usual in this lesson, so please start right away. I will keep homework later in the week lighter so people who get behind can catch up.
1. What stands out to you from the above (Lydia story, purpose of symbols, short video about “Ears to Hear”…)
2. How would you explain why God uses pictures and symbols instead of just “saying so?”
Monday: Not a Handbook for Last-Days Event
3. In your book or kindle, read in the Introduction up to “Authorship” and answer:
A. What is the Latin phrase the Reformers used as a principle to interpret Scripture? Why would this be a reliable way to understand Scripture?
B. Revelation is a prophetic book, but the purpose of prophecy is not so much to predict the future, but to do what?
C. What 2 storylines from the Old Testament does Revelation trace — and what do you learn from each?
4. Now read up to “The Four Ways To Interpret Revelation” and answer, what were the Christians of the seven churches John wrote to being pressured to engage in?
5. What beliefs and practices are we, as believers today, being pressured to accept at the cost of popularity or even possibly a career or our very lives? How is this pressure evidenced?
6. What reward does Revelation promise to believers who are faithful even when they suffer “in a human sense?”
Tuesday: The First Three Ways of Interpreting Revelation
Campbell lists four ways of interpreting Revelation. All four have some truths in them and this isn’t a core issue that deals with salvation. This study holds primarily to the Idealistic view, though not exclusively. There are people who love the Lord in all four views. The “Futuristic” view is very popular, in part because of books like Left Behind, and because people find predictions about the future fascinating, but it can also cause us to miss the relevance of Revelation to us now. G. K. Beales (with whom David Campbell wrote a longer commentary on Revelation) said:
One of the great tragedies in the church in our day is how Revelation has been so narrowly and incorrectly interpreted with an obsessive focus on the future end time, with the result that we have missed the fact that it contains many profound truths and encouragements concerning Christian life and discipleship.
7. Briefly summarize the first two views and what you learned about them.
8. Read Campbell’s section on the Futurist View and share his main points.
9. The Futuristic view began with the rise of “dispensationalism.” What did you learn about that?
10. Have you been impacted by any of these views? If so, either positively or negatively, share how.
Wednesday: The Idealist View
The Idealistic view interprets Revelation on the basis of symbols used in the Old Testament, instead of on the basis of current events. I know many people have wondered if this global pandemic and the division in our world is a signpost to Jesus’ imminent return — and of course, we do not know — but it is interesting to think that believers thought the same thing during the reign of various immoral Popes or political figures such as Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Current events cannot be a reliable interpreter of Scripture. Scripture is the most reliable interpreter of Scripture.
It puts me in awe to see the continuity of truth from Genesis to Revelation, despite being written over my centuries, cultures, and continents by men, who for the most part, had no contact with one another. God is the author and in the prophetic books especially, He uses symbols to hide the truth from some and reveal it to others. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the symbols God revealed to Old Testament prophets centuries before would be repeated in the vision to the New Testament prophet John. There are serpents (or dragons) locusts, the harlot Babylon, and much more. One thing that is exciting to me, is that as we grasp Revelation, we also grasp much from the Old Testament prophets.
11. Read Campbell’s section on the Idealist view and summarize it.
12. (Optional but recommended) Read Campbell’s section from “The Symbolic Nature of Revelation” to “The Latter Days are Now” and share what stands out to you.
Thursday: When Do the Events in Revelation Take Place?
Revelation begins with: “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show (semaino) his servants what must soon take place.”
Once, impacted by the futuristic view, thinking that Revelation was primarily about the very end times, I thought: Well, that’s soon in God’s eyes, not ours, because it has been 2,000 years since John wrote this. But now, with the help of Reformed scholars (as in the rest of Dr. Campbell’s introduction), I realize Jesus was not talking about the very end of history, but now! He meant soon literally! This time began when Jesus ascended (so was already happening) and will end when He returns. Let’s see how Scripture reveals this.
Most of you are familiar with the beginning of Daniel, when Nebuchadnezzar had a very troubling dream and only Daniel could interpret it. If you are not, read Daniel 2:1-33.
With the help of the Septuagint, (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) we know that God uses the same word (semaino) which is translated “show” in Revelation 1:1 (and in six other places in Revelation) as He uses in Daniel 2:28-30 to “show” Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the statue in his dream. “Semaino” means to show symbolically. The various materials in the statue symbolized various kingdoms, beginning with the “gold” of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom. This was followed by the “silver” of Persia, the “bronze” of the Greeks, and the mixed iron and clay of Roman — the kingdom that ruled when Jesus lived.
13. Read Daniel 2:34-35 and describe what happened to all of those kingdoms and by what they were smashed?
14. The “Kingdom” that tramples all others, beginning small, and mushrooming into a huge mountain that fills the earth, is what, do you think? (For help, see Campbell or Matthew 21:42-43.
15. Jesus uses a similar phrase to the “soon” that John uses in Mark 1:15. Find it — for this is important!
16. Now, when did that Kingdom begin? (For help, see Acts 1!) And when, according to Revelation 1:7, will this time end?
17. Read the section “The Latter Days Are Now” and share your comments.
18. How does understanding the time that the events prophesied in Revelation is now impact your thinking?
Friday: The Main Themes of Revelation
19. Read the page and a half that closes Cambell’s introduction and list the three main themes of Revelation.
20. What is your take-a-way this week and why?
Though the kindle version and the revised paperback version are basically the same, Dr. Cambell added this in a short preface to the revised version: