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Three keys to Revelation

“Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:11 NIV)

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who keep it, because the time is near.  (Revelation 1:3 NIV)

The four horsemen of the apocalypse, the seven seals, the beast, 666, angels and the dragon, Armageddon, the locusts, Babylon the mother of prostitutes, the great white throne…

The book of Revelation is full of pictures and symbols which seem very strange at a first reading.  So strange, in fact, that we can easily think that this is a book only for weirdos or ultra Bible nerds.

We are forced to take it seriously, though, when we recognise that this is a real revelation from God, given through Jesus Christ, to the Apostle John (see Revelation 1:1-21:41:9 and blog for 30 August).

But what are we to do with it?  Are we to spend our time trying to work out what events in world history each of these images points towards, as some have?

I have found three keys particularly helpful.

The images in the book are almost all taken from the Old Testament. 

So, for instance, we meet four living creatures in Revelation 4:1-11 who are strikingly similar to those who appeared with God in Ezekiel 1:1-28.  The lamb in Revelation 5:1-14 surely looks back to the Passover.  And so on.  Is there another New Testament book with so many Old Testament allusions?  Having the Old Testament in our hands will surely help us grasp the meaning of the symbols.

The book was originally given to seven real churches in Asia Minor.

These are the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna and so on (Revelation 1:10-11).  In some way the chapters of Revelation which follow must be relevant to them in their situation.  At a stroke, this does away with the idea that the book takes us through human history sequentially or contains elements only fulfilled in our day.  Everything must have had relevance to the original hearers.

A blessing is promised to anyone who reads or hears this prophecy (Revelation 1:3). 

This expands both the scope of the imagery and the application of the book beyond its original hearers to all who followed – including us.  It relates to our world, too.  So we will be blessed

This Sunday we are due to get to Revelation 4:1-11, where we see into heaven, to the very throne room of the universe.  There we will see God in His majesty, and the big lesson that follows for us.  Come and be blessed!

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