Putting it all together?
As I mentioned last time, it has been requested that in closing this series, we take a step back and catch the big picture. Putting the book all together.
And as my graphic here illustrates – Revelation is most often approached as a puzzle book.
But as D. A. Carson has noted, The Revelation is not a puzzle book where we try to put all the pieces together as much as it is a picture book.
And as we ponder the various pictures presented, we come away with a big picture of God and Jesus Christ and the end toward which human history is headed.
So my approach this morning is 3-fold.
- To give you a very stark TIMELINE – or better yet, a mere order of events as I understand the book to present them.
- To look at the book in 16 pictures or snapshots.
- To draw some big thoughts as take-aways.
A – Order of Events
A while back we looked at 4 orthodox views of how the events of the book of Revelation shake out. The one that I settled on is most often referred to as the “Historical Premillennial” or classical view.
Historical because it is the oldest view we can find in the Church. We can see it in the writings of those who were personally acquainted with the Apostle John.
Premillennial because it posits the idea that Jesus’ 2nd coming, the resurrection of dead Believers and the translation of living Believers begins a literal 1000 year period where Jesus reigns on this earth with His redeemed ones – you and me if you are Christ’s today.
It runs like this: From the time of Jesus’ ascension until His return – the Church experiences an age of tribulation along with the advance of the Gospel. These 2 run parallel.
So Jesus warned the Disciples: John 16:33
John 16:33 ESV I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
This outlook then informed the Apostle’s preaching. We see that in: Acts 14:21-22
Acts 14:21–22 ESV When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
And then the Apostle Paul summarizes this quite succinctly in 2 Timothy 3:10-13
2 Timothy 3:10–13 ESV You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
There is little doubt this tribulation will increase right up until a time of great apostasy or falling away of many professed Christians and the revealing of the “man of sin” – the Antichrist and/or False Prophet of 2 Thessalonians.
That is the order of events as I understand it. That said, let’s go on to our 2nd section –
B – 16 Pictures
- Ch. 1: The 1st picture we get is that of The Resurrected, glorified Christ in His 4-fold glory as:
Revelation 1:17–18 ESV When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
As the first and the last, everything begins and ends with Christ. All of God’s purposes and actions are rooted in Him.
And He is the Living One – the ever living one – playing off of God’s revelation of Himself in the Old Testament as Yaweh: The One who always was, is and will be. “I am that I am.”
This same Jesus the Christ is also the One who was crucified for sins. He was indeed dead – but rose from the dead and is alive forever more. He has defeated death.
And, He is the One who rules in the most absolute way: He holds the keys – He personally has authority over – death and the grave. He holds the ultimate power over human existence.
What a marvelous picture this is. And how it’s meant to give the Believer the highest comfort and hope as the revelation of God’s judgements and what attends them is unfolded in the following chapters.
If this Jesus is your Lord and King, you not only have nothing to fear in what you are enduring now, or what is coming – but you have nothing but the highest expectations for the fulfilling of all of God’s glorious promises to you.
This is the first and the controlling picture for the rest of the book.
- Chs. 2-4: Render a picture of the Church in the World and, Christ’s ministry in and to it.
Jesus is seen as standing in the midst of His Churches. And the letters to the 7 Churches show the Church to us in all of its states and conditions with Christ IN Her; calling, admonishing, encouraging and warning.
He never abandons her even at her worst.
He is ever and always present with her, observing her, calling to her, correcting her, warning her, encouraging her.
He has never, He will –never leave her alone or leave her to her own devices.
He is our ever-present Savior and Lord and deliverer.
He remains the Great Shepherd of His People.
- Chs. 5-11: give us an overview of Redemptive history culminating in judgment.
This is represented by Jesus being found as the only one worthy to open a scroll sealed with 7 seals. A scroll which proves to be the revelation of God’s plan for bringing final justice to all humanity, His Kingdom to its fullness, the destruction of all evil, and the final reward of Believers.
In opening the seals, Jesus is seen as the one who not only reveals, but also enacts or carries out God’s eternal plans.
And in the 7 trumpets which sound during this time, God’s warnings of what is to come are sounded over and over and in increasing detail.
It is meant to be both a picture of the preaching and teaching of God’s Word by the Church as well as the testimony of how we live according to that Gospel, and it is a means of making sense of the groanings of this physical earth and geo-political upheavals
Neither the Believer nor the Un-Believer is left without clear and repeated understanding – if we will just hear it.
- Ch. 12:1-6: Shows us how Satan, Israel, Jesus and the Church are all interrelated.
That these aren’t separate unrelated entities which just happen to intersect, but are all together understood as part of the unfolding of one grand plan.
The track of human history is not an endless series of random events and forces.
God is at work bringing all to His desired conclusion.
Satan is at work in opposition to God’s purpose and plan.
And Israel and the Church are central to all God is doing.
- Ch. 12:7-17: Reveals to us that Satan will surely fall, has already been dealt his death blow on the Cross, and shows how his rage and persecution of Israel & the Church stems from his realizing the inevitability of his coming final defeat.
It is a pictorial representation of what is summed up in verse 12. Rev. 12:12
Revelation 12:12 ESV Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
- Ch. 13:1-18: Depicts the fact that the age between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and His return will contain a succession of Satanically influenced totalitarian regimes and philosophies, hostile to the Church.
This is done by referring back to visions in the book of Daniel where various world powers are pictured as beasts with varying characteristics.
I.e. Hostile governments, hostile movements and hostile personages will rise and fall over and over until Jesus returns.
- Ch. 14:1-13: Gives Believers a much needed and encouraging advance glimpse of the glory of the Redeemed, the progression of the Gospel and the announcement of still coming judgement on wickedness in spite of the power and success of these successive regimes.
Over and over the end of religion and faith in Christ has been announced and attempted. But it always fails, and always will.
Evil cannot ultimately prevail since Christ is already on His throne.
- Ch. 14:14-20: Goes on to reiterate that in all of this, Christ still reigns and judgement WILL come in due time.
Jesus is seen with His crown on His head and as the one who reaps 2 harvests: He gathers His elect to Himself to bring them into their eternal bliss, and, He gathers up the unredeemed to be cast into the winepress of the wrath of God.
- Ch. 15-16: As the opened seals revealed earlier, and the trumpets went on to announce in loud detail, now, God’s last 7 plagues are shown in how they are the pouring out of God’s wrath culminating in final judgement.
God’s judgement is perfect and full as seen in the use of the number 7 which often represents fullness or completion in Scripture.
Both the terrors of God’s holy judgement and the unwillingness of men to repent in the face of them is graphically displayed.
We see that when people are determined not to believe or serve God, no amount of external evidence no matter how profound is sufficient to change their minds. Such is the fallen nature of man until God in His sovereign grace intervenes.
Note too how no sin, however great or small will be overlooked.
There will be perfect and full retribution for all sin – for all that falls short of the glory, perfection and holiness of God.
Let no one fool themselves into imagining they stand in some imaginary neutral place. One is either reconciled to God in Jesus, or they are the enemy of God. There is no 3rd position.
- Chs. 17-18: Here, we are given a closer look at the wicked system which holds the world in its sway – and of its coming judgment.
The world’s mindset is shown both to be consumed with the temporal and material over the spiritual and eternal in Christ, and, to be appalled at the total collapse of this present world system.
Mankind’s dream of immortality and prosperity is brought to its final end. Human hubris is brought to nothing.
Mankind’s universal mindset of the relentless pursuit of power, pleasure and possessions must ultimately come to a tragic end.
And that it is our rebellion against God’s just rule which brings about our demise, nothing else.
Many a person has predicted the end of mankind over the ages. Some have thought it will come in the form of great wars, others in natural disasters, a cosmic cataclysm by meteors, our own ecological mishandling of the Earth’s resources, some strains of super disease, etc. But in the final analysis, it will be the direct hand of God in judgement.
It isn’t what man can do that needs to be feared – but what God WILL do in His justice.
It is the rejection both of God’s right to rule us and His plan of redemption in the substitutionary death of Jesus on the Cross to restore us to right relationship to God – that spells the end.
- Ch. 19:1-10: Here we are given a snapshot of the reality of the end of this world system and the rejoicing in Heaven that engenders.
- Ch. 19:11-22: Which rejoicing is rooted in seeing Christ Himself as the conqueror over all wickedness.
Revelation 19:11–16 ESV Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
- Ch. 20:1-6: With the close of that age in the judgment of this present world system, we are at last given a vision of The Millennium.
We come to see there will be a time of unparalleled prosperity and peace with Satan bound and unable to influence mankind in any way until it is over.
A picture of Christ’s people holding sway over the earth with Jesus physically present as our King.
The resurrection of the redeemed is shown as we are raised up to rule and reign with Him during this 1000 years.
- Ch. 20:7-15: This portion depicts Satan’s final attempt to seize power, and then the resurrection of the damned for judgement.
This occurs at the end of the 1000 years and is but a short time.
Though Satan attempts his last hurrah to gather humanity to rebel against God, God Himself intervenes and there is no war per se – but a final Divine disposing of Satan and the lost. Never to rise and oppose God or plague mankind again.
- Ch. 21:1-8: At last, we are introduced to The New Heaven and the New Earth. God with man and man with God in unspeakable intimacy.
All things made new. An existence of unspeakable and unimaginable wonder and bliss – where Christ is at last, all in all.
No more sea. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more tears or discomfort of any kind. No more sin. Nothing but light, and the glories of God in Christ. Nothing but eternal waves of unspeakable joy and pleasure as the redeemed are granted to search out the limitless riches of God in Christ for eternity.
- Chs. 21:9 -22:5: And the final picture is this – The New Jerusalem – The Bride of Christ.
Pictures of our eternal bliss.
Christ and His Church, the Bride He purchased with His own blood, locked in an eternal, unbreakable love embrace of perfect union.
Oneness and satisfaction and joy and pleasure beyond anything our present minds are capable of imagining.
And it is just around the corner for each and every one who has put their faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, receiving His righteousness imputed to us by faith.
Not because we deserve it, but because God is just that good. Glory!
It all culminates in this: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
C – Take aways
Well now – what are we take away from all of this? What are the main things God has intended for us to carry away in His gracious revelation of all of this to us?
Let me just suggest the ones that come most immediately to my own mind.
- GOD HAS A PLAN: God has a plan for the ages.
Human history is not some sort of unguided missile hurtling through the ages and subject only to randomness and chance. Meaningless.
God has had a plan from the beginning and that plan is both centered in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work, and carried out by Him.
God is not caught in an eternal game of cosmic catch-up where God has a plan, man or Satan messes it up, and God goes to plan. B.- over and over again. No.
As Ephesians 3:8-11 tells us:
Ephesians 3:8–11 ESV To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,
As inscrutable as this is to us, God’s plan from the beginning was to join Himself together to a humanity redeemed by the blood of His Son, and to bring those redeemed into the most glorious, loving intimacy with Himself possible. As near to being His own beloved offspring as He can in His infinite greatness.
And for those so redeemed, to lavish endlessly in the fathomless depths of His love.
- GOD IS TRULY GOD: Nothing in all of life is outside of His purview and control.
Not the Enemy. Not the World. Not religious movements.
Not seasons of trial or tribulation for the Church, for individuals, nations, etc.
He truly is Lord of all.
No kingdom rises or falls apart from Him.
No person rises to power or is overthrown without His hand.
No event transpires without His knowledge and His purposes guiding it.
No one of His children experiences or suffers anything without His redeeming it.
He is not God in name only, but in His active administration of His universe.
Global and geo-political forces are within the hand of God as much as our individual souls are.
Even pagan history is as much under the hand of our great Great God as the Church’s history is.
We see this so graphically in Daniel 4:25
Daniel 4:25 ESV that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.
Now that is as true today as it was then. And it is as true of Israel today, as it is of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, The UK, Canada, Mexico, the US, China, North Korea and India.
He sets up and tears down leaders and nations both in blessing and in judgement as best fits His eternal plans and purposes.
And we as Believers are meant to take massive comfort in that. Our God reigns, in reality.
- A GLORIOUS END: There is a glorious end to come for those who are Christ’s.
This new Heaven and New Earth. This promised New Jerusalem where every care and woe of this present life is absent forever, and where every bliss beyond our wildest imaginations is ours eternally.
Bear with me one more time while I repeat what I have cited so many times before from that wonderful sermon of Sam Storms – I make no apology for reminding both you and myself of it today:
What WON’T be there: “Nothing which shall offend the most delicate eye”
Abrasive, irritating, agitating or hurtful, harmful, hateful, upsetting or unkind.
Nothing sad, bad or mad, harsh, impatient, ungrateful or unworthy
Weak or sick or broken or foolish
Deformed, degenerate, depraved, or disgusting
Polluted, pathetic, poor or putrid
Dark, dismal, dismaying or degrading
Nothing blameworthy, blemished, blasphemous or blighted
Faulty, faithless, frail or fading
Grotesque or grievous – Hideous or insidious
Illicit, illegal, lascivious or lustful
Marred or mutilated, misaligned or misinformed
Nasty or naughty, offensive or odious
Rancid or rude, soiled or spoiled – Tawdry or tainted, tasteless or tempting
Vile or vicious, wasteful or wanton – None of it!
What WILL we see there?
Everywhere we turn our eyes, there is nothing but…
Glory and grandeur and beauty and brightness
Purity and perfection and splendor and satisfaction
Sweetness and salvation and majesty
Only and all that is adorable and affectionate and beautiful and bright
Brilliant and bountiful and delightful and delicious, delectable and dazzling
Elegant and exciting and fascinating and fruitful
Only what is glorious and grand and gracious and good
Happy and holy and healthy and whole
Joyful and jubilant and lovely and luscious
Majestic and marvelous, opulent and overwhelming
Radiant and resplendent, splendid and sublime
Sweet and savory, tender and tasteful
Euphoric and unified – And all of this for Hell deserving sinners like you and me.
And why? Because we’ll looking at the face of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- JUDGEMENT IS COMING: There is judgment to come for all who are not Christ’s.
No one is to make the mistake of thinking that because God is infinitely loving and merciful and gracious, that He is not also just and holy and cannot ignore sin.
God will judge sin.
He will judge sinners.
And any and all who reject His offer of salvation and the forgiveness of sins through faith in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross will be brought into account. And they will suffer the hopeless torments of a Christ-less eternity.
No sinner will escape. No sin, no crime, no evil will go unaddressed.
- HISTORY WILL EBB AND FLOW: There will be ebbs and flows in Church and Human history.
At times and in some places the Church and the Gospel will make great advances.
At other times and in other places the Church will be intensely persecuted and seem to be retreating or nearly extinguished.
This is the nature of the intervening years before Jesus’ return, and so we ought not to be either surprised, nor dismayed by it.
At times the Church will be doctrinally sound, but spiritually numb.
At others it may be outwardly prosperous while spiritually useless.
It may be small but effective, compromising and about to be disciplined, virtually unrecognizable as Christ’s or stalwart and fearless in the face of violent persecution.
And there will be seasons where the Church’s influence will greatly bless society and others where society will try to wipe out our influence altogether.
But Christ remains on His throne and His purposes will stand. Nothing can thwart Him.
- HISTORY IS COMPLEX: That there is great complexity in how all of these things will shake out. So we are not to be dismayed if we cannot sort out the details.
We are a people endlessly preoccupied with trying to assign final realities to present ones.
If the Church is sick, then it must end up dead.
If the wicked are in power, the end must be here now.
If the righteous are in power, we must be ushering the Kingdom now.
If the Church is thriving, then we’ll be taking over soon.
If so-and-so wins an election – we’re all saved.
If so-and-so loses an election – all is lost.
If this one isn’t saved yet, they never will be.
If things don’t change for the better by next week, they never will.
If I can’t make sense if my present situation, then it is all meaningless and hopeless.
On and on.
But in this book we are shown over and over that full reality seldom if ever rests in only what we are experiencing at any particular place or time. And we are to trust the God who is over all, above our conclusions based upon our present conditions and imaginations.
- SEEK CHRIST: Seek Christ and His Kingdom – and let Him sort out the rest.
Our business is to be about His business. And it is Jesus Himself who instructed us best here as He told us our priorities while living in this present age irrespective of anything else: Matt. 6:33 – Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Matthew 6:33 ESV But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“These things” here simply referring to the necessities of life.
Our times, the times of the nations are in His hands. These are things high above my pay grade. And above yours too.
He has revealed to us His plans and purposes and what He is bringing about in them.
And He has called us to the light burden and the easy yoke of seeking Him rather than trying to right or run the world.
A picture of which we can see in Colossians 3:1-17
Colossians 3:1–17 ESV If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
- SEEK CHRIST
What a great and good God we serve. And you who are Christ’s today – there is not only reason not to despair over either personal or global events, there is every reason to live in joy, confidence and a sure hope.
And if you are not Christ’s today let me remind you once again that a full and free salvation is held out before you today.
Christ has died. There is a full atonement for sin already made in His blood.
Once again you are called with His voice to come and receive full forgiveness for all your sins, and the gift of His Spirit.
Today is the day of reconciliation.
Turn from your sin, your rebellion against His right to rule you, from your self-government and your self-reliance to the fullness of His great and free salvation.
He will cleanse you, and make you His own child. And all that Christ has purchased will be as fully yours as if you were a naturally born child of God.
You’ve seen in no uncertain terms both the judgment reserved for all those who reject Christ as Lord, and the unspeakable glory of all those who are His by faith.
Don’t let this moment pass you by in securing that future for yourself. Be reconciled to God through the blood of His dear Son – be born again. Believe the word of the Cross and become and new creature in Christ today.
Confess your sin, forsake your sin, and run to Jesus, trusting Him as your sin-bearer, and receive the reward due Him, even as He received the punishment due you at Calvary.