A special post from my friend and scholar Rev. Quincy Wheeler. Quincy lives and pastors in Cuyahoga Falls Ohio.
You may have encountered a few articles or videos with a similar title to this article, lately, as the world – especially Christians – attempt to come to grips with a pandemic, cataclysmic natural disasters, and social and national unrest. There are never any shortages of Biblical grifters eager to latch on to tragedy, fear, or uncertainty to peddle their predictable blend of pop theology, interpretive gymnastics (different and yet also somehow oddly similar to interpretive dance), and spiritual snake oil to unsuspecting and well-meaning believers in Jesus. They assure you that they have discovered the “hidden code” that unlocks John’s Apocalypse and reveals how current events are predicted in the final book of the Bible. They find a willing accomplice to film a video with them so that someone can gasp and goggle when they explain how an English word/name/phrase that has no etymological roots in Hebrew SOUNDS like a Hebrew word that John used in Revelation – all the while never revealing that Revelation was actually written in Greek.
Rest assured; this is not one of those articles. I don’t have a series of YouTube videos or DVDs to sell you on watching. However, I do think there is an oft overlooked theme in Revelation that gives us the key to understanding and applying the book to our current day. It’s not a secret, and I’m certainly not the first person to find it. I hope that doesn’t convince you to close out of this internet window… stick with me, because the real key opens a door to a much better reality than anything those prophetic pretenders have tried to foist on us.
In Revelation chapter 1 verse 1, we are told that this book is a “revelation of Jesus Christ.” Now, the 2011 NIV translates this phrase “From Jesus Christ” and that’s fair as well. It’s the possessive form of Jesus – essentially meaning, this is Jesus’ revelation – it’s from Him, it’s about Him, it’s meant to show us Who He is and What He is all about. So, hey, wow, first thing we want to remember when we look at this book is that its purpose is to reveal Jesus to us. That should be a comforting thing for us to hear! I don’t know about you, but I like Jesus! Jesus spends His time seeking out lost and broken people like me, finding them, loving them, and making them whole. Show me more about this kind of God. Yes, John of Patmos, you have my attention.
The second thing we are told that’s important to us in understanding Revelation is in very next phrase “which God gave [to Jesus] to show His servants what must soon take place.” Wait… “soon?” What does “soon” mean? Revelation was written anywhere between 70-90AD (I’m more of a 90AD guy, myself, but you can decide. It doesn’t make a huge difference where you fall; most of us think it’s a late first-century writing). So, if its purpose is primarily to reveal Jesus, and reveal Jesus in a way that applies to events that will soon take place for its original audience, why have so many people been trying to sell us on formulas that show us that the secret caliphate/New World Order/Cartel/Soviets/Nazis/Anarchists are predicted in the pages of Revelation? Answer: Because telling you that John of Patmos was talking about events taking place in late-first century Rome isn’t going to sell many books or land a feature film starring Nicolas Cage (a movie which is very high on the unintentional comedy scale, if you want to check it out for reasons completely unconnected to Biblical interpretation, by the way).
Now that we understand these two keys to understanding Revelation – it is a book written to show us Jesus, and the events it described were almost all contemporary happenings for the people who originally read it – I want to direct your attention, briefly, to three other specific passages and show you how to apply one of these keys to unlocking the book. In this first look at Revelation, we will focus on the first key, which is ultimately the most important one: this is a book of, about, and from Jesus.
Revelation chapters four and five describe an incredible scene around the throne of God in heaven, leading up to what I believe to be one of the top five most incredible moments in all of Scripture. My description can’t do it justice, so let’s read it:
Revelation 5:2-6a, And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne.
The entire host of heaven and earth are not able to get the answers that creation needs, all of existence hangs on the thread of someone opening this inexorable scroll… and no one is worthy. Captain America can pick up Thor’s Hammer, Mr. Rogers could lift Mjolnir up, too, I’m pretty sure, but NO ONE can open this scroll… until the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, appears. HE is worthy, and we know He is worthy because we can sing to Him “you are worthy because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 6:9). In fact, that’s what’s so incredible about this Lion of Judah, this King from David’s line… He appears as a Lamb that was slain! Now, I don’t know about you, but the last image I’d pick to strike fear in the hearts of my enemies is that of a fluffy lamb. We took our sons to a petting zoo recently and they laughed with unbridled delight as they buried their faces in the soft wool of the lambs who were brought there to be tortu… I mean… lovingly stroked by half of the children in this suburb of Akron, Ohio. Not once did I fear for my children’s safety. The lamb on the other hand… well, I hope those little guys got a special treat at the end of the day for their patience in the face of persecution. Jesus is the worthy one, the King who has and will triumph, He holds the Keys to Death and Hades, no one can shut what He’s opened or opened what He’s shut… and yet, He chooses to remind us at the pinnacle of His glory that He wants to be seen as a lamb that was slaughtered out of love for His children.
Following chapter five, we begin to see the seals opened, and we are immediately introduced to the infamous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the terrors that follow in their wake. Let’s hop in at chapter 6 verse 12:
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
These are terrifying images, and, of course, the people of John of Patmos’s day were familiar with earthquakes and volcanic emotions that turned the sky black and the moon red. They understood this imagery as a reminder that no kingdom on earth was secure against the forces of nature, that every human kingdom was destined to fall eventually. Yet don’t miss the ending of this penultimate seal being broke… everyone is hiding in caves and among the rocks, calling for mountains to fall on them to save them from “the wrath of …the Lamb???” Imagine, just for a second, that you see Donald Trump, or Vladimar Putin, or Joe Biden, or ~INSERT YOUR LEAST-LIKED POLITICIAN’S NAME HERE~ running down the sidewalk in pure terror, and you ask them what they are running from, and with tears of panic streaming down their face, they grab your shoulders and screech, “THE LAMB!!!” It’s ridiculous, and even more ridiculous if they tell you that the Lamb is bleeding, and that the Lamb is bleeding because the Lamb laid down His life out of love for others. See, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse only hold terror for those who don’t know that “the world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces” as C.S. Lewis says in typically iconic fashion in the Problem of Pain. The earthquake, the sky falling, the stars failing… these are objects of panic for all except those who see the face of love behind the veil of the heavens, asking us, “Can ye drink the cup that I drink of” as pictured so brilliantly by G.K. Chesterton at the end of his rambunctious glimpse into the suffering nature of the Christ in “The Man Who was Thursday.” The book of Revelation is a source of anxiety to all except those who have entered the holy imagination of John of Patmos as Flannery O’Connor did in her short story, also called “Revelation,” in which, when we get a glimpse at the most privileged and holy among us in heaven, we can see that “by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.” The only refuge for ANYONE is the Lamb Who Was Slain – anything outside of His Warm Embrace is Terror, but with Him, there is no longer any night.
The final stop on our brief tour of Revelation is Revelation 19:11-13. Another time, we can cover the fact that Jesus has a tattoo on His thigh in this passage… today, our focus is a little earlier in the chapter:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
Jesus is finally here, buddy, and He is ready to chew bubble gum and kick butt, and He is all out of bubble gum . Just like everyone always told me, the first time He showed up as a nice guy, but the second time, no mister nice guy. Blazing fire eyes, like Superman, he is just going to laser everyone to the ground that tries to stop him. Oh boy!
Now, wait just a second… you’ve been reading this book with me, right? You know the image that Jesus chose to reveal Himself. He didn’t choose Superman. He didn’t choose a Giant Robot that Destroys Things with Its Laser Beams. In fact, even when they called Him a Lion, He didn’t even choose to show Himself as the MGM Lion with the blood of atheist antelopes dripping from His fangs. No, He chose a Lamb That Was Slain. So, let me ask you a question… whose blood is this Rider’s Robe dipped in?
I want to suggest to you that your answer to this question will decide how you view Revelation and what you will expect to see when Jesus shows up and brings down the curtain on the existence that you and I know. Whose blood covers the robe that Jesus wears when He rides in triumph at the world’s ending?
Judgment, wrath, an end, a reckoning… all of that is coming for each of us. But, it’s coming in the Lamb Who Is Worthy because He already took all that on to Himself. He offered His Life for the Life of the World, for you, for me. I can’t speak for you, but for me… me? I will find refuge in the folds of His robe – a robe that is dipped in His blood He poured out on the cross because He wants me near Him for all eternity.