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preaching article Have We Been Preaching the Wrong Message from Revelation?

Have We Been Preaching the Wrong Message from Revelation?

based on 12 ratings
Apr 23, 2014
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The terrors of the Antichrist and the white throne judgment described in the book of Revelation were mainstays for sermons based on Revelation in my childhood church. Other preachers have dropped in these frightening scenes before the altar call in order to pack a punch of urgency for salvation decisions. The pastors of the evangelical church I attended throughout my teenage years rarely touched on Revelation—perhaps we were all a little burned out from the scare tactics.

The thought of worldwide destruction, a future in the lake of fire, and a Satanic world leader have caused one too many sleepless nights for Christians who have only found violence and terror in the pages of Revelation.

Is this how we should preach from the book of Revelation? Most importantly, was this even close to the original message of Revelation?

When we preach the Bible, our first task is to discern the original context and the message of the book in that context. For instance, we are careful to note how Matthew presented his gospel to a Jewish audience, while Luke primarily targeted Gentiles. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that Paul wrote the book of Romans to people living in, yes, Rome. The context and audience shape how we understand each book of the Bible.

Looking at Revelation, we should ask: Was John trying to scare his readers into salvation by presenting a terrifying future? Is such a use of Revelation completely obscuring the original intention of this book?

The Context of Revelation

The readers of Revelation weren’t expecting a coming tribulation or Antichrist because both were already present. The beast had risen from the sea, the false prophets had struck and the dragon was clearly on the loose. In fact, nearly everything John wrote about spoke directly to their struggles against false teachers, persecution and the threat of death because of the menacing Roman Empire.

The seven churches of Asia Minor, who are addressed at the start of Revelation, needed to know that Jesus was king despite all appearances to the contrary and that their faithfulness would be rewarded. They were trying to make sense of their suffering despite the reality of Christ sitting on the throne.

The original readers of Revelation needed to know that Jesus would be present among them while they endured suffering and that he would one day reward them, while simultaneously punishing their attackers.

The Message of Revelation

Through a series of symbols and scenes, John “revealed” the spiritual realities around the seven churches of Asia.

The conflict between the woman and the dragon were playing out in their midst: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (Revelation 12:17, NIV).

The martyrs were standing around the throne of God pleading, ““How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6: 10, NIV)

As relevant as Revelation was for them in the midst of their suffering and in the promise it offered that Jesus was all-powerful and would one day win, it also spoke to the future. Jesus would come to rid the earth of evil, render true justice and restore the ravaged creation. They looked back to the victory of Christ in Revelation 12 and ahead to the final triumph of Christ in Revelation 19-21.

While our distance from the original events and symbols prevent us from speaking in terms of specific timelines or correlations between every single symbol/scene and particular events, we can grasp the overall message of Revelation: John encouraged the churches to trust in Christ and the future manifestation of his present victory.

Those who endured suffering, rejected false teachings and waited for Jesus to return as King could expect to enjoy the full benefits of his restoration and justice.

The Meaning of Revelation for Us Today

By seeing the original message of Revelation, we are better able to see its relevance for us today. We too live with the tension of suffering and evil in a world where Jesus is Savior and Lord. While Jesus is on his throne, the beast continues to attack believers all over the world, and we continue to struggle over a central crisis in Scripture: Why do the wicked prosper? (Psalm 73:3).

Believers are called to persevere through suffering: Revelation is not a prediction of escape from suffering. Rather, it’s a promise of future deliverance and reward for those who remain faithful while suffering. The point isn’t even that there will be a specific “great tribulation.” Rather, John acknowledges the suffering and chaos of our world that was prevalent in his own day and continues into our present time.

Perhaps our tribulation and suffering will grow worse, but all of the same players in Revelation have already been doing their worst since the days of the early church, and God has never abandoned his people even as they have endured suffering.

Our faithfulness to God and service to one another will be rewarded. Those committed to doing evil will receive their due. Revelation promises that our tears will be wiped away, our enemies sent away and our world restored to harmony. We will continue our priestly calling alongside Christ, bringing healing to the nations. God will dwell among us here on earth.

Revelation doesn’t solve all of our problems today. However, it doesn’t add to our problems either. Revelation acknowledges the suffering and pain we see and experience. It offers us a message of hope that the darkness of today will one day relent when God’s all-powerful light will restore creation.

We may struggle to believe, but John anticipated that. He closes the book of Revelation with a statement from an angel:

“The angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place. Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll’” (Revelation 22:6-7).

Perhaps we don’t struggle to believe that these words are trustworthy and true. Perhaps our greater struggle is to believe that these words are good news for all of us.



Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of The Good News of Revelation and Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith From Those Who Doubted Jesus. He shares sarcastic/imperfect thoughts on following Jesus at http://edcyzewski.com/  Learn more about Revelation in The Good News of Revelation by Ed Cyzewski and Larry Helyer.

Talk about it...

Bernard Khaw avatar
Bernard Khaw
0 days ago
Thank you for writing your article. I have been teaching this message of good news as well. Blessings to your ministry.
Callie Opperman avatar
Callie Opperman
0 days ago
Thanks for this contribution, Bernard. I had a NT lecturer years ago teaching us that Revelation is a Book of Comfort ("troosboek" in Afrikaans). Therefore, I think that the most important sentences in your good article is: "Believers are called to persevere through suffering: Revelation is not a prediction of escape from suffering. Rather, it?s a promise of future deliverance and reward for those who remain faithful while suffering." I shall add: It is a promise that Christ exalted is with his church in tribulation until the end. The believers are part of the conqueror's march and will survive!
Steve Badger avatar
Steve Badger
0 days ago
This article was very good! An excellent resource to see how different scholars have interpreted "Revelation" is Steve Gregg's Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary--I use the (c) 1997 version, but there is a new edition too. Especially interesting is he personal account of having been taught "the right way" to interpret the Apocalypse, and what happened when later he had to teach the course. Read this in his "Introduction to this Commentary" beginning on page 1.
David Parks avatar
David Parks
0 days ago
Fantastically useful article. People can spend hours trying to decrypt the symbols without ever understanding the message.
Larry Koen avatar
Larry Koen
0 days ago
Are you implying if scripture is hard to understand we are to trust and article about the scripture? 2 Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
David Ashton avatar
David Ashton
0 days ago
As long as we keep preaching millenialism we get it wrong. Read Michael Wilcock's "I saw heaven opened".
Suresh Manoharan avatar
Suresh Manoharan
0 days ago
An insightful article. Even as we read the Book of Revelation in the midst of our own suffering, it would serve us well to reflect on the following points... a) Our God is fair, He will not unleash the woes (Rev 6-16) till the wicked are deserving of that (Genesis 15:16) b) Jesus said when He returns' the sinful condition of the World would resemble that of Noah's day (Luke 17:26)...being ripe for punishment c) Just as gracious Lord made the obedient Noah escape the Flood, so too He will ensure that His obedient Ones' escape the woes described in Revelation by rapturing them. Our response at this time when World is fast resembling the "days of Noah" should be one of introspection...am I alert for the Rapture of the Church and am I alerting others.
Jd Hine avatar
Jd Hine
0 days ago
Is there a great message of comfort and hope in the book of Revelation? Absolutely! Every time Christ is unveiled there is hope. Revelation is the ultimate unveiling of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the only One worthy to unlock the seals...the Alpha and Omega, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. However, to interpret Revelation merely as an allegorical picture of the first century church is to grossly miss the greatest book on prophecy in the New Testament. Is it rather scary to contemplate the future of those who reject Christ? Yes!
Jd Hine avatar
Jd Hine
0 days ago
Sorry...did not mean to send this twice!
Jd Hine avatar
Jd Hine
0 days ago
Is there a great message of comfort and hope in the book of Revelation? Absolutely! Every time Christ is unveiled there is hope. Revelation is the ultimate unveiling of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the only One worthy to unlock the seals...the Alpha and Omega, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. However, to interpret Revelation merely as an allegorical picture of the first century church is to grossly miss the greatest book on prophecy in the New Testament. Is it rather scary to contemplate the future of those who reject Christ? Yes!
Larry Koen avatar
Larry Koen
0 days ago
For you to say Revelation played out in the early church is naive unscriptural and contrary to sound doctrine. For instance can you cite a time in history when any of the following catastrophic events took place as mentioned in six verses of Rev.8:6-12, " 6 So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. 7 ? The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. 8 Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10 Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter. 12 Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night." In all my studies of world history I find nothing. Again where in History do you see the following events of Rev 6:7-8 " 7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come and see." 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth." Indicating a series of events that destroy a quarter of the population of man! Given these events are not in our past they must be prophetic and future. Be careful before you dismiss the prophecies of this book! "Rev. 22:18 For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Bryan Brooks avatar
Bryan Brooks
0 days ago
Brother Koen, I am naive, unscriptural, and have no sound doctrine, thank you for those wonderful words of exhortation. As for the preterest view (Revelation in our past not our future), it is a system that lets Bible interpret bible. The things of Revelation 8 have been seen before. Verse 7, we have the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army, Josephus writes that the Romans cut down every tree for 90 furlongs to build their war machine. Verses 8-9, the mountain refers to government (Ex 15:17). The 'sea' is a great many people (land is Israel, sea is Gentile). Read Josephus on the siege of Jerusalem, he speaks of people trying to run away from the city to the river, and the Romans killed them with darts, cutting off their heads, or hands, the river ran red. Verses 9-11, Wormwood is a warning for apostasy which the Jews are in (We have no king but Caesar and let His blood be on us and our children). Look at Deut 29:18, Jer 9:15, 23:15, Amos 5:7. Verse 12 sun, moon, stars are seen in Ex 37:9-10, it is the nation of Israel. Rev 6:7-8, we see the 4 horsemen. White horse the conquerer Vespasian or Titus, crown given by God to destroy Israel. Red horse is civil war, the 'earth' is translated from 'land' the Promised land, this is a local happening. Black horse is famine (Lam 5:10, Luke 21:23), and the pale horse is pestilence (Eze 14:21). The Book of Revelation is 'lights out' for Israel, Judaism (there cannot be 2 ways to the Father), and the Temple, it is the end of an Age, the Jewish sacrificial age. Remember, God tells Daniel to seal up his book (12:4), but Revelation is not to be sealed (22:10) 'for the time is at hand.'

So, what did you think?


Thank you.