Summary: Our attitude toward the book of Revelation determines how we will study it, and what we will get out of our study. Revelation itself teaches us how to study its contents.
Anyone who is familiar with the music of the Beatles likely knows the song “Yellow Submarine”. The song, released in 1966, was a chart-topper in the United Kingdom as well as the United States, holding the #1 position on British billboards for four weeks, and staying on the charts for another 13. Two years later, “Yellow Submarine” then became the title and theme song of an animated film which tells the story of Pepperland, a music-loving paradise located 80’000 leagues under the sea which comes under attack by a group of music-hating creatures known as the Blue Meanines. The Blue Meanies take Pepperland captive, and it falls to the Fab Four – George, Paul, John and Ringo – to rescue them in (as one might expect if going 80’000 leagues below the sea) a yellow submarine. Once on board the craft, the Beatles find themselves winding their way through seven seas, encountering strange creatures and bizarre experiences along the way, before finally encountering the Blue Meanines and, with a song on their lips, chasing away the enemy and ending everything “happily ever after”.
With its bizarre yet whimsical story line and the enormous popularity of the Beatles’ music, the film was well-received at the time, and was even re-released in 1999 for a new audience to enjoy. But despite the success of the song and the film, “Yellow Submarine” has always had an aura of mystery and intrigue about it. You see, even though the band adamantly denied it, shortly after the song’s release in August of 1966, rumours began to circulate that the song was actually inspired while John and Paul were strung out on the hallucinogenic drug Nembutal, and some even suggested that the words “Yellow Submarine” referred to the yellow capsules the drug was packaged in. Now as I said, the band repeatedly denied the allegations; but the mystery behind the meaning of “Yellow Submarine” continues to this day.
I share this with you because the book which we’re going to take a look at today is, in the minds of many, no different than the Beatles’ jaunt in a yellow submarine. Today, we’re going to look at the biblical book of Revelation, which to many is as bizarre, though not nearly as whimsical, and definitely far more disturbing, than the Beatles’ music ever was. And indeed, as we peruse the pages of this apocalyptic narrative, we cannot help but reach the conclusion that the man who wrote this was definitely not himself when he did. And so for many, an air of mystery surrounds this book, with its horseman and dragons and iron-teethed beasts. But was the author of this book on the first-century equivalent of Nembutal? Was he suffering from a raging fever? Was he just so old that he was losing his mind? Who was this man – this John the Revelator as he’s been called – and what was he thinking as he wrote this stuff down?
These questions are important to answer, because the answers we come to will, in fact, determine how we approach this book. And how we approach this book will determine what we get out of it. And what we get out of it might just determine the rest of our lives.
So are you ready to dig up some answers? Okay, let’s go. Turn with me to the Bible’s very last book. It goes by a couple names, depending on which version of the Bible you use. Some call it Revelation; others, Apocalypse. In fact, the two words mean the same thing. You see, ‘apocalypse’ is from the Greek word apokalupsis, which actually means ‘revelation’; so whether you call it ‘Apocalypse’ or ‘Revelation’, you’re really calling it ‘Revelation’ or ‘Apocalypse’. Make sense? Okay.
We get the book’s name – Revelation – from the first word of the first verse of the first chapter. Look with me there, please, at Revelation chapter one and verse 1: “The revelation of Jesus Christ” – the apocalypse of Jesus Christ – “which God gave to Him”. Now, I don’t know if you realise it, but already some of the mystery about the book of Revelation is being addressed, right here in these first ten words. Did you catch it? Let’s go back and look at it again.
First of all, what we’re reading is called what? The revelation. As I said a moment ago, the word ‘revelation’ comes from the Greek word apokalupsis. And apokalupsis is actually made up of two other Greek words. The first word is apo, which means ‘away’. You’ll remember that the 12 disciples were called apostles, which literally means “sent away ones”. Or if a person abandons certain tenets of a faith group, they are said to apostatise, “to go away from a certain position”. So apo means “away”. The other Greek word is kalupsis, which means “to conceal” or “to be unknown”. Maybe you’ve heard of “Calypso” music before – you know, the music played on steel drums? It’s called “calypso” music because nobody knows how it got started: its origin is hidden, lost in history.