Summary: An introductory sermon for the Book of Revelation that explains my approach to the study of the book.
When I first sensed that God was leading me to preach through the Book of Revelation several months ago, I had a great sense of excitement that was certainly tempered with a great deal of trepidation. Although I have taught and preached on the Book of Revelation in the past, I am convinced that because I am further along in my own spiritual journey than I was then, I am responsible before God and before all of you to approach this study in a much different way than I have dealt with it in the past. And to be real honest, I’ve come to wonder, at least humanly speaking, whether I’m up to the task. But I do know this: the God whom we serve is certainly capable of working through me to accomplish whatever He desires to do through our journey together.
I am truly humbled by the task that we have before us. So many men of God who are far more learned and eloquent than I have taken on this task before me and so the obvious question is “What do I have to offer that hasn’t already been offered?” There are tens of thousands of books and commentaries that have been written about the Book of Revelation over the years and who knows how many sermons preached on the book. Frankly, I don’t have the answer to that question – at least not yet. But what I am willing to do is to just be obedient to God’s leading and leave the results up to Him.
This morning I want to take a few minutes to set the stage for what is going to come in the months, and I presume, years to come, Lord willing. In many ways, this won’t be a typical message this morning. I’m not even going to use a lot of Scripture, which for those of you who have been here for any time at all, realize is totally contrary to what I try to do each week. But it is so important to make sure that we take the time to set the stage for how we’re going to approach our study, I am confident this will be time well spent.
Let me begin with a word of warning. I am pretty sure that some of you aren’t going to like this study, or that at a minimum you’re going to be disappointed. This will not be some sensationalistic teaching that will attempt to take each week’s headlines and try and make them fit the text. Unless something happens completely unexpected, I don’t anticipate I’ll be able to tell you who the Antichrist is, or reveal the identity of the woman with 12 stars on her head in Revelation 12 or be able to predict when Jesus is returning.
That’s because the Book of Revelation wasn’t written merely as a prediction of the future. And even where it does serve that purpose, we frankly don’t have enough information available to us at this point in time to completely understand everything that is written or to be dogmatic about the answers to many of our questions.
But perhaps that’s a good thing because it keeps us from getting so focused on the distant future that we fail to draw from the book of Revelation what is relevant for us today. Near the beginning of the book, John writes these instructive words:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
Revelation 1:3 (ESV)
The blessing that John refers to here is a result of reading the words, and hearing them, but most importantly, from keeping them. In other words, the book, like all Scripture wasn’t just written for information, but rather its main purpose is application.
That is why, when it comes to my overall approach to the Book of Revelation, I’m greatly indebted to Eugene Peterson and his book Reversed Thunder. I’m grateful that his words have helped me to discover that, while the book certainly does contain predictions about the future, that is not the primary purpose of the book. When John penned those words, he was much more concerned about helping the people in the congregations he ministered in to live life in the midst of some very difficult circumstances. Let me share with you a couple brief excerpts from Peterson’s book that will help us start with the right perspective:
A common way to misunderstand prophecy, and especially the prophecy of the Revelation, is to suppose that it means prediction. But that is not the biblical use of the word. Prophets are not fortune tellers. The prophet is the person who declares, “thus says the Lord.”…The prophet says that God is speaking now, not yesterday; God is speaking now, not tomorrow. It is not a past word that can be analyzed and then walked away from. It is not a future word that can be fantasized into escapist diversion. [p. 20]