Summary: An introductory sermon to a series on the book of the Revelation.
How do you recognize a masterpiece? Sometimes it’s not even easy for artists themselves to tell.
There is an old legend of the famous abstract painter Picasso showing off his latest painting to the sculptor Rodin (The Thinker.) Rodin looked hard at the unsigned painting, then turned it one way, then turned it another, finally turning it upside down, then back right-side up again. He offered this advice to Picasso Whatever else you do…sign it…[so at least] we will know which way to hang it!
Have you ever looked at some work of art recognized as a “masterpiece” and scratched your head and said, “I don’t get it.” Not just modern works, but some of the older paintings and sculptures. I look at them and I think, “Well, those are nice bright colors. That’s a good portrait of somebody. I can’t make hide or hair of who or what that is!”
But there are people others whose eyes are trained to recognize great art, who see beyond the nice bright colors or abstract images and see the beauty and skill and something special that makes it a masterpiece.
Reading the book of Revelation can be a lot like looking at one of these masterpieces. It is a masterpiece of Scripture, full of vivid, colorful images and ideas that stretch our imagination and call us to rethink our view of the world, our view of ourselves, and our view of God. But it takes skill and effort to see beyond the images to what God is saying to us in this NT masterpiece. In a sense, you have to know “which way to hang the picture” if you want to make sense of what you read.
For the next several weeks, I want us to make an effort to unveil this masterpiece, to study and think first about what God was saying to the people who first read this mysterious book, and then to discover what God is saying to you and I today through this masterpiece known as the Revelation. We’ll begin by looking at some background information to help us understand who wrote the book and why, and then work on developing principles for interpreting the book for us . Let’s begin by reading Rev. 1:1-3.
First of all, look the title the author gives the book in vs. 1: The Revelation of Jesus Christ…Notice the word is singular: revelation not revelations= ἀποκάλυψις= an unveiling, a revealing. A revealing of Who? …of Jesus Christ. Now comes the first mystery: is this verse saying the book is a Revelation of Christ, or a Revelation from Jesus Christ? The answer: probably both. Vs. 1 seems to say that the message is given through Christ to His angel to the human author. The point is that the focus of this book is revealing Jesus Christ.
But there is also a secondary purpose mentioned in vs. 1: …to show His servants---things which must shortly [quickly, swiftly] take place. This book is prophetic, meant to give God’s servants a heads-up on what was about to happen soon.
Which brings up another question: when was the Revelation written? Since the book itself doesn’t give us that information, you have to pick up clues both from the book itself and church history.
From the book itself, vs. 1 tells us it was written by …His servant John… which is almost certainly the apostle John. This would limit the time period to John’s lifetime. In addition, the book of the Revelation portrays an era when the church is under intense persecution from the Roman Empire. Church history records only two Emperors under which Christians were aggressively persecuted:
1) 54-68 AD, during the reign of Nero.
2) 81-96 AD, during the reign of Domitian.
Both of these dates have evidence to support them, but most modern scholars favor the later date. If this guess is correct, John is at least in his 90s when he writes the Revelation. Who says God can’t use senior saints? John is proof that you’re never too old to serve the Lord.
So far we’ve looked at the purpose of the Revelation, the author of the Revelation, and the date of the Revelation. Now let’s move on to the most challenging part of studying this masterpiece: how do you interpret the Revelation? John gives us our first clue in the last part of vs. 1 when he writes And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John. The Greek word for this term signified= to communicate by signs or symbols. Everything may not be what it seems.
How do you know when John is speaking symbolically or literally? How do you understand what he means by the symbols and images he uses? How can you be sure you are holding the masterpiece right side up?