In my previous blog, Revelation, First Things First, we explored the truth that both you and I are fully equipped to draw meaning and revelation from the book of Revelation. Considering we have the Holy Spirit, we can expect that when we encounter hard-to-understand passages, the Holy Spirit, through time and study, will open our eyes to fresh insight. We also determined that the Lord purposefully communicates, and that His communications are infallible. In other words, as it is written, so it should be understood. When approaching the Word of God, we should trust that the words written are for us to understand and continue to seek clarity and meaning.
I know, I know—it’s easier said than done.
But, as I mentioned in the previous Revelation blog, the book The 50 Final Events in World History by Robert J. Morgan, has given me great encouragement in studying Revelation. Here’s why Morgan spurs us to dive into Revelation:
“My goal is to demystify the book of Revelation for you. I’ve examined this remarkable book for fifty years and taught through it many times. I’ve concluded that the simplest way to understand Revelation is to take it as literally as possible and as sequentially as possible. Using this approach, I think I can help anyone understand its content.
“The last book of the Bible is not named Obscurity or Puzzlement or Ambiguity. It’s called the Revelation, for God wants to reveal His future to His children. This is the ultimate consummation for which all the Bible was given and toward which all history is moving. It is the glorious hope for which every child of God is waiting.”
Here’s another urgent-spurring statement from Morgan:
“This is why I love the book of Revelation. It’s about Jesus and it’s about tomorrow, which is right on schedule. It cannot be rushed or delayed, and it will arrive on time whether we’re ready or not.”
I agree with Morgan that the best way to interpret the book of Revelation is through a literal lens. While there is definite imagery for our earthly eyes that represents a specific truth in heaven, we can trust many of the apocalyptic scenes are literal events in heaven and literal, coming days on earth. Because the Bible interprets the Bible, we already have a historic pattern of interpretation to draw upon. In the Old Testament, before Jesus’s first coming, more than 300 prophecies were literally fulfilled. We can and should expect the same from the prophecies about His second coming.
From the Word of God, we also learn that much of what we see in the physical realm is a mere shadow of the real substance existing in heaven. From the beginning of our physical existence described in Genesis, we’re told that we are made in the likeness of God. Our physical, emotional, and spiritual beings are replicas of our Maker.
And the representation is just getting started from there.
The “On Earth as it is in Heaven” Symbolism
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains the symbolic relationship between earth and heaven. Second Corinthians 4:18 says: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Like a thin shadow, our world is temporary and a replica of the real deal which exists in heaven.
Christ further points out the reality that the things of earth are shadowy illustrations of the truths of heaven. Time and again He stated, “The kingdom of heaven is like … a field, a farmer, a treasure, a mustard seed….”
Each of the seven attributes found in the book of John are shadows of who our Christ is: The Light, The Good Shepherd, The Door, The Life, The Bread, The Resurrection, The Vine. Every one of these objects or actions was created to show us something about our Savior. While there are mysteries surrounding God’s plans and ways, we are given clear indicators of His nature and His existence through our physical world. He exists in the place called heaven. And through parables and metaphors, we are told what heaven is like.
(To unravel the mystery of God’s will for your life and mine, try our Bible Brief: God’s Will, Unraveling the Mystery.)
Earth is shadow of heaven. Except for the sin part that has radically stunted our growth.
It’s always baffled me how/why people have thought of heaven as a place of wispy clouds, white-robbed choirs, and angelic harp music, although those things must exist there. But when John wrote Revelation, he was caught up to heaven and there saw a magnificent throne, a slain lamb, a fruitful tree, a flowing river, and beings that look similar to you and me – with arms and legs and outfits made of earthly-type materials, including linen and bronze.
So … if things in heaven have the same shape of things here, and things there existed before the things here, we can come to understand that we live on a planet that was made to resemble heaven. Not the other way around.
So as we take on the book of Revelation, we should keep this truth close.
In Revelation, the images described should also be somewhat recognizable to us because we’ve been living the mirror image of it. .
The Beginning of Revelation
While praying on the prison island of Patmos, John’s prayer is interrupted with a loud voice that he likens to a trumpet. It’s true, you and I do not have voices like trumpets, although I had a cousin who snorted like one. But we’ve all heard a trumpet and therefore can relate to the distinct sound. When blown, a trumpet emits warm brass tones that can vibrate in your chest. Though deep and earthy, certain trumpet tones can sweep you along like a majestic breeze lifting you high and onto another plain.
Trumpets are also found in Scripture in both heavenly and earthly scenes. In biblical times on earth, trumpets (and/or rams’ horns/shofars) were often used to summon the people to gather or to herald an event or feast.
But these deep-toned horns were also used in battle. With the conquering of Jericho, the Israelites obeyed God’s command to blow the trumpets and shout. You know what happened. The walls fell and Israel took victory over Jericho.
Through the use of trumpets and our familiarity with them, we can conclude that the trumpet was made (instructed by God in Leviticus) to give God’s earthly children an idea of Christ’s heavenly voice—the voice that created the heavens and the earth, the voice that conquers cities, the voice that calls us to a feast of celebration–the voice John heard on Patmos.
One of the more interesting trumpet blasts written about in the Word is one that has yet to happen. See what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words. – First Thessalonians 4:16-17.
Keeping our Scriptures in context, this passage from 1 Thessalonians is taken from a section of Paul’s letter that speaks of the rapture of the church. He seems to be straightening out some confusion about this event within the body of believers there. I love that Paul exhorts us to comfort each other with the words. For far too long, the rapture has been branded a strange and unusual metaphysical event that was hard to explain and so often glossed over, adding to the confusion. But if we know the Word, and allow the Word to interpret the Word, we find other instances of rapture in the Bible. Both Enoch and Elijah experienced a form of rapture, being taken to heaven without going through the death/decay process of the body. Because we can’t explain it, or have come to believe that we can’t explain it, we create a mystery around the rapture, passing incomplete theology down to our next generation. Many humans have come to believe that God and science are separate. But, God is science. He created energy and all forms of matter, and like all aspects of the earth, these molecules and particles obey when God speaks. He spoke the world’s molecules into existence. He can certainly rearrange them as well. The idea that humans can instantly transform from a decaying body into a glorious body made for heaven is no stranger that Christ rising from the dead.
More on Science
This thing called science–the systematic study of the structure and behavior of our physical and natural world–is actually the study of God. The fact that the some of the supposed great scientist of the world have deemed there to be no God, for me, is like not seeing the grand acres of forest because I can’t take my eyes off the tree bark at eye level. Scientist who don’t believe in a Creator are staring at the bark.
I don’t get it. The rapture is to be such a wonderful and anticipated event, we’re to comfort each other with words about it.
But we need to move on to the picture of the glorified Christ, the reason the book of Revelation was written.
The Revealed Christ
When John turns to see from whom the trumpet voice comes, he sees the new and final revelation of Christ, the Son of God. Boom! Right there. Right up front, John is given the glorious opportunity to see Christ in full glory and he’s been instructed to write all that he sees. I think of Daniel and how the angel who showed him the same future events John sees, told Daniel to seal up the vision until the right time.
John on Patmos was the right time.
You and me reading Revelation is the right time.
But this Christ John sees is unlike the unassuming human that came to earth and was crucified. Here, in His new transformed state, Christ is clothed in an elaborate robe with a golden girdle. His hair is white, and his eyes burn like a flame. In his right hand, he holds seven stars; and out of his mouth comes a two-edged sword.
As awesome and out of our league as this sounds, our heavenly king is presented with and within familiar contexts. The robe, girdle, and sword are all objects we’ve seen—objects created to give us a sense of understanding about our Christ. Throughout the Bible, a robe represents a priest or position of honor (Esther 6:7-9; Leviticus 8:7). The girdle is a symbol of strength and power (Job 12:18; Isaiah 22:21). And the sword represents truth (Hebrews 4:12; Isaiah 31:8).
Our Risen Christ is an extraordinary deity/human creature we worship but also relate to.
In the Lord’s infallible communication through John’s vision, Christ goes on to graciously explain the objects in the vision that may cause question. We’ve likely never seen a man hold stars in his hands before. So we get an interpretation straight from our Creator’s mouth. Jesus explains the mystery:
“Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands; the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” – Revelation 1:19-20
Here we go. First scene of John’s vision is Christ and the veil of mystique is lifted. We’re shown and told plainly who our Christ is, where He is, and what He’s got in His all-powerful hands. The angels may be actual spiritual being who oversee these churches, or as some commentators explain, the angels could be symbolic for the church leaders. Since I lean literal, I believe these are angelic being that are appointed to guard the churches.
What We Know So Far
We’re just getting into Revelation and already we’ve been given a look at Christ as King of heaven. While we’ve never seen anyone who perfectly reflects this magnificent image, we are so very familiar with the items in the description, we can immediately understand what’s being revealed:
- Christ is our honorable high priest
- He is all power and strength
- He is the truth
- He stands among the earthly churches—He is in their midst
- He holds the angels of the churches in his right hand—He is in control
If there has been any question to Christ’s authority, it’s all taken care of in the opening revelation of the book written to reveal … well … Him.
From this point in John’s vision, Christ dictates letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. I’ve read several opinions of the why behind these seven letters but if read in the light of literal interpretation, I’ve come to a fairly simple conclusion of application.
But that’s another blog you can read in the next Revelation Blog — Number 3.
I would like to end today’s blog with another quote from Robert J. Morgan’s book, The 50
Final Events in World History.
“In these last days, when breaking news hits us at the speed of light, it’s vital to understand scriptural prophecy and to have a firm grasp on the Bible’s last words about earth’s final days. As no prior generation, we need to understand the contents of the book of Revelation, which opens with these words: The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place (1:1).”
Good stuff to come and if I perish, I perish,
Laurie (L. G. Westlake)