Popular culture is full of apocalyptic stories of terror, from zombies to plagues to natural disasters.
The end of the world fascinates and terrifies us. What will happen? How will it end? Who will survive?
Unlike popular movies, the Book of Revelation stands as a scriptural explanation of what is to come. However, its symbolism and meaning have left scholars and laity alike baffled for millennia. What is its purpose? Is God warning us of the terrible things to come? Should we be afraid? Or is the purpose of Revelation something else entirely?
Rather than a message of doom meant to terrify us, Revelation is intended to be a promise of better things yet to come.
What is the historical context of the Book of Revelation?
The book of Revelation is credited to the Apostle John, who probably wrote it around 95-96 A.D. during his exile on the Island of Patmos. The book was addressed to the churches in seven cities in the Roman province of Asia (modern-day Turkey). These congregations, though persevering, were facing intense persecution under Emperor Domitian in addition to the typical early church problems of false teachers and temptation.
The church was suffering under the intimidating regime of Emperor Domitian and his persecution. Just twenty-five years earlier in 70 A.D., the temple in Jerusalem was demolished by the Romans in the fall of Jerusalem. Many had been expecting Jesus to return by then, but He hadn’t. If there was one thing the churches needed, it was hope.
The Book of Revelation gives encouraging ‘constructive criticism.’
After a brief introduction, the book of Revelation begins with individual letters addressed to each of the churches. In these passages, John conveys individualized messages from Christ to each of the churches, giving both praise and criticism.
Notably, the criticisms come as warnings, not threats, and the tone is largely encouraging, whether through praise or through urging toward better things. Even with his harshest critique, Jesus says, “Those who I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
Dire predictions of End Times, although frightening, are also hopeful.
Thus far, the tone of Revelation has been hopeful, and John was writing to people who needed hope. However, there are certainly passages of Revelation that seem terrifying, from the four horsemen of the apocalypse to the seven bowls of plagues (Revelation 16).
However, these must be taken back into context. These plagues were being poured out against the wicked. Essentially, in all of these horrors, Revelation is assuring God’s oppressed people that evil will not win the day, and wickedness will be destroyed.
Revelation is full of promises.
In the fascination with dramatic imagery or the frustrating attempts to make sense of the timeline of the future, many lose sight of the driving force of Revelation: its beautiful promises.
Revelation promises a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). Imagery of a new Jerusalem flows with lavish descriptions of size and splendor (Revelation 21:9-27). In this future city, there will be no temple, because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22).
The city, it says, will not need the sun or moon, because it will be bathed in light by the glory of God (Revelation 21:23). And if God’s people were worried about safety, Revelation puts those fears to rest: “nothing impure will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:27).
Revelation describes pure waters and abundant vegetation (Revelation 22:1-2). “No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3), it states, harkening back to the curse on the ground after the Fall of Man in Genesis (Genesis 3:17-19).
As for our relationship with God, “they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4).
At the end of Revelation, John offers an invitation. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
Revelation is a warning to the wicked.
Most of Revelation’s harsh language is reserved for spiritual forces of evil, but it admittedly isn’t particularly comforting for those who are not followers of Christ. Predictions of plagues, earthquakes, and the sea turning to blood should rightly terrify those who do not trust God for their salvation.
Revelation is particularly harsh toward those who persecuted God’s people. “‘You are just in your judgments, O Holy One,’” an angel proclaims, “‘for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve’” (Revelation 16:5-6). In the book of Revelation, God is fiercely protective of His people.
Even still, the wrath of God in Revelation is shown to be purposeful. During the recounting of the seven bowls of plagues, John repeatedly emphasizes the refusal of the wicked to repent. “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him” (Revelation 16:9).
Even these scary passages hold a promise: God is always ready and waiting for us to repent and turn to Him.
Revelation illustrates an ultimate victory in End Times.
Symbolic numbers, confusing timelines, and strange imagery aside, the point of Revelation is to illustrate our final destiny in End Times. Whatever the beast is, whether or not the seven plagues are literal, whatever has or hasn’t already occurred, the end result remains the same.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
God promises a joy-filled, eternal future with Him. Jesus is coming back for us.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
What better promise is there than that?