Revelation 1:1-8; June 10th, 2007 During World War II, the English put together a team of their best mathematicians, linguists, cryptographers, and engineers in order to break the coded messages being used by the Nazis.
Even chess champions & crossword puzzle experts were brought in to serve.
In fact, at the height of their code breaking efforts, the Britts had 9,000 people working day after day at an old mansion about 50 miles north of London.
The challenge was breaking the code produced by, what seemed at times, to be the impregnable German encryption machine called the Enigma.
The German Enigma was able, through this complicated array of rotating wheels and electric contacts, to produce a coded letter, which lit up a panel above the machine.
The recipients of the code would then type what they received into their own Enigma machine, which would produce the deciphered message on the panel above their machine.
These rotators and wires were constantly being reconfigured, and so, the odds of figuring out the code were 150 million to 1.
So, what the English ultimately needed to break the code was to capture one of their working Enigma machines.
Turns out there was a British Secret Agent known as Intrepid, who discovered that the Germans were building the Enigma machines in Poland.
(SLIDE - Photo of William “Intrepid” Stephenson)
Along with the Polish underground, Intrepid targeted a truck suspected of carrying an Enigma machine…
And together, they managed to hijack the truck and steal the machine… replacing it with a bunch of smuggled parts from other Enigma machines.
Then they packed the truck filled with explosives and blew it to bits.
When the Germans investigated the bombed out truck, they had a good laugh thinking that the underground used too many explosives and ended up blowing up the very machine they were going after!
They had no idea that the actual machine was stolen.
Intrepid then smuggled the captured Enigma machine into Britain… where the decryption team was soon able to decode thousands of German messages.
Some people credit Intrepid's work with shortening the war by two years.
By the way… in order to protect the secret that they had broken the German code, British counter-intelligence leaked to German agents that there was a highly placed British spy on Germany's military staff.
The Germans never found out that there was no such spy and that the British were eavesdropping into their coded messages.
Why do I tell you this story? Because we’re about to begin our study of the book of Revelation this morning….
And as we begin this study, one of the most important things you need to understand is that the Book of Revelation is not a codebook…
You don’t have to give yourself the nickname, Intrepid, in order to understand it.
The Book of Revelation is not like the German Enigma machine that required brilliant code breakers to decipher it.
For hundreds of years people have proposed that Revelation contains a secret history of the world, especially a secret history of contemporary people and events…
In the 16th century, Martin Luther, the great Reformer, believed that he saw clear references to the Pope in Revelation's description of the Beast who sat on a city of seven hills.
The Pope, of course, found clear references to Martin Luther in the same passage.
In the 20th century, people have found unmistakable references in the book of Revelation to Mussolini, to Hitler, and to Gorbachev, as the Beast of Revelation 13.
In Gorbachev’s case, it was because of the red birthmark on his head.
Eventually, with those historical figure out of the limelight, the code-breaker types began to see the Beast as the computer kept in Belgium that maintains all the info for the European Common Market.
You see, for all these people, the Book of Revelation reveals a secret history of the world. And yet, the moment it is read as a codebook, it is taken out of the hands of ordinary people.
Which is why we need these enlightened elite… those people specifically able to craft giant charts & graphs outlining, with insane detail, the contemporary meaning to all the symbolism of Revelation.
Unless we meet this person with the great prophetic insight, or at the very least, buy their books and charts, then the Book of Revelation is closed off to us.
I mean, we can read it… but without them, we’d never understand it. Right?
But the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
All scripture, including Revelation, has practical value for teaching, correcting and training.
The apostle Paul underlines this point in 2 Tim. 4:1-5 when he draws a contrast between the solid teachers of the gospel and people's desire to have teachers simply “say what they’re wanting to hear.”
You see, God didn’t give us the book of Revelation to satisfy our curiosity, or to entertain us, or to create in churches the enlightened elite who alone could unlock its secrets.
God gave us the book of Revelation for the same reason that he gave us all of the scripture - to teach us, correct us, comfort us, and to train us in righteousness.
But before we continue on with this first message of our series on How to Read the Book of Revelation, let’s first pause for a moment and ask God for His guidance.
Now, at least in our contemporary times, the person who turned the book of Revelation into a gold mine is, of course, the popular writer Hal Lindsey who wrote the Late Great Planet Earth in 1970. How many people here have heard of Hal Lindsey?
It’s hard to overestimate Lindsey's influence on generations of Christians in terms of their approach to the book of Revelation, to Bible prophecy, and to end-times teaching in general.
It was Lindsey who really popularized the idea that the book of Revelation was to be read as a secret history of the world that required decoding… that Revelation was some sort of Rorschach Inkblot Test.
You are familiar with Rorschach Inkblots, aren't you? A psychiatrist shows you an inkblot and asks you what you see?
My whole life, whenever I’ve seen one of these, the only things I ever see is either a scary face or a bat! I don't know what that says about me.
But lots of folks, including Hal Lindsey have been able to find in the Bible and in Revelation, in particular, whatever they want to find.
Don’t like the Soviet Union? Well then, they must be the Gog & Magog… the invaders of the North as told in the Book of Ezekiel.
And now, in the post-Soviet world, China appears to be even more of a central player… so, perhaps they’re Gog and Magog.
In fact, maybe Russia is Gog… and China is Magog! It borders on insanity at times… but we’ll get back to that in a few minutes.
Now maybe you’ve been around the church for a long time… and have been personally influenced by Lindsey (actually, we’ve all been influenced by him whether we know it or not).
Truth is, this whole genre of literature has really stimulated lots of people's interest in the Bible and in the gospel… and, of course, good can come from that.
And yet, what is so damaging is just how believers have put aside the Book of Revelation and Bible prophesysimply because their understanding is that it can only be understood by the enlightened elite.
But is this right? Turn to Revelation 1 with me… “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John…”
You see, Revelation is not written to the prophetically gifted elite, to the uniquely illuminated.
It is written to all those servants of God, to the ordinary people out there walking with God.
Guys, as we launch into this series, it is so important that you don’t turn the Bible into a Rorschach Inkblot where we arbitrarily connect-the-dots between Biblical symbols and contemporary people, places, & events.
Because even the most popular code breakers out there, like Hal Lindsey, have gotten things way more than a little confused at times.
Now, I'm not trying to pick on poor Hal. Truth is, he’s not poor at all… his books have made him rich! In fact, he was one of the best-selling authors of the 1970s… with three books on the NY Times Best-Seller's list at the same time.
His book The Late Great Planet Earth has sold more than 18 million copies to date and is surpassed only by Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life,
Which, by the way is the best selling hardback book in publishing history.
What Lindsey finds in the book of Revelation are references to supersonic jet aircraft with missiles, advanced attack helicopters, battle tanks, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, biological and chemical weapons, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, space station satellites.
In Lindsey's inspired Bible code, John's locusts become helicopters. The crowns of gold are the helmets worn by pilots.
The sound of their wings are the thunderous sound of many attack helicopters flying overhead.
The bow wielded by the anti-Christ is a code word for long-range weapons like ICBMs…
and the reference to the color of fire in Rev. 9:17 becomes the Chinese national flag emblazoned on military vehicles.
What is really frustrating is how Lindsey changes interpretations of the same Bible passages as the geo-political contemporary scene changes.
So, for example, in 1981 he wrote The Countdown to Armageddon, in which he explains how Scripture points to the Soviet Union as a dominating power in the world.
However, in 1995 with the fall of the Soviet Union, Lindsey wrote Planet Earth 2000 AD and said: “Scripture never predicts that the Soviet Union would gain world domination.”
In the 80s he declares the Russians to be the greatest threat to world peace.
But in 90s Lindsey writes: “The greatest threat to world peace is fundamentalist Islam, just like the scriptures warned.”
As Russia fell as a world power, Lindsey's writing focused more and more on fundamentalist Islam. So in 1970 when Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth he said:
“The Russian force will establish command headquarters on Mt. Moriah, or the temple area in Jerusalem.”
In The Apocalypse Code, written in 1997, Lindsey writes: “The Russian Muslim force will set up command headquarters on the temple mount in Jerusalem.”
But then, as the Gulf War was in full swing, Lindsey began finding clear references to Saddam Hussein in the Bible as well.
Not only do the interpretations change with geo-political changes, but his date setting for the beginning of the Tribulation changes as the calendar changes.
Lindsey's books regularly predict that the end of the world is near. In The Late Great Planet Earth, he dated the return of Jesus as being 1988.
In The Final Battle, which was written in 1994, Lindsey recalculated and set the date before 2024. Now, he says it will certainly happen before 2067.
Now keep in mind that I’m focusing in on Hal Lindsey only because he’s well known. Truth is, there are a lot of other code breakers out there who have made similar claims.
But my point is, that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, and you love the truth and love God's Word, don't you think it is time that we took a different approach to the Bible than looking at it as a secret code or as a Rorschach Inkblot where we can read the Bible whatever we want?
Don't we need a little more sanity to our approach to the Book of Revelation?
So, let me ask you... How have you tended to approach the Book of Revelation?
Have you been intimidated by it because it seemed to be written for the spiritually elite rather than for all the servants of God… for people like you and me?
So, if Revelation is not a code book, or secret history of the world, or a Rorschach Inkblot, where we can pull out of it whatever we want to, whatever our imaginations come up with… then what is the book of Revelation?
Let’s go ahead and read Revelation 1:1-5 together.
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testifies to everything he saw-that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. 4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…”
Revelation is first of all a revelation. Verse 1 “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John…” The word here for “revelation” is from the Greek “apokalupsis” where we get the word “apocalyptic” or “apocalypse.”
But the word “apocalyptic” didn't originally mean an end-time scenario involving a nuclear holocaust and fiery battle scenes, and buildings exploding.
The word “apokalupsis” originally meant a disclosure, an unveiling. In fact the word comes from “apo” which means out from… and “calypsos” which means veil.
So it literally means unveiled… the way you would unveil a statue or a new painting at a gallery.
You see, Revelation lifts the curtain so that we can see what is going on behind the scenes…
It offers us a perspective on life from a different vantage point than the rest of the New Testament… a vantage point that allows us to see the world from heaven's perspective.
For example, when this book was written in the 1st century, it appeared that all of the power in the world was held by the Roman Empire.
The Roman Emperor, at the time when Revelation was written, claimed for himself the titled “Lord and God.”
All of the architecture and statues, rituals, and holidays and parades were designed to display Rome's power and the splendor of its pagan religion, but John is given a revelation.
Rome is not this glorious goddess and the Emperor is not Lord and God. As John looks at Rome from heaven's perspective, he sees Rome the way God sees her…
As a prostitute, as a seductive whore, whose wealth and beauty is undone as a result of her disgusting idolatry and immorality.
You see, the reason why there are so many symbols and images and pictures in the book of Revelation is that they form a shocking alternative to the images people were exposed to every day.
It is like seeing a beautiful actress… always smiling and sweet and innocent.
She gives such wonderful interviews and comes off as having it all together. But then you’re given a revelation.
You get to see behind the scenes. There is an uncovering, an unveiling where you’re able to see her from an entirely different perspective.
You see her screeching at her husband and shredding her children's self-esteem.
You see her reaching each morning for a vodka bottle, looking grotesque as she drinks her breakfast.
You see, the book of Revelation doesn't introduce us to a different universe. It introduces us to our universe, to our world, our lives… through the lenses of heaven.
What does John see in his Revelation? First and foremost, he sees God.
When John is taken up to heaven… there is God the Father and there is the Messiah, the Lamb of God, seated on the throne, being worshipped.
And what is disclosed, for example, is that Rome is not the ruling power over creation... That it is God and his Christ who rule without end.
And because Revelation is always meant to be a present word to us, it presents you and me with the question of who do we believe holds all the power today?
It’s one of the questions we’re going to be challenged with as we continue on.
You see, without a revelation, without an uncovering, it is so easy for us to slowly embrace the idea that something or someone other than God and his Christ holds all the power.
John's revelation not only introduces today’s world from heaven’s perspective, but also takes us into the future as well. John not only gets to see the world in light of heaven, but John gets to see the present in light of the future.
In John's day many Christians were suffering persecution at the hands of Rome because they wouldn't worship the Emperor.
They refused to give the Emperor the title Lord and God… and they refused to take part in Roman pagan festivals.
John's revelation offers persecuted Christians comfort in light of the future.
But it is not the comfort of a promised escape. He doesn't say to persecuted believers: “Don't worry, Christians, you are going to be transported to heaven before you are martyred.”
He doesn't say, “Don't worry. You won't experience any real pain.”
But what Revelation does say is that even though right now you are experiencing conflict… that, in the end you will conquer.
Even though now you are wounded, in the end you will win. Even though you are being victimized, in the end you will be victorious.
Revelation is not an escapist book, but it is an incredibly hopeful book. Revelation says: “Christian, you may be suffering injustice now. You may be persecuted now. You may be abused now. But take heart, the end of the story is that God wins and you will also win as you remain faithful to him.”
Let me give you a simple illustration. I travel fairly often by plane… and sometimes the plane trip is pretty uncomfortable.
I was just in Columbus, OH earlier in the week… and flew on an Embraer, which is a pretty small commercial jet.
When the guy in front of me put his seat all the way back… it was like he was leaning against my knees.
Then the flight attendant, who’s having a really bad day, just throws you a bag of pretzels and a cup of ice with about two ounces of diet coke.
But you can make it through an uncomfortable plane trip if you know that what’s waiting for you on the other end is something you’re excited about.
Let me ask you… do you think about the future very often? I don't mean the fantasized created futures of popular books… but I mean the future of your life?
Do you ever think about the future of this planet that is clearly laid out in scripture?
Do you look at your present circumstances in light of your future?
Maybe your body is breaking down and you’re experiencing more and more pain in your body.
Do you think to yourself: “You know, my seat on the plane is very uncomfortable. I've got someone who is making things worse by leaning into my lap. But when this flight is done, I’ll be invited to the party of a lifetime.”
Do you allow your future victory to give you some joy in the here and now?
That is the secret of the saints throughout the ages. They allowed the certainty of their future victory to add to their present experience of joy.
Do you think about this… That God wins? That no matter how uncomfortable your life or flight is right now, you win with him so long as you stay with him.
So many of you suffer from continual discontent with your work or circumstances.
Do you spend any time allowing God's future for you to encourage you in the present?
Revelation is a revelation of God's rule. Revelation is a revelation of God's victory. And Revelation is a revelation of God’s person… of who God is.
You know why Revelation is so difficult for so many people? It is because we approach this book from the wrong end. It is like grasping a knife. You don't grab it by the blade; you grab it by the handle.
When we approach the book of Revelation, we often get into all the details. We grab onto the wrong end, “What do the bear's feet mean? What is the meaning of the number 666? What about the two witnesses in Rev. 11?”
Instead of first grabbing the details of the book, start with the handle. And what’s the handle?
Revelation tells us in the very first verse that it is all about Christ. The whole book begins with these simple words… “The revelation of Jesus Christ…”
It is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only the source of this book that John received, but Jesus is also the very content of the book as well.
In fact, in Revelation we are going to find the most explicit teaching in the entire Bible about the deity and glory of Jesus Christ.
No book in the NT, not even the Gospel of John, exceed Revelation's identification of Jesus Christ with God. Revelation is all about Christ.
And Revelation is all about God. To use theological language, Revelation is to be read theocentrically.
It is an entirely God-centered, God-saturated look at life. Again, it is life from the vantage point of heaven.
And contrary to contemporary life, which is entirely man-centered, Revelation says the reality of the universe is that God is at the center and you are not.
You are not the star. The story of history is not about you. It is his story. We live in a God-centered world.
Revelation is a prophecy. Verse 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. As Gene Peterson points out in his book, Reversed Thunder, the common way to misunderstand prophecy, and especially the prophecy of Revelation, is to see it as making predictions regarding the future.
But that is not the biblical use of the words “revelation” and “prophesy”. Prophets are not fortune-tellers. The prophet is the person who declares and speaks what is God is wanting to say to His people.
They are people who speak what God is speaking. They say what God is saying, and they see what God is showing.
Prophets are people who bring the Word of God into the present moment.
The prophet doesn't simply rehearse what God said yesterday, or what God is going to say tomorrow.
The prophetic word is not something from the distant past… or some escapist theory about the future. Instead, the prophet addresses the here and now.
Notice what Rev. 1:3 says, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
Now, Revelation certainly contains some future elements. But as we are going to find in a moment, the future is spoken about in order to illuminate our present situation.
We live life now in light of the future. The Bible forbids us to have some neurotic interest in predictions.
Instead, the present moment is unveiled to us in light of what God has for us in the future.
The book of Revelation is not only a prophecy, but lastly, Revelation is a letter…
The book of Revelation is a letter. Verses 4 & 5 “To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Revelation isn’t some Nostradomus-like prediction of the future… but a letter to seven key churches in present-day Eastern Turkey. In fact Rev. 2 and 3 are not seven letters, but one letter to seven churches.
It is a circular letter containing the most common form of greeting from the 1st century: Grace and peace to you.
But think about it… if Revelation was written as a letter, then you realize that it had to have real, practical meaning to the original recipients.
In other words, John wasn’t writing a book that could only be understood 2000 years later as referring to ICBMs and attack helicopters, and Muslim fundamentalism.
He was writing a letter that could be understood by his readers… those believers who first received his letter 2000 years ago… and believers today.
In fact, Revelation is not only relevant in terms of helping us walking out our relationship with Jesus, but it also serves to pull together all of the rest of the Bible.
Do you know John's letter, the book of Revelation, has 404 verses? In those 404 verses there are 518 references to earlier scriptures.
He dips into Ezekiel, Daniel, Zephaniah, Isaiah, and Exodus. Virtually every great Christian doctrine finds a place in the book of Revelation.
Whether we are talking about the Trinity, or the deity of Christ, or the work of Christ in his death and resurrection, or the worship of God, or the sovereignty of God, the authority of scripture, or the importance of the church, or the reality of angels, or demons…
Or the return of Christ, or judgment, or heaven and hell, it all comes together in this letter, the book of Revelation. This truly is the capstone of scripture.
When the Romans built an arch, they would build it from both sides and then inserted the angled center stone that would hold the entire structure in place. This stone that crowned the arches was called the capstone.
You see, the book of Revelation is the crowning stone holding together the rest of scripture.
There is nothing taught in the book of Revelation, in terms of doctrine, that isn't taught elsewhere in the Bible... except that it teaches from the vantage point of heaven rather than earth.
That’s probably why Revelation ends, in chapter 21:18, with this powerful warning. John says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophesy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add o him the plaques described in this book…”
Rather than reading about the doctrines as you would from a systematic theology, the book of Revelation causes us to experience the doctrines… to feel the heavenly implications of our theology.
It is the difference between reading about milk chocolate and having a Dove Promise melt in your mouth.
It is the difference between reading a political journal regarding Africa and seeing Hotel Rwanda.
Revelation is a letter, but it is a letter like no other letter ever written. It is a letter to be personally experienced.
Guys, this is a very rich and exciting book to study. And I promise, that if you’ll sign on for this series and become a student of Revelation, you’ll be both encouraged and challenged in your faith.
* I appreciate the help of Rich Nathan, pastor of the Vineyard in Columbus, OH, whose sermon of the same title provided a good deal of this material.