Until I came to university I used to think that Revelation was equal parts scary and confusing but at least it was at the end of the Bible so you could somewhat avoid it for the most part.
I did feel a bit bad about that but I also did not know how to read the book especially with all the unhelpful information that was out there about Revelation – for example the idea that credit cards were the mark of the beast!
Then God blessed me with a church that taught about Revelation in a clear and comforting way, parting the curtain of fear and confusion and letting in the beautiful light of the gospel.
The Genre of Revelation
One of the first things I learnt about how to properly read Revelation was that Revelation, like the rest of the Bible, told the story of the Gospel! A reading of Revelation without the gospel was not Revelation at all!
The Gospel news of our sin, God’s judgement and mercy, and our forgiveness and reunion into relationship with God is threaded throughout the entire bible from the Garden of Eden to the garden city in the new heavens and new earth.
The thing that is different about Revelation is how it tells the Gospel which is “like an impressionist painting”. The genre of Revelation is apocalyptic literature which is vivid and full of pictures and powerful images.
It is different from other parts of the Bible such as the writings of Moses – history and law, or Psalms – poetry. Revelation is not meant to be read from start to finish with the reader expecting a straight-forward historical account of what will happen in the future.
The Purpose of Revelation
Revelation was first sent to the 1st Century Christians. These fellow believers from the past were already facing seemingly insurmountable challenges to their faith and daily lives so it seems a bit harsh if on top of that they were given a frightening and confusing book to study.
However, if it was actually a message of great hope and comfort encouraging them to persevere and keep on amongst struggles,0 a message that was full of helpful instruction and wonderful pictures of the amazing reward God had in store for them, then it makes a lot more sense!
The purpose of Revelation was never to fill people with dread or confusion but the exact opposite! It was to bring comfort to the suffering and persecuted and re-state God’s wonderful promises for those who trust in him!
It is written in a different way than most of the other books in the Bible but the core message of the Gospel is the same.
The book of Revelation has scenes of judgement but they are not meant to terrorise believers. They are to show that those that do evil (such as the Roman emperors who were torturing and killing many Christians) would face God’s judgement and would not escape punishment even if it looked like they would.
God was showing the heavenly plan that transcended all time as opposed to just what we simply see from our earthly perspective.
Some of the scenes of judgement were to warn Christians to be on their guard against sin, encouraging them to stay firm in their faith even as they knew that they were being held on tight by their heavenly father who would not let them go.
In short, Revelation was retelling the story of sin and judgement, mercy and forgiveness, and God’s sovereignty over all!
The Comfort of Revelation
One of the promises of God that I dwell on the most is that he will return and set everything right at the end of time! He will uphold the cause of the victim and bring justice; he will make everything as it should be and end all pain and suffering.
There is a beautiful verse that encapsulates this in Revelation chapter 21, verse 4, “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.” What a beautiful picture! Never to cry or mourn or hurt again!
Yet it gets even better than that - in verse 3, the one just before that verse, it says, “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.”
There will be no grief and we will be in perfect relationship with God and his people!
There are so many beautiful pictures in Revelation about what it will be like when Jesus returns. The purpose of them is to amaze us at God’s indescribable nature, his love for us, and the fact that even amidst the severest persecution we can trust that God is sovereign, he does know what is going on and he cares for us more deeply than we can ever know.
Jessica McPherson lives with her best friend and husband, Eoin and their family of rescue animals in Christchurch. She loves reading, writing, photography and scrapbooking but most of all sharing God’s love and truth with a hurting world. Jessica is particularly passionate about encouraging children and building them up in gospel truth.