FOCUS ON REVELATION - LESSON 8

God Still Leads
Revelation 1

Facing into a stiff ocean wind, the old man pulled his robe tightly around his shoulders. Surf rumbled against the rocks below. A sea gull screeched as it dipped toward him, searching for food. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, stared across the rocky landscape. This hadn't been his plan for retirement—exiled on the island of Patmos in the middle of the Aegean Sea. But the Roman emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) had made plans for him.

History doesn't give us the details, but it probably started with the clatter of Roman soldiers riding into Ephesus in a cloud of dust. They reined up their horses at the home where John, in his eighties, had retired. They kicked in the door, dragged him outside, forced him onto a horse, and took him off to Rome in the name of the emperor.


This happened some fifty years after the death of Christ. Domitian was a frustrated ruler. He just wasn't getting the respect he coveted from his people. So he'd declared himself a "god" and started building a religion of emperor worship around himself. The followers of Christ, however, weren't bowing down to him, even when threatened with exile and execution. So Domitian decided to make an example of John, the well-respected disciple of Christ. John was brought before Domitian and ordered to worship the emperor.

John refused. He would worship only the God of heaven. Historians tell us Domitian tried to boil him alive. But God protected His servant from the bubbling oil! That's when an embarrassed and angry Domitian exiled John to Patmos.

This rocky island, however, proved to be fertile ground in God's plan. It was here that the Holy Spirit inspired the greatest prophetic book in the Bible. Guided by the Holy Spirit, John had already penned four books of the Bible: the Gospel of John and three letters—1, 2, and 3 John. Now God was preparing him to write a fifth, the book of Revelation.

Revelation delivers a profound message about the war between good and evil, the great battle between God and Satan. It shows how that epic struggle ends.

It is a message of hope and encouragement, yet it deals with the harsh realities of persecution, death, and heartache. It takes us through the sweep of history—from Earth's creation to Earth restored to its original state after the second coming of Jesus. The book's central theme is that Jesus Christ won the victory over Satan on the cross of Calvary. Because of this triumph, Jesus can offer peace, hope, and renewal to you and me. Revelation tells us that, with Jesus, we are already on the winning side!

Revelation is more than just symbols, beasts, and prophetic facts. It dramatically pictures a God who loves us so much He has sacrificed everything to create a plan for His people in the past, the present, and the future. God wants to show you how you can become a part of that wonderful plan. As you face the heartaches and the challenges of this life, God wants to make sure you understand He is in control and walks beside you. He cares about you.

Revelation is a gripping, fascinating account of where we are in God's grand design for the human race. Through the clashes of history, it reveals just how He cares for us. Let's begin our study of chapter 1 and together unseal the mysteries of Revelation!

1. Read Revelation 1:1-3.

There are several key points in John's introduction to the book of Revelation. Let's identify them.

1. What title does John give to this last book of the Bible? (Revelation 1:1.)
    The Revelation of John the Apostle of Christ.
    The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
    The Revelation of God.

2. Who does John say gave this book to Jesus? (Revelation 1:1.)
    God.
    The angel Gabriel.
    The early Christian church.

3. For whom is the book intended? (Revelation 1:1.)
    Sinners who need to understand God's message to them in this book.
    God's servants.
    Those who belong to non-Christian religions so they can learn of Jesus.

4. Who delivered the message of Revelation to the apostle John? (Revelation 1:1.)
    The Holy Spirit.
    Jesus Christ.
    God's angel.

This book is identified as the "Revelation of Jesus Christ." Even though the disciple John wrote the book, he wrote down only what Jesus told him to write. Our word revelation (apocalypsis in the original Greek language in which the New Testament was written) simply means "unveiling," "revealing," or "showing" something. In other words, the book of Revelation is an explanation. In this case, God is explaining that you can always look up even though trials, plagues, persecution, and death may strike this world. Why? Because God has a special plan for you. He cares about you. This plan includes the permanent removal of sin from the universe.

Notice how verse 1 explains the process of communicating this revelation:

  • God gave the message of Revelation to Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus gave the message to an angel.
  • The angel gave the message to John.
  • John gave the message (in the Spirit) to the "servants
    of Jesus" (followers of Jesus).
  • The message concerned "things which must shortly
    take place."

Today, people all over the world are trying to make sense of the rush of ominous events—famines, earthquakes, wars, terrorist attacks. They wonder if something called Armageddon is about to take place. They wonder if Jesus could return to Earth in their lifetime. Guess what? You are privileged! God has given you His answers to the big questions. He has given them to you in the book of Revelation. It's an incredibly significant message. God the Father, Jesus the Son, the Holy Spirit, and angelic beings—all were involved in bringing this book to us!

5. Why can we believe and trust what John tells us in the book of Revelation? (Revelation 1:2.)
    Because he was bearing witness to what God told him and to the things he saw in vision.
    Because he was a leader of the early Christian church.
    Because the other apostles would correct him if he was mistaken about something.


Did you catch the impact of this verse? God is making sure we don't discount the message John writes. He tells us John read, heard, and saw what he writes about. In other words, John's an eyewitness. His words are trustworthy. Believe them!

6. What does God promise to those who read and hear the message of Revelation-and who
    are obedient to what it teaches? (Revelation 1:3.)
    That they will not be harmed in any way by Satan.
    That they will have a prominent position in heaven because they will clearly understand God's will.
    That they will receive a blessing.

This verse concludes by saying those who study this book will be blessed because the "time" of the fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Revelation "is near." "Near" implies that the fulfillment of the prophecies contained in this book is about to take place. It's about to get started. And the sooner the prophetic sequence begins, the quicker all these prophecies will be fulfilled!

How does it make you feel to know that God (a) took special care to make sure the message of Revelation was written down for you, and (b) promises you special favors if you study, believe, accept, and apply the message to your life?

What kind of blessing or special favor do you think God will give those who study? Why do you feel that way?

2. Read Revelation 1:4-8.

It's very important to God that readers of the book of Revelation understand how much He cares for them before they study the messages written in its twenty-two chapters. These verses stress the fact that people matter supremely to God.

7. What two things does John say his readers will receive from God and from the spirits that
    are around His throne? (Revelation 1:4.)
    Honor and long life.
    Grace and peace.
    Wisdom and understanding.

8. How does John describe Jesus at the beginning of this book? (Revelation 1:5.)
    As the One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.
    As the One who wants us to understand what is coming on the earth.
    As the One who will judge the righteous and the guilty at the end of time.

9. What position does John say Jesus has given us? (Revelation 1:6.)
    He has made us witnesses to those who don't know Him.
    He has made us rulers over the angels.
    He has made us kings and priests of God the Father.

It was common in Bible times to begin a letter with the words "grace and peace." Today we begin with "Dear Mary, I hope you are doing OK." In this particular setting, "grace" refers to God's kindness. The peace John speaks of comes when we know we are forgiven by God and when we forgive others. Both grace and peace are gifts from God.

God wants not only to assure the readers of Revelation about His feelings for us, He also wants us to know He longs to be with us forever. A relationship with God doesn't have to ever end. Verse 7 makes it very clear that Jesus is returning to Earth for His people. "He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him."

Yes, in the tough times of life—in the death of a friend, in divorce, in bankruptcy, in the struggles of the alcoholic or drug addict—God is still there! Harold, an Iowa truck driver, decided to end his life in the bathtub one day. He'd been fighting a losing battle with the bottle for a long time. Now a hopeless drunk, he lay down on the cold porcelain, put the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth, and reached down with his thumb to pull the trigger. He was tired of all his broken promises to his family. He was tired of his little girls hiding in the closet when he came home. But before killing himself, Harold decided he should tell God why he was doing this.

So he got out of the tub, knelt down, and began to explain. Before he knew it, Harold was pouring his heart out to the Almighty. He sobbed for hours. Afterward he felt a kind of peace he'd never felt before. Harold decided to commit his broken life completely to God. And he found the strength to win his battle with the bottle—for good. He'd found a faithful heavenly Father in his darkest hour.

The same God who walks with His people through the struggles and difficulties of Earth's history, walks with us in the issues of this life. That is why God identifies Himself as "the One who is and who was and who is to come." It is important that we grasp this emphasis as we begin our study of the prophecies of Revelation.

3. Read Revelation 1:9-20.

This passage describes John's first vision. Symbols introduced here will reappear throughout the book of Revelation. They help illustrate God's messages. Some scholars believe these symbols also protected John's message from the censorship of Roman authorities. Revelation's truths have always stood in opposition to political and religious corruption. If these messages hadn't been given partly in a "code" that needs to be deciphered, God's enemies probably would have destroyed the book long ago.

In Revelation you'll find beasts, horns, crowns, wicked and pure women, lampstands, locusts, a Lamb, and a dragon—all used as symbols. We'll find out what each of these symbols means. We'll also discover why certain numbers have special significance. Already in this chapter we've encountered "seven spirits" and "seven churches." Soon we'll look at "seven lampstands" and "seven stars." We'll find out why certain numbers are repeated throughout the book.

Notice verse 9 states that John was exiled to Patmos because of his faithfulness to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. In verse 5 we discovered that Jesus is the "faithful witness." This means that His word is absolutely trustworthy. In court, a witness gives testimony, or testifies. Jesus told Pilate that He came to Earth to "bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). Jesus is doing precisely this in Revelation! He's telling us the truth about ourselves, about human sin, and about the conflict between God and Satan. Revelation is a book by Jesus. It's also a book primarily about Jesus. That's what the very first verse tells us.

Take a careful look at 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

10. Who gave us the Scriptures-the Bible? (2 Timothy 3:16, 17.)
    God.
    The apostles.
    The church.

11. What is the purpose of the Bible? (2 Timothy 3:16, 17.)
    To be the rule book by which we will be judged.
    To tell us who will be saved and lost.
    To teach us doctrine, to reprove and correct us when we sin, and to instruct us in the way of God.

Read Revelation 19:10: "And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.'"

12. John says that he was exiled to the island of Patmos for the word of God and the
     "testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 1:9). What is the testimony of Jesus? (Revelation 19:10.)
    The spirit of prophecy.
    The words Jesus spoke at His trial before being crucified.
    The parables Jesus told while He was on earth.

1 Corinthians 12 tells us that one of the gifts of the Spirit is the gift of prophecy. It is the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets to write the Bible. John testified that he was on Patmos because he believed and taught what the Spirit communicated to him and to the other prophets who wrote the Bible.

Revelation 1:10 states that John was in the "Spirit on the Lord's Day." He was having a vision; the Spirit of God was speaking to him.

In verse 11, John is told to send messages from God, which he received on the Lord's Day, to seven churches located in Asia. We'll study these messages extensively in the next two chapters.

13. What were the names of the seven churches to which John was told to send
    messages from Jesus? (Revelation 1:11.)
    Jerusalem, Antioch, Tyre, Joppa, Samaria, Jericho, and Capernaum.
    Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
    Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica, Tarsus, and Damascus.

Verses 12-16 describe what God looked like to John in his vision. Have you ever thought about what God looks like?

Verses 13 and 16 show us Jesus walking among seven lampstands and holding seven stars in His hand. What do the lampstands and stars represent? (See verse 20.)

14. John saw Jesus walking among seven lampstands and holding seven stars in His hand.
    What do the lampstands represent? (Revelation 1:20.)
    The seven hills on which Rome was built.
    The seven churches to whom Jesus was sending messages.
    The seven spirits that stand before God's throne

15. What do the seven stars in Jesus' hand represent? (Revelation 1:20.)
    The angels of the seven churches.
    The altars of the seven churches.
    The members of the seven churches.

The number seven is significant in Scripture because it represents perfection or completion. Back in Genesis, at the beginning, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day (Genesis 1–2:3). God said His creation was "good" and "finished" (completed). This background helps us understand that:

  • The seven churches are a complete representation of all churches.
  • The messages to them represent a complete message of God.
  • The seven spirits represent the completeness or fullness of the Holy Spirit.
  • The seven angels ("angel" literally means "messenger") represent messengers or ministers who bring the messages to their congregations.

After Harold, the alcoholic, found God, he began reading the Bible and praying each day. He was determined to really get to know the God he'd encountered so dramatically. He wanted a complete picture. He began absorbing God's messages, and these gave him the spiritual resolve to live sober, one day at a time. One evening Harold was alone, reading the Bible in the living room, when he felt a nudge at his elbow. He looked up. His two small daughters were standing there quietly in their nightgowns. He stared at them for a long moment. They had changed so much. And he'd missed so much over the years, buried in the bottle.

Then Carol, the youngest said, "Daddy, we've come to kiss you goodnight." The father's eyes blurred. It had been a long time since the children had come for his embrace. But now their beautiful clear eyes held no fear. Daddy had come home at last. Harold Hughes went on to become governor of Iowa and a distinguished United States senator. But more important to him than all the public honors he would receive was that look on his daughters' faces. They knew they were loved. And they knew Daddy would always be there for them.

That's the knowledge each of us can have today about our heavenly Father. We don't have to look up at Him in fear. We don't have to be anxious about what may come in the future. We can know that God is there for us. The same God who lifted Harold up when everyone, including himself, had given up on him, can lift you up no matter what your circumstances. He wants to give you hope and a future.

This first chapter of Revelation highlights the fact that God cares about you and desires the best for you. It's for that reason that He wants to tell you about events that are coming upon the Earth. He wants you to be ready. He wants you safe in His arms to the very end.

To think about: What do you think of a God like that?

Prayer

Father, thank You for a picture of Yourself as a God of kindness, acceptance, and understanding. Help me to be just like You. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

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