Obeying the book of Revelation

December 10, 2009

Last week as I began reading Revelation I didn’t make it far before I hit a snag.  Actually, I only made it three verses, until I landed on this:

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!

This of course, got me to thinking, “How does one obey the book of Revelation?”  The journey that ensued and consumed the last week of my devotional time with the Lord came out something like this…

To “obey” Revelation means essentially to worship Jesus.  Revelation is “prophecy” (1:3; 22:7)–the spirit of which is “testimony about Jesus” (19:10).  Testimony about Jesus defines those who are for Him (1:2, 9; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11, 17; 15:5; 17:6; 19:10; 22:16–testimony about/for Jesus seems to be the primary designator of Christians in Revelation; 10:7; 11:10; 22:6–of prophets testifying about Jesus; 11:18; 16:6; 18:20, 24 of prophets testifying about Jesus in parallel with “saints”) and defines those who are false prophets (2:20; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) because their testimony leads people to worship someone other than Jesus (19:20).

Twice John tries to worship the angel who speaks with him.  Twice the angels forbid him and urge him to worship God.  The first time (19:10) this urging appears to elaborate what it means to “hold to the testimony about Jesus”.  Alternately, the second exhortation to worship (22:9) appears to elaborate what it means to “obey the words of this book” (which is itself a testimony about and revelation of Jesus, 1:1).

Repeatedly (7x in the opening 3 chapters) we hear the refrained exhortation: “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).  Rather than being an aside to those reading the Spirit’s words to the churches in chapters 2-3 (i.e. an aside to us), I believe it makes more sense that the Spirit’s “word” should be that which comes after chapters 2 and 3.  One reason for this is in the repeated blessing on the one who obeys the words of the prophecy (1:3; 22:7).  Essentially John says, “Blessed are you if you obey [1:3]…Now that you’ve heard, you’ll be blessed by obeying [22:7].”  Notice: the blessing at hearing is NOT repeated in chapter 22.  Instead, John curses anyone who, having haerd, chooses to add to or take away from the prophecy.

As for timing, I believe the book’s own timetable seems to make the most sense.

  • “The time is near (1:3; 22:10)
  • “…must happen very soon” (1:1; 22:6)
  • “little longer” (6:10)
  • “There will be no more delay!” (10:6)

UPDATE: I’ve been wondering lately if maybe our living in the last days has more to do with the NT idea that in Jesus’s resurrection the final restoration has already begun and than it has to do with the number of years before Jesus’ return.  More on this later perhaps?  We’ll see.  Back to Revelation…

Lastly, the imminent expectation of Revelation’s occurring is also bolstered by John apparent placement of himself in that group which would experience the persecution of Revelation “very soon” in 1:8 (“I John…who shares with you in persecution”).  If the book is something imminently to happen (which does not preclude its being future yet still, so don’t get too nervous if this messes with your chart) then I think the repeated exhortations to endurance are not idle (2:10, 24; 3:11; 13:10).

In light of all these thoughts, here is my proposed outline for the book:

I.  Introduction to the revelation and testimony to Jesus Christ (Ch. 1)

II.  Exhortations to the Churches called to live in response to the revelation/testimony about to be given (Ch 2-3)

III.  “What must happen soon” (22:6) so that the world might repent and turn from their blasphemies (9:20-21; 11:13; 16:9, 11, 21) to worship God (19:10; 22:9) with all who are His (4:1-11; 5:8-14; 7:1-12; 11:13, 15-19; 14:1-3; 15:1-4; 16:5-7; 19:1-8) (Ch 4-22:5)

IV.  Closing exhortation to obedience: worship and come to Jesus in the brief time before He comes (22:6-21)

I’ve been slow in my approach to Revelation in past years, so this is among the first of my forays into understanding this infamously difficult book.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Shared questions?