7 Lessons from the Book of Revelation

Theological, Eschatological, and Practical Lessons of Revelation

The book of Revelation says much concerning Christ’s coming, judgment day, and the glories to follow. Here we look at seven lessons that exemplify how this often-neglected part of the Bible is theological (God-centered), eschatological (focused on future hope), and practical (aimed at godliness).

First, Revelation teaches us about God’s sovereignty.1 The book announces the “kingdom” (basileia) or “reign” (basileuō) of God.2 The Greek word translated as “throne” or “seat” (thronos) appears about four dozen times in Revelation, far more than in any other book in the Bible.3 Evil powers sit on thrones as they claim sovereignty and use their strength to propagate sin. Satan’s throne on earth threatens the church with martyrdom (Rev. 2:13), and he empowers the wicked rulers of mankind (13:2). But the throne that dominates Revelation is the throne of God, who is called simply the One who sits on the throne.4 John’s vision of the omnipotent Lord surrounded by worshipers shows that “God’s throne is the ultimate reality behind all earthly appearances,” revealing “the theocentric nature of all reality, which exists ultimately to glorify God,” as Bauckham says.5 Satan’s forces have limited power granted to them by God (9:1, 4–5), and even in their rebellion they do his sovereign will (17:17). God is also sovereign in judgment to punish his enemies in his wrath (6:16) and overthrow the throne of evil (16:10). He is the Judge of all mankind, living and dead, who summons them before his throne to give an account for their works (20:11–12). G. K. Beale comments, “The trials of the believers, the apparent triumph of the forces of the enemy, the eventual destruction of the latter, and the victory of the church are all under the sovereign control of God.”6

Therefore, do not allow the “thrones” of this world to distract you from the One who alone is worthy of your worship. Revelation summons you to join with the saints and angels in singing to God, “Thou art worthy” (Rev. 4:11; 5:9). Here is the only Lord who deserves to receive all glory, honor, and praise. Give it wholeheartedly to him alone. The worship of God is the business of heaven even now, and the coming day of the Lord will prompt a “Hallelujah Chorus” like none the world has ever heard (19:1–6). Let us begin this sacred work now.

Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 4

Joel R. Beeke, Paul M. Smalley

In the final volume of the Reformed Systematic Theology series, Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley unpack important topics around ecclesiology (church) and eschatology (last things).

Second, Revelation teaches us about Christ, the Lamb of God. At the center of Revelation stands the Lord Jesus Christ as the Mediator of salvation and judgment from the enthroned God. Revelation adorns Christ with many titles and symbols of majesty (especially chaps. 1 and 19), but he is preeminently the “Lamb” (twenty-seven times). This image of his priestly self-sacrifice (Rev. 5:6) grounds salvation in Christ’s redeeming death for our sins (“blood,” 1:5; 5:9; 7:14; 12:11). Christ is the eschatological fulfillment of all the ancient types of sacrificial lambs and other beasts offered for men’s sins. His violent death like that of a lamb fulfilled God’s eternal decree of salvation for his elect people (13:8; 21:27). He is betrothed to them, and they await the wedding and marriage feast of the Lamb (19:7, 9; 21:9). The term Lamb is associated not just with Christ’s death, but also with his victory, power, and glory—yes, even his wrath.7 Over a quarter of the references to the Lamb (seven) appear in the new Jerusalem, where he is the church’s husband, temple, light, King, fountain of life, and blessed vision of glory.8

Therefore, put your trust and hope in Christ alone for salvation and eternal bliss. Humble yourself before him as the only Savior and cast away all confidence in your good works or the religious systems of men to save you. Marvel at his love, that he would die for sinners and gladly take them to himself as his spiritual bride forever. Meditate often on the glory of the Lamb as he is enthroned in heaven and will one day appear in the skies. Rely upon him for daily grace.

Third, Revelation teaches us about God’s decree for the last days. The visions of Revelation develop from the progressive opening of a “book” (biblion, eight times in Rev. 5:1–9) or perhaps a “scroll” (ESV).9 This document first appears “in the right hand of him that sat on the throne” (v. 1), and it seems to symbolize his will for his creation (4:11), especially its intended destiny that is not yet realized (hence, the book is sealed).10 Only Christ can break the seals and open the book, because he has overcome and is worthy due to his redeeming death (5:2–10). Beale says, “The book is thus best understood as containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption, which has been set in motion by Christ’s death and resurrection but has yet to be completed.”11

Christ the Lamb opens the seals (Rev. 6:1, etc.), launching the last days—the present era—under the mediatorial authority granted him by the Father (Matt. 11:27; 28:18; Rev. 3:7).12 These last days will be times of tribulation (Rev. 1:9; 2:9–10; 7:14), including natural disasters and national calamities that are God’s judgments against the wicked,13 persecution of the church by evil authorities,14 and seduction of many people, including some in the visible church, by false teachings and idolatrous, pleasure-seeking worldliness.15 These correspond to the warnings of Jesus Christ in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:3–28).

Therefore, embrace a practical, biblical eschatology that prepares you to suffer trials and resist temptation. Turn away from fantasy eschatologies that tickle the imagination and foster escapism but do not nurture a hardy godliness that endures to the end. Revelation prepares believers to walk with Christ through tribulation. Acknowledge that we live in the last days because Christ has accomplished redemption, and trust that the exalted Lamb is executing God’s decree and leading the church through its eschatological woes to reach the kingdom.

Fourth, Revelation teaches us about invisible spiritual realities. Its symbolic language unveils the unseen world so that we can perceive the deeper meaning of events.16 As the church struggles against persecution from earthly leaders, the Apocalypse opens a door into heaven to reveal the Lord God Almighty, who reigns over all (Rev. 4:1–2). He is surrounded by heavenly worshipers who seem to symbolize both saints and angels (vv. 4–11).17 Whereas the saints on earth suffer affliction and die under persecution, the Apocalypse portrays them as living “souls” triumphantly enthroned in God’s holy presence (6:9; 20:4; cf. Heb. 12:22–24). In the heavenly “temple,” the victorious church dwells, worships, and rejoices in God’s glory (Rev. 3:12; 7:15), and from that holy place come the judgments of God.18

However, the symbols of Revelation also make known the invisible forces of evil (cf. Eph. 6:12). Chief among the church’s foes is “the great dragon . . . that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (Rev. 12:9), the personal spirit behind false religion, persecution, and all evil and destruction.19 The unveiling of the world of angels and demons, even in symbolic form, signals the eschatological coming to earth of the heavenly kingdom that began in Christ’s incarnation and the resulting battle between kingdoms that characterizes this present era.

Therefore, walk by faith, not merely by sight, as you move through the invisible spiritual world (2 Cor. 5:7). View the church not according to its earthly grandeur (rarely does the true church have much of that) but according to its heavenly triumph, glorious Savior, and angelic helpers. Even while on earth, Christians already participate in heavenly realities.20 Learn to look past the people who harass you for being a Christian to see the satanic forces that enslave them and use them to assault your faith. As Vern Poythress says, Revelation sets human activity and responsibility “in their final, cosmic, and theistic context,” and thus “provides a powerful antidote to secularism” and “false religions.”21 Therefore, allow Revelation to open your eyes to see past the wealth of this world and to perceive the day of judgment, the horrors of hell, and the wonders of heaven.

Do not allow the “thrones” of this world to distract you from the One who alone is worthy of your worship.

Fifth, Revelation teaches us about spiritual warfare. Terms translated as “war” or “battle” (polemos) and “fight” or “make war” (polemeō) appear fifteen times in the book.22 Demonic forces assault mankind (Rev. 9:7, 9). Christ’s first coming inaugurated a heavenly war (12:5, 7) that overflowed into an earthly conflict between Satan and Christ’s people (v. 17). The satanic beast is a seemingly invincible warrior (13:4), and its persecution of the saints is nothing less than total war (11:7; 13:7). But Christ, too, is a warrior (19:11), and by his victory his people overcome all their foes (17:14). His coming launched the “messianic war” to judge the rebel nations and kings, and to take his inheritance among all peoples (Psalm 2).23 His saints do not conquer by killing their opponents but “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:11). Revelation is full of blood, slaughter, and death.24 The Lamb conquered by being slaughtered, and his people follow in his footsteps. However, the Lamb also sends deadly judgments against the wicked (8:7–8; 19:13–15), and he will punish unrepentant sinners with “the second death” (20:14–15).

Therefore, fight the most important battle—to know, believe, speak, and live the truth. Bauckham says, “Perhaps the most important contrast between the forces of evil and the army of the Lamb is the contrast between deceit and truth.”25 Therefore, “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Fight evil with spiritual weapons—not insults, threats, and violence,26 but prayer, God’s truth, love, and submission to suffering (2 Cor. 6:4–7).

Sixth, Revelation teaches us about evangelistic witness. God calls the church to serve and suffer as prophetic witnesses to Christ in the world. Words translated as “testify” (martyreō), “testimony” (martyria), and “witness” or “martyr” (martys) appear seventeen times in Revelation.27 The Word of God is “the testimony of Jesus Christ,”28 and Christ is the preeminent “faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5; 3:14; cf. 22:16, 20). Holding to the testimony of Jesus and obeying the laws of God are defining marks of the true church (12:17). The church’s prophetlike ministry involves divine power and yet earthly sufferings (11:3, 7).

This mission springs from Christ’s redemption of people from “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Hence, the gospel must go out to all mankind (14:6), and it will gather “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” into salvation (7:9) and make them worshipers of God (15:4).

Therefore, work together with the ministers and members of Christ’s church to proclaim and publish the gospel of Christ to all nations. The church is never more faithful to biblical eschatology than when it labors to make disciples. We live in a special era when God is gathering his elect from the nations. Let us be faithful to do what we can to teach and call all peoples to Christ. And let us not neglect the rich and powerful in our prayers and evangelism (1 Tim. 2:1–4), for even “kings of the earth” will be saved.

Seventh, Revelation teaches us about victory by perseverance in Christ. Revelation calls the church to persevere in faith and obedience by the confident expectation of Christ’s coming. This theme appears prominently in the use of the word translated as “overcome,” “conquer,” “prevail,” or “gotten the victory” (nikaō) seventeen times in Revelation.29 Again, Christ is central to this theme, for he alone has overcome so that he is worthy to execute God’s decree and bring salvation, the kingdom, and judgment (Rev. 5:5). By union with Christ, God’s elect, called, and faithful people share in Christ’s victory (17:14). The Devil and his servants may overcome the church in temporal matters (11:7; 13:7), but believers overcome the world eternally by clinging to the gospel and taking up their crosses (12:11). The church can persevere in joyful hope, for those who overcome the world will also share in the new creation (21:7).

Therefore, Christian, do not allow Satan and his bestial persecutors and whorish tempters to draw you away from following Christ. Do not love your life as much as you love Jesus and his kingdom. Cling to the finished work of the cross and do not compromise your testimony to Christ. Press on, dear believer, in the pathway of faithful obedience to the Word of God, and you will find that all God’s promises are yes and amen in Jesus Christ. And when you feel that you are weak and wavering, look to the great overcomer, the Lamb of God, for the grace to endure. Remember, to give up on following Christ is to cast your lot with those destined to suffer the wrath of God Almighty. To persevere in Christ is to follow him to eternal joy and glory.


  1. Portions of this section are adapted from The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible, ed. Beeke, Barrett, Bilkes, and Smalley, introduction to the book of Revelation, 1864–65. Used by permission.
  2. God’s kingdom/reign: Rev. 1:9; 11:15, 17; 12:10; 19:6.
  3. The only book that even comes close is 3 Kingdoms (1 Kings) LXX, with thirty-three uses of thronos.
  4. Him who sits on the throne: Rev. 4:2–6, 9–10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 20:11; 21:5.
  5. Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, New Testament Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 31, 33.
  6. G. K. Beale with David H. Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015), 33.
  7. Victory of the Lamb: Rev. 5:5–6; 7:10, 17; 14:1; 17:14. Wrath of the Lamb: 6:16; 14:10.
  8. The Lamb in the new Jerusalem: Rev. 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3; cf. 7:17.
  9. The term biblion (Rev. 5:1) originally meant “scroll” or “roll of papyrus paper” (cf. 6:14), but by the late first century it was also used for a “codex” of bound pages made from papyrus (a plant) or parchment (animal skin).
  10. On the image of a sealed scroll as a hidden and yet unrealized decree, see Isa. 29:11; Dan. 8:26; 12:4.
  11. Beale and Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 111.
  12. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.20.2, in ANF, 1:488.
  13. Disasters and calamities: Rev. 3:10; 6:3–8; 8:1–9:21; 16:1–11.
  14. Persecution: Rev. 2:9–10, 13; 3:9; 6:9–11; 11:2; 12:13–13:8; 17:6; 18:24; 20:4.
  15. Seduction: Rev. 2:2, 6, 14–15, 20; 13:11–18; 17:1–5; 18:9–23.
  16. “The effect of John’s visions, one might say, is to expand his readers’ world, both spatially (into heaven) and temporally (into the eschatological future), or, to put it another way, to open their world to divine transcendence. The bounds which Roman power and ideology set to the readers’ world are broken open and that world is seen as open to the greater purpose of its transcendent Creator and Lord.” Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 7.
  17. The symbolic meaning of the twenty-four “elders” (Rev. 4:4, 10; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4) is disputed, but “elder” (presbyteros) commonly refers in the New Testament to the elders of Israel or of the church, and their number is a fit symbol for the church triumphant, given that there were twelve patriarchs over Israel’s tribes plus twelve apostles (21:12–14). The “beasts” (plural zōon, not the same word as the wild “beast” [thērion] in chap. 13) are composites of the seraphim (Isaiah 6) and the cherubim (Ezekiel 1 and 10), heavenly angelic creatures.
  18. Judgment from the heavenly temple: Rev. 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5–8; 16:1, 17.
  19. Dragon/Satan/Devil: Rev. 2:9–10, 13, 24; 3:9; 9:11; 12:3–4, 7, 9, 12–13, 16–17; 13:2, 4, 11; 16:13; 20:2, 7, 10.
  20. “The author of the Apocalypse constantly thinks and writes on two levels at once. . . . So the faithful in the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2–3) belong at the same time to earth and heaven.” Stephen S. Smalley, The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 11.
  21. Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000), 41.
  22. War: Rev. 2:16; 9:7, 9; 11:7; 12:7, 17; 13:4, 7; 16:14; 17:14; 19:11, 19; 20:8.
  23. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 67–69. See the allusions to Ps. 2:1 in Rev. 11:18; to Ps. 2:2 in Rev. 19:19; and to Ps. 2:9 in Rev. 2:26–28; 12:5; 19:15.
  24. Blood of the saints: Rev. 6:10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2; blood in symbols of judgment: 6:12; 8:7–8; 11:6; 14:20; 16:3–4, 6; 19:13. Revelation contains more than three dozen references to death or to being killed or slaughtered.
  25. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 91.
  26. It is the responsibility of law enforcement and the military to use force, even deadly force, to restrain and punish the evildoer according to legal justice (Rom. 13:4), and citizens may use deadly force in self-defense (Ex. 22:2). We speak here to Christians as private persons in their ordinary relationships in human society.
  27. Testify (martyreō): Rev. 1:2; 22:16, 20; testimony (martyria): 1:2, 9; 6:9; 11:7; 12:11, 17; 19:10; 20:4; witness/martyr (martys): 1:5; 2:13; 3:14; 11:3; 17:6.
  28. Testimony of Jesus Christ: Rev. 1:2, 9; 12:17; cf. 19:10; 20:4.
  29. Overcome: Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7.

This article is adapted from Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 4: Church and Last Things by Joel Beeke and Paul M. Smalley.

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