This article is part of the Blessed: Conversations on the Book of Revelation with Nancy Guthrie series.
Why Study the Book of Revelation?
Join best-selling author and speaker Nancy Guthrie as she discusses the book of Revelation and how we actually can understand its central message, encouraging us to see the world through the perspective of heaven and to accept the blessing promised to those who “hear and keep” this book.
Welcome to The Blessed Podcast. I’m Nancy Guthrie, author of the newly released book, Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation, and on this podcast, I’m having conversations with people who can help us to hear and understand the message of the book of Revelation, people who can help us to reckon with what it’s going to mean for us to live in light of the message of the book of Revelation.
And so, over the coming episodes, I’m going to talk to some incredible people, and so, I hope you will keep tuning in.
- I’ll be talking with Ian Duguid about the nature of the apocalyptic literature,
- Tom Schreiner about seven key words or phrases in the book of Revelation that we need to understand.
- I’ll talk to Jonathan Gibson about the imagery of marriage throughout the book of Revelation.
- I’m going to talk to Jim Hamilton about the promised, shaped patterns that run throughout the Bible that all find their resolution in the book of Revelation.
- I’ll talk to Andrew Sach about the parts of the Old Testament that help us to make sense of what John has written in Revelation.
- I’ll talk to Vern Poythress on the organization of the book of Revelation.
- I’ll have a conversation with Russell Moore about how Revelation’s call to endure persecution and refuse to compromise meets us right where we live today.
- I’ll talk to Dr. Karen Ellis on what Revelations message to those who were being severely persecuted in John’s day has to say to those who are being persecuted for their faith in Christ today and its implications for those of us who know little about real persecution. And then,
- I’ll talk to Greg Beale. I’ll talk to Greg Beale about whatever he wants to talk about about the book of Revelation.
I know, it’s a dream team, isn’t it? I think you’re going to love what this stellar lineup of guests are going to have to say, but in this first episode, I’d like to tell you about what is behind this podcast, and the book, Blessed.
I’ll be honest with you. Over the last year or so, as I have answered the question What are you working on these days? and told people that I was writing a book on Revelation, when I told them, I was a little bit afraid that they would either think I was crazy or arrogant or maybe just too dumb to know how difficult Revelation is to interpret and write about. But, here’s the thing. Revelation wasn’t written for scholars. It was written for ordinary believers living in difficult days with the expectation that they would be able to understand its message. And so I think that means that we should be able to understand its message.
Maybe one reason that I wanted to write a book about Revelation is that in my previous books, I’ve put a lot of emphasis on the consummation. Every chapter in my five-volume Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible study series ended with a section on how that part of the Old Testament connects to what is to come when Christ returns and establishes the new heavens and the new earth.
And my book, Even Better Than Eden traces nine themes that run from Genesis to Revelation. Each of those themes finds its resolution in the consummation. I suppose one reason I’ve done so much teaching on the consummation is that I assume my readers and those I teach are like me, in that in my life, growing up in the church, being taught the Bible, I understood the Christian life as something like making a decision for Christ, trying real hard to live for him, and then dying and then going to heaven.
And, the return of Christ was somehow added to that, but honestly, I don’t think I ever thought through how my existence after the return of Christ would be different from existence immediately after my death. But, I can remember the exact moment when I first grasped that there would be a new heaven and new earth—a re-created creation where I would dwell with Christ and all who are in Christ for all eternity. This reality is the end toward which the whole of the Bible’s story is headed.
And so, it matters that we—those who have put all of our hope in Christ—understand the essence of the promise that we have taken hold of. All that to say, it just makes sense that I would dive more deeply into what this particular book presents to us about where this story of the Bible is headed. But, I do so recognizing that there are a number of reasons that people avoid the book of Revelation.
4 Reasons We Avoid the Book of Revelation
And, I think the first one is one that I had. It was the reason that I wanted to say No the first time I was asked to teach Revelation. And that is, we’re afraid that we won’t be able to understand it. Let’s be honest. Revelation is filled with strange creatures and otherworldly imagery and scenes that we find difficult to imagine and decipher. It demands that we use our imaginations, and honestly, we’re not really used to doing that when reading the Bible.
Revelation is this genre of literature that we’re not used to reading, and therefore, we don’t instinctively know how to read it and understand it. So, that means if we’re going to read it and understand it, we’ve got to develop our skills for reading the literary genre of apocalyptic prophecy. And as we do, we find this book opening up to us.
As I said earlier, Revelation was not written to scholars. So, we don’t have to be scholars to understand it. It is a letter written to ordinary believers in the First Century with the expectation that they would be able to understand its message. It was written, actually, to unveil or to reveal hidden realities, not to make them harder to see and understand. Revelation wasn’t written to create confusion or conflict or fear in those who read it.
Rather, it was written so that ordinary believers who hear it and embrace what is written in it will not only be able to understand it, they’ll be blessed by it—blessed in a countercultural way that the world simply can’t understand and honestly doesn’t value.
A second reason I think we avoid Revelation is that I think we know that there’s lots of disagreement about Revelation. And, that’s just true. There are a variety of approaches of how to read and understand Revelation—some, honestly, that I think are more valid than others. And there are lots of people that have very strong opinions about how to read and understand Revelation. And sadly, the varying approaches to interpretation can tend to create a barrier that makes this a closed book to many, and I think that’s tragic.
So, here’s how I approached the book of Revelation. Certainly some of my views on disputed things are going to be evident in certain places in my book, Blessed, but I just decided it wasn’t going to be my goal to make an argument against opposing views. I simply didn’t have the space or the inclination for that. So, I didn’t present a variety of views and make a case for my own view. I just stated what I think the Scriptures clearly present. I’m not interested in critique or controversy or speculation. I just approached the book of Revelation by presenting what I think is clear and cannot be ignored. And, I’m really hopeful that it will be a helpful resource to many.
A third reason that I think that we avoid Revelation is that we assume that it is primarily, or even exclusively, about the future with nothing practical for us today. But, just think for a minute. Would it really make any sense that John would address a letter to seven churches in the First Century that was mostly about things only the generation alive at the return of Christ would need to know and could even recognize? Does it make far more sense that John wrote to believers in his day as well as believers in every era between his day and the day of Christ’s return about what they need to know, how they are to live, and how they can cope with the harsh realities of life in this world?
Revelation presents a past, present, ongoing, and future reality that servants of Jesus living in between his ascension and return need to see. It sheds light on history as it has unfolded in the past and is unfolding right now. I think it serves as a corrective to any assumptions we might have that the status quo will continue, that resistance to the world’s system is futile.
Clearly, there are things described in this book that are yet to happen. There is a future culmination of the ongoing conflict that has been a reality in our world ever since God put enmity between the serpent and the woman in Eden. There will be a final battle. Jesus will return, and Revelation helps us to see these things more clearly.
But, that doesn’t mean it is entirely—or even primarily—future-focused. As I’ve studied through the book of Revelation, what’s become clear to me is that Revelation is actually less about when Jesus will return, and more about what we are to do, who we are to be, and what we can expect to endure as we wait for Jesus to return and establish his kingdom.
We as modern people tend to be very pragmatic. We tend to approach Bible study with a to-do list, and so maybe, we could assume that the cosmic struggle represented in Revelation doesn’t actually lend itself to pragmatic application. But, that simply isn’t so. Revelation presents a repeated call that is urgent for every one of us to respond to right now—today.
Revelation has everything to do with how we invest the capital of our lives, what is worth getting excited about or being afraid of. Revelation speaks to our big and little compromises to the world around us. It speaks to how we view political and governmental systems. It speaks to what we expect our money can provide for us. So, if we’re concerned about what is practical, I would say that the day is going to come when we will look back and it will be clear to us that there was nothing more practical than prayer, nothing more practical than perseverance. And nothing more practical than praising the triune God even when evil was pressing in on us.
We’ll discover that worship was actually the ultimate subversive activity in a world of idolatry and materialism. Enduring in our allegiance to king Jesus, even when it costs us, and living as if we do not expect this world to applaud us, approve of us, satisfy us. . . that is subversive. It’s shocking. And at the same time, it’s the ordinary Christian life. It’s what is expected of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven who is living in the kingdom of the world.
And there’s a fourth reason I think we avoid the book of Revelation. Maybe it isn’t so much the strangeness or the controversy of Revelation that keeps us from this book. Perhaps it’s that we know there’s a lot about persecution of believers in Revelation and that makes us uncomfortable. See, it’s our love of comfort and our lack of an ability to relate to being under assault as a believer that keeps us from it. The threat of being exiled to an island prison for declaring allegiance to king Jesus is so far away from the comfortable lives many of us live.
We simply find it hard to relate to the tension, the threat, the life-or-death consequences portrayed in this book. Let’s just be honest. It’s hard to relate to crying out How long, O Lord? when we have the security of a nice house, a good job, and a football game to watch on a big screen TV, food being delivered to our front door. If we’re honest, perhaps our comfortable lives, and all the things we’re looking forward to acquiring and accomplishing and experiencing in this life make us perfectly content for Jesus to wait a while before he comes back to intervene in the affairs of this world.
And so, perhaps it’s not until we dare to allow ourselves to be moved by the reports of believers in other parts of the world being tortured or killed for their faith, or when we sit with a women who has been raped, or saw her husband killed in front of her eyes by Islamic extremists, or when we consider real people whose churches have been burned and their pastors executed that we finally feel the ache expressed in Revelation by these believers crying out How long? How long will it be until Christ comes to set things right?
Revelation invites us to share the ache of persecution endured by our brothers and sisters around the world and throughout history. And it speaks into this, I think, telling us the days of evil having its way in this world are numbered.
Okay, so there are some reasons people have for avoiding the book of Revelation, but I think there are some important reasons we should study Revelation, so let me just work my way through a few of those.
4 Reasons We Should Study the Book of Revelation
First, yes, while we may not be able to understand everything in Revelation, we can understand its central message. Now, if our goal in studying Revelation is to nail down what every image stands for, what every detail means, we’re likely going to be frustrated. So, our goal instead should be to listen for and to take to heart what is really clear.
As I approached creating my study of the book of Revelation to help readers of Blessed grasp this central message of Revelation, I prepared a personal Bible study to go along with the book that can be found at nancyguthrie.com. And you see, it’s getting into the text of Revelation that’s required for understanding it, not leaning into what I’ve written or what anybody else has written, or just what we’ve heard someone say.
We are living in such a divided time, aren’t we? We all have our opinions as well as our opinions about whose opinions are worth considering. That’s certainly the case regarding the book of Revelation. Some of us actually might be a lot more comfortable with focusing on interpretative issues or nailing down details than actually opening up our lives to the self-examination this book demands of us.
So, let me say it again. You and I can understand the central message of this book. But, here is, I think, the more significant question, and that is whether or not we’re willing to embrace that message and live in light of it.
A second reason that I think we need to study the book of Revelation is that we have a need to see this world and our lives in this world through the perspective of heaven, which is what Revelation provides for us. We sometimes foolishly assume that we actually have all of the data we need to evaluate what is happening in our world. But, my friends, we don’t. Our perspectives are limited by our humanity: this earthly vantage point that we see from.
In the book of Revelation, we find that a curtain was pulled back for John so that he could see beyond the time and space of this earthly life and into the heart of ultimate reality. He was enabled to see what is happening in this world, not from the perspective of earth, but from the perspective of heaven. And that’s what he wrote down for us. As we take in what he saw, we find that we are better able to see the true nature of things.
So, rather than view this world’s offerings as attractive, from heaven’s perspective, we can see how ugly and how unsatisfying so many of them are. Rather than seeing the persecution of faithful believers as a tragic defeat, we’re given heaven’s perspective, which is that we’re able to see it as a glorious victory.
When we open up the book of Revelation and get to the third verse, we read this: "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it for the time is near."
So, here’s a third reason that I think we should invest ourselves in studying the book of Revelation. It’s that we want that promised blessing. That blessing that is promised to those who both hear and keep what is written in this book. Seven times in the book of Revelation we read about what it means to be blessed. And, when we get to the last chapter of the book, we read once again, “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
So, the heart of Revelation is this promise and this definition of blessedness. And, you know, many of us just have a very lightweight perception of what it means to be blessed. And so, Revelation corrects some of our assumptions about what the blessed life looks like for ordinary believers like you and me.
And since the blessing promised Revelation is reserved for those who hear and keep what is written in this book, we’re challenged to think through what it’s going to mean and require for us to hear and keep it. This is where that practical nature of Revelation comes in for us.
Revelation adds some meat to the bones of our understanding of what the blessed life really is. And, I think we need that, don’t you? Every one of us lives out of the story we believe is true. Some of us live out the story called The American Dream. Some of us live out of a story that must end with happily ever after. Some of us have come to think we can craft our life story toward the end that most appeals to us.
But, here’s a fourth reason I think we need to study the book of Revelation. We need to live out of the story Revelation tells. This is the story that you and I should be living out of—a story that should shape how we live today and every day to come. Because, you see, according to Jesus, the kingdom of God is the story. The book of Revelation helps us to see where the story is headed so that we can live out of that story right now in joyful anticipation of all that is to come.
Revelation wasn’t written to entertain us, to set out a timeline for the future, or to satisfy our curiosity about when Christ will return. Revelation was written to fortify Christians who live in the world, enduring its harsh treatment and alienation with a firm confidence that this world is not all there is. That, in fact, what might seem like defeat in this life is going to give way to great victory.
So, if we finish a study of Revelation and we can explain every symbol and identify every Old Testament allusion and trace every connection and yet we’re still intimated by the world’s opinion of us, still enamored with the world’s wealth, still attracted by the world’s comfort and pleasure, then we will not have truly heard and kept Revelation’s message. We will not have truly understood and embraced the book of Revelation.
You see, it’s my aim to help readers replace an unhealthy fascination about the future with a determination to follow Christ in the present. My goal in Blessed is to open up this text, taking away the intimidation or fear factor. I want to focus attention on the lamb standing as though it had been slain. I want to help readers listen to the voice of him who is faithful and true, to encourage them to open the door to him who knocks, to challenge them to welcome the authority of the king of kings, to invite them to pull up a chair at the marriage supper of the lamb, to direct them to find their home in the New Jerusalem.
And, it’s my goal to cut through the confusion and help them to see the beauty, the hope and help that is uniquely presented in Revelation. I want to focus their gaze on the glorious Son of Man and to instill in them a determination to overcome the world. I want them to be drawn into the worship around the throne. I want them to feel the relief that someone was found worthy to open the scroll. I want them to sense the reality of the judgment to come to all those who refuse to be joined to Christ, as well as the relief, the rest, the reward that is to come to those who belong to him.
I want to help them to see this world for the Babylon that is so that they’ll be motivated to flee from it to the New Jerusalem where God himself will make his home with us. I want them to get goosebumps because they can almost taste the food that will be served at the marriage supper and can almost feel their tears being wiped away, and can almost see the eyes of our Savior looking into their eyes as they finally see him face-to-face.
I’ve realized something as I’ve been studying Revelation. We begin thinking our biggest challenge is going to be understanding the book, and it isn’t. The biggest challenge is opening ourselves up to the adjustments in our lives that this book calls for. Yet, this biggest challenge is also what promises the greatest blessing.
I hope that you will consider picking up a copy of Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation, and I hope you’ll enjoy the episodes to come on this podcast as I have conversations with an incredible lineup of scholars who are going to help us interpret and apply the important message of the book of Revelation. And most of all, I hope you will be blessed—that you will experience in part now, and in fullness when Christ comes again, the promise of the book of Revelation, which is that you will be blessed.
This has been The Blessed Podcast, a Crossway Podcast, hosted by Nancy Guthrie, the author of Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation. I hope you’ll join us for the future episodes of The Blessed Podcast as we seek to hear and keep what is written in the book of Revelation and thereby experience its promised blessings.
Popular Articles in This Series
In this new podcast, Nancy Guthrie—author, Bible teacher, and podcast host—leads listeners to a deeper understanding of the book of Revelation through conversations with respected Bible scholars, pastors, and other Bible teachers.
Nancy Guthrie as she talks with Iain Duguid about how we can understand Revelation in new ways when we read it as a letter, as a promise, and as apocalyptic prophecy.
Nancy Guthrie is joined by Greg Beale to discuss questions related to the sometimes difficult symbolism and imagery of the book of Revelation.
Nancy Guthrie talks with Vern Poythress about reading the book of Revelation not as a puzzle book to be figured out but as a picture book which should stir us up to be moved by Christ's rule and God's plan for history.