This article is part of the Why Study the Book? series.
Eternal Victory in Christ
There’s an old expression, Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. It means we’re usually unwise to offend someone who provides for us. A more relevant piece of counsel for many Christians today may be, Don’t kiss the hand that strikes you. Of course, we’re to love our enemies, but we’re not to fall in love with their ways of thinking and living. Paradoxically, though the broader culture in which we live is often hostile to biblical authority and ethics, and even to followers of Jesus themselves, we are nonetheless deeply attracted to that very culture, frequently tempted to adopt its thinking and practices. We’re like moths to the flame of its values, lifestyles, entertainments, humor, and fashions. It can conquer us either through scorn or seduction.
And that is one very good reason to study the book of Revelation because it shows us that this situation is nothing new for followers of Jesus. The book of Revelation was written to first-century churches in Asia Minor. In this time and place, the Roman Empire was dominant. The seven little churches were facing external persecution from a hostile culture, the seductive influence of that same culture, and spiritual lethargy from within their own hearts. The book of Revelation showed them (and, therefore, shows us) how to live victoriously in the midst of both torment and temptation. It shows the path to eternal victory in several important ways, all of which can be life-changing for us.
Revelation Unmasks Rival Powers
In his book You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith offers a memorable explanation of the role of apocalyptic literature. He notes that when the vertical louvered blinds in his office are tilted left at a forty-five-degree angle and he’s looking at them straight on, they appear to be closed. Only when he moves slightly to the left and looks parallel to the louvers can he see through them, outside his window, to what lies beyond. Smith notes that the worldly powers that seek to rival Christ always have something to hide; they paint beautiful, seductive pictures on the ‘louvred blinds’ of their deceit. We’re tempted and seduced when we look straight on. So, the purpose of apocalyptic literature is to help us ‘see the world on a slant.’ The strange images and symbols in apocalyptic literature shake us loose from normal ways of seeing. They unmask and expose reality. The book of Revelation reveals to us that glorious Rome (like all other political and cultural powers that seek to rival God and sit on his throne) is actually a beast and a prostitute. Because we are all too easily duped, we desperately need the renewed vision Revelation offers.
Revelation Helps Us Understand True Victory
Not only does Revelation show us that apparent victory (i.e. currying favor with powerful Rome) is actually defeat; it also demonstrates that apparent defeat is actually victory. Crucial to understanding the book of Revelation is seeing its proclamation of an already-inaugurated victory for Jesus’s followers, a victory obtained through Jesus’s blood (Rev. 1:5–6). This victory through death sets the stage for the victory Jesus’s followers themselves will experience in this world. Often, it won’t look much like victory. Instead, it will seem more like defeat (compare Rev. 13:7 and Rev. 15:2). As God’s people endure suffering, as they remain faithful and obedient to Christ, they triumph. The expected Lion of Judah appears as a slain lamb (Rev. 5:5–6), and, similarly, his holy army of followers (Rev. 7:1–8) wins by losing and dying (Rev. 12:11). Faithfulness unto death leads to eternal life. Because we often suffer and struggle and doubt, we desperately need the understanding of true victory that Revelation offers.
We must frequently remind ourselves that God is in control of all that befalls us.
Revelation Lifts Our Eyes beyond This World
While the saints’ victory in this world is usually an ironic kind of victory, one that comes through suffering, it will not always be so. In the end, Christ will come not as a suffering servant but as a triumphant king, defeating his enemies and vindicating his people (Rev. 22:12). And in that day, God’s people will reign with Christ (Rev. 3:21; 22:5). Revelation regularly moves back and forth from the realities of this present age to God’s final future, offering us tantalizing visions of a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21–22). The whole book ends on tiptoe: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev. 22:20). Because our gaze is often locked on the here and now, we desperately need the compelling vision of our final future that Revelation offers.
Revelation Reminds Us That God Is in Sovereign Control
As God’s people seek to live faithfully and suffer victoriously, in the midst of a simultaneously hostile and attractive culture, we must frequently remind ourselves that God is in control of all that befalls us. Revelation will not let us forget it. From the very first verse of the book, which declares that there are things that ‘must’ take place (this is the “must” of divine necessity, of God’s plan), to Revelation 22:6, which repeats the claim that there are things that “must” take place, this book emphasizes God’s sovereign control. God’s sovereignty is praised in the song of the twenty-four elders (Rev. 4:11) and is exalted in the cry of Revelation 19:6, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.’ In a world that sometimes seems to be spinning out of control, we desperately need the reassuring vision Revelation offers, a vision of all things being accomplished according to the will of a loving, sovereign God.
Why study the Book of Revelation? God’s people have studied this magnificent, mysterious, surprising book for two thousand years. As they’ve been strengthened through its vision of a sovereign God, a victorious Christ, and a soon-coming, gorgeous new creation, they have suffered well and lived faithfully, triumphing in Christ. We’re invited to join them.