Some time ago, I posted a lesson I had written for our church’s Sunday School classes about the book of Revelation. I have since then received several requests that I post the other lessons I had written on this subject. After the joke of this past weekend, I find the interest in this book is keener than ever, and I believe that “rightly dividing the word” is a skill sorely needed by the people of the Book. Teaching our children the skills needed to study and correctly interpret prophecy should help them learn to discern truth as they grow older. You really can’t start too soon! So here is the first lesson for Revelation that I wrote for my class, covering the first few chapters.
Revelation was written by John the apostle, who had been one of Jesus’ disciples. John was quite old when he wrote this book, and he was probably the only one of the original twelve disciples who was still alive. John was the only disciple who was not martyred, or killed, for his belief in Jesus. Instead, he was exiled to a prison-island called Patmos. While John was held in this prison, he received a vision or a series of visions from Jesus. He wrote what he saw in this book that we call Revelation.
What does the word “Revelation” mean? It means to “reveal” or to “uncover”. If I were to tell you something that you didn’t know before, it would be a “revelation” to you. Jesus uncovered, or revealed, some events that will happen in the future for John to write down. We call this kind of revelation “prophecy”. This book is sometimes difficult to understand because it is filled with symbolic images. There are a number of different interpretations of the images in this book. But the fact is, the prophecies in the Bible are not meant to be fully understood until AFTER they have come to pass. Look at the prophecies about Jesus’ first coming. No one understood that He was to die on a cross until after He already had died. Now we can look at the prophecies about Christ’s death and it seems simple to understand. But before He died, no one could interpret the prophecies. God does not tell us what is going to happen in the future in order to let us know what will happen ahead of time. He gives us prophecies about the future so that we will understand what is happening when the prophecies come true. It is good to be familiar with the teachings of the book of Revelation because then when the prophecies begin to come to pass, we will recognize them. It is not necessary for us to know what they mean right now, but just to remember what they are so that we’ll recognize what is happening when they come true.
John addressed this book to seven specific churches that were active in his time: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. But this does not mean that the messages in this book are really only meant for these seven churches, any more than the messages in the book of Romans are only meant for people living in Rome! The fact that there are seven churches named is significant. In the Bible, the number seven always indicates completion. Because there are seven churches named, it is implied that the complete church as a whole is being addressed.
The first thing John saw in his vision was Jesus Himself. How wonderful, how exciting that must have been! John had not seen his friend and master for nearly 50 years. He must have been overjoyed to see Jesus with his own eyes once again. But this Jesus was different. The Jesus John had lived with and worked with for three years had looked like an ordinary man. Now Jesus was showing John more of His true self through a more glorified body. He was dressed in a robe that reached to His feet, with a golden sash across His chest. His face was glowing with a white-hot light, like the sun, and His hair was white as wool or as snow. His eyes were like blazing fires. His feet glowed like heated bronze. Why do you think He looked as if He were heated gold? Fire is a symbol of judgement. The Bible tells us that our works will pass through the fire of judgement, and that those good things that we have done will be purified like gold or silver, but that the worthless things we have done will burn away like straw. Jesus is the judge of our lives and of everything we do.
John says that Jesus’ voice sounded like rushing waters. Have you ever stood by a waterfall or on the beach by the ocean and tried to talk above the roar of the water? Jesus’ voice is overwhelming! When He speaks, you can’t hear anything else. John goes on to say that a sharp, two-edged sword came out of Jesus’ mouth! What do you think that means? Do you remember when we studied the book of Ephesians, the armor of God? What was the sword? It’s the Word of God, isn’t it? The Word of God cuts right through lies and nonsense and gets right to the truth. John also says that Jesus held seven stars in His right hand, and that He was standing in the midst of seven lampstands.
John was so overwhelmed by Jesus’ presence, he fell on his face in a dead faint. I think I would have fainted, too! But Jesus put His hand on John and said, “Do not be afraid.” I hope John came to right away, because otherwise he would have missed what Jesus said next, and it’s very beautiful. Jesus said, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hell.” What do you think it means that Jesus is the First and the Last? It means that Jesus is the One Who began everything, and He is the One Who will end everything. Remember that we have said many times this year that Jesus is the Creator of the universe. The Father said, “Let there be. . .” and Jesus made whatever the Father said. Since Jesus created everything, He is Lord over everything and He had the right to put an end to everything when the time comes. The visions Jesus gave to John to write in this book of Revelation tell a lot about what the end of time will be like.
Jesus tells John to write down everything in the visions and give it to the seven churches. Remember that I said that Jesus was standing in the midst of seven lampstands? Jesus explained to John that those lampstands represented the seven churches. That makes sense, doesn’t it? When Jesus was still on earth, He had told His followers that they are the light of the world. We believers light the way to the truth for the rest of the world, which lives in the darkness of Satan’s lies. We are the beacons of light that guide others to God. Now remember the seven stars that I told you Jesus held in His right hand? Jesus told John that those stars are the seven angels of the churches. Isn’t it cool to know that every church that follows Jesus has its own guardian angel? The Scriptures tell us that guardian angels are “always beholding the face of the Father”. We know that Jesus prays for us before the throne of the Father. But we also have our own angel praying for us as well. I love to think about that!
Before Jesus goes on with telling John about the future, He gives each church a personal message. He praises each church for what they are doing right and warns them about the things they are doing wrong. The churches were working hard in spreading the truth and were enduring persecution with patience. But some of them were also allowing sin to go on among their people. And some were allowing false teachers to spread lies among the people. Some of them were putting their trust in money and possessions instead of in Jesus. Jesus warns them to straighten up and live out the truth!
What can we learn from this? No matter how well we’re doing the Lord’s work, there will always be problems that we need to deal with. The important thing is to deal with them, and not let them grow and get to be bigger, more difficult problems. Can you think of some problems a church might have to deal with? How can we deal with these problems? These are questions we must continually ask ourselves so that we can serve God in a way that will be pleasing to Him.