Jan 14

Rev Gav

Why is Revelation relevant to us today?

The Book of Revelation can feel a bit ‘out there’ but Rev Gav explains how it can be relevant to us today though his teaching from Revelation 5.1-10.

And here is the audio recorded live from St. Mark’s Bermuda…

Part 1 – The Context

In the church, we tend not to preach much from the Book of Revelation, and I think this is because — let us face it — it does get pretty weird. It is like we have this eccentric aunt or uncle, and despite them being members of our family, we are a little embarrassed about their behaviour and tend to ignore them. In the same way, the Book of Revelation can feel alien to our culture and experience, and we do not really know what to do with it or how to understand this book tacked on to the end of our Bibles. But, let me emphasise that this is okay, for the Book of Revelation is very far removed both in context and writing style from anything we encounter in our everyday world. We have inherited it and it has been included in the canon of scripture, therefore we must not ignore it, but seek to understand it, and then, rather than us reading it, allow it to read us — to affect us, as only scripture can.

Understanding the context of each book of the Bible is essential to understanding the meaning. We must find out as much about the author, to whom the book was written and why. And if we are to make sense of the book’s contents, we must also gain an appreciation of the social, political, religious, and economic climate at the time it was written. So it is with the Book of Revelation.

The book was written at a time when the Jews and Christians were being heavily persecuted by the Roman empire. In fact, it was at the peak of what we call the Roman Religion; of Empire worship. To cut a long and in-depth history short, the first people to come under the Roman empire were thrilled with the peace and technology the Romans brought to them. This peace was called Pax Romana, and the grateful people swarmed into the streets to celebrate the success of Rome. As the Roman empire expanded, this veneration of Rome became replaced with veneration of the Roman emperors themselves. Such was their ultimate power, that they moved from being kings to claiming and embodying divinity. What better way to unify and subjugate those belonging to different religions, tribes, and tongues than through a common religion and its associated rituals? Therefore, if you lived under the Roman Empire then you could worship whatever God you liked as long as you first worshipped Caesar. Once a year you would have to appear before your local magistrates and burn a pinch of incense to the Godhead of Caesar, recognising his divinity, with the words, “Caesar is Lord.”

Well, therein lies the rub. At the time the Book of Revelation was written the current emperor was Domitian who heavily persecuted those that would not adhere to emperor worship, and this included the Jews and the Christians. What would God want to say to those Christian communities that were being persecuted? How could a Christian leader communicate God’s message in a way that would give those communities hope and a heavenly perspective?

The Book of Revelation was written in a style of writing that is called apocalyptic. It is a book that was not designed to be read literally, but was both vision and poetry, and this special way of writing communicated reassurance to a persecuted church through describing a deeper, spiritual reality. It gave them hope and something to hang on to when they were losing everything, including their own lives. The message of hope in the Book of Revelation was that Jesus Christ is Lord — not the Roman emperor, nor anything or anyone else.

Therefore, when we read the book, we see echoes of language drawn from the Roman empire where the emperor, his entourage, palace, throne room, and loyal subjects are replaced with the true reality and revelation of God’s heavenly palace, God’s entourage of angels and elders, God’s throne room, and at the centre, the Messiah or Christ, surrounded by the great multitude of those that praise and give the honour to ‘the Lamb’. Even though they may be accused and sentenced by the Roman empire, there is One who has truly redeemed them, acquitted them, and in whom true life can be found.

Revelation 5:1-10

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals, and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to break its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”

Part 2 – The Text

Let us now turn to the text itself. Firstly, we need to remember that the number seven represents God’s perfection. It is a way of indicating that whatever is associated with that number is God-ordained and holy. In the Bible passage we have seven seals on the scroll and the Lamb has seven eyes and seven horns. Now you know why!

There was this idea in Jewish thought that everything on earth was ‘written’ in the heavenly realms and we echo this idea today when we pray ‘May your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.’ The scroll, written on both sides, represented God’s will or plan for the present world and the holy seals indicated that its contents were hidden and only someone authorised was permitted to break them and reveal its contents. There was no-one in heaven or earth found to be worthy to open the scroll, and the author, echoing the lament of Israel and its longing to be saved, wept bitterly. Then, someone was found who was worthy. This person was given two titles — The Lion of Judah and The Root of David — both titles that refer to the Messiah or Christ.

Firstly, in the book of Genesis, Jacob says to his son Judah, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub.” (Genesis 49:8-9) Therefore, if Judah is the cub of a Lion then the greatest of the tribe of Judah must be the Lion and Jesus belonged to the line of Judah. Secondly the prophet Isaiah wrote, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him… On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11.1, 10) Jesse was King David’s father and Jesus was of the line of David, i.e.  from that root or offspring of Jesse!

However, when the author looked, he saw a Lamb that was slain and had the marks of its slaughter. Interestingly, the word used for lamb, is not typically the same word used for lamb in the rest of scripture but the same one used by the prophet Jeremiah when he wrote, “I was like a gentle lamb that is led to the slaughter.” (Jeremiah 11:19)

This Lamb, the Messiah, had seven horns and seven eyes. Now, remember, this description was not a literal description but a symbolic one. Horns, in the Bible stand for power and honour, and are typically used in association with those who conquer or rule, therefore seven horns represent the one who is perfectly powerful, perfectly conquering, with perfect honour. The seven eyes, again, hark back to the biblical prophets. The prophet Zechariah wrote, “I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it… These seven are the eyes of the Lord that range through the whole earth” (Zechariah 4.2,10) In other words, the seven eyes are symbolic of the omniscience of the Lamb who sees the whole earth and all that is in it.

There is a juxtaposition here between the Lion of Judah and the slaughtered Lamb because the sin-conquering victory of God came only through humble sacrifice — the way of the cross — and without the cross there is no victory. It is why we sing hymns with words such as, “O what a mystery, meekness and majesty. Bow down and worship for this is your God.”

The Lamb was able to take the scroll and reveal God’s will and plan for the world and therefore praise is a right response and this praise flows outwards, first from those surrounding the throne — praise mixed with our prayers, then the heavenly hosts, and finally every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them. And this is why, in our church worship we praise God. It is our natural response, expression of gratitude, and our opportunity to ascribe worthiness to the Lamb who has set us free from sin and death.

The Book of Revelation is a reminder for us to keep an eternal ‘heavenly’ perspective. When we look at the world around us, at the various conflicts, humanitarian, and ecological disasters, and as we experience loss, bereavement, anguish, and pain in our own lives. In those times when we feel our hearts being drained of hope, we can be assured that the Lamb at the centre of the throne, the one who is all powerful and all-seeing, hears our prayers, that they are precious and carried to the very throne of God, and that we have a hope that goes far and beyond that which we can see, feel, and hear . That hope is in Jesus Christ, our Saviour, our Lord, and our King.


Tim Rogers Jan 14 18:21pm

Context is so important and , i truly appreciate your scholarly explanation of Revelation.

Thank you Gav for continuing to be my guide .

Lisa-Dawn Johnston Jan 24 15:06pm

Revelation is hard work! And once again you provide extremely useful insight, that helps decode and de-mystify one of the most bizarre books of the Bible. This book was the basis for the stuff of my nightmares that drove a wedge between me and the church for four decades. Thank you for providing context and insight… it all helps to reduce the fear. Thank God for you. God knows.

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