Earthquakes, plagues, famine, civil unrest, and widespread godlessness have prompted Christians to wonder if this is the end times. With that wonder has come a renewed interest in the book of Revelation. The onset of COVID-19 has particularly spawned a slew of books and blogs on the subject. Older titles on Revelation have found a renewed market.
But uniformly, the question on the table has to do with a future focus on the return of Jesus. The book of Revelation is spread out as a map. Like looking for an X on a hiking trail marquee, people try to locate their position and proximity to their destination. They turn in the book as a hiker’s guide to find landmarks and posted signs, looking for indicators of the end.
Revelation, however, does not deal primarily with the Last Days at history’s conclusion. It deals with the last days of redemptive history as identified by the writer of Hebrews: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things” (Heb. 1:1–2).
In view is not primarily the Great Tribulation of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 24 but of the great tribulation experienced by the people of God as part of their daily existence for the name of Jesus to which He alerted His disciples. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
In other words, the primary focus of Revelation is not when or then but now, not tomorrow but today. The book is given by Christ as a comfort to His church awaiting His return. It is not written to satisfy curiosity but to shore up faith in the face of persecution and in the absence of His physical presence. He reminds us that He is for us and with us. He alerts us to struggle but also to the reward of faith. He assures us that one day it will culminate and we will experience the blessings of salvation and the full enjoyment of our God into all eternity.
The visions of Revelation unfurl like waves of the advancing tide, one lapping over the other, moving inexorably toward the new creation. We are told that there will come a day when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). All things will be made new.
But while that happy ending cheers the heart, it is not the primary focal point of Revelation. Like one of those Russian nesting dolls designed to lead us to the center, the structure of the book directs our attention to the core of the book, where we find a horrific portrait of Satan as an unholy trinity pitted against Christ and His church. And so we learn the nature of the struggle we face in this world. Ultimately it asks the question, whom will we worship? Whose kingdom will we seek and serve?
Revelation equips us for the spiritual struggle we are called to endure. We are instructed to overcome and are shown the resources given us by which we might do so. Most pointedly, we are shown the One who overcame on our behalf. We are prepared for today, with the bright hope of tomorrow.
Revelation is essential for discipleship. Like a survival kit, it includes all that we need to persevere in the face of opposition, buoyed with great expectation of the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work” (2 Thess. 2:16–17).
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.