By Jacob Elwart
In 2009, I pastored at a church north of Detroit. Because I had intended to be there for a long time, I made a goal to preach through the entire Bible. One of the last books that I planned to preach through was Revelation, because as you can imagine, I thought, “It was too complicated. . . . There were too many competing interpretations. . . . It would require too much of my time (after all, I had other sermons in addition to Sunday morning to prepare).” In the fall of 2010, I took a ThM class at DBTS called “Revelation: English Bible.” In that class, Dr. Compton expounded the text to us and helped us to see its purpose and beauty. I walked away with a richer view of my Savior and with more confidence in my faithful God. Even though I was still concerned about how I would work through some difficult interpretive issues, I came away thinking, “This book can and should be preached.” Six months later, I began a series on Sunday mornings in Revelation. It was challenging but extremely encouraging to me. As a bonus, I preached through Genesis in the evening, which made for a helpful contrast as our church considered both the beginning and the end of all things.
You, like me, might have some reservations about preaching through Revelation, but let me encourage you to take the plunge into this extraordinary book. Here are seven reasons (of course, it had to be seven!) why you should preach through Revelation:
Revelation Is a Book for Churches
More directly, Revelation is a book that was designed for your church. John wrote Revelation in order to show followers of Christ the things which would soon take place (1:1). He wanted to encourage believers of his day and our day to continue to struggle in the Christian life because the Savior would soon return. While the initial audience was the seven churches in Asia Minor (1:4; chaps. 2—3), the Holy Spirit meant for all churches to hear and learn from this book. I know that because this book was preserved in the canon and because in each letter to the churches, Jesus finishes with “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Revelation Is a Book of Perspective
Of course, you could say this about all of God’s truth, but Revelation seems to have the corner on the market. It shows how everything is going to turn out. It shows who will win (spoiler alert: Christ will). It shows the temporal power of Satan and his minions. It shows the fleeting nature of material things. As the winds of change and trouble blow, you need a firm foundation from which you can evaluate life, hang on, and keep serving until Christ makes all things new. Revelation will help to provide that foundation.
Revelation Is a Book about King Jesus
The opening lines of the book focus on the majesty of the glorified Christ.
I saw one like a Son of Man, clothed in a robe. . . . His head and His hair were white like wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze . . . and His voice was like the sound of many waters (1:13–15).
The King who will come to rescue His bride is the Lord of glory. He will come in great power and establish His kingdom. The voices in heaven proclaim His victory, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
Thanks to Handel, it is hard to read that verse without bursting into song. The climax of the book is the Battle of Armageddon, where the Antichrist and his global armies gather to do battle against God and His law. But King Jesus comes riding on a white horse with His robes dipped in blood, and with a word He destroys all of His enemies.
Revelation Is a Book that Awakens Us from Spiritual Sleep
Jesus writes letters to several of the churches to rebuke them for their allowance of sin or doctrinal error. If we as a church are coasting spiritually or drifting doctrinally, we need to wake up. The Master will return, and we will give an account for what we have done. It is not time to sleep (3:2). It is time to arise and serve.
Revelation Is a Book of Comfort
One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible comes from Revelation 12 where John talks about the tribulation believers who die and yet overcome. The text says that they overcome Satan not because of their works or their great ability or training, but because of the “blood of the Lamb” (v. 11). This statement comes in the context in which the Jews are being targeted by Satan. So the message for them and for us is that we are overcomers because of Christ’s work and our attachment to Him by faith. Not only is this book a comfort because it reorients us to the Rock of our salvation, but it is also a comfort because it reminds us that suffering is normal. When we signed up to follow Christ, we signed up to suffer (John 15:20; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12). This reality is no more evident than it is in the last times, when Satan, in desperation after being thrown down from heaven, takes out his vengeance on God’s people (12:13–17).
Revelation Is a Book of Victory
While suffering is inevitable for believers, it will not last forever. It will come to an end. We know because we have read the last pages of Scripture. The last several chapters focus on the destruction of Christ’s enemies and the establishment of Christ’s millennial Kingdom, which gives way to the eternal state. The final chapter shows the distinction between those who are righteous and those who are not (22:11, 14–15). The amazing resolution to the Bible’s story is found here. As was predicted in Daniel’s prophecy, a stone from heaven will be thrown at the statue that represents the empires of the world, and this statue will be destroyed. But this stone becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. The evil world’s system (represented in the nation Babylon) seems to have universal, limitless, and eternal control over the world, but Revelation 17 and 18 talk of Babylon’s destruction as happening in one hour (Rev. 18:10). In other words, in a short period of time, the greatest empire ever to rule will be destroyed in a moment.
Revelation Is a Book of Promises
The book of Revelation is full of promises about Jesus’ imminent return (most notably in 22:12), but if you are still not sure if you should preach through this book, consider these promises:
Revelation 1:3 “Blessed is he who reads and obeys, for the time is near.”
Revelation 22:7, “Blessed is the one who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”
These verses serve as the clinching reason that compelled me to preach through this book. I wanted that blessing for myself and for the congregation that God entrusted to me. If you read and obey the words from this book . . . if you heed the prophecy of this book, you will be blessed.
The message of Revelation needs to be shared, and as a pastor, you are in the prime position to teach it to your congregation. So let me encourage you to dive in. Help your congregation fix their eyes on Christ so that they can finish the course well. In the midst of your congregation’s uncertainty and trouble, help them find their strength in Christ’s promise of victory. The task of preaching through Revelation is a difficult one, but understanding and obeying this book will be a great blessing to you and the church.
Jacob Elwart is associate pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church, Allen Park, Mich. This article was first published on the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and is reprinted here by permission.