I have preached a couple of sermons lately from Revelation. One of things I stressed is that some people wrongly avoid the book entirely. They were given bad advice to avoid reading and studying it, and some believers go through life afraid of it. That’s ridiculous.
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.-Revelation 3:1
John writes in the prologue that those reading, hearing and keeping the words of this prophecy are blessed. God’s Word is given to his people. He wouldn’t have had John write it down if he didn’t want people to read it. Revelation 2 and 3 are the letters John sent to the seven churches (at Christ’s command). These are examples of different types of churches – dead, compromised, loveless, etc – that we need to see given and learn from. What kind of church will ours be? If you can’t be a good example you will just have to be a terrible warning. In each case that something is wrong he calls for repentance. It is never too late to change course and do the right thing. Each letter offers constructive criticism; these are the things you are doing well, these are areas I would like to see improvement. None of them are absolute judgements because he is calling for correction where needed.
One argument against reading and studying Revelation is that it’s steeped in symbolism. Yes it is. So is every other book of the Bible! We are given images and metaphors of what the Kingdom is like, what Jesus is like, what the Christian life is like and so forth so that we might have a chance of understanding. The Kingdom of God is like a man buying a field. Sharing the Gospel is like catching fish, or sometimes like sowing seeds. Everything about the sacrificial system of temple worship in the Old Testament is meant to teach us about Jesus. He is the High Priest and the sacrifice. He goes through the veil of separation and into God’s presence to deliver a more excellent sacrifice than the blood of lambs and turtle doves.
The trick of course is to understand what the symbols mean. In some cases I am not sure I do. Knowing that not everyone would not understand his teaching didn’t stop Jesus. He plainly told at least some of his disciples three times that he had to die and they did not understand. At one point they knew they didn’t understand and were afraid to ask him again. He knew that after his death, burial and resurrection the Holy Spirit would come and they would understand. Read Revelation. Find a good Bible teacher or read a good commentary. Puzzle over it. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into wisdom and understanding. And don’t worry about it too much, we will understand it later. So many times biblical prophecies are understood after the events described took place.
Revelation is a little different because those things haven’t happened yet. That’s okay too because it will happen. God is not a man that he should lie. He is not slack concerning his promises as some men count slackness. God’s track record of being faithful and just should bolster our confidence that although the work is not finished it will be. These are not things we can do anything about. Some misguided individuals have tried to hasten the end times. Some believe that by teaching others to obey the commandments or by making sure we have Bible believing churches that God’s judgement will be postponed. God the Father knows the moment of his Son’s return. He is not relying on us to help make that decision.
My final piece of advice is that Revelation is good to visit but don’t stay there. Just like some people are afraid to read it others get deep into it and never come back out. Like I said, much of it has no practical application. Learn the lessons of the seven churches. Know that there will be a judgement and that heaven and hell are the results. A lot of Revelation describes things that God, his Son and his angels are going to do and there is nothing we can do to cause or prevent it. I don’t read the newspaper and try to find parallels in prophecy. Spend most of your time in the Gospels and New Testament epistles. We can learn a lot about God by reading the Old Testament. Revelation is not something to avoid. But one of my favorite quotes is Alistair Begg’s “It takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian.” Be sure to get a balanced diet.