Return of the King – How to read and teach Revelation

So we’ve learnt lots about the book of Revelation in terms of its genre, authorship, date and all the different approaches to interpreting it. This is all well and good but could leave us with just an interesting intellectual exercise.

“16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”[1]

Revelation is Scripture and so it was written to teach us.  Our aim should be to apply it practically to the church so that they can be encouraged, corrected and built up. Otherwise, we have not allowed to do its intended work.

Revelation can be applied to our current circumstances because as we have seen already, it takes us to God’s throne room in order that we might see the whole sweep of history from the perspective of the last day. It does that so that we may make sense of what it means to live as God’s people now in our present context in the light of future hope.

So how should we go about teaching Revelation


I think that too often people have treated Revelation as a source from which to scavenge out the weird and wonderful. This means three things.

  1. That we miss the big picture. We end up debating what each detailed symbol means and miss the overarching themes and messages.
  2. We end up trying to interpret the whole book and all eschatology in the light of our interpretation of one or two verses.  For example your position on the Millennium and the Rapture have become the controlling themes and the crucial tests of orthodoxy in much of the church despite the fact that these are just found in 2 or three verses
  3. It all becomes very controversial. People argue over it, people get confused and Revelation becomes a book we stay away from. Given that this book promises blessing to its readers, that is extremely sad.

The approach I would take when preaching in church is as follows.

  1. Treat large sections in each sitting. That enables the congregation to get the whole picture -and see how a particular part of the vision (e.g. The Seals, The Trumpets, The churches) unfolds.
  2. Help people to see the different big themes that run through the text, that God is King, seated on his throne, that this World is judged, that Jesus the lamb is worthy, that God’s word is opened and revealed not hidden, that the Church is Christ’s bride called to be ready and that Christ the Bridegroom is returning.
  3. Help people to understand what is going on with the language. This will help them to grasp it better.

-That the literary genre is apocalyptic

-That John is reporting a vision. This means there’s visual language and even a sense that he is struggling to put down in words the incredible things he has seen.

-That as John describes his vision, he will use language that will resonate and make sense to his immediate audience.  This means that he will use images they may associate with from their time and culture but also and most importantly from Scripture. He expects them to know their Old Testament, Gospels and the letters to the churches (especially those from him!).  We will want to help people see where the particular images are drawn from.

Note that putting all of these things together means that it’s not “Big picture versus detail.” I’m not advocating that we sit at high altitude and just deal in generalisms. Rather, sometimes to get the depth and to understand phrases and words, seeing the big picture is vital. It means we go with the natural breaks in the text and follow a them through to it’s conclusion to see what it is saying. This is the opposite of taking a small phrase out of its context and trying to guess at a hidden meaning.  Seeing the whole narrative enables us to understand how a phrase, metaphor, image, simile, etc. functions.

Make sure that you teach Revelation in a practical, applied way. This means that you need to know your own context.

Some application

Here are some applications we might want to draw out through a teaching series in Revelation.  I am thinking primarily of our local circumstances in Bearwood but some of the points will be common across churches and may prompt other thoughts too.

God is King

Several times we see images of God’s beauty and greatness.  We see this in the vision of the one seated on the throne and in the description of Jesus. There is a strong Trinitarian current throughout the book as we meet the sevenfold Spirit too.[2]

A primary application should be the call to worship God with our whole lives. We should sense something of his holiness and transcendence. Does our whole life worship show respect and love for Him?

God’s Word is revealed

Jesus, the Lion-Lamb was able to open the Scroll. Scripture is the written word from the living word.

Two things spring to mind here:

First of all the challenge to read Scripture, privately and in church. We see that God’s Word is essential and central. All of our ministries should be Word centred.

Secondly -it should give us great confidence. Scripture has power. It is also something we can read and understand (even Revelation)

The Church will face persecution

But we are to percevere and not let our love grow cold.  We persevere in hope knowing that God is sovereign and will defeat evil. Even when our efforts seem to end in failure and even if believers face certain death, God has not lost. We are promised resurrection. We will reign with Christ. We will be raised to new life.

This is important for our congregations to know. Many of those who attend Bearwood Chapel have experienced real suffering. Some have fled from other countries to escape danger, others have been challenged and made costly sacrifices here.  The temptation is to ask “Is it worth it?” The answer is yes because believers are always looking forward in hope.

I also believe that our application shouldn’t be too localised. It shouldn’t become “me” or “us” focused.  Revelation reminds me that I’m part of God’s wider church.  Around the globe, people are serving and suffering. In some places, belonging to Jesus will mean prison, torture and even death. Revelation calls us to pray for the world wide church, to send people into the world mission field and for some of us to go. It motivates us to work in our mission field here.

Revelation points us to a people from every tribe and tongue gathered around the throne. Shouldn’t there be a little foretaste of that today. Isn’t it a joy to gather with believers from different backgrounds in a multi-generational congregation? Doesn’t this future vision rule out any place for segregation and racism?

The Gospel Must Go out

Trumpets are sounded, heralds announce, prophecy is spoken (and not to be sealed up and hidden), witnesses die for their faith but in hope of the Resurrection.  Central to the book of Revelation is the sacrificed lamb. Central to the book is the theme that salvation comes from God through being washed in the blood of The Lamb.

Revelation is about the Gospel. It calls those who do not know God yet to come to him now before judgement comes. It reminds us that there is both a harvest of God’s people and a harvest of those who do not know him-to judgement. This must motivate us to share the good news.

God is victorious

The empires of this world rise and fall but God is still sovereign. Evil seems to have the upper-hand but He will reign forever.  The church seems weak and failing but Christ will come for his bride and she will be dressed, ready and beautiful.

This gives us confidence in the upheaval and storms of life. Brexit, Presidential Elections and military posturing may cause us worry -but human tyrants will one day die and their powerbases crumble.  It should warn us against trusting in systems whether that’s nationalism, socialism, Marxism, capitalism, liberalism, conservatism or whatever.  Those systems will fail and fall. If we trust in them, they will fail us.

It means that we can serve God in the context of the little empires and dominions we face in the workplace. It should warn us to work for his kingdom rather than building our own empires.

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.[3]

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT).

[2] Strong evidence of the Apostle John’s authorship.

[3] John Ellerton, The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended (1870).

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