David Reagan — Revelation Revealed
Greetings in the name of Jesus our Blessed Hope. I’m Dave Reagan, Senior Evangelist for Lamb and Lion Ministries and I want to welcome you to this visual overview of the amazing book of Revelation. When studying the book of Revelation, most people seem to get bogged down in the details. And tragically they often focus on the Antichrist rather than Jesus Christ. In the process, they miss the big picture, and the fundamental message. So let’s go for the big picture, and let’s seek the central Biblical message. Let’s engage in a sweeping overview of the book, chapter by chapter.
As we begin with chapter one, let’s consider the name of the book. It is not the book of Revelations – plural. There are many revelations in it, but that’s not its name. If you have a copy of the Authorized King James Version, you will note that the title is stated as “The Revelation of John.” Well, that title is also incorrect.
The proper title is the one contained in modern translations, “The Revelation to John.” It is not John’s revelation, it is the revelation or unveiling of Jesus Christ that was given to John by God the Father through Jesus. John refers to it in chapter one, verse nine as “The testimony of Jesus.”
Now, who was this John? He does not clearly identify himself, but the testimony of all the early church fathers is that this was the Apostle John. All he says about himself is that he is a brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance, which are in Jesus. It is interesting that John says he was a prisoner on the Island of Patmos. His imprisonment there is one of the clues to the dating of the book around 95 A.D., because that was when the Roman Empire turned against the Church.
This happened because the Empire declared Caesar to be God. And every person in the Empire was required once a year to go before a Roman magistrate and declare, “Caesar is Lord.” Well, no Christian could do that, and therefore Christians were considered enemies of the Empire. The result is that they became the target of terrible persecution.
John tells us something very important in verse ten here, he states that he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” Now folks, I don’t think John is referring to Sunday here. I think he was referring to what the Hebrew prophets called “The Day of the Lord,” which was a term for the end times. So I believe John is telling us that “in the spirit” he was catapulted forward to the Day of the Lord, to the end times, and given a preview of what will happen when the Church Age comes to a close.
John was about 95 years old when this book was written. He was the only Apostle left alive. The thing that you need to keep in mind is that by the ime this book was written, the persecution of Christians had become so terrible that it is evident from the book of Revelation that many were wondering if the Church would really continue to exist. They were beginning to have second thoughts, wondering if Jesus really was who He said He was – wondering if Jesus really cared for them, wondering if He really meant it when He said, “Upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
The Church needed encouragement, and that’s really one of the main purposes of the book. It is designed to give encouragement and comfort to those who are suffering terribly. For that reason, the book of Revelation has always been a book that has given tremendous comfort to anyone going through persecution or suffering, whether it be individual, family, or national in nature.
The book begins therefore with a tremendous vision of Jesus Christ the glorified one. He is victorious over death and the heavenly glory which He surrendered when He came to earth has been restored. John sees Jesus resurrected and glorified. Keep in mind that this is 65 years after the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord. Jesus has returned to give the Church a second touch, a touch of encouragement. He has returned to say, “Yes, I care. Yes, I love you. I know what’s going on. I’m walking among you.”
John proceeds to describe Jesus in His glorified form. He sees Jesus dressed as a Priest because that’s what Jesus is now He is our High Priest before the throne of God, our Mediator before God. John sees Jesus with white hair, which indicates His purity and wisdom. His eyes, feet and voice are all presented as symbols of judgment because all judgment has been given to Him by the Father. He has stars in his right hand, which are the angels, or messengers of the churches, showing that He cares for those churches and their pastors.
He’s walking among seven golden candlesticks, which we’re told in verse 20 represent churches. They represent all of the churches, and through this image the Lord is trying to give to John and the church the message that He is walking among them, that He cares about them, and that He loves them. He is not some distant and impersonal God who is aloof and uncaring.
John is so overcome by this glorious vision of His resurrected and glorified Lord that he falls at Jesus’ feet as if dead. Jesus responds with one of the most comforting statements in all the Word of God: “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one. I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Jesus is saying, “I am the beginning of history, the end of history, and the meaning of history. I am in control of history and I have power over life and death.” Again, Jesus’ appearance and words are intended to reassure a church that’s under severe persecution. The hearts of first Century Christians, including John’s, must have been greatly encouraged even as Christians today are encouraged by these words.
As we move to chapters two and three, the focus shifts from Jesus the glorified one to Jesus the overcomer, who is encouraging His church to persevere and overcome with Him. Chapters two and three present us with seven letters written by Jesus to seven churches. These are very interesting letters because first of all they are letters to seven real churches located in the area we know today as Turkey. But these churches were selected for a reason, and that’s because they are representative of all churches existing at that time and today. Let’s just look at the types of churches that are represented in the seven letters.
The first church addressed is Ephesus, which was a legalistic church. It was a church that dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s, but it had lost its love. In verse eight we are introduced to the church of Smyrna, which is representative of persecuted churches. In verse 12 we have the church of Pergamum, which is the liberal church. It’s the church that doesn’t care anything about doctrine – it’s the opposite of Ephesus, it embraces everyone. Then in verse 18 we have the church of Thyatira, which is the pagan church, the church that is full of cultic practices.
Chapter three begins with the church of Sardis, which is representative of dead churches, it has a reputation of being alive, but in reality it is dead. The next church mentioned, the church of Philadelphia, is the church that we would all like to be a member of because it is the alive church, for which Jesus has no criticism whatsoever. And then, finally we have in verse 14, the church of Laodicea.
In many respects it is the most pathetic of all the churches because it’s the worldly and apathetic church, the church that is “neither hot, nor cold” because it could simply care less. Now, as I said, these seven churches are representative of every kind of church that exists today. You will find your church in one of these seven, or in a combination of them.
I think they are also representative of seven different kinds of Christians. So I want to ask you something. Are you a legalistic Christian, persecuted Christian, liberal, worldly, are you dead, are you alive, are you apathetic? I believe these seven churches are also representative of seven periods of church history. All seven types of churches have always existed and exist today, but one type has dominated each period of Church history. The church at Ephesus is representative of the apostolic period from 30 A.D. to 95 A.D. when the church was concerned about organization and doctrine to the point that it became legalistic.
The church at Smyrna represents the persecuted church, or the martyr church that existed from 95 A.D. to about 312. It’s the church that existed at the time that the book of Revelation was written. Then we have the liberal church of Pergamum, representing the apostate church that existed from 312 A.D. to 590. This period developed after the emperor Constantine was converted and the church and the state were welded together. As is always the case in such unions, the state began to corrupt the church. The church at Thyatira represents the dark pagan period from 590 A.D. to 1517 when the Papacy developed and the church became full of Babylonian occultic practices.
When we come to the reformation in 1517 we think of it as a time of life, but you know it was really only partially so. The Reformation produced the Protestant state churches of Europe, churches that had a reputation for being alive but were really dead because of their union with the state. So the church of Sardis, the dead church, with a reputation for being alive represents the post reformation period from 1517 to about 1750.
The opposite of Sardis is the church at Philadelphia, the alive church. It represents the period of church history from about 1750 when the church began to send missionaries out all over the world, until about 1925 when the German school of higher criticism invaded seminaries worldwide and destroyed many people’s faith in the Word of God.
The church of today is represented by the church of Laodicea, a church that says to the world, “I am rich, I have become wealthy and have need of nothing.” But Jesus says to that church, “You are wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked.” It is a worldly, apathetic, apostate church that will not even let Jesus in the front door.
You know, the best summary of these letters I have ever encountered is the one penned by John Stott in his book, Basic Christianity. He sees the message of Jesus as threefold in nature. To a sinful church, He is saying, “I know of your sin – repent.” To a doubtful church He is saying, “I know of your doubt – believe.” To a fearful church He is saying, “I know of your fear – endure.” Repent, believe and endure; that’s a very relevant message for the church today.
One final thing about these letters, please note that each of these seven letters end with promises to overcomers. I would exhort you to go through and make a list of them. And you know what? You will find a total of 13 promises. Look for example at Revelation chapter 2:26. It says, “He who overcomes and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.”
That’s just one of the 13 promises. His promise is that the redeemed will rule over the nations of the Earth and that of course is speaking about the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. There are 12 other marvelous promises, and all of them are made to overcomers. Are you an overcomer? Are you an heir of these 13 wonderful promises? An overcomer is defined in I John 5:5 as, “He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. Such a one,” John says, “overcomes the world.”