Lessons from Revelation

That is, lessons from the book of Revelation.  The book is divided into two parts:  The first and shorter is the text of letters that John sends to seven churches in Asia Minor, and the second and longer is John’s apocalyptic vision of the end times.

The church letters are report cards, telling each church where it excels and where improvement is needed.  There’s actually more in these letters that can serve as guidance to us for our own behavior, since by the time the world ends it’s a little late to turn over a new leaf.  But even that second part of the book gives some explicit and implicit behavioral guidance.

The Seven Letters

Here are the excerpts from the seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 — dictated to John by Christ — that I thought could provide us useful guidance:

[Chapter 2] 1“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 

‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.7 ….’ [My NIV study Bible says, “The Nicolaitans were believers who compromised their faith in order to enjoy some of the sinful practices of Ephesian society.”]

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: 

‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life….

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: 

13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.  [See Numbers 22-24.]. 15 So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth....’

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: 

19 ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds…. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations….’

[Chapter 3] 1“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: 

‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments….’

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: 

‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. …He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God ….’

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne…..’”

John’s Apocalyptic Vision

In the three paragraphs that follow I summarize the passages I found most noteworthy in John’s apocalyptic vision (chapters 4 on).  The extraordinary images — and how to interpret them — in the vision, which is most of what John writes, are slighted here:  I’m not suggesting that they are unimportant, but they don’t tell us what to do, except — big “except” — they show what is in store for believers verses nonbelievers.

First, there are lots and lots of examples of the wicked being blasphemous, and examples of the good worshiping (to give just one example of the latter:  An angel says, “Fear God, and give Him glory … and worship Him” (14:7)).  Also don’t be “arrogant” (13:5) or refuse to repent (16:11).  The obvious common thread here is humility before God.  If the author is Jewish, by the way — and John was — it would be odd for him to emphasize this if he were dissing God by creating false Scripture.

There are also some passages that list sins, and it is interesting that lying is almost always included — here again, it would be odd for John to emphasize this if he were just making this book all up.  “And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (14:5).  “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts” (9:20-21).  “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (21:8).  “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (22:14-15).  And the dead are judged according to their deeds (20:12-13, said twice).

Finally, and as you would expect, there is much sexual immorality in chapters 17 and 18 focusing on the Whore of Babylon (also on her “sensuality” and on living “sensuously” (18:3-9)).  She is also tied to “abominations” (17:4-5), not defined here, but discussed elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., dishonesty (Proverbs 12:22); arrogant pride (Proverbs 16:5); ignoring God’s law (Proverbs 28:9); devising evil and sowing discord (Proverbs 6:16-19); and homosexual acts (Leviticus 18:22)).


References to Revelation are commonly made, so while I’m at it, here are some of them:  (a)  For the lyrics of the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy,” see 4:6-10, in particular.  (b) The “seven seals” are discussed starting with chapter 5.  (c) A falling star is named “Wormwood” (8:11), the name of the junior demonic recipient of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.  (d) The “number of the beast” is 666 (13:18).  (e) Armageddon is referenced at 16:16.  (f) Christ rides “a white horse” (19:11); see T.S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi” (“And three trees on the low sky.  And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.”).