Connecting the Dots of the Apocalypse
By Jonathan C. Brentner
Would you purchase a nonfiction book and read only the introduction? Or, would you skip the intro assuming it had nothing to do with the rest of the book?
When it comes to the book of Revelation, many divorce the opening chapters from the remainder of the book. They do so by regarding the opening chapters as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1), but not the remainder of the apocalypse (a term often applied to the book of Revelation).
In a previous post, From Patmos with Love, I provided the basis for our literal understanding of the book of Revelation versus the popular, yet erroneous allegorical approach. John wrote Revelation and his gospel in the same way; in both he provides an eyewitness account of what he heard and saw.
Jesus’ words to the seven churches represent not only Jesus’ message to seven current congregations, they reveal the future of the church as a whole. The Lord’s promises to these churches are only the beginning of His prophetic promises to believers of all ages (that’ us), which the Lord displays before the eyes of John in the chapters that follow.
Here are a few examples of how we can connect the dots from the introduction to the remainder of the book of Revelation.
Jesus Promises Paradise
Jesus concludes His message to the church at Ephesus with these words, “To the one who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7). In the last chapter of Revelation, the Lord reveals that this is not merely a symbol of eternal life, but a real tree that exists in the New Jerusalem (22:1-2). This physical paradise exists now in this glorious heavenly city just waiting for our arrival.
Do you see the connection of the promise with the main issue Jesus identified in the church? To remedy their departure from their first love for the Lord (2:4), He reminds them of their glorious future in the paradise that awaits their arrival.
With their eyes refocused to the paradise within the New Jerusalem, how could such an expectation of bliss not rekindle their love for the One responsible for it? This promise consists of so much more than eternal life; the Lord promises them nothing less than a spectacular paradise.
Please note: In each of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches, He makes a promise to faithful of that congregation, or “to the one who conquers.” This phrase does not refer to a special level of spiritual maturity but applies to all believers (see 1 John 5:4-5).
Jesus Promises Eternal Life
To the suffering church at Smyrna, Jesus promises they “will not be hurt by the second death” (2:11). Later in the book, John provides an eyewitness account of the white throne judgment and the horrible “second death,” which consists of eternity in hell, a lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
“What’s the significance of that for these suffering saints?” you might ask. The words remind those facing physical death for their faith of a far worse outcome. Their opponents may cut short their life on earth, but they could never take away their eternal inheritance.
Polycarp, the bishop at the church in Smyrna when the book of Revelation arrived in the city, understood the significance Jesus’ promise. Notice his response to the Roman proconsul who threatened to burn him with fire if he did not reproach Christ and deny his faith:
“You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
Polycarp connected the dots from the Lord’s promise to John’s description of the second death in Revelation 20:11-15. He saw the future of those who burned him at the stake versus the glorious eternity that awaited him on the new earth and New Jerusalem.
Jesus Promises we will Reign Together with Him
Although much wickedness and immorality plagued the church in the city of Thyatira, Jesus found some who had “not learned what some called the deep things of Satan” (2:24). To those saints He said this, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father” (2:26-27).
These words, taken from the Father’s promise of the nations to the Son in Psalm 2, promise the faithful in Thyatira a share of the inheritance Jesus’ inheritance from His Father, that of ruling over the nations. While many in this church likely felt helpless to deal with the evil surrounding them, Jesus promises a rule in righteousness where they will have authority to judge the evil before them.
This cannot be a reference to the eternal state; it must be the millennial kingdom that John describes in Revelation 20:1-10. “Ruling with a rod of iron” depicts a time when people rebel against the reign of the Savior. Such a time precedes the eternal state in which Jesus eliminates all sin, death, suffering, and pain.
Jesus made this same promise to those in Laodicea who would let Jesus into their lives (3:20). They also will rule with Jesus in the kingdom John later describes for us (3:21).
Jesus Promises Deliverance
Jesus promises many blessings to His church in the city of Philadelphia. He started with these words, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon” (3:10-11a).
What is this “trial that is coming on the whole world?” It’s the tribulation described in Revelation 6-16, which the Old Testament prophets referred to as the day of the Lord. The dots not only connect from Jesus’ promise to the church, but from the Old Testament prophets as well.
The verse break between 10 and 11 is unfortunate. The words “I am coming soon” (better translated as “I am coming quickly”) come in connection with Jesus’ promise of deliverance from this worldwide “trial.” Jesus will deliver His church from the time of tribulation by taking all those who belong to Him to His Father’s house in heaven. This is the promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Jesus will not allow His saints to experience the wrath of the day of the Lord.
Jesus introduces His church in Philadelphia to the New Jerusalem (3:12-13) of which John describes for us in chapters 21-22. Both the new earth and this glorious city comprise our future.
Do not anyone rob you of this glorious expectation by denying the physical reality of this city. Those who turn John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22 into allegory deny the reality of Jesus specific promise to His church in Philadelphia. They not only turn John’s description of the city into an illusion, but negate the essence of Jesus’ promise to us.
My intent here is to bring you a sampling of how from beginning to end, the book of Revelation provides unified message revealing the Lord Jesus’ intervention in history as righteous judge, conquering warrior, and sovereign King of kings.
Chapters 1-3 provide a wonderful introduction to the remainder of the Revelation where the Lord uncovers the magnificent power of His person and provides details of the wonders of His glorious promises to the seven churches.
In each of Jesus’ address to the churches He says this, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” It’s Jesus Himself who testifies to the truth of words in Revelation and to that we say, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”
Please do not cover your ears to its message with allegorical interpretations that turn Jesus’ promises to His churches, which includes the entire book of Revelation, into symbolic illusions that not only diminish our hope, but reduce the power and glory of our Savior.
The apocalypse is “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1)! From beginning to end John provides an eyewitness account of the events he saw and the words he heard.
Yes, Jesus is coming again and we will reign with him for one thousand years in His millennial kingdom! This is the promise of Jesus to us!