Jesus mentioned pandemics (pestilences) when he described what would happen between His first and second Advents (Matthew 24).
However, as I wrote in Part 2, we need more information to answer the question, “Is the Carona Virus Pandemic a sign of the end of the world and Jesus’ Second Coming?”
Jesus gave us those answers in the book of Revelation. About sixty years after He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, Jesus returned to visit with his aged disciple, John, who was now a prisoner for his faith on the Greek Island of Patmos.
In amazing color and detail Jesus filled in more elements about what would happen in the centuries going forward until He finally returned. He had told His disciples six decades previously, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” (John 16:12). Now He comes to reveal it.
Put yourself in John’s shoes. Most of the first followers of Jesus have died, many by a martyr’s death. Jesus had promised, when He left, He would come back, but time has dragged on, with much persecution and trouble.
Jesus had left some clues about when He might return, but the hints were sparse. His emphasis had been more about what to do while they waited and His promise to be with them always through His Spirit. He never gave a date and time, only signs.
Now, Jesus comes to reassure the Christian community and to fill in more information. What He gives makes up the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
The first time I tried to read Revelation was after my seventeen year-old sister died in a car accident. I was grieving, looking for comfort and hope. I had heard Revelation talked about Jesus’ return, so I opened my slightly used Bible to the last book and started reading hungrily.
As I wrestled with the symbols, here and there were words of encouragement I needed. My faith grew stronger that I would see my sister again. Also, I came to know God and His Son Jesus in a more personal way.
Now, many years later, I understand some keys that unlock this mysterious book and pour out its treasure. My purpose in writing today is to share ten of those keys. You will understand Revelation better as you use them.
Please don’t be intimidated by this. Each key will be helpful in its own way and time. At the last church I pastored, I was given many keys. Each one opened a space I would need access to–the office, library, classrooms, AV room, etc. Though I always carried all the keys, I used them only when necessary. Read these over, and use them as needed. They will open wonderful treasures to you.
Keys That Unlock Revelation’s Meaning
1. It’s Name Means “Revealed”
The book of Revelation was not meant to be a closed book, too mysterious and complicated to understand. The title means “open, or revealed.” God wants you to understand it. He even pronounces a blessing when you read and take it to heart: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it. . .” (Revelation 1:3). As you read and study, remember it is God’s will to open it to you.
2. A Revelation of Jesus
The first five words tell us it is a revelation (revealing) of and by Jesus: “The revelation of Jesus Christ. . .” (Revelation 1:1). Jesus came to show us what God is really like, His amazing character and love. He showed it by how He lived and what He taught about His Father. If we only read the book like a guide to signs and events, we will miss its central message. Revelation is about Jesus and how He interacts with people and powers through history.
The Bible teaches that when we open our hearts to God, He unlocks our mind to understand His message. Jesus is truly the main “key” in Revelation. When we believe the good news of salvation He taught and put our trust in Him as Savior, He unlocks the door of our understanding and shines His light in.
3. Hidden Keys
Recently we visited my wife’s son in another state. As we left the house one day, I forgot to turn the door knob lock to the unlocked position, locking us out. Everyone else had left for the day. A bit embarrassed, I hoped our son was carrying or had hidden an extra key somewhere. But when he got home that night, we learned he did not, and there was no way in. Keys open spaces important to us. Without a key, we are locked out. Finally, I called a locksmith who produced his tools and got us in quickly.
God gave Revelation at a time when Christianity was under vicious attack. So, like secret battle code, He placed much of its meaning in symbols, effectively locking unsympathetic enemies out.
Revelation’s images are created from over 400 names, places, and allusions drawn from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Names such as Jezebel, Babylon, and Balaam. Nouns like dragon, sanctuary, lamp stand, and lamb. Concepts such as seal, plagues, and white clothes. When you understand a symbol’s meaning in the “First Scripture,” the Bible Jesus used, it helps unlock its meaning in Revelation.
4. A Cosmic War
Revelation pictures an epic Star Wars-like battle between Heavenly powers and the powers of evil led by a fallen angel and his army of rebel angels (Revelation 12:9-11). The fighting ranges between heaven and earth and on the planet over many centuries. Humans, leaders, and governments choose sides and join the fray. The side we choose determines our involvement and destiny.
“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. . .When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.”Revelation 12:9, 13-14 NIV
5. Understand the Literary Style
Understanding what style a book or movie uses helps us get its message. Revelation is a particular kind of literary style which God used in Bible times–apocalyptic writing. It was made up of visions, symbols, and predictions about the future, with a focus on the cosmic battle and ultimate the end of the world.
As in a book or movie, sometimes the action moves back in time, then forward, then back again, as it builds its message. In Revelation, visions move back and forth between heaven (where God leads and guides) and earth (where the battle rages). Often there is repetition of the same message using different symbols.
For example, one symbol in revelation is “sanctuary” imagery. The Old Testament sanctuary, or worship center, was a symbol of God’s plan to bring salvation to humanity. Its yearly cycle happened in phases utilizing different spaces in the sanctuary, from the sacrifice of a lamb to bring salvation to, ultimately, Divine judgment and restoration of this earth to a renewed state.
God uses the sanctuary symbols and services to introduce each new section of Revelation. (Rev. 1:10-18; 4:1-2; 11:19)
6. The Holy Spirit’s Help
Before Jesus’ death, He promised His followers He would send the Holy Spirit to help them remember everything He had taught, and, lead them into deeper understanding. We need the Spirit of God and as we try to understand God’s heart and message in the Bible. We can ask God for this Gift as we read and study His word.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”John 16:12-14 NIV
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”Luke 11:9-13 NIV
7. Revelation Moves Through History
As you read Revelation, you will generally be moving through history from the time of Christ to the Second Coming (and beyond). As I said earlier, the scene sometimes moves backward or forward in time, as in a movie or book. There are several series of seven in Revelation. Often, these seven-fold series begin with early Christianity and move through time to the End. As you read, you will notice this.
8. Lost in Unfamiliar Territory?
Imagine that are lost on a walk or drive. What would be the first thing you’d do? Of course, you might check Google maps, but play along. Let’s say you don’t have your phone. What would you do? I would look something familiar: a landmark, a street name, something in the skyline. As soon as you identified something, it might help you pinpoint your location and how to find your way home.
Think of this as a helpful tip when you read Revelation. You find yourself in a maze of strange metaphors, unfamiliar symbols, and mysterious narrative, look for something familiar. Remember you are moving through history, sometimes in cycles. Look for references to significant events, or familiar names and places. These will help you pinpoint your location and find your way.
9. Apocalyptic Cross References
I said earlier that there are more than 400 references in Revelation to the Old Testament: names, places, allusions. Many of these are found in other Apocalyptic books, primarily the Old Testament book of Daniel.
Daniel has many characteristics in common with Revelation. It moves from its time (600 B.C.), through the centuries to the Second Coming of Christ. It is composed of several visions and makes use of many symbols. Many of these symbols are used by God in Revelation. The material covered by Daniel is also taught in Revelation.
So, if you understand Daniel, it will help you sort out Revelation. The book of Daniel is a big key for understanding Revelation.
10. The Main Purpose
The last key is one of the most important, closely related to keys 2 and 6. God gave us Revelation to know Him personally and to experience a relationship with Him. He gave it so we could experience His gift of salvation, receive Jesus as our Savior, be ready for His Coming and prepared to enjoy eternity with Him.
We must not study Revelation primarily to understand End Time Events, or how to survive them, but to come close to a loving, good God Who is full of mercy and willing to accept and help us. If you read Revelation in that way, you will be truly blessed.
These ten points are some of the crucial keys that unlock the wonderful treasure found in Revelation. Now, I would suggest you just begin to read it prayerfully, using these keys as they come to your mind. God’s Spirit will open your understanding as you do.
Tomorrow, God willing, I will highlight some of the events, movements, and signs in Revelation which shows Jesus’ Coming is Near.