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6 Lessons from the Book of Revelation

Like many, my relationship with the Book of Revelation is one that had a difficult and confusing start. Although it is a beautiful and encouraging book for believers, it is also probably one of the Bible’s most image-heavy books. Unfortunately, in our generation, we have lost the meaning behind many of the images and numbers utilized in the book to help convey what was shown to John by Jesus. So much so that before I sought to understand the Book of Revelation, I would refer to it as the “LSD trip of the Bible.”

However, after I decided to spend a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, I gained a new respect for the book. I spent much time just reading the book and seeking to understand it. My fascination with it might have partially been a matter of curiosity about the end times (“eschatology”) and where I landed regarding the major eschatological views. Another reason was being in an environment where life was not guaranteed. I’ll admit I still have a long way to go as I explore this book’s depths and its rich imagery. But I have grown to love Revelation, and I want to pass along a few lessons I’ve learned from it.

Where do I land when it comes to eschatology? I currently hold a historic premillennial view, and I do not believe in the idea of rapture. That also being said, I welcome friendly discussion and disagreement, for a Christian’s view on these matters (e.g., the millennium) is not a salvific issue but rather a “third-bucket” issue (what Renew.org often calls a “personal element”).


“After I decided to spend a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, I gained a new respect for the book.”


So, I suggest six takeaways from the reading of Revelation, each of which helps us in our walk as believers.

1. Letters meant for churches thousands of years ago are still relevant today.

I always find the structure of Revelation interesting. It starts by pointing to the fact that Jesus is to be the center of his churches. Not a flawed man, not a specific worship style, not a specific spiritual gift—Jesus needs to be at the center of our churches if they are to succeed. Revelation’s first chapter introduces his centrality, and then the next two chapters either commend or correct churches concerning how well they follow His teachings. It is His perspective that matters.

Jesus gives each church a specific vision of himself that they will need (e.g., the One who holds the seven stars, the “First and Last,” the wielder of the double-edged sword, etc.). Jesus is no aloof, deistic head of the Church. He knows His churches well and is intimately invested in their fruitfulness.

I’ve become convinced that, even though these letters were written over a thousand years ago, they are still highly pertinent to churches today. It has been interesting for me this year to go through Revelation with my small group. One reason is that one of our group members works for Passion4Planting. It provides a helpful perspective to read these letters alongside someone who helps plant churches globally and discover that churches still suffer from the very issues in these Revelation letters.


Lessons from the Book of Revelation: “Jesus is to be the center of his churches.”


This church planter friend has helped me to see that many churches today struggle to let Jesus be at the center of their church. We get so easily caught up obsessing over what an eventual subgroup within our church sees as success that we forget to ask what counts as success to Jesus. The answers are right before us if we seek to know what he cares about. For example, Jesus cares deeply that His churches persist in love (3:4), stay faithful even in persecution (3:10), reject sexual immorality (3:14), reject idolatry (3:20), repent of spiritual apathy (3:1-3), make the most of kingdom opportunities (3:8), and choose humility over self-sufficiency (3:17-18).

Similarly, we need to keep Jesus and his guidance for the church central in our study of Revelation. We too easily get sidetracked in predicting end times and debating whose eschatology is correct. We can sidestep the practical application in Revelation that can help strengthen our churches and congregations regardless of the era we live through. We forget to read a book that was given to us by Christ that talks about the common issues that can tempt our churches away from Him.

Each time you read through the Revelation letters, have you found that one seems to stick out over the others for the season you are in? For myself, I’ll be reading the letters and discovering that this one or that one has the accuracy of an arrow as it pierces me and reminds me of what area I’ve been drifting in.


Lessons from the Book of Revelation: “I’ll be reading the letters and discovering that this one or that one has the accuracy of an arrow as it pierces me and reminds me of what area I’ve been drifting in.”


I’ve started to use these letters in a reflective exercise at the end of each year. At the end of the year, I’ll read through each letter and look for which one I most relate to that year and what God is trying to tell me in that season. I then let the Holy Spirit correct and develop me in that area.

2. Scripture needs to be used to interpret Scripture.

Much of Revelation is depicted in imagery that we don’t use today. To make sense of the images, numbers, metaphors, etc., we must fall back on biblical books like Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation. These books help us interpret what is being said and what is going on. For example, notice how Revelation 1:20 helps us understand some of the book’s imagery:

“As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

So often, insight into understanding a passage you have difficulty understanding can be found elsewhere in Scripture. The real question for us in these times is whether we are willing to put the work in to dig through Scripture and find these insights, or will we take the easy way out and interpret it however feels right and leave it at that. In taking the easy option, we miss seeing how beautiful a woven tapestry Scripture is. We lose out on all the cross-references that God has worked into Scripture and how He builds out topics that only a master craftsman like Himself could. We lose the artistry He spent so many centuries weaving into Scripture.


Lessons from the Book of Revelation: “So often, insight into understanding a passage you have difficulty understanding can be found elsewhere in Scripture.”


3. Jesus wins in the end, and we can find hope in this as believers.

“And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:9-10, NASB)

The Book of Revelation teaches us a foundational truth we must remember throughout our lives: Jesus wins! Of course, this needs no spoiler alert, as this ending has been made known for quite a while (I would argue since the “protoevangelium” of Genesis 3:15, where we are told that the serpent will be crushed underfoot). Jesus is victorious.

The final act of Revelation shows us Jesus’ final victory in the spiritual battle going on around us. The unholy trinity that we see formed in Revelation 13 finds itself defeated in Revelation 20 as the fire rains down from God’s heavenly domain and devours them. As the final battle ends, Jesus’ judgment of the world begins. In the meantime, Satan, though he knows he will not win, continually tries to mock and replace God at every opportunity. It is a great thing to know that we serve an eternal winner.


Lessons from the Book of Revelation: “The final act of Revelation shows us Jesus’ final victory in the spiritual battle going on around us.”


Revelation helps us pause and recall that there is a very real and unseen war that we are fighting as believers. Unfortunately, we tend to exaggerate the enemy’s power and see him and the demonic in every bad thing that occurs. Or we underestimate the enemy and relegate the demonic to purely symbolic teaching that the more “educated” mind doesn’t take seriously. Revelation is especially helpful in reminding us that the battle and our enemy is real. From Revelation, we gain the courage that nothing defeats our King, and as His subjects, nothing will be able to destroy us or separate us from Christ eternally.

In Revelation, we also gain an understanding of Christ that, at times, is easily forgotten. We serve a warrior King. Christ does not come back this time on a donkey, bringing peace. He comes on a horse with a sword, bringing war against those who are against Him. We sometimes forget this aspect of our King, focusing solely on His love and sacrifice for us. But one of the core themes of Revelation is Jesus’ victory through sacrifice; he is the lion who is also a “Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne” (Revelation 5:6, emphasis added). We serve a King who is willing to fight for us and wage war to restore His creation.


Lessons from the Book of Revelation: “We serve a King who is willing to fight for us and wage war to restore His creation.”


4. Revelation teaches us worship.

Revelation 4-5 depicts for us a beautiful picture of God in His totality. So much so that when reading Revelation 4, I think it was best summed up in my small group recently with one word: “Wow.” We are given glimpses of the throne room of God, where we perceive the greatness of God as the angels are privileged to see Him. We see God on His throne surrounded by twenty-four elders who are all bowing down around Him. His appearance sets Him apart from all other beings in the room. The angels voice this clear separation, uttering the same three words uttered in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

In Revelation 5, we find ourselves confronted with a scroll that no one can open, and John begins to weep. Enter the story’s hero, the One who can open the scroll. He is a lamb who appears to have been slaughtered, having seven horns, a symbol of complete power, and seven eyes representing the Spirit of the Lord. Paradoxically, the sacrificed lamb is also a victorious lion (Revelation 5:4-6). This is Jesus, the Son of God and atoning sacrifice that reconciled us to God. As He opens the scroll, all of heaven breaks out in worship, contemplating Jesus’ worthiness:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12, NIV)

This is only one of numerous worship songs throughout Revelation (4:8; 4:11; 5:9-10; 5:13; 7:10; 7:12; 11:15; 11:17-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:7; 19:1-8). Like the book of Psalms, Revelation teaches us how to worship God, whether in celebration or lamentation.


“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain.”


5. How we respond to Jesus matters.

Throughout the book of Revelation, we continually see two types of people. First, some put their faith in Jesus’ gospel and fall at His feet in worship. Then, some push God away, choosing instead to worship the arrogant beast that spits blasphemies at God. It is unfortunate for the latter because they must eventually answer for their sins. It is difficult knowing that hell itself was not made for man, but for Satan and the third of the angels that fell with him, and yet many people will end up there. Satan drags as many humans as possible with him with the intent to hurt God.

Revelation clarifies two questions we need to have solid answers to when our life ends. The first comes from Christ Himself in the Gospel of Matthew:

“But who do you yourselves say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, NASB)

This question also influences how we answer the next question that comes from this: How will we respond to who we say Christ is?

Jesus proves himself to be worthy of us to respond with unreserved, wholehearted faith, with embodied, lifelong faithfulness. Revelation shows us what it looks like to be a faithful remnant, following Jesus at whatever cost. As Revelation 12:11 describes, “They triumphed over him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (NIV).


Lessons from the Book of Revelation: “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”


We die to ourselves and live for Christ. We align our lives with Him in that we love what He loves, hate what He hates, and find important what He finds important. In the end, Jesus’ evaluation of our lives matters above any other (see John 5:22-23). Whatever our earthly status, we will all stand before God’s judgment seat and be judged according to our deeds (Revelation 20:11-15). On that day, what will matter was how we responded to Jesus.

6. Eternity matters even if we pretend it doesn’t.

Too often, people look at the Book of Revelation and begin to panic. They huddle themselves into communities surrounded by only other believers and never venture out into the world. Around every corner, they see a “sign of the end times”—completely forgetting that Jesus told us we would know neither the day nor hour (Matthew 24:36).

If anything, the book of Revelation reinforces the Great Commission. It is a call for Christians to engage in compassionate action. A spiritual war is being waged for the souls of our friends, family members, neighbors, and even enemies. We join the fight, not through storing food and building thick concrete walls—but through thoughtful dinner table conversations and meeting for coffee over an open Bible. As I read through Revelation this time, I was struck with the importance of evangelism because I was reminded of my friends and family members who don’t know Christ.


“As I read through Revelation this time, I was struck with the importance of evangelism because I was reminded of my friends and family members who don’t know Christ.”


Thinking about the importance of evangelism draws my mind to one of my favorite statements from atheist magician Penn Jillette:

“I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, that the truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point that I tackle you, and this is MORE important than that.”

Mr. Jillette hits on something that so many Christians seem to have forgotten, and Revelation smacks us in the face with it hard. There is heaven and hell. In the end, eternal separation from Jesus is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. Yet, as Christians, many of us have gotten to the point where we back down from even talking about eternal salvation and punishment because it might make our friends, family, or acquaintances uncomfortable. Or worse, we fail to understand that these are truly real realities and have relegated them to just scary stories. Out of feigned intellectual superiority, we might claim that Jesus never talked about these places as if they were real (when, in fact, Jesus spoke about final judgment, heaven, and hell quite a lot).


“Many of us have gotten to the point where we back down from even talking about eternal salvation and punishment.”


Downplaying these eternal realities ignores Jesus’ teachings and downgrades the importance of Jesus’ Great Commission. We let our ignorance, improper teaching, or fear of people influence us to bypass situations in which we may have reached someone. Sure, sidestepping such conversations helps everybody stay comfortable and unperturbed now. But now isn’t what matters.

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