This is the first Bible Study on the book of Revelation. It was initially made for the Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott, but others can benefit from it as well. The audio is not very good, but in the present circumstances it is just about impossible to find a better microphone. I keep looking and if I find a better one, I hope the sound will get better.
To make it easier to follow, here is an outline of the Bible Study. (In Word Format, it will download).
The comments section is open on Tuesday night, starting 8 pm (Western Australia time) to ask questions and for discussion. Questions I receive here and via email or text messages, will also be collected in a document and posted here later this week.
The recorded Video is available here (it will open in a new tab):
Revelation 1 : 1 – 3 – Bible Study Outline
1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Verse 1: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants:
The Book of Revelation has the form of a letter from Christ to His Church.
- Divine authority (of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him)
- Certainty (‘that must soon take place’)
- Crucial relevance (vs 3, who keep what is written, for the time is near).
Revelation to His servants: not a mystery, but clear message!
- To show His servants.
- Revelation hard to understand?
- Good knowledge of the Bible important! Lots of connections.
- Exodus, Daniel, many other prophecies.
- For the plagues: both Exodus and Deut. 27+28
the things that must shortly take place:
Shortly / Soon: it is the last hour.
End time: 1000 years in Revelation 20.
- Beginning (Genesis),
- Time of Shadows (OT): preparing the world for salvation
- End time (NT): preparing the world for judgment.
1 John 2:
18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the[d] Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.
16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
things which must shortly take place
God is preparing the world for His judgment.
Before He does so, He prepares His church (2-3).
Warnings: seven seals: threats, causing fear, confusion: depriving the world of their hope and their trust, to make them trust in God. (6:15)
- The 144,000 sealed, the multitude that no one can count: see 7:10
- The world: No repentance, but continuation in rejection of God.
Questions for discussion:
- Looking at the situation in which we are now, how are we different from this world, in our response to God’s warnings? (read Deuteronomy 28:28 and 2 Timothy 1:7 as two contrasting texts)
- How can the world see that we are different?
- How did the church in the past respond to disasters and plagues, and can we learn from that?
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart. Deuteronomy 28:28
Then: Seventh seal : preparation for the next series: the seven trumpets: increase in intensity
11:15 : seventh trumpet. The coming of the kingdom. Return of Christ. Day of judgment.
12-14 : Summary of the Great Battle, which started with Genesis 3:15.
15-16: God’s judgment: the seven plagues, angels with seven bowls.
17-18 : God’s judgment over the world powers
19: God’s vindication of His people
- the marriage supper of the Lamb
- the great supper of God (19:17-21)
Verse 2: Testimony of Jesus Christ
Testimony must be passed on:
- Christ sent His angel to John
- John bore witness: he wrote it in this book, sent it to the churches
- The Churches read it out loud, the members hear it.
Questions and answers:
Here follows a selection of the questions asked on Tuesday with answers:
- Question 1:
In relation to Verse 3, how can we keep a ‘prophecy’?
A prophecy is often not only prophesying what the future will bring, but also a warning or encouragement. Throughout Revelation we will see that these warnings are a call to the people to repent. And also the Church receives encouragements and warnings. It are these parts of the prophecy to what the word ‘keep’ refers to.
- Question 2:
Do you know of any examples of how the church responded to disasters and plaques in the past? We sort of came up with some general responses, but a lot of the disasters or plagues were a real long time ago (eg black death in 1300s) . We came up with ideas of during sickness the Christians helped those who were sick, or in war time , they hid the Jews…
And in this situation, we are all in isolation and particularly the church is in isolation, so how can we apply these examples then in our situation?
There are some specific examples. Here is a link to an article that gives more information: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/13/christianity-epidemics-2000-years-should-i-still-go-to-church-coronavirus/ and another one: https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/should-a-christian-flee-the-plague-martin-luther-was-asked/.
In our situation: you have to obey the government in social distancing, this is also part of doing what is good for your neighbour and keeping him/her safe. But at the same time you can help them in practical ways, by doing groceries for them, or having contact with them, over the phone or internet. Or doing other chores for them. What we can also do is encourage them and listen to them.
- Question 3:
What about the numbers in Revelation: how do we interpret them?
They have to be interpreted as symbols, and their meaning can be determined using other parts of the Bible. The number 7 is an important number and comes back several times in Revelation. Connected with that also the numbers 3, 4, and 12. The number 1000 indicates a very long time, a complete time. Which is the end time.
I will say more about numbers as symbols in a later Bible Study.
- Question 4:
In the broader context of the book of Revelation, it seems that the common consensus is that the author is John (inspired by the Holy Spirit), written when he was exiled on the island of Patmos. What Scripture passages verify the date and location of this? Or has it been determined by writing of early church fathers and historians? Is this a point of contention?
Yes, there is no real contention about the author, at least not among Reformed theologians. Modern theologians will doubt the author of just about any book of the Bible, and also Revelation, because they want to place the book of Revelation in later time.
But believing theologians, who accept the divine authority and inspiration of the Bible, all believe that John is the author.
The time is more a point of contention. Among these theologians, some believe Revelation was written before 70, before the destruction of Jerusalem. Or else, they say, there would probably have been a reference to that destruction. Others believe it was written around 90. The end of the century was a time in which there were more and more regular persecutions so it would fit better into that time. It is hard to determine what year it was written. It is the last book of the Bible, so we don’t find any reference to it in other books of the Bible, which were all for certain written before 70. Also among church fathers and historians we cannot find a definitive answer. Both opinions are held among the Reformed theologians. Personally I lean more toward an earlier date, before 70, but cannot say so with certainty.
- Question 5:
Should we try to ‘match’ current circumstances with specific instances or plagues mentioned in Revelation? Or should we be content knowing that these things will come to pass and trust that God will bring them about in His good time and pleasure, rather than trying to predict and figure it all out ourselves?
If we look at current circumstances then we often can see that something like this has been prophesied in the Bible, either in Revelation or in other books of the Bible. It is not that we can keep a check list to check off which plagues we have had and which not but the Bible makes clear that all these plagues will sooner or later in one form or another come over this earth. If you look at history you will probably be able to recognise most of the plagues described in the Bible. But we should not try to figure out how far we are on God’s calendar. Nobody knows the day or hour.
- Question 6:
The book of Revelation is given to us (the Church) to be able to understand the tribulations and trials that come our way in this world. To enable us to withstand these tribulations and persecution.
The footnotes to my Bible says “enduring trials that come our way is a prerequisite for reigning with Christ”. Ref Rom 8:17, Phil 3:10, 2 Tim 2:12. Yet this generation of Christians in Australia have mostly (so far) suffered little if any persecution. Instead we have been richly blessed. How should we see this? Is there a lesson or warning?
God is testing us. For a long time the church had it very good in our western society but that also caused a lot of challenges and temptations. The church was tested in that way. We see with sadness the church often gave in to that, which led to the decline of the church in the Western world. In a way we can be thankful that God is sending us difficult times again, because the churches in our western countries have to wake up and turn to God again. God can use the present circumstances, as well as the recent development regarding certain legislation in our country, to test the church. God, at the same time, is also warning our country with the bushfires and now this Corona virus. In a few years we may be able to see better how this was a blessing for the church, but for now we can be assured that everything has a purpose in God’s work. Everything happens at His time.
Yes, it is a privilege for us to suffer for Christ, it is a prerequisite also. Everyone who wants to live a godly life, will be persecuted. But that can also happen in a society where we have lots of freedoms. God wants us to remain faithful and steadfast in all circumstances.
- Question 7:
You mentioned that we should not come with preconceived ideas when studying Revelation, as so many do, because then we fall into the danger of trying to fit God’s Word into our ideas. Instead, where we do not immediately understand, we should let other parts of Scripture explain what is meant in Revelation. I agree that we can not be dictated by one idea e.g. preterite (all has been fulfilled), historical (all are in process of fulfillment), futurist (all are in the future) or spiritual (this is only symbolic and never literal) readings.
What about preconceived ideas (often erroneous, yes) that have been theologically debated and often find their way into church belief statements such as dispensationalism and pre/post/a-millenialism? Do these not influence how we read a Bible book like Revelation (or even other prophecies like Daniel, for example)?
Yes, they do. Pre- and post-millennialism both believe that there is a separate period of 1000 year at some time during the end time. They have a lot of differences, about when Christ returns, for instance. Pre-millennialists, because of their position regarding the 1000 years, must necessarily believe in two comings of Christ, in a rapture, and more connected to that. There you see that a certain position (pre-millennialism) necessitates a certain explanation of Revelation. Post millennialism has that too, but to a much lesser extent.
Generally within the Reformed tradition we refuse to believe in a 1000 year as being different from the End time (although there are some moderately post-millennialist reformed theologians), as I explained in the Bible Study. Because of that, we are often called a-millennialists, as if we are another group with another view about the 1000 year. However, that is not true. It is just that we want to read and explain Revelation without any pre-conceived notions of a separate period of 1000 years. Among these so-called a-millennialists, there are different explanations of details of Revelation and that is possible, also within the bounds of our confessions. But that is the case with many more texts in the Bible. Not because the Bible is not clear. The message of the Bible is abundantly clear. But God allows us to have different explanations of details, and sometimes it is also that we need to grow knowledge to gain a better understanding. Over the many centuries that the church has worked to explain the Bible, we also have grown in understanding of many parts of the Bible. God has blessed us with some great thinkers, from which we may benefit.
- Question 8:
When we speak to somebody not from the church and they say ‘If God is a God of love, how can he let all this happen’? How do we respond?
There are different ways of responding to this, depending on the situation and the person you are talking too. Generally, I would try to explain how God is not the author of evil, but it is the result of our own sin. God restrains evil. If God would let this creation go its own way after the fall in sin, the situation would be much worse, as you can see in situations like war, in World War II but also recently the war in Syria. Also the Corona virus COVID-19 and its spread is the result of human actions: human beings doing/eating things they should not be doing/eating or flaunting basic hygiene rules. God shows us what the result of our own actions is, while at the same time in His grace holding back some of the worst results.
Another way of explaining it is, comparing it to disobedient children. If a parent warns his child time and again, for its own good and protection, but the child doesn’t listen, even ignores the parent completely and blatantly goes against the rules of the parent, then often the only way to keep the child from destroying itself is using discipline, which can come in different ways but can also include using physical punishment as last resort. That is also how God is warning us. God wants the world to repent and be saved. And that is about eternal life and eternal death! So it is God’s love, that He sends these plagues, to prevent us from having to suffer even worse and eternally.
Again, the way how you say this, will depend on the person you have in front of you. The one needs more careful explanation than the other.
- Question 9:
Could we have a definition of church and world?
The Church is the body of Christ in this world, the believers. Christ also wants His body to be visible in this world. It should not be a vague idea, but should be actively present in this world, being a salt and a light. Therefore, we believe that the church can also be distinguished locally, in the believers who gather together on Sundays for worship services (as much as possible) and who during the week support, encourage, exhort and admonish each other and are active in this society as well to show Christian charity to those in need. Who do good to all, not only to those of the household of faith.
The world can be explained in different ways. When Paul speaks about the world and its evil works, then there the meaning of world is: all unbelievers, all those who don’t belong to Christ. In that sense it is spoken about in Revelation as well. (Rev. 12:9, 13:3, 16:14).
However, world can also mean God’s creation or the entire mankind. In that sense it is used in Rev. 3:10, 13:8, 17:8.
The context will have to make clear what the meaning is in a specific situation.
If we speak about church and world, then often world is meant in the sense of unbelievers.
- Question 10:
“The Revelation OF Jesus Christ”… does this ‘of’ mean ‘from’ Jesus Christ, or ‘about’ Jesus Christ, or both?
It means that the Revelation comes from Jesus Christ. This verse is the title of the letter or book, and shows the origin, destination and contents. It comes from Jesus Christ (who in turn received it from God) and is sent to His servants, and it is about the things that are soon going to happen.