In the book of Revelation, God pulls back the curtain to give his people a glimpse of his plans for human history. Center stage in this cosmic drama is Jesus Christ, the Lion and the Lamb, who secures victory through sacrifice. Revelation is strange because of its blended literary genre (prophetic-apocalyptic letter), but it is not a closed book. We can grasp the meaning of Revelation and apply it to our lives, but we need to “play by its rules,” not our own.
As we study the historical context of Revelation, we see a situation where Christians were increasingly being persecuted for their faith because they refused to join the pagan parade. The pressure to bow the knee to Caesar rather than to Jesus was spreading, and hope was beginning to fade. In addition, some Christians were growing comfortable with their pagan surroundings and compromising their faithfulness to Christ. Revelation encourages the persecuted and warns those who were selling out.
We might say that the purpose of Revelation is to answer the question, “Who is Lord?” Historian Will Durant, in The Story of Civilization, concludes:
There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned and oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
Revelation answers this question by creating a symbolic world in which readers may find the heavenly perspective they need to endure trying times. When we read about God on his throne or about the Lamb conquering the beast or about the garden where we will live in the presence of God, we are encouraged to hang in there, to remain faithful. The purpose of the book is to show us in picture language that Jesus rather than Caesar (any Caesar!) is Lord. As we read, we are reminded that God wins and we can continue on in hope.
Revelation is indeed an amazing book. As God paints a picture of his plans for history, he uses a rainbow of colors. He overwhelms our imaginations with his awesome strength.
As we bow down to worship the Lord God Almighty for all he has done to rescue us, the powers of this world lose their grip on our souls. We too pray the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!”