The Revelation of Jesus Christ
By Josh Breslaw
Until two years ago, I had zero desire to preach from Revelation. The reason was that when I was in high school, I went to a church where the preacher only preached about eschatology and “the end.” For the first decade of my preaching, I did not preach from Revelation once on a Sunday morning. I was in good company avoiding Revelation. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli never wrote commentaries on the book.
But two years ago, God convicted me of my avoidance of Revelation. I was led by God to focus on Revelation as the text for my final DMin project. While preparing a paper concerning Revelation, I came across this foreboding thought from Eugene Boring, “If you don’t preach Revelation to your congregation, someone else will. If you are not shepherding your congregation to understanding Revelation, then your sheep will flock to other sources. Congregations need to know what Revelation means and they need to hear it from their pastors”.
The problem is that most of us have no clue what to do with Revelation. Today, I will give you two thoughts which can help you understand the message of Revelation, so that you can preach and teach this book to your church. Both thoughts come from Revelation 1:1-5:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place, and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
First, Revelation is an apocalyptic, prophetic letter. Simply, apocalyptic means revelation or revealing. An apocalypse reveals what is happening or what is to happen. In Revelation’s case, it reveals what is happening to the church from God’s perspective, and it reveals what God is doing about it. Apocalypses just tell it like it is. This is what will happen and nothing can change it. Prophecies however are warnings. Prophecy, much like the prophecy of the Old Testament, is given in hopes that people repent and come back to God. Revelation is both apocalyptic and prophetic.
However, apocalypse and prophecy are only the adjectives for what Revelation is: Revelation is a letter. It is written to specific people at a specific time. Not just Revelation 2-3 but all of Revelation. If an interpretation of Revelation would not have made sense to the church in Ephesus, Philadelphia, or any church of that age, then it is an incorrect interpretation of Revelation. If you’re trying to decipher codes by figuring out who the Antichrist is, you’re missing the point of Revelation. If your interpretation of Revelation only matters to one generation who happens to be on earth when Jesus does return, then it is the wrong interpretation. Revelation is a letter to specific churches going through specific issues. If we do not ground our interpretation of Revelation in that fact, then we will go awry. Revelation is an apocalyptic, prophetic letter.
Second, Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. According to Daniel Wallace, “of Jesus Christ” is a plenary genitive meaning that this revelation is revealed by Jesus and reveals Jesus.¹ It is Jesus which must be the focus of preaching from Revelation. Jesus is the one speaking to John and comforting the churches who are being persecuted. Jesus is comforting them by revealing who He is and what He is doing. Jesus is encouraging them to remain strong in their faith, and to conquer over their opponents like he conquered his opponents. Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Too many people read Revelation as the “revelation of what’s coming” or the “revelation of punishment” or the “revelation of evil.” They enjoy thinking about being raptured (which isn’t in Revelation at all), and then watching those who are left behind get punished. People secretly want to rub it in non-Christians’ faces that “we won, and you lost. Now, suffer because of your bad choices.” That’s such an unchristian attitude toward people who Christ loves and died for. It’s also not what Revelation is at all. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
It is Jesus who is revealed as one like the Son of Man among the seven lampstands which are the churches. It is Jesus who is revealed as one who is spoken of as a lion but looks like a slaughtered lamb. It is Jesus who comes riding on the white horse to conquer. It is Jesus who escapes the dragon and is safe. It is Jesus who gathers with the 144,000. It is Jesus who enters from heaven with a robe dipped in his own blood and is named The Word of God. It is Jesus who will be among us in the new heaven and earth. It is Jesus who says, “I am coming quickly,” and we respond with “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” When reading or preaching Revelation, let us always remember that this is indeed the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
If good, grounded preachers avoid Revelation, then their congregations will seek other sources of information. When we do not preach Revelation, we are doing a disservice to our congregation and the Kingdom of God. In my experience, there are two types of preachers: those who preach Revelation too much and those who don’t preach it at all. Let’s seek to be ministers who find a middle ground.
1 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 120-21.
Further Resources on Revelation:
Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Theology. Edited by James Dunn. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 1993.
Bauckham reviews key theological themes in Revelation organizing chapters around those themes. This is a seminary level book requiring great concentration, but the content is worth it.
Boesak, Allan. Comfort and Protest: The Apocalypse of John from a South African Perspective. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1987.
I include this book because Boesak writes from a position more like the churches in Revelation than an American worldview. He writes from South Africa during apartheid. It is worthwhile to read Boesak’s interpretation of Revelation coming from that perspective.
Craddock, Fred. “Preaching the Book of Revelation.” Interpretation 40, 1986: 270-82.
Craddock was a world renown preacher known for using the inductive style of preaching. This short article gives good advice on how to preach and how not to preach Revelation.
DaSilva, David A. Discovering Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2021.
A newer commentary on Revelation, DaSilva writes with an understanding that Revelation cannot be reduced to a single timeline. It is a worthwhile addition to the myriad of commentaries on Revelation.
Gorman, Michael. Reading Revelation Responsibly. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.
Gorman seeks to organize his thoughts on Revelation from the three images of witness, throne, and Lamb. He suggests that Revelation’s goal is to give hope to people in times of crisis.
Summers, Ray. Worthy is the Lamb. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1951.
Summers’ book is a classic commentary on Revelation. It introduces a hybrid approach to reading Revelation which marries the Preterist and Idealist methods. It is a clear and concise book which can help every pastor to understand Revelation.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common