One of my favourite movies is “The Matrix”. The concept behind the movie is that the world of regular experience is nothing more than a complex computer simulation. Reality is something different – something OUTSIDE – our senses. Morpheus is the leader from OUTSIDE the simulation. Whose experienced the REAL world. TRUE reality.
And in the pivotal scene, he meets Neo. Neo’s been living WITHIN the simulation, but he’s got a growing sense that things aren’t right with the world. A feeling that there’s got to be something MORE.
And so Morpheus meets him. Morpheus who knows that there IS more to life. That things AREN’T what they seem. And he says to Neo “The world as we know it is not the truth; it is simply “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth.”
And he offers Neo a choice of two pills. The red pill will take him to true reality – outside the simulation. The blue pill will take him no further, and he will remain as someone who believes what he wants to believe.
And you can see the parallels to the Christian world-view. God IS there. We can’t see him. And not everyone can EXPERIENCE him. We must see REALITY with the eyes of FAITH. Which only comes as we accept God’s GIFT.
I want to suggest that the Book of Revelation is Jesus’ RED PILL for his church. Revelation paints the picture of TRUE REALITY – a world where God rules, a world of spiritual warfare, where Satan is active, and seeks to bring down God’s people and God’s purposes.
Reality is a world where the saints, rather than being passive victims, are victorious warriors with the message of life, fighting beside their glorious King Jesus.
The problem is/ life doesn’t LOOK like that.
For COMFORTABLE Christians life isn’t scary, or spiritual. Satan is a toothless tiger. God’s people are passengers, happily cruising along, staying out of trouble, waiting for heaven.
God’s purposes look no bigger than keeping his people well fed, warm, and dry, and occasionally finding them a parking spot at the supermarket.
Comfortable Christians like that have swallowed Satan’s BLUE pill. It’s a Dull, colourless, powerless, insipid SHADOW of the life Jesus would HAVE us live.
But more than just CHALLENGE for COMFORTABLE Christians, Revelation is Jesus’ COMFORT TO PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS.
The world LOOKS like Satan is winning. That they’re powerless to stop him. That they’re the weak minority – without HOPE or PURPOSE or a FUTURE.
But Revelation tells a different story. God IS on the throne, and has won the victory in his Son. Satan HAS been defeated, and his plans have come to NOTHING. And before long, he’ll be COMPLETELY destroyed.
The way for Jesus’ suffering followers to WIN is to persevere in holiness and witness. Life is BIGGER than just enduring. Faithful endurance is ACTIVE WARFARE. And it will win a crown of victory.
That’s the TRUE REALITY Jesus wants to communicate to his church.
And yet there’s a problem. For most people, Revelation’s A MYSTERY. “All those numbers, and weird animals. I can’t make head or tail of it. It’s all just too confusing!”
And so they leave it. At the back of their Bibles. Unopened. Out of harm’s way. Which is just what Satan LOVES us to do. Because it’s ignoring Jesus’ RED PILL OF REALITY.
Now, I’m not saying it will be easy. Often pills ARE a bit hard to swallow. We ARE going to have to work hard over the next of months.
Hints For Reading
But I don’t think it’s as hard as people would like us to believe. As long as we remember some HINTS. Some GUIDELINES which will help us make the most sense of what we read.
- It’s to reveal, not confuse (1)
And the first one is that the book was written to REVEAL. Not to confuse. To make things CLEAR, not to muddy the waters. It’s right there in the first verse.
Rev 1:1: 1:1 The REVELATION of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, NIV
A revelation. Something designed to DISCLOSE. To SHOW his servants something. He MADE IT KNOWN by sending his angel.
Seems obvious doesn’t it? And yet, we often assume that Revelation is SO CONFUSING, we have to leave it to the experts. And take their word for what it means. But that’s not what God meant it for.
- It’s a picture book (2, 11)
The second hint to reading the book is that it’s a PICTURE book. Not a PUZZLE book. Look there in v2. John testified to everything HE SAW.
God gave him VISIONS. And he, somehow, had to describe the visions in WORDS. Often a task that blew his mind. But it’s a book of IMAGES. Pictures that REPRESENT/ REAL THINGS.
I think, with computer animation and special effects the way they are these days, that it takes A LOT to impress the modern viewer. Even movies that are only five or ten years old look boring, and stale.
Images have to be PRETTY SPECIAL to grab our attention. And the images that John has seen. And that he’s trying to get across to us, are KNOCK-OUT images. Over-the-top. Visual extravaganzas. Images of power and wonder and purity. Images of terrible and moral filth. Images that assault the senses.
Because that’s THE NATURE of the world John’s trying to communicate. The spiritual world. The REAL world. Where God and Satan EXIST. And are powerful. And are fighting the WAR of ETERNITY.
And it’s a world that most people AREN’T EVEN AWARE OF. So God gives John PICTURES.
Our problem is, of course, working out what the pictures MEAN. Because Jesus ISN’T a lion. Or a lamb. The churches AREN’T lamp-stands. Satan ISN’T a DRAGON. And Babylon ISN’T a .
Each of these are PICTURES that REPRESENT something else. And that’s where things DO get difficult. But THAT TASK becomes easier if we take notice of a few MORE hints.
- It’s designed to be read aloud and heard (3)
Three. Revelation is designed to be read aloud, and to be HEARD. Look at v3
Rev 1:3: 3 Blessed is THE ONE WHO READS the words of this prophecy, and blessed are THOSE WHO HEAR IT and take to heart what is written in it, NIV
John’s written it down as A LETTER. To CHURCHES. There were no photocopiers, or printing presses. There’d be a single copy. That was passed from church to church.
Later of course, it would have been copied by hand. But in the first instance, there was one copy. And when Sunday came around. And everyone got together for church. One person would stand up the front, and read the letter out. He was the one John was blessing. Blessed is the one who READS the words of this prophecy.
And everyone else would LISTEN. And John was blessing THEM TOO. ESPECIALLY if they TOOK TO HEART its message.
“So what?” you might say. What difference does that make to helping us understand the IMAGES?
Because when you LISTEN to something, it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to take notice of the FINE DETAIL. Of every tiny piece of information. And what you catch is THE BIG PICTURE. The broad details. It’s the WHOLE description of the PICTURE that flows over you.
And I think that’s the RIGHT WAY to interpret Revelation. To focus on THE BIG PICTURE. As much as possible, to view Revelation with the binoculars, rather than the microscope.
To keep the FOREST in view. And not lose sight of the forest, because we’re so interested in inspecting every tree.
So, because it’s a book to be LISTENED TO, we should focus on the BIG PICTURE, rather than the FINE DETAIL.
- It’s prophecy (3)
The fourth hint for understanding Revelation is that it’s PROPHECY. There in v3.
Rev 1:3: 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of THIS PROPHECY, NIV
Which, obviously, means it’s about COMING EVENTS. V1. Events THAT MUST SOON TAKE PLACE.
But, more than that, as prophecy, it stands at the end of a long line of prophets. Men who’ve communicated God’s word to humanity. And so Revelation stands IN CONTINUITY with them. There is MUCH in common with OT prophecy.
And it’s by looking to OT PROPHECY that we can understand much of what the pictures represent.
In 1845 Moses Stuart published his MAMMOTH 1000 page commentary on Revelation. In the preface, he describes how, shortly after he began teaching at Andover Theological Seminary in 1809, his students began to plead with him to teach about the book of Revelation.
“I commenced study of it, with the design to comply with their request. I soon found myself, however, in pursuing the way of regular interpretation as applied to OTHER books of Scripture, completely hedged in… I frankly told my pupils, therefore, that I knew nothing respecting the book which could profit them, and that I could not attempt to lecture upon it.
After still further examination, I came to a resolution, not to attempt the exegesis of Revelation, until a period of ten years had elapsed, which should be devoted, so far as my other duties would permit, to the study of THE HEBREW PROPHETS.
I kept my resolution.
After this period had passed, I began, with much caution, to say a few things in the lecture room respecting the book in question… In the process of time I began to go through the whole book. This I have done several times; and the present work is the result of these often repeated and long-continued labours.”
That’s some SERIOUS STUDY. And it comes from the conviction that Revelation stands at the end of the line of ALL God’s prophets. And so, its pictures will be ones which can be interpreted with the help of what God has said to EARLIER prophets.
- It’s written to an original audience and situation (1, 3, 4, 11)
And the final hint to reading Revelation/ is to remember that it’s been written to an original audience and situation.
Look there in v4
John, : To the seven churches in the province of Asia: NIV
And again in v11. We get a bit more specific detail there.
Rev 1:10-11: I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” NIV
These were REAL PEOPLE in a REAL SITUATION. And Revelation was a REAL MESSAGE TO THEM.
It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but not everyone remembers it. A lot of people see Revelation as a timeline of events which we can tick off until we get to the point when Jesus returns.
Or else they see the whole book as irrelevant to the WHOLE of HISTORY – the time of the original hearers, as well as in OUR time. And that it’s only interested in the time IMMEDIATELY BEFORE Christ’s return.
But that’s not what John says.
The approach most people take these days is that the book was describing events which happened WITHIN THE LIFETIME OF THE ORIGINAL HEARERS. Specifically to do with the persecution from the Roman Empire.
AS WELL as providing general principles for us today. The same PRINCIPLES apply to us, but the faces have changed. The names are different, but the battles are still the same.
So, when it comes to understanding what the book means TO US TODAY, it’s important to ask the question “What did the book mean to the original hearers? What was the original situation?”
Persecution and Witness (1-9)
And that’s where we’ll BEGIN. Because we get quite a lot of hints about the ORIGINAL SITUATION from this first chapter. Especially the first nine verses.
They show us the world as the believers were experiencing it. The world of the BLUE PILL. A world of PERSECUTION AND WITNESS.
John is writing to the 7 churches in the province of Asia. That’s the ROMAN province. The time is sometime between 60 and 90 AD. And persecution of Christians is hotting up.
And the main reason was that Christians refused to obey ONE PARTICULAR RULE of the Roman Emperor.
In the major cities there were temples to the Emperor. Ephesus, there was a statue of the emperor Domitian, 8 metres high. Domitian made a decree. He decreed that his subjects had to call him “LORD AND GOD.” He wasn’t satisfied with “Sir” or “Your Highness” or “Your Excellency”. “Lord and God.” And bow down to the ground whenever you passed by the statue.
Now Christians had a bit of trouble with that. It stuck in their throats. Because if you’re a Christian, there’s only ONE Lord and ONE God. And you’re not going to easily bow to anyone else and worship them as a God, are you?
How does John describe Jesus? Look there in v5.
Rev 1:5: from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the , and THE RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH. NIV
THAT’S who Christians serve. So every day, it’s the same question. Are you going to be faithful to Jesus? Or the Emperor? Are you going to keep testifying about Jesus? Or are you just going to clam up and be a silent Christian?
And those who WOULDN’T bow down. Who WOULDN’T shut-up about Jesus. Were MARTYRED. Fed to the lions. Or killed in the gladiator games. Or burned alive. Or whatever else the Romans thought would make good entertainment.
And, while John hadn’t suffered THAT fate yet, he was STILL suffering because of his witness. Look down to v9.
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. NIV
This was the same John who wrote the GOSPEL of John. He’s the disciples Jesus LOVED. By this stage he was an old man. The elder statesman of the church. But age hadn’t slowed him up.
He was writing from Patmos. A Roman prison colony. A tiny, rocky island off the coast of modern-day Turkey. And he was there because he WOULDN’T shut-up. Because of his testimony from the word of God about Jesus.
And he wasn’t alone. Similar things were going on to Christians all over the place. See, how John describes himself?
your brother and COMPANION in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus
He KNEW what these Christians were going through. Because it was happening to HIM TOO. The pressure to conform. The suffering. The temptation to be quiet. To have an easy life.
That’s the experience of these believers. Persecution and witness.
Victory, Presence and Protection (10-20)
But into that world comes Jesus. With his red pill. His offer to experience TRUE REALITY. Look at v10. John’s having his quiet time one Sunday morning, when Jesus comes to visit.
Rev 1:10-11: 0 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches:
And when John turns to see whose spoken to him, he’s BLOWN AWAY by what he sees. Just close your eyes, and imagine what John saw as he describes it.
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. NIV
If you’ve got any imagination at all, this image of scary POWER and enormous Strength and overwhelming majesty will knock you to the ground. Which is just what it did to John.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though . Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was , and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of and Hades. NIV
This is TRUE REALITY. It’s not the Emperor Domitian whose on the throne. It’s JESUS. It’s not the Emperor Domitian whose won victories. It’s Jesus whose defeated and sin. Whose alive for ever and ever. Who holds the keys to .
And while Domitian wins his victories with the of his enemies covering his robes. THIS king is PURE. White. Good and holy.
- There is a GREAT SCENE in the LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE that CAPTURES that idea of the AWE we should have for JESUS.
- In the book ASLAN the LION is the JESUS FIGURE.
- SUSAN has JUST FOUND OUT that ASLAN is a LION. She had thought he was a HUMAN. And Mr BEAVER is trying to explain what it will be like when they MEET ASLAN.
- Let me read you the passage:
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs Beaver; “If there is anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, their either braver than most, or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “Don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
That’s the image we’ve got here. A POWERFUL king. Whose not SAFE. But whose GOOD.
And the message of this image is that THIS MIGHTY RULER – greater even than Rome and her Emperor, stands AMONG his churches. Beside them, protecting, upholding, strengthening, comforting.
As they continue to SHINE the message of the gospel. Shine like lampstands.
That’s TRUE REALITY. THEN AND NOW.
What difference will THAT VISION make to the way YOU view the coming week. How does it inform the ridicule you cop around the work lunch table as you stumble around, trying to stand up for your Lord.
How does it inform the strange looks you get when you refuse to claim the dodgy tax deduction, or scam your employer.
How does it inform the second-class jobs you get given because you won’t work Sundays, or say NO to a promotion.
How does it inform you as you feel the pressure from the world to KEEP UP. That life is all about GOODS. Or POWER and INFLUENCE.
This vision of Jesus is a red pill. A solid dose of reality. A challenge for comfortable Christians. A comfort for persecuted Christians.:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his , 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father-to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. 7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, : and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. : So shall it be! Amen.