The Seal of the Living God: The Church, Sealed & Prepared for Battle – Revelation 7:1-8


The Church, Sealed & Prepared for Battle

Revelation: Every Eye Will See Him

Revelation 7:1-8


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 7:1-8. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

                12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

                12,000 from the tribe of Asher,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

                12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Levi,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

                12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.


There are 7 basic plots to plays, movies, and novels:

  1. Overcoming the Monster

Definition: A protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic (often evil) force.

Example: Shark eats people. People hunt and kill the shark.

  1. Rags to Riches


Definition: The poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and/or a mate, loses it all and gains it back, growing as a person as a result.

Example: Poor girl is mistreated by her stepmother. Fairy godmother helps her get to the royal ball. The shoe fits. Girl becomes the princess.

  1. The Quest.


Definition: The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way.

Example: Archaeologist tries to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.

  1. Voyage & Return:

Definition: The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses or learning important lessons unique to that location, returns with experience.

A little person joins the company of Dwarves to steal treasure from a dragon and returns more courageous & wealthy.

  1. Comedy:

Definition: Light and humorous conflict which becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.

Example: A man and a woman meet online, striking up a romance over email, without realizing they actually know one another and hate one another in real life.

  1. Tragedy:

Definition: The protagonist is a hero with a major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing.

Example: A poor artist boards a ship heading for America, falls in love with a girl from a high social class. The ship sinks. He drowns.

  1. Rebirth:

Definition: An event forces the main character to change their ways and often become a better individual.

Example: An elderly miser is haunted by three spirits transforming him into a kinder, gentler man.

Plotlines help us make sense of the movie. They give us a framework for organizing all the characters, problems, and resolution. They tell us who to cheer for, and who we ought to root against. They build intrigue and interest.

It’s crucial to understand the plotline of the Bible, because the plotline of the Bible is actually the plotline of history. The story that the Bible tells is the true story of the universe and everything in it.

  • The Bible explains our origin: where did we come from?
  • It explains our destiny: where are we all going?
  • The Bible tells us who the important characters are: God, Satan, angels, humanity.
  • The Bible explains the problem: Being deceived by Satan, humanity has fallen from friendship with God, and through their sin have become his enemies. The punishment for this rebellion is death.
  • And the Bible explains the resolution: God has made a covenant both to redeem and regather rebellious people at great cost to himself.
  • How will he do it? God’s own Son willingly laid down his life for sinners, bore the penalty for their sin, and was resurrected.
  • He is now calling rebels to turn around, lay down their arms, and be welcomed back into God’s family, freely.

If you wanted a more succinct summary of the Bible’s plotline, you might say it’s the story of God gathering a people for himself through the work of his Son. And Revelation 7 contributes heavily to that plotline. But first, let’s set the context, because Revelation 7 isn’t to be read in a vacuum.


In the first three chapters, John addresses 7 first-century churches in Asia Minor. They are the book’s original audience. Most of them needed correction and encouragement because increasing persecution was coming. What would anchor them for the coming storm?

Chapters 4 & 5 give us the anchor.  Chapter is a heavenly vision of God’s throne at the center of all things. In his right hand is a scroll representing all of his plans for the earth. Jesus Christ is the Lamb who is worthy to take the scroll, break the seals, and unfold all of God’s plans.

Chapter six is the breaking of the seven seals on the scroll:

  • The first four seals send forth four horsemen representing conquest, war, famine, and death; all of which have been happening since Christ’s ascension.
  • The fifth seal breaks and we hear the cry of Christian martyrs in heaven, “How Long, O Lord, until you judge those who have persecuted and killed your saints?”
  • The sixth seal breaks and the final judgment of Christ comes to the entire earth with these words:

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Who can stand on that day? That is the closing question of Revelation 6. As John saw this final judgment poured out, he must have thought to himself, “I see how awful this day will be for God’s enemies. What will this day be like for God’s people, the church?”

When all of these judgments are poured out, how will God’s people survive, and even overcome? And Revelation 7 is the answer. It’s almost as if God said, “John, I can see the worry on your face as you see these terrifying judgments. Let me take a moment to set your heart at ease.”

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,

The chapter divides neatly into 2 sections:

  • Verses 1-8 describe a vision of the church on earth, militant, in the thick of the tribulation, yet sealed by God.
  • Verses 9-17 describe the church in the eternal state, in heaven, victorious over evil and at rest in God.

So, Revelation 7 is the story of God sealing his people, his people at war in this age against evil, his people victorious in heaven, and his people finally at rest in his eternal presence.

And that’s our outline. We’ll look at chapter 7 under four headings. Two this week, and two the next time we are in Revelation.

  1. The Church, Sealed by God (7:1-3)
  2. The Church, at War with Evil (7:4-8)
  1. The Church Victorious in Heaven (7:9-14)
  2. The Church at Rest in God’s Presence. (7:15-8:1)

Friends, there are many symbols and pictures to explain in this passage. But more than understanding symbols, my prayer all week has been that you would know you are a true believer, sealed by God, and that you would fight with faith against sin as you wait on our final victory and eternal rest.


And, if you have not yet put your faith in Christ as your Lord and redeemer, I pray you would do so even now as this passage is being preached.


God will gather and seal every single one of his people before the final judgment. That’s the headline. There isn’t a single person who is supposed to come to Christ who will fail to come to Christ before the end. That’s the first message of this text.

Before we elaborate that message, I need to explain a few features of this passage. A likely question you may have about this first point is, “Jonathan, you keep saying ‘the church,’ but these first 8 verses talk about 144,000 from Israel. What gives?”

First, if you look in verse 3, you find these words:

saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Virtually every time the term the “servants of God” appears in Revelation, it’s always in reference to the church. It occurs in 1:1: 2:20; 6:11; 19:2; 19:5; 22:3; & 22:6. The only times that term does not refer to the church are when it is applied once to the prophets and again to Moses.

Now hang with me for a few more minutes.

There are many Christians who love God and love his Word, who believe this 144,000 refers to ethnic Jews who will come to faith in Christ during a future 7-year tribulation after Christ has secretly taken the church off the earth.

But I don’t believe that view harmonizes with Revelation or with Revelation 7 for several reasons:

First, the list of tribes in Revelation 7 is out of traditional order. Reuben, the firstborn is mentioned second, while Judah, the fourthborn born comes first.

Second, Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel received no land in Canaan and are typically not mentioned as one of the twelve. But here they are. (v. 7) The same is true of Joseph, which is not a tribe of Israel. He appears on the list. (v. 8)

Third, two tribes are missing from the list: Dan and Ephraim. (Likely because they were idolatrous)

Remember, Revelation is a book of pictures. Something is being pictured here in this strange and inaccurate list of Israel’s tribes.

I believe we’re being given a highly stylized description of not just of redeemed Israelites, but all God’s redeemed in all ages using Israel’s tribes.

And we’ve already seen John take language that originally applied to Israel, and reapply it to the church. Take, for instance, Revelation 1:6, when John says that the church has been made, “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father,” That language comes directly out of Exodus and Deuteronomy.

The same thing happens in Revelation 21. There, the bride of Christ is pictured as the a city, the New Jerusalem. On the gates of the city are 12 names of the tribes of Israel. On the foundations are 12 names of the apostles.

So, the bride of Christ is made up of the 12 tribes, signifying saints in the Old Testament, and the 12 apostles signifying the church in the New Testament. You see what is being pictured? The tribes and the apostles—the entire church in all ages fill up the New Jerusalem.

Something similar is happening here in Revelation 7. What does the 144,000 picture? I believe it pictures 12 tribes multiplied by 12 apostles multiplied by a thousand, which in the ancient world was a huge number. 144,000 is symbolic of the total number of all God’s people Old Testament and New.

Now go back to verse 1. Verse 1 says, “After this I saw…” This doesn’t mean, the events in chapter 7 happen chronologically after the events of chapter 6. Rather, he’s saying, “After that vision, the next thing I saw was…”

And what did he see? Four angels, standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds. Another angel comes commanding the 4 holding back the winds to not harm the earth or the trees until we have sealed the servants of God. What’s that?

If you look back at 6:12, you see that the 6th seal unleashed a final cataclysm on the earth such that even the stars fell from the sky like a fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a wind. So, at the beginning of chapter 7, we see that God’s final judgment is being held back. It hasn’t come yet.

In other words, something is holding back God’s final judgment on the earth. What is it? Verse 2:

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.

God is first sealing all of his servants. Even today, while God’s final judgment is being withheld, God’s servants are being sealed.

What’s the purpose of a seal?

You have a king who drafts a letter, folds it, gets out his wax and imprints his signet ring into it, sealing it. The seal authenticated the letter; marking it as genuine. Seals also secured. A farmer would seal, or brand, his livestock. It wasn’t simply an identification. It secured against theft.

If you go into my library and thumb through my books you will find that many of them have an embossed seal: “From the Library of Jonathan Homesley” I even had a professor in college who under his seal would inscribe ancient Egyptian curses into the pages of the books for those who did not return them.

This seal is a declaration that we belong to God. We are his own possession. It also secures us. It spiritually safeguards our souls. You say, “So, what is this seal?”

I believe the simplest answer is found in Ephesians 1:13

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Friend, how can you receive the seal of the Holy Spirit? How can you belong to God and be safeguarded for eternity? It’s right there. Hear the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believe.

What is that gospel? It is that the God who will one day judge every sin, and melt the earth in holy justice, has already sent his only Son to bear his wrath against sin so that you might be forgiven all your sins. It’s what we sing about:

Who has felt the nails upon his hand?

Bearing all the guilt of sinful men.

God eternal humbled to the grave.

Jesus, Savior, risen now to reign.

Friend, turn to him today in trust. Revelation 7 is a picture given to John, and to us, comforting us; letting us know that the last day will not come until all of God’s people are gathered into the church.

Church, this is exactly what Jesus himself said would happen:

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

This sealing of God is not a promise that you will avoid the tribulation brought about by the four riders of chapter 6; rather it is a promise that all who Christ effectually calls will come to him before the end and endure until the end.


Friends, it’s a picture of what the Apostle Paul told us in Romans 8:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35, 36)

There won’t be a single person who should have been found but wasn’t. God will save all his people before the end. And those whom he saves, he seals, not with a wax seal, but with his own Spirit.

A few applications:

  • First, God knows the exact number and the proper names of all his chosen people. We do not. This is why we offer the gospel to all. We do not know who God will save, so we ask all to come and believe.
  • Second, this is why we treat church membership, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper with care and caution. By admitting someone into membership and permitting them to come to the table our church is making a public statement that these are the people who God’s Spirit has sealed for the day of redemption. So, when you present yourself to join in membership we ask questions about your conversion, your beliefs in Christ, your walk with Christ.

Church it should being us great comfort to know that while we are called to proclaim Christ to the nations, ultimately, the roster of heaven is in the hand of Christ, and he will lose none of all that the Father has given him.

So, we have seen the Church, sealed by God. Now…


As the text continues, we look at verse 4:

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

                12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

                12,000 from the tribe of Asher,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

                12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Levi,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

                12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

Why picture all of the redeemed in this way? Numbers from each tribe. Some tribes missing. What is the picture that is being communicated?

Richard Bauckham has argued convincingly that the numbering in vv. 4–8 suggests that those numbered are an army. The evidence for this view is manifold, but, above all, the language of from the tribe of recalls the repeated phrases “of the tribe of” in OT census lists (e.g., Num. 1:21, 23, etc.). The purpose of the census in Numbers was to organize a military force to conquer the Promised Land. The redeemed are thus depicted in military terms as a remnant called out of the world to do battle for God.[1]

Church, I wonder if you realize that you are engaged, everyday, in a spiritual battle. Over and over again, the Apostles instructed the church using military terminology:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Cor. 10:3, 4)

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Eph. 6:11)

Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Tim. 6:12)

What is the battle in which we are engaged? Over the last few years, a number of you have come to Lake Wylie Baptist because you have an uneasiness about the direction our culture is heading. Perhaps you’ve lost faith in institutions you once trusted. Or, maybe you see how the people of our nation have begun to redefine even the most basic and foundational categories such as “What is a woman.”

You may be tempted to believe that the insanity of our culture is just a phase, a kind of fever dream that will pass. Or you may think that all of this is simply just the fault of self-absorbed millennials who were never spanked as children.

If you are a new convert to Christ, or perhaps you are new to church in general, it’s important to know that the spiritual battle raging around us didn’t start in this generation. Millennials didn’t invent it. Neither did Gen Xers or Boomers. No. This spiritual battle has been going on since our first parents, Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan in Eden.

Who are the main antagonists in this battle? If God is on one side of the battle line, who is the enemy? Ephesians 2:2-3 tells us there are 3 enemies of God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

The first enemy of God, according to this passage is the “prince of the power of the air.” That is, Satan, the fallen angel who appeared as a serpent and deceived Eve. The second enemy is what Paul calls, “the course of this world.” In other words, there are entire human systems of culture and government that exalt themselves in opposition to the rule and reign of God. So, you have Satan, the world, and the third enemy is what Paul calls, “the flesh,” by which he refers not to our bodies, but to our corrupted nature—our disordered loves. When we are born—we are not born as those who trust God to be our Savior, Lord, and Judge. Instead, we trust ourselves.

Thankfully, Paul follows up this indictment of our flesh, with these words of comfort:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

To be a Christian means that God has made you who were dead in your sins alive with Christ. It means that God has sealed you with his Spirit. And, it means that you have now switched sides in this battle.

  • Instead of following after the course of the world, you walk in opposition to it.
  • Instead of being under the power of Satan, you belong to Christ.
  • And, instead of giving in to your disordered loves, you are now able to love God supremely, and as a consequence reorder all your other loves.

Church, be on guard in your home. These enemies desire to weaken your home, What are you allowing into your home, onto you computer screens, on your TV, on the radio? You are to take every thought captive for Christ. You are to raise your children in the nature and admonition of the Lord. That is the command you have receive from your true Commander & Chief. Show me what you are looking at, and I’ll show you what you are becoming. Show me what your children are learning and watching, and I will show you what they are becoming.

Fathers, prioritize getting your family to church. Take that as your personal responsibility. That, unless we’re out of town, our family will go and meet with God’s people every week. Prepare the family for the Lord’s Day every week. That begins on Saturday night. Make it your priority to make sure Sunday morning goes smoothly.

Families, husbands, wives, parents, children: deal with sin in the home Biblically. That means confessing it, forgiving it, and not letting it pile up. Don’t allow Satan to get a military advantage in your home by holding onto bitterness and unconfessed sin.

We have to be on guard in our church as well. It seems like every month that passes I hear of more churches loosening their grip on clear Biblical truth; opting for ease and seeking piece at the price of their own conscience.

We need more Christians reading their Bible. More Christians learning good doctrine. More Christians stretching themselves, not being spoon fed, but learning to feed themselves. God is calling you to that.

Maybe this coming year is the year you read through the entire New Testament, or the entire Bible. Or maybe you do something really crazy like buy a Systematic Theology and read it cover to cover because you want to know what you believe.

We have to be on guard in our neighborhoods. One of the surprising ways that the church fights this war is through hospitality and charity. You want to push back against some darkness in your community? Bake some cookies, invite some neighbors over for dinner. Share some of what God has given to you, and when your neighbors as why you are doing this, tell them it’s all because of Jesus.

Church, we have to be on guard in our public and civic life. In less than one year we’ll be called to vote on new candidates in a variety of offices, and we should all want to do that as Christians. Those who make the laws will make it easier or more difficult for you to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They will make it easier or more difficult for you to live a peaceful and Godly life. They will make it easier or more difficult for churches like this one to freely preach Christ.

As we close, I want you to know that this call to spiritual battle is not new or unique to us. Just this week I was reading again about one of my heroes, the English Reformer William Tyndale.

Tyndale was a singularly focused man. He had no wife or children. Instead, he mastered languages and committed himself to translating the Bible into English. He wanted nothing more than for his own countrymen to be able to read the Scriptures in their native tongue. But in the 15th and 16th century, being found with a Bible in any translation other than Latin could be considered a capital offense.

Tyndale tried to do his work of translation through official channels. He travelled to London and sought the support of Bishop Tunstall. Sadly, Tunstall was a leader who always had his thumb in the wind, discerning favorable outcomes above what was right, declined to support Tyndale.

At 30 years of age, William realized he would never fulfill God’s call on his life in his home country. He crossed the channel into the continent of Europe. He would never see the land of his birth again.

Church historian J. H. d’Aubigne records the event with poignancy:

“And so Tyndale left England and sailed for Germany. A poor man in material things, he was soon to send back to his countrymen, even from the banks of the Elbe, the book which was to lead many of them to become “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to them that love Him.” With what greater boon can a man bless his native land?

When asked how he felt about exile from his country, Tyndale replied, ‘We be not called to a soft living.’”

No, we are not called to a soft living. We are called to walk in the footsteps of Christ. May we do so with joy knowing that we have been sealed for the final day.

[1] The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: Clark, 1993), 217–29.

How Long?: The Cry of Persecuted Saints – Revelation 6


The Prayers of Persecuted Saints

Revelation: Every Eye Will See Him

Revelation 6:1-17


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 6:1-17. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:

Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”

When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”



“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

Grantland Rice, New York Herald Tribune, October 18, 1924. With those words, 4 Notre Dame football players were given football immortality. They would forever be known as the Four Horsemen. But the 1924 Fighting Irish football team are not the only way the term “The Four Horsemen,” has been applied in our lexicon. That name has been applied to a variety of people.

  • In the Marvel Comic Universe, Apocalypse is a supervillain, and the Horsemen are other villains who do his bidding.
  • There are the Four Horsemen of the Supreme Court, referring to four conservative judges in the 1930s who opposed F.D.R.’s New Deal.
  • “Four Horsemen” was also a song on the The Clash’s famous album London Calling.
  • And who could forget the Four Horsemen of the WCW: the Nature Boy Ric Flair, Arn & Ole Anderson, & Tully Blanchard?

The specter of these 4 apocalyptic riders permeates our culture. Movies, music, and famous novels have been written about them.

But who are these riders? Are they good? Bad? Are they past? Present? Future? Are they historic figures, or are they more symbolic of movements and events? Will the church experience the troubles they bring, or will the church be removed from the earth before they and their assault are released? All of these questions, and many more, have fascinated, puzzled, and even sadly divided Christians throughout the centuries.

But, at the risk of stealing thunder from the rest of the sermon, let me summarize all of chapter 6 right now:

These four riders symbolize all of human history between the time of Christ’s ascension and return. It’s a history characterized by conquest, war, famine, and death; and in God’s sovereign providence, his saints are not immune to, but rather experience them all. (6:1-8) In heaven, those who have been persecuted and martyred cry out to God, “Lord, since you are holy and good, how long will you let this go on,” and are told to rest and wait. (6:9-11) They wait because God is patiently rescuing others before the final day of his wrath and judgment. (6:12-17) There, that’s the entire chapter.

In 17 verses, John sets our expectations for life in this age, he teaches us how we ought to pray as we wrestle with the reality of these riders, and he shows us the hope we have in God’s final day of wrath. So, let’s learn from this chapter under three headings:

  1. The Authority of the Horsemen (6:1-8)

            – Who are they?

            – Why does Jesus send them?

  1. The Cry of the Martyrs (6:9-11)
  2. The Wrath of the Lamb (6:12-17)

It is difficult to trust God when in his providence, he sends troubles. Yet this passage teaches us that even the troubles he sends work for our good in this world and the next. Let’s begin our study by examining:


If you look down in verse 8 you see these words, “And they [the four horsemen] were given authority [or power].”

Who are these horsemen? Some have argued they are ancient Roman Emperors like Titus and Hadrian. Some see these riders as the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and therefore this section of Revelation is past. Others take the breaking of the first seal to be the beginning of a future 7-year tribulation after the church has been taken off the earth. Some believe the first rider to be the Antichrist, while others believe the white rider to be Christ himself.

These 7 seals are the complete (7) judgment of God. And who are these riders? They do not depict a specific war, famine, or earthquake, or specific events in Israel, but represent all the upheavals and wars and calamities in this age which lead up to God’s final judgment.

This is not a picture of a rapture of the church followed by 7 years of tribulation. The 4 horsemen are not a picture of specific people or calamities that occur during a 7-year tribulation. Rather, they are a symbolic picture of all that has been happening between Christ’s first advent and his second advent.

There are four riders, symbolizing that these calamites occur in all the earth. The first rider symbolizes conquest. It’s a picture of men and women who trample one another in the quest for power and domination. As the first rider, who leads out the others, it’s a reminder that envy and selfish ambition are the root of many other calamities.


Some have argued that this first rider is Christ and the message of the gospel going out into the earth, because Revelation 19 is a picture of Christ riding on a white horse. But there are several problems here.

  • First, the white rider in Revelation 6 carries a bow, but in Revelation 19, Christ carries a sword.
  • Second, the white rider in Revelation 6 wears a single crown (stephanos), while Christ wears many crowns (diadems)
  • Third, v. 8 tells us that authority is given to these 4 riders to kill.

So, I don’t believe this can be Christ. In fact, thoughtout Revelation we will see Satan attempt to parrot and impersonate Christ. That’s what I believe is happening here. Many world leaders first appear as saviors before they cruelly become tyrants.

The second horse is red, like blood. Throughout the centuries, nations have warred against nations. Families have turned on one another. This red horse pictures the human heart, unrestrained in it’s sinful anger.

Some of you are students of military history, and you have read of the barbaric atrocities humans have perpetrated against one another. We look at the headlines of our own day and the surprise attack in Israel just weeks ago. This is the red horse running through the earth, taking peace.

The third horse is black, the color of deprivation and emptiness. The rider holds scales in his hand; a picture of scarcity, famine, and inflation. Throughout history there are seasons of scarcity, and starvation.

We’re told that a quart of wheat sold for a denarius, and three quarts of barely for a denarius. What does that mean? It’s a picture of rampant inflation. A denarius was a day’s wage, and a quart of wheat was a days subsistence. The idea is that people are living day to day.

The four horse is pale; literally green. It’s the color of sickness and death. You see the natural progression: selfish ambition and conquest, war, scarcity, death. The rider is named Death, and following behind him is Hades. Hades is close to the Hebrew word Sheol. It’s the holding tank where you go to await final condemnation or blessing.

Verse 8 says:

And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Remember, you don’t read Revelation literalistically. This isn’t saying that the population of the earth is divided into quarters and exactly one quarter are killed. This language of authority over a fourth of the earth symbolizes partial judgment, not full and complete judgement. Throughout history you find war in some nations, but not all. You see scarcity in some continents, not all.

What does all this mean?

Keep the context and original audience in mind: Christians, five decades after the resurrection and ascension of Christ were experiencing increasing persecution, alienation, rejection. And the question must have been in their mind: “If the Father is seated on the throne, and Christ has ascended to the place of authority and power… if he is truly reigning… why are we suffering?”

Remember some of the great promises Christ gave to the church:

“On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

“No one can snatch them out of my hand.” John (10:28)

What we learn in this passage is that painful persecution and deadly destruction do not occur indiscriminately, or in spite of Christ’s sovereign exaltation, but as a consequence of it. It is Christ, ascended and reigning who unfolds all of history in the breaking of these seals, even the trials and persecutions of his people.

Therefore, Revelation 6 is not a preview of calamities from which Christians will be removed. Rather Revelation is a heavenly explanation for the calamities Christians have endured ever since the ascension of Christ and will continue to endure until his return.

  1. THE CRY OF THE MARTYRS (6:9-11)

In many ways, verses 9 & 10 are the very heart of the passage.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

The perspective shifts from the devastation of the horsemen on earth back to the throne room of heaven. Here, John sees the souls of martyrs, presumably, Christians throughout the centuries who have been killed for claiming the name Christ.

Notice the question they ask: O sovereign Lord… how long?” How long will the Lord allow these horsemen to plague the earth? If Christ is risen… if he is reigning in heaven, then why is he sending out these riders?

Notice as well, their attention to the Lord’s attributes:

  • If you are sovereign (in control of all things), why is this happening?
  • If you are holy (morally pure) how can you allow evil?
  • If you are true, why do you allow deception?
  • And if you are the judge, why have you withheld judgment.

Church, this prayer of the martyrs is not unlike the questions Job asked God in his trial. It’s not unlike the questions the prophet Habakkuk asked the Lord centuries before. In fact, this is the prayer of persecuted saints in every century.

If we’re honest, it’s the question that gives us more trouble than almost any other. Why does God allow and even send all that he sends? You may have asked that question even this week. Friends, I take some comfort in knowing that even saints in heaven ask the same question that we are asking here on earth.

11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

In response to their prayer, these saints are given a white robe, symbolizing their own victory. Though they were martyred, their faithfulness is counted as victory. And, they are told to rest. Why? Because there are more martyrs to come.

What’s going on here? They are told to wait for the judgment of God because first there are more Christians to be martyred. Though it may not sound like it, I believe the Lord is showing his patience and mercy. If he were to initiate the final judgment, there would be none left standing.

But, by delaying the final judgment, God allows more time for sinners to repent, to turn from their sins and to trust in Christ. Friend, even this morning, God is showing you patience. If you have not acknowledged your sin, and admitted your need for God’s mercy—do so today.

There will come a day when God’s righteous anger against all sin will be revealed. Because he is good, he will not let a single sin go unpunished. But, because he is also full of mercy, his own Son became a man, lived a perfectly obedient life, and died bearing God’s wrath against sin. Look to Christ, and you will be forgiven. Friend, if you have more questions about what it means to be a Christian, talk to me after the service, or talk to one of the people around you.

John’s original audience, under the persecution of Domitian needed to know that nothing happens outside of the sovereign providences of the risen Christ. The saints today, in North Korea, or Iran need to know that nothing they experience has happened because Christ was weak, or ignorant, or malevolent. And we need to know the same thing.

We need to know that when Scripture says “all things work together for the good of them that love God,” it means even the troubles of today. Even the evil forces of this world, Christ has used as his agent to bring both the sanctification of his people, and the judgment of evil doers.

All Things for Good

Though your afflictions are naturally evil – the wise overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them – turn them toward good ends.

He’s teaching you to hate sin. When I preach on sin, that it defiles and damages, you may

He’s making you more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul say, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Was his head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses? It is good to be like Christ, though it be by sufferings.

He uses your sufferings to strengthen others. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24)

He’s strengthening your will to resist temptation. A tree that is shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted. Just so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a Christian the more in grace. Peter was tempted to self-confidence. He presumed that his own strength was enough. But when he was put to the test, Christ let him fall. But it was for his good. He went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75). And he became less  self-reliant. When Christ asked him, “Do you love me more than these,” he dared not say so. He simply replied with, “Lord, you know I love you.” The fall into sin broke the neck of his pride.

Even if the circumstances themselves are not good, we need to be able to say that “God is working these things in such a way that the outcome will be for my eternal and everlasting joy.”

  1. THE WRATH OF THE LAMB (6:12-17)


The 6th seal is broken in verse 12:

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

What is being depicted here? I believe we’re seeing the final judgment. Because Revelation is a cyclical book, this earthquake will appear again in chapter 16. The focus here in chapter 6 is on the judgment of God against those who have persecuted his saints.

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

This is the complete overthrow of all earthly powers, rulers, movements, and systems. (Beeke) No matter how powerful the rulers of this world are, regardless of the craftiness of their schemes or cunning, they will all be confounded.

And it is the very Lamb who sent forth the riders who will confound them in the end, and not even the mountains will be able to hide them from his terror. The same Christ who died for sinners in his first appearing, will preside over them as judge when he returns.

The only thing that matters is that we are on the right side of Jesus. That we are able to look into his eyes and see one who has redeemed us from our sins. Philip Dodderidge put it like this:

Ye sinner seek his grace

Whose wrath ye cannot bear

Fly to the shelter of his cross

And find salvation there.

Worthy is the Lamb: Jesus Christ Unlocks History – Revelation 5:1-14


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 5:1-14. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10         and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.


What makes you celebrate? This coming Thursday our nation will sit down to tables spread with turkey, dressing, a variety of vegetables that all the children will pass over, and pumpkin pies. As a nation, we’ll celebrate all the many blessings we enjoy, giving thanks and enjoying family and friends.

But there are many other occasions for celebrations that we observe. Our entire year is full of celebrations. We celebrate national holidays such as Independence Day or Memorial Day. We celebrate religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. We even celebrate holidays that we don’t understand.

Originally St. Patrick’s Day was called the Feast of St. Patrick, in which the church celebrated the conversion of Ireland from paganism to Christianity. But what about today? What are we celebrating? Ireland? The color green? Shamrocks and leprechauns?

Once a year we celebrate birthdays, which mark off another year of God’s sustaining our physical life. We throw showers and receptions for weddings and babies, celebrating the beginning of a new family or a new generation. You might celebrate a personal milestone, like the graduation of high school or college, or a promotion at work.

Celebrations set human beings apart from every other living creature. Dogs don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries. Cats don’t celebrate a month of weight loss with a cheat meal. Chimpanzees don’t throw parties when their children graduate from Ape School.


But why? Why do we celebrate? If you think about it, from an evolutionary perspective, celebrations are terribly wasteful; they are an unnecessary expenditure of resources that could be saved up for the survival of the species. So, why do we celebrate?

Friend, you might say that celebrations are part of what make humans human. Because we are made in the image of the Creator, we have an internal knowledge that our lives are significant. The events of history have real and lasting meaning, be they the founding of a nation in 1776, or the evangelization of Ireland. In fact, historical events are so imbued and charged with meaning precisely because God works within history.

That’s why we celebrate Christmas. We recognize that the Son of God, as a fact of history, took unto himself a human nature, and had a birthday. That same Son of God, as a fact of history, was crucified outside of Jerusalem bearing the sins of his people, and was raised again three days later.

You see, the Christian view of history is not like the evolutionary view, which requires blind chance to determine what happens next. Nor is the Christian view of history like the Marxist view, that the material world is all there is, and therefore history is determined by economic relationships.

Rather, we believe that God who spoke both time and space into existence; who created all things by the Word of his power, is the same God who in Christ Jesus is redeeming all things in heaven and earth. The end of history isn’t the frozen, dead universe of the evolutionist, nor is it some utopia brought about by the proletariat’s rebellion against the bourgeoisie.

No, the end of history is a cosmic celebration, and as we will see in our passage today, it is brought about through the person of Jesus Christ. As we consider the unlocking of history, and the celebration that awaits those who are in Christ, let’s work through this passage in 4 parts:

  1. The Scroll He Saw (5:1)
  2. The Tears He Shed (5:2-4)
  3. The Comfort He Received (5:5-7)
  4. The Song He Heard (5:8-14)

Church, as we examine this passage, I pray you will know that Christ alone unlocks all of history. And if you are not a Christian, I pray that even today you will see that your life fits into God’s plan to redeem all things in Christ, and therefore you will turn to him in faith.

  1. THE SCROLL HE SAW (5:1)

In order to set the stage, consider what we studied last week in Revelation 4. The Apostle John, exiled on the Aegean island of Patmos for preaching Christ, received a vision from Jesus Christ in which he was invited up into heaven and there he saw, at the center of all things: a throne. God, seated on his throne is the ultimate center of all reality, and John relayed to us the worship that eternally occurs there.

Now, in Revelation 5:1 we read the following:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.

Our attention is drawn from the one on the throne to a scroll or book in his right hand, the hand of God’s power.

If you were a first-century Roman citizen, you would instantly recognize the significance of a seven-sealed scroll. That’s because, in ancient Rome, the last will of a person’s estate and inheritance was written front and back on a scroll and sealed by seven witnesses. Only upon the death of a testator could the seals be broken and the legal inheritance be executed. So, this scroll is a deed of inheritance.

On the other hand, Jews reading this knew that centuries earlier, God had worked powerfully in the life of the prophet Daniel. Daniel gave many prophecies of the kingdoms of Babylon, the Medes & Persians, of even Greece and Rome.

Daniel was also told of the last days when God would judge sin and evil. In Daniel 7:13 we read these words:

13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.

In the final chapter of the book, Daniel inquired of the Lord when these last days would take place. But instead of giving Daniel an answer, the Lord told Daniel to “shut up the words and seal the book until the time of the end.” (Dan. 12:4, 9)

Amazingly, the Lord Jesus, in Mark 14:62, foretelling his resurrection form the dead and ascension to the Father, quotes this very passage.

62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

You see, Daniel’s prophecy had been sealed up because the saints of the Old Testament could not have understood the full meaning of the Messianic age without direct knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, and what he came to do. But now that Christ has been revealed in the flesh, history has entered its final phase.

Church, you are living in the last days. The prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, foresaw a future age in which God’s Messiah would rule and reign, it would be a time of peace when the nations would come to Christ, they would learn to obey God’s commands, and God’s glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

But, when you turn to the New Testament, you realize that this reign of Christ, which the prophets saw as taking place at the end of the age, actually overlaps our current age. In other words, the kingdom reign of Christ is inaugurated not at the end of history, but right in the middle.

If we take both of those together we begin to form an understanding of what this scroll represents. This scroll represents the title deed to the earth, the plans, purposes, and judgments of God. It is written on both front and back, therefore nothing can be added to this plan.And, this scroll represents the unfolding of all history between Christ’s first and second advent. And John desperately wants to see what is in this scroll. How will God unfold the end of history and bring it to its consummation?

  1. THE TEARS HE SHED (5:2-4)

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

The only way to unlock all of God’s redemptive plan and judgment is to break the seals and open the scroll. And the question is, as Joel Beeke says, “Who is equal to the task of executing God’s plan, realizing his decrees, and carrying out his purposes in the universe? If it were left to us, there would be no kingdom of God, no salvation for mankind, no spread of the gospel, and no final righteous judgment.” And therefore, John weeps.

Friend, what do you weep about? What brings tears to your eyes? Do you weep over your own need for forgiveness? Do you weep for those who have not heard the gospel? When you see hostages taken in Israel, cities bombed in Ukraine, and abortion legalized in our own nation, do you weep; longing for the day when God will set things to right? Church, apart from Jesus Christ opening this scroll, there is no hope for us, for the nations, for good.

Friends, notice that the question asked is not whether someone is strong enough to open the book. Rather, the question is, “Who is worthy?” Is there anyone who has the character, the righteousness, the quality of life to receive this title deed to the earth? And John weeps, for no one in heaven was worthy.

Consider who was in heaven when John received this vision. The Apostle Paul had already been beheaded by Nero nearly two decades earlier, as had Peter within a few years of Paul. But neither of these men, hand-selected by Jesus himself were worthy.

What about David, Israel’s greatest king, the man after God’s own heart? Or what about Moses, the great prophet and deliverer of the children of Israel; the man who split the Red Sea and saw the glory of God on Sinai and delivered God’s law to the people. What about Abraham, the father of the faith, who believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness?

Friend, no one in heaven, not even the holiest saint was found worthy to receive this book.

The search expanded to earth. Surely there were great and powerful leaders of men, kings and emperors who might be able to enact and bring about God’s plans of redemption and judgment. But no. No man or woman on earth could be found. Not the Emperor Domitian, or any of the early church fathers.

Church this is a reminder that even the best of men, are men at best. As important as it is that we elect godly men and women to public office, and it is, none of them are able to enact God’s eternal plans of redemption. No politician, no pastor, no spouse, no child. If we place the hope of our immortal souls in any of these, not only will our hearts be broken, but we’ll become idolaters; looking to men for what only the Son of Man can do.

We have seen:

  1. The Scroll He Saw
  2. The Tears He Shed



As John weeps and no one can be found who is worthy, one of the 24 elders notices his tears and speaks words of tremendous comfort:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Who is this Lion of Judah and Root of David? Well, those are two Old Testament references to Jesus Christ. The first comes from Genesis 49:


Judah is a lion’s cub;

from the prey, my son, you have gone up.

He stooped down; he crouched as a lion

and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him;

and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

And the second is from Isaiah 11:9

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

These were prophecies that would help Israel properly identify the Messiah of God. He would descend from the tribe of Judah, and more specifically, from the lineage of Jesse and King David.

Of course, Jesus perfectly meets these two prophetic requirements. He is the Lion of Judah. As the Root of Jesse, he is the rightful heir to David’s throne. And, as John turns to see this conquering Lion he is utterly shocked because when he turns around, instead of a Lion he sees a Lamb. And not just a Lamb, but who somehow appears to have been offered as a blood sacrifice. Yet this Lamb is standing and alive.

What is happening? Who is this one who is both a Lion and a Lamb? And what makes him worthy of taking the scroll? Church this is Jesus Christ, and what qualifies him is his victory: he conquered. But unlike every other human conqueror, Jesus victory is greater and his means of victory are more surprising. What did he conquer? While other warriors conquered nations, Jesus conquered the power of sin and the plans of the devil. In his perfectly obedient life Jesus conquered sin. He did what the first Adam did not do; where we failed to obey God, Christ the Son perfectly obeyed the Father on our behalf and received our punishment. And, in his resurrection, he conquered the plan of the devil to destroy him. Church, who could possibly execute the contents of this scroll if he could not first be master over sin? Who could bring about God’s redemptive plan and judgments if he was not able to first triumph over Satan? This is what makes Jesus, and Jesus alone, worthy to unlock all of God’s plans for history. And this is what brought John comfort.

Friend, this is what will bring you comfort in your distress, in your disappointments: Christ has conquered. Has your life not worked out the way you had planned: Christ has conquered. Have you received a diagnosis that has shaken you: Christ died in your place and was raised. Are you daily weighed down with concerns for your future? Friend, not one of God’s redemptive purposes will fail because Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah, the Root of Jesse, the Lamb who was slain has taken the scroll and he will execute every line of God’s eternal plans not just for the cosmos—but for you personally.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.

The Scroll he saw, the tears he shed, the comfort he received…

  1. THE SONG HE HEARD (5:8-14)


When Christ takes the scroll from the one seated on the throne all of heaven and all of earth break out in song. John says “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” acknowledges the kingly rule of Jesus Christ. And as they sing about the worthiness of the Lamb, I want to draw your attention to two details in their song.

First, I want you to notice that the Lamb possesses the same power and authority as the one who is seated on the throne. When heaven worships the Lamb, they are worshipping God. When heaven worships the one on the throne in chapter 4, they are worshiping God. Just as the elders fell before the throne in chapter 4, they now fall down at the feet of the Lamb. This is because the Lamb is the Second Person in the Holy Trinity. Though the Son of God is distinct from the Father in his person, he is equal in essence or nature. One of the greatest statements on the deity of Christ comes from the Nicene Creed, written in A.D. 325. Of the son it says:

[I believe in] one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.

I don’t know if you realize this, but the Christian view of Jesus is different from the Islamic, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon view of Jesus. The Islamic view of Christ is that he was a mere human prophet. The view of Jehovah’s Witness is that Jesus Christ was a created by Jehovah as the archangel Michael and is a lesser God. The Mormon view is that Jesus is the offspring of a “heavenly father” and “heavenly mother,” who became exalted to godhood and, even more strangely, that Jesus and Lucifer (who were brothers) both offered to be the Messiah. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus a created being. Church, we may have family, friends, or neighbors who are Muslim, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Mormon, and we have a responsibility to love them by explaining to them, from passages like Revelation 5, that Jesus Christ is clearly the eternally existent Son of God.

The second detail I want you to note in their song is this: Jesus Christ ransomed a people.

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

When Jesus Christ went to the cross, he was not dying for the possibility that some might be saved. No, he ransomed actual people. He didn’t die for the prospect that sinners in general might be saved. Rather, he took a list of names to the cross. He died for the sins of his people. But notice where his people come from: every tribe, every language, every people, every nation. The death of Christ embraces all sorts of men and women: all ethnic groups, and linguistic groups. There is no favoritism or partiality. He did not save us because we were beautiful, but to make us beautiful. He did not ransom us because we were righteous but to give us his perfect righteousness. Friend, though God chooses to save, “that choice is not elitist, or snobbish. There is no preference or bias.” (Beeke) He welcomes the weakest, the vilest the poor.

So, if you hear his voice today, if you believe he has died to redeem you from your sins today, then trust him. Confess your need of him. If you have more questions about what that means, after the service come talk to me, or even talk to one of the people sitting near you. This church is full of people who love Jesus and can help explain the gospel to you.

That soul who on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not I will not desert to its foes

That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake

I’ll never no never no never forsake.

Keep My Word: Christ’s Word to a Faithful Church – Revelation 3:7-13


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 3:7-13. Our text can be found on page 1029. These are the words of God:

7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

8 “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’


Standing at 5’ 6” and weighing only 133 lbs., Spud Webb was one of the smallest ever players in the NBA. Playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Spud seemed to defy gravity with a 46’ vertical leap. Not only could Spud Webb dunk a basketball, he famously won the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie. It just goes to show you that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the dog in the fight.

The same can be said of the church in Philadelphia. They weren’t big. They weren’t powerful. They made zero headlines. But they were faithful in everything Christ providentially placed in front of them. And, for that reason, they were the only church of the 7 to last through the centuries.

How did such a small church not simply endure, but overcome the collapse of the world around them? They understood who Christ was. They rested in his power not their own. And, they held fast to their simple faith. They didn’t become masters of great things—they were mastered by the greatest and most glorious thing of all.


7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

What is this key of David? It’s a reference to Isaiah 22:22 when a faithful man named Eliakim was given the authority of the house of David. In other words, he alone could open the door into the king’s domain, and Eliakim is a foreshadow of Christ. He is the warden of history. The keys of the ages and epochs are securely in his hand. He alone opens a new century, and he alone can close another. He makes nations rise and fall. We may cast the dice, but he determines the result.

More importantly, he alone can open the door to his Father’s house. If he has opened that door for you, then you will walk through it. If that door remains shut, you can’t push it open through your own efforts.

Do you think the president, or the World Economic Forum holds the keys of history? They are merely pawns on the king’s chessboard.


When you realize that Christ is the warden of history, you worry less about how big, strong, or influential your life or church is. This is the God of disproportionate results.

He says to Philadelphia, “You have but little power.” In other words, they were a tiny congregation. He says they are persecuted by the “synagogue of Satan.” Their Jewish friends in the city had betrayed them to the civil authorities. So they’re small and the obstacles are big.

At the same time, he says to them, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Though they were small, their gospel reach was big. Concerning the “synagogue of Satan,” Christ says, “I will make them come and bow down before you,” in repentance and belief in Christ. Though a trial was “coming on the whole world,” Philadelphia would be preserved through it. Why?

First, they kept the Word of Christ. It was the one thing they would not let go. Can the same be said of you?

Second, they endured patiently. They didn’t get their feathers ruffled. They weren’t like a dandelion, blown by the wind. They were like oaks, deeply rooted in Christ. Enduring the storms that threatened.


The passage concludes with promises too glorious for a single sentence, so Christ heaps up heavenly potentialities:

“I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” (v. 12)

Though you may be labeled a disturber of the current state of affairs, you are the one who upholds and supports the only building that will outlast this state of affairs: the church.

“I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (v. 12)

The threefold name given to the faithful church is the name of the Father, the new Jerusalem, and the very name of Christ himself. There is no greater title that can be placed upon you. To be a child of the Father, a citizen of the new creation, and a co-heir of Jesus Christ. When every skyscraper falls into dust and the castles of sinful men are proven to be made of sand, you will have a city that only becomes more beautiful in every eternal age.



Hold Fast: Christ’s Word to a Compromised Church – Revelation 2:18-29


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 2:12-17. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’


We live in an age of tolerance. There are calls to be tolerant in our theology, our immigration policies, relationships, and just about every other area of life. And yet, the more our culture has embraced that word, tolerance, the less tolerant we have become. You might even say we now live in an age of intolerance.


So small, Thyatira was home to several strategic trade guilds, each worshipping their own pagan deity. Therefore, the only way to enjoy the rich commerce of the city was to pay homage to the guild deity. And Christ comes to them with piercing vision and irresistible judgment. (v. 18)

There is much for Christ to commend: works of love, faith in Christ, and service to others. And the church had matured since its founding. (v. 19)

However, much like Pergamum, they tolerate false teachers who have led them into compromise. The ring-leader was a woman Jesus calls Jezebel. (1 Kings 16:31; 21:25) (v. 20) Apparently, (v. 24) the church had drifted into a kind of pagan mysticism. In other words, the beliefs of the church we no longer being built on the objective Word of God, but on the subjective inner voice of man. And that inner voice always leads to immorality of some kind.

The door is open for the church to turn around, but if not, Christ’s judgments will come in the form of great tribulation, death, and sobriety among the churches. (v. 21-23)

A contingent of faithful Christians are called to hold fast until Christ, the judge, arrives. Then they will rule the nations with Christ (v. 25-27) Christ, the true Morning Star (Rev. 22:16) will give himself to them forever. (v. 28) And again, the churches are called to listen to the message of the Spirit (v. 29)


You have likely noticed that Christ introduces himself differently to each of the 7 churches:

Ephesus: “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” (2:1)

Smyrna: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.” (2:8)

Pergamum: “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” (2:12)

Thyatira: “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” (2:18)

Because he is the divine Son of God, he is able to meet every individual need of the churches. The church in Thyatira tolerated false teaching in an effort to blend in. Christ’s flaming vision pierces through every façade. He explicitly refers to himself as the Son of God. As his church, we bear and represent his name.


In his assessment of the church, Christ sees qualities which seem contradictory. He sees a record of love and faithfulness, yet at the same time compromise and tolerance of false teaching. And you might ask, “How does that work?”

This month we celebrate the 506th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Many of you will know the 5 Solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, etc. But there was another Latin phrase that Martin Luther made popular: Simul Justus et peccator, “At the same time, we are just sinners.”

In one sense, we are justified, or declared righteous by God through faith in Christ, and yet we still sin. In and of myself, I am not righteous, I’m a sinner. Yet, God has imputed or transferred to my account the righteous record of Christ by grace through faith (belief). And, he has transferred my sin to Jesus.

In this double imputation, God deals with our sin—he doesn’t compromise or negotiate with it. (2 Cor. 5:21) This is the heart of the gospel.


Christ’s two-word exhortation to Thyatira was to “hold fast.” Grab onto the true Jesus, the Scriptures, true doctrine, and don’t let go no matter how hard the world spins you. But how do you know if the Christianity you are holding will hold you?

  • Does my Christianity serve only myself and my desires, or the honor and glory of God’s name?

  • Is your Christianity cultivating a bigger view of God or yourself?

  • Is God a means or an end?

  • Do you desire holiness as much as you desire happiness?

You are not a Christian if these do not, in some way, describe you. You are not a Christian because you attend a church or put money in an offering plate. You are not a Christian because the music here makes you feel at peace.

Being a Christian is not a feeling at all. There are plenty of days when we don’t feel like Christians. To be a Christian means that God the Father has set his love upon you in Christ. That Christ has given himself for your sins at the cross. That the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to this reality such that you belief and rest in it as your only hope in life and death. And we know this only because God’s Word is true and beneath our feet. Hold fast to that Word.

Be Faithful Unto Death: Christ’s Word to a Suffering Church – Revelation 2:8-11


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 2:8-11. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

“ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (ESV


Smyrna, the modern-day Turkish city of Izmir, was a wealthy harbor town in the Aegean Sea, north of Ephesus. The church was likely planted by Paul at the end of his third missionary journey.

Christ, who will shortly tell them to be faithful unto death, has already blazed that trail for them. (v. 8) The Smyrnean Christians suffered economic hardship as their former friends who were Jewish informed on them to the Roman authorities, yet they were richer than they appeared. By lying about Christians, these Jews have joined the church of Satan, who is the accuser of the brothers. (v. 9; 12:10)

During the early to mid-first century, the Christian church enjoyed a degree of protection under the umbrella of Judaism, but in the aftermath of the Neronian persecution which targeted Christians, Jewish synagogues actively distanced themselves from Christianity.

There were other reasons for Jews to inform on Christians. Ignatius tells us there was jealousy that Jews were converting to Christianity and Justin, in his Dialogue tells us that the Jews considered the Christian worship of a crucified criminal as the Messiah a blasphemy.

Though the economic suffering was painful, Christ warned that intensified persecution was coming. The state will soon sponsor direct attacks on Christian congregations and members to throw them into prison. They will follow the model set by Christians like Daniel and his friends in Babylon. (Dan. 1:12-15) Faithfulness to death will receive the victor’s crown. (v. 10)

The passage ends by calling every church to heed the words of Christ. Tribulations rise in every age. The church conquers through faithful obedience will not be condemned (v. 11)


Several forms of persecution are mentioned by the Lord Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. First, there is the persecution of the righteous by the wicked.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The wicked take God’s good gifts such as power and wealth and misuse them against the the righteous who are weak and poor. The Psalter is full of this kind of persecution, and it’s always happening. In a sense, all of human history since Genesis 3 is a history of persecution.

The second form of persecution Christ mentions is that which targets Christians for being Christians.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Formal persecution of Christians by the state, or by outsiders waxes and wanes throughout history (Domitian, Soviet Purges), and we ought not be surprised when it rears its ugly head. Though Satan cannot stop the advance of the gospel into all the nations, he may still inflict persecution to try to hamper the church’s mission.


Amazingly, Christ never tells Smyrna to pray that the tribulation might come to a close. When we read the book of Acts, a record of the earliest persecutions, the disciples never once asked God to remove the persecution. Instead, the prayer is for boldness and faithfulness in the face of persecution. This is because those first disciples understood that the same God who sent Daniel into the lion’s den, and his own Son to the cross, is the same sovereign God who has allowed persecution to come to them.

While it isn’t wrong to ask God for mercy, if “getting out of persecution,” is a higher priority than faithfulness to Christ in persecution, then the persecution won’t have done you any good.

Jesus tells the Smyrnean church that even though the devil meant to destroy them, he, Christ, meant to vindicate them as true believers through their faithfulness. In other words, every single persecution is a trial, a test of the genuineness of your faith in Christ.

The time of testing is in his hands. Some of us are looking at the trajectory of our nation. We see parental rights being stripped. We see churches being forced to not meet. And we wonder, what is happening? But Revelation 2 tells us what is happening: you are being tested. Your faith is being tried. And you don’t conquer by changing the culture. You conquer by being faithful to Jesus Christ regardless of the consequences.


Christ gives the Smyrnean church two commands: first, they are not to fear. This cannot mean that God is prohibiting the natural fear of starvation, poverty, or even death. Those are good fears, given to us by God to keep us in our creaturely place. Rather, those fears are not to overwhelm us. They are not to grow to such a size that we believe God has been rendered impotent to save us.

Second, they are to be faithful unto death.

Polycarp, one of the best-known ancient Christian martyrs, was a member of the Smyrnian church. According to the ancient church fathers Tertullian and Irenaeus, Polycarp became the senior minister of the church after he was ordained by the apostle John. No doubt this letter from Christ via John to Smyrna was a great encouragement to Polycarp.

Polycarp was in his twenties when this letter came to the church of Smyrna, and he died when he was eighty-six. On February 22, AD 156, this venerable bishop, who had fled from Smyrna at the urging of his local church, was tracked down in a hiding place twenty miles from Smyrna. He made no attempt to flee but instead offered food and drink to his captors. When they asked him if he had any special requests before being martyred, he asked for two hours for prayer. The officers granted his request, then bound him and brought him back to Smyrna for trial.

Two weeks later, Polycarp was led into the amphitheater, where he would be put to death before thousands of people. The proconsul said: “Polycarp, I will have respect for your old age. Swear just once by the genius of Caesar,2 and I will immediately release you.” Polycarp replied: “Eighty-six years have I served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” The proconsul persisted, saying: “The wild beasts are ready. If you refuse to swear by Caesar, you will be thrown to them.” Polycarp answered, “Bid them be brought.” Infuriated, the proconsul responded: “As you despise beasts, I give you one last opportunity to change your mind. Else I shall destroy you by fire.” But Polycarp refused to recant.

Polycarp was brought to the stake. Before he was fastened with cords, he said, “I have one request; leave me unfastened, for I will die voluntarily for my Master’s sake.” The captors left him unfastened as they kindled the fire. Wind drove the flames away, prolonging Polycarp’s agony, but also giving him more time to confess Christ. Over the flames and wind, Polycarp cried out, “O Lord, Almighty God, the Father of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of Thee, I thank Thee that Thou hast thought me worthy this day, this hour to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses.” That so angered one soldier that he took his sword and pierced the old man who refused to run from the flames of death.

And at that moment, a crown was set on Polycarp’s head. It was the crown that Jesus had already won for him, and for you.

Remember Your First Love: Christ’s Word to a Church Whose Love is Fading – Revelation 2:1-7



The text for the sermon today is Revelation 2:1-7. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’


When was the last time you wrote a letter? Biography Arnold Dallimore tells us that during his ministry, the London Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, averaged 500 pieces of correspondence every week. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus himself wrote you a letter to help you understand where you were excelling, and more importantly where you need strengthening? Revelation 2-3 is a record of 7 letters Jesus personally dictated to 7 churches.

Each of the 7 letters follows a pattern: presentation of Christ, introduction of their situation, encouragement/exhortation, a call to hear with warnings and promises. Each letter ends, “to all the churches.”

These churches are a real mixed bag. The first and the last are in danger of losing their Christian identity. The three in the central letters have maintained identity, but are compromised, and the second and sixth faithful. In other words, the Christian church as a whole is in poor condition.


The letter begins by addressing the pastor at the church in Ephesus (angelos, Rev. 1:20) A metropolitan city of the empire, Ephesus boasted 600,000 citizens and was home to the Temple of Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. This temple was 162’ w x 342’ long and made of 100 columns that were 50’ tall and 6’ in diameter. They were a wealthy, cosmopolitan, pagan city.

They were also a city of deep Christian influence. Outside of Jerusalem, one could argue Ephesus was the central city of Christianity until Rome was Christianized. They had an abundance of Godly ministers: Paul, Apollos, Timothy, & John himself (and John returned there after his exile).

Christ also mentions evidence of godly fruit. First, Christ commends their diligence. “I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance.” (v. 2) They were bearing up for the name of Christ. (v. 3)

Christ also commends their discernment. They could not bear with those who are evil. They tested those who called themselves apostles but were not and found them to be false. (v. 2) They were commendable in many ways.

But they had abandoned the love they had at the first (v. 4) Their love for Christ and witness of Christ had been neglected. And they hadn’t even realized it. Jesus had to tell them. The remedy is threefold: remember, repent, and do the works you did at the first. (v. 5)

The passage concludes with a warning: Ephesus is in danger of losing its identity as a Christian church, but if they repent they’ll eat with Christ in paradise. (v. 7)


There’s something we can learn from Ephesus: the church must be zealous for the truth. Jesus commends this church for their diligence in discerning false teaching.

We want to reach people—but we want to reach them with the truth. The prime motivation for our church isn’t growth, but spiritual health. If growth were our ultimate goal without qualification we’d do things quite differently.

Friend, what is your standard of truth? Everyone has a standard they appeal to. Is it your own wisdom? Is it science? At Lake Wylie Baptist we recognize the gifts of human wisdom and scientific discovery. We praise God for those good gifts. We also acknowledge their limitations. They are not omniscient guides.

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in his excellent Word?


While Jesus commends the Ephesian’s zeal for truth, he also points out a serious problem. It’s important to know that Jesus isn’t like a policeman, looking for someone to break the law so he can club them on the head. Rather, Jesus walks through his churches like a gardener; admiring the fruit he sees while noticing disease and weeds. So, when he points out sickness in your life, of the life of a church, he does it because he loves you and his church.

What’s the disease growing in the Ephesian garden? While they loved the truth, their love for Jesus Christ had grown cold. Friends, love of doctrine is not the same thing as loving Christ. Loving your obedience to Jesus isn’t the same thing as loving Jesus.

And here’s the scary part: the Ephesians didn’t even realize it had happened to them. Jesus has to point it out. It’s possible to know the truth, to obey commands, and yet be far from Christ.

And, if they don’t change, they’ll lose their identity as a Christian church!


How do you rekindle your first love of Christ? Remember, Repent, Do.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen (v. 5)

In his autobiography (Grace Abounding), John Bunyan writes, “It is profitable for Christians to be often calling to mind the very beginnings of grace within their souls.” We do well to remember where we were when grace found us. When you love knowing the truth more than Christ, you swell with pride. But if you love Jesus Christ above all, then the truth will actually make you humble.

As you remember, repent. What does that mean? Repentance is a gift. It softens our hard hearts. But how do we do it? Very practically:

Grieve over and hate sin.
Confess specific sins to the Lord and those you have offended.
Cry for mercy.

Here is the cry of a Christian: “I cast myself upon Mercy. Where else can I go? If Mercy must cast me away then Mercy must do it, but upon Mercy I will fall and upon Mercy I will stay. I will camp at Mercy’s feet.”

Lastly, “Do the works you did at the first.” Our culture says it’s wrong to do something you don’t feel. But our culture doesn’t understand what a human is or how a human works and grows. Indeed, you can’t summon up the feelings and emotions of love, but you can repeat and perform the duties of love—and if you do the feelings will follow.

His Face was Like the Sun: Christ in the Church – Revelation 1:9-20



The text for the sermon today is Revelation 1:9-20. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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.


In 1977 the IBM company produced a 9-minute video called Powers of Ten. The film showed the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of zooming out or in by the power of 10. The video fades from black revealing a couple enjoying a picnic in a lakeside park in Chicago. The scene is one meter wide viewed from one meter away. The camera zooms out to 10 meters: a field of grass surrounds the picnic. 100 meters: a freeway on one side and boat docks on the other. At one kilometer, Soldier Field comes into view. 10,000 meters: Downtown Chicago and the rounded end of Lake Michigan. 100,000 meters: Long bands of clouds, a day’s worth of weather in the Midwest of U.S. 1 million meters, North America. 10 million meters: Earth. 100 million: the orbit of the Moon. At 1 million million meters we see our Solar System. At 1016 meters, we’re one light-year from where we started, and we haven’t even reached the closest star. At 1021 meters we finally see the Milky Way… and way down below, many billions of miles is a couple having a picnic in Chicago.

For the ant on the picnic blanket, a watermelon might as well be a planet. From outside the Milky Way, the skyscrapers of Chicago are smaller than toothpicks. Your vantage point radically changes the relative size of whatever you are looking at. In the span of 19 verses, John the Apostle is transported from a tiny rock on the Aegean Sea out of this Universe and into the heavenly realms where Christ reigns over everything and cares for the church. In this vision of Jesus Christ, we see three contrasts, and if we attend to these three contrasts they will have a profound impact on our lives. They are:

Christ, Dead Yet Living Again
John: Falling Yet Lifted Up
The Church: Suffering Yet Shining


The very first vision John records in Revelation is a vision of Jesus Christ. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (v. 10) Apparently, John was enjoying Sunday worship in his exile and was especially attuned to the Holy Spirit when he heard a voice behind him.

“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…”

John then “turned to see the voice…” and “on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like the son of man.” This title, “son of man” was Jesus’ favorite title for himself in the gospels. (Matt. 20:28; Mk 14:62; John 3:13; Dan. 7:13, 14) It comes from Daniel 7:13, 14, where the “son of man” is given everlasting authority, glory, and a kingdom. John is receiving a vision of the risen, exalted, and enthroned Jesus.

And we’re given a physical description of Jesus. It’s the only time we’re given a physical description of Jesus, but remember, this is all visionary and symbolic language. This description doesn’t tell us what Jesus actually looked like. So, we aren’t to read this literally. This description of Christ tells us who he is, not what he looks like.

Jesus is “clothed with a white robe… with a golden sash around his chest”; the dress of a priest. His hair is white with wisdom, and his eyes are like flames. Jesus’ feet are “like burnished bronze,” and “from his mouth came a two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” This all speaks to Jesus’ position as the cosmic and eternal judge. His eyes see every evil deed. His bronze feet crush the wicked. His judgment he speaks cuts and thunders, and no sinner can bear to look him directly in the face.

Friend, I wonder if you have given proper attention to Jesus Christ as the cosmic judge. He knows everything you’ve ever done, and every thought you have had. You may be skilled at deceiving your spouse or your parents, but you will not deceive him. His eyes are piercing flame. You may be good at talking your way out of your failures at school or work, but when you hear the judgment of his mouth, which roars like the waters, you will stand in silence.

Christian, because Christ is the judge who sees all, you are encouraged to obey him faithfully, knowing that if you are mistreated for his sake, he will not forget it. If you are unjustly persecuted, you need not fear. You will ultimately overcome in the same way as Christ: through endurance and suffering. And in the final reckoning, the eternal Judge will vindicate you.

When Jesus speaks, he says, “I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The implication is that because Jesus has overcome death and the grave, he is now appointed as a heavenly priest, ruler, and judge.

As I said in week one of our study: the central figure in Revelation is Jesus Christ. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and final letters in the Greek alphabet. The Son of God entered history as the son of man, he lived the life we ought to have lived and died the death we ought to have died as sinners. He was laid in the grave and three days later he rose.

And when he did, he took the keys which once belonged to the grave. In his sovereignty, he appoints the moment of your birth, the number of your days, and even the moment of your death. And, if you belong to him, even when you die, he will unlock the grave at the resurrection.

When the Apostle John saw Jesus revealed as the first and the last, the priest of our souls, the judge, John says, “I fell at his feet as though dead.” This brings us to the second contrast. Not only do we see Jesus as dead yet alive again. We see John: falling yet lifted up.


In 8 words, John captures the right response to this vision of Jesus: “I fell at his feet as though dead.” This reminds us of nearly every Biblical encounter of the holy. In Exodus 3, Moses has to take the shoes off his feet because he’s on holy ground. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up and cries out, “Woe is me for I am undone.”

Luke records the time when Jesus first got into Peter’s boat on the Sea of Galilee. They had fished all night and caught nothing, but Jesus told them to put down their nets once more. Their nets filled. Apparently, Jesus commanded every fish in the sea to swim into their nets. And how did Peter respond?

8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

Again, when Jesus healed a demon-possessed man in the Gadarenes, Matthew tells us that, “all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” (Matt. 8:34)

John, himself, had fallen down on his face before. When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain he was transfigured and revealed in all his glory to them. His face shone like the Sun, and they heard a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”

Friends, it has become popular in our age to talk about the experience of God as something that makes you feel peace and warmth; to speak of being caught up in worship as exciting or energizing. Many people say they want to experience God, or get into his presence. But when you read the Bible, the people who encounter God almost always fall to the ground and try to get out of his presence.

God’s glory reveals our shame. His power unmasks our weakness. His knowledge uncovers our secrets. His holiness highlights our sin. And so, John rightly falls down as though dead. John was a Christian. His sins had been forgiven. He knew that Christ was alive and believed. And yet, this unveiling of Christ doesn’t make John comfortable or casual. It humbles him and even causes him to cower in fear. One of the signs that you are encountering the true God is humiliation, it’s fear: a sense of awful dread in the presence of the one who made all things with just a word.

Thankfully for John, and for us, Christ does not leave believers to lie in the dust. The same words that Jesus said to Peter, James, and John at his transfiguration, he repeats now to John on Patmos: “Fear not” Fear not! For the same Jesus who is the judge, is also a savior. Fear not! The Lion is also a Lamb. He is the Alpha and the Omega—not only of all history. He is the Alpha and Omega of your personal salvation and redemption. You are lifted up out of the dust of sin and death because Christ has raised you. You are still a Christian today because Christ preserves you. You will forever be a Christian because Jesus Christ has written the story of your salvation.


Did you notice, back in verse 9, how the author and the audience are introduced?

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation

By the time John is exiled, Emperor Domitian was beginning a systematic persecution of Christians. He demanded that they worship and say, “Caesar is lord.” Every time you read the words, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” in the New Testament you are reading an act of civil disobedience. John was on the island of Patmos, why? “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v. 9) It was illegal to preach.

Many of the Christians who received and read this Revelation were sentenced to death. They were torn apart by wild horses. Some of them were impaled alive on stakes, covered with pitch, and lit as torches. Some were fed to lions. How merciful.

They faced immense pressure to abandon Christ, to abandon other Christians, and to abandon the church. They could easily avoid death by attending worship at a pagan temple or by turning back to Judaism. Amazingly, under all this persecution, the church actually grew. They made more converts. One of the church fathers said, “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” In other words, though they were suffering, the church was not extinguished. The hotter the persecution grew, the more it refined and purified and grew the church. The church spread so much because the Roman Empire watched Christians go into the flames, go into the lion’s mouth not just with courage, but even with joy and peace.

What was it that enabled those Christians to live through tribulation? What will enable us to live through tumultuous times; times of persecution? It was this vision of Jesus in Revelation 1. Earlier I mentioned that John saw Jesus dressed in the robe of a priest. Notice where John sees Jesus standing:

“I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man”

This is a vision of Jesus Christ as a heavenly priest tending the temple of God. The seven candlesticks recall the seven branches lampstand that stood in the Tabernacle and Temple of Israel. It was the job of the priests to go into the holy place, refill the oil in the lamps, trim the wicks, and make sure the flames didn’t go out. But notice, these seven lampstands are not in the temple of Israel.

“the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (v. 20)

These churches on earth are in tribulation, suffering on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Yet, those same churches who are suffering on earth are shining in heaven, their flames tended by the risen and reigning Savior. No Roman Emperor can extinguish these lamps. No threat of death can do us in; not while the Great High Priest is walking in our midst.

Over the next 2 chapters, as we read Christ’s personal words to the 7 churches we will see him, as it were, walk among the lampstands. How does he trim the wicks and refill the oil? Church, he tends the light of the church by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning. He does all of this so that the church will be a proper light-bearer in a dark world.

Lake Wylie Baptist: We have challenging days ahead. This nation has forgotten the Lord and is running pell-mell in rebellion. That kind of rebellion hates obedience and therefore we can expect increasing pressure. In the coming years the powers that be will find ways to persecute and threaten the church. They will find ways to weed Christians out of their marketplaces. Young people, children in the room, it will not beeasy to be faithful to Jesus. Many will ignore you. Some will make fun of you and exclude you.

And when that happens… when you, like John, are a partner in tribulation on account of the testimony of Christ, turn with John to see who speaks to us.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea;
A great High Priest, whose Name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

Every Eye Shall See Him: Our Need, Task, & Hope – Revelation 1:4-8


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 1:4-8. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

4 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, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. 
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (ESV)


These verses are John’s greeting to the 7 churches in Asia. They speak to the needs of those churches. They help frame and define the task of those churches. And, most importantly, they identify the great hope those churches have as they seek to fulfill their mission. The need, the task, and the hope which enables them to complete their mission.

But before we examine those three, let’s take a moment and consider verse 4:

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

If you’ve read the other letters of the New Testament, you have seen this kind of customary introduction before. (Gal. 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:1-2) Rather than sending this letter to a single church, John addresses Revelation to seven churches in what is now western Turkey. There were more than 7 churches in Asia when John wrote these words, but he chose these seven for several important reasons.

First, if you read chapters 2-3, John addresses these churches by name: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia (not that one, though it could use some help too), & Laodicea. Not only does he address them by name, but he also pinpoints their spiritual health or sickness. He encourages and rebukes as needed. These were all real churches, with real church members, and real challenges. We’ll examine those churches in great detail in the coming weeks. But there is another reason John chooses to write to seven churches.

Revelation is a book that communicates through symbols, and numbers carry special symbolic significance throughout this book. One of John’s favorite numbers is seven, and it’s a number that denotes fulness, or completeness throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, Priests would sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice 7 times to symbolize a complete cleansing of sin. Those who were unclean would stay outside the camp for seven days in order to be fully cleansed. All of this is rooted in the very first chapter of the Bible, in which God completed his creative work in seven days.

John uses this Old Testament symbolism. In writing to seven churches, John is writing to the full or complete church—to every church in every age. In fact, if you look at a map of these seven churches you notice they are in a rough circle, yet another figure of completeness. So, in addressing these seven churches, John is effectively saying, “Every church in every age has the same needs, is called to the same task, and shares in the same hope.”


Consider the challenges faced by the early church. Immediately following the resurrection of Christ, the book of Acts records the initial spread of the gospel in the Mediterranean in and around Israel. Most of that book is the story of the first apostles being jailed for preaching the gospel. In Jerusalem, the apostles were jailed by the Jewish authorities. By the end of the book, in A.D. 62, Paul is awaiting trial in Rome. Through the end of the 60s, Emperor Nero would set Rome on fire, blame Christians for it, and institute the first government-sponsored persecution of the church. By the time John writes Revelation, in the late 90s, Domitian is the new emperor and requires everyone to refer to him as “Lord and God.” Those who refused are killed. This government-sponsored antagonism against Christianity will continue in Rome for another two centuries.

Not only did Christians face political challenges, but they also faced economic challenges. Rather than multi-national companies, commerce in the empire was run by local trade guilds. Each guild, or union, had its own patron pagan deity. Each year, to be a member in good standing, you had to confess your loyalty to the deity. Christians couldn’t do that, and many were expelled from the guilds; they could no longer buy and sell in the markets. Their stores were boycotted.
In chapters two and three, John highlights the trials and frequent failures of the seven churches. Christians in Ephesus had forgotten Christ as their first love. Smyrna in particular was threatened with martyrdom. Pergamum fell into false teachings. Thyatira compromised on sexuality. Sardis had become so comatose concerning their sin. Philadelphia was faithful to Christ, and that faithfulness meant greater pressure from their persecutors. Laodicea had become useless in the task of gospel living and proclamation. All of them troubled. Some of the trouble was of their own making, some came from the surrounding culture. But none of them had it easy. John, our older brother and apostle in Christ, laboring for the strength and endurance of the church, writes in verse 4:

Grace to you and peace (v. 4)

Many letters of New Testament begin with this greeting. The great need of every church, the great need of Lake Wylie Baptist is the grace and peace of God. No, we are not being fed to lions, yet. But I do know Christians in this church who have left jobs because they held the teachings of Christ more dearly than their career. I do know students in this church who have risked losing scholarships because their commitment to the truth was greater than their commitment to their school.

This grace and peace find their origin in the Triune Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Grace and peace come, first:

from him who is and who was and who is to come

This is God the Father, the changeless, eternal, sovereign architect of all history. This is a constant flow of grace and peace because the well from which it is draw is and was and is to come.

Are you tired of being a Christian? Tired of being told you are a bigot? Anxious about the future? Friend, your Father is the one who is and was and is to come— the future is already present and past to him. His rule will outlast this week, this month, this decade, this nation. Grace and peace also come from:

from the seven spirits who are before his throne

The seven spirits is a symbolic description of the Holy Spirit of God, the third member of the Godhead. In Isaiah 11:2 we’re told that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of:

1. The Lord

2. Wisdom
3. Understanding
4. Counsel
5. Might
6. Knowledge
7. Fear of the Lord

The grace and peace of God are grace and peace which equip you—with wisdom, with counsel, with power, with fear of the Lord. The Holy Spirit has been given to all true believers and his ministry is to fill you for faithfulness to Christ. Grace and peace, finally come from:

Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

The threefold description of Christ summarizes his entire ministry:

• In life he was a faithful witness.

• He was raised by the power of God having been offered as a sacrifice for his people.
• He has now ascended and rules over every earthly king.

What is your great need? You could say, “I need a new place to live. I need a better job. I need better health.” What is the need of Lake Wylie Baptist Church? We could say that we need more space. We need more rooms. We need more volunteers. What is the need of the global church? We need more missionaries. We need more church plants. We need more pastors.

But friends, above all of these needs, there is one great need. We need an experience of the all-surpassing grace and peace of our triune God. The Father, giving you his changeless favor. The Son, giving you his perfect righteousness and taking your guilt upon himself. The Holy Spirit, giving you a new heart, giving your faith, granting you repentance so that you may receive all that Christ has done. This promise of grace and peace is not a promise that you will get a better job, but that you are adopted into the Father’s family. It is not a promise that you will avoid trials, but that the Spirit will indwell you and empower you to face every trial imaginable. It is not a promise that you will not be anxious, but that even in the deepest anxiety, you will not be forsaken because Christ was forsaken in your place. If we are going to endure the trying times set for us in the good providence of our God, we need to hear him declare his intention to grant us his grace and peace.

Not only does this passage show us our need. It also shows us our task.


The greeting shifts from the grace we receive to the glory we give. The great task of the church, as we await that day, is to glorify God. Look at the end of verse 5:

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Grace to us. Glory to him. Our job today as Lake Wylie Baptist Church in the year 2023, is the glory of God. What does that mean? Are we to sit around singing hymns all day long? “Sorry, honey I didn’t fold the laundry. Had some hymns to sing.” On a practical level. How do we glorify God? John says, Christ, having saved you, had made you a kingdom, and priests. This language of “kingdom” and “priests” first shows up at the founding of Israel as a nation. God had redeemed the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt and spoke these words to them in Exodus 19:6

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

With God as their sovereign king, Israel was to obey his commands as loyal subjects. And, as priests, they were to offer sacrifices for sin. And notice, this was conditional for Israel: “If you will obey…” But here in Revelation, it is already accomplished for the church. John writes in the past tense: “has freed us… has made us a kingdom… has made us priests.” In essence, John is saying, “the church is the new Israel.”

Romans 9:6

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring

Galatians 3:7

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

1 Peter 2:9

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Church, there is no other way to put this: when Jesus Christ came, the covenant that God made with Israel became obsolete, and the true Israel of God is no longer an ethnic nation. The church is the kingdom of Christ. We glorify him by living in accordance with his commands. We read and obey the Sermon on the Mount. He has made us priests. We don’t offer animals. We proclaim the death of Christ as the only sacrifice that truly covers and atones for sin. This is our task. We are to obey Christ and proclaim Christ. This is how we glorify God. We obey his commands and we call others to believe in the work of Christ.


When I was a little boy, I remember my dad getting a paper copy of the Bass Pro Shops catalogue. We flipped through the pages looking at fishing rods and reels. Then my dad selected one for me. This was before the internet, so everything was ordered by mail or by phone. This was also before two-day shipping so you never quite knew when your order would arrive. Over the next week my little boys mind could not contain itself. I couldn’t sleep. I just knew that maybe tomorrow it would come. John writes to persecuted, marginalized, ostracized, exhausted Christians and he knows that they need more that a fishing rod to motivate them. So, he writes:

7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

The same Jesus who was a faithful martyr, the firstborn of the new creation, the ruler of the kings of the earth will return. And no one will miss his return. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that Christ’s return will be accompanied by a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. When Christ returns, every eye will see him. Every ear will hear him. Every sinner who through their sin made his death necessary for our salvation will look on him whom they have pierced.

Not only is our hope in a future event, our hope is in an eternal person. The passage concludes in verse 8 with these words:

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

In verse 4, God the Father was described as the one who was and is and is to come. Now those words are spoken by Christ of himself. How do we know this is Christ speaking? Because Christ speaks the same words at the end of Revelation, sealing its promises to us:

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Our hope is not in ourselves. It’s not in success as we might define it. Our hope is in him who is, was, and is to come, the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty. Friends, I have walked with Christ for 31 years. And yet I still get tripped up in sin. I’m amazed at how quickly I can still give into behavior that dishonors Christ. You may be right there with me. We are all still under construction. Our hope is not in ourselves. We all daily face challenges that if unaccompanied by the Holy Spirit are insurmountable. Our church, baptizing more Christians, growing every month faces challenges. Our culture bent on silencing the truth will not give up. But the success of our task does not ultimately depend on our faithfulness, but the faithfulness of the Almighty. Not on our abilities, but his. Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.

He maketh the rebel a priest and a king,

He hath bought us and taught us this new song to sing:
Unto Him who hath loved us and washed us from sin,
Unto Him be the glory forever. Amen.

(Arthur Pierson, A New Song to Sing)

The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Introducing the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:-3)


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 1:1-3.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (ESV)


Imagine that tomorrow morning you were moving to a strange country you knew nothing about. One of the first things you’d have to do is learn a language. Vocabulary, sentence structure, colloquialisms. You’d also encounter a new culture: customs, dress, habits, gestures, holidays. You might be left-handed and learn that no one uses their left hand in your new home. You’re used to pointing with your finger, but your new neighbors find it highly offensive. It wouldn’t take long before you realize how much you have to learn. It would require patience and practice.

In many ways, we need to approach the book of Revelation the same way we’d approach moving to a new country. If you’ve only read the gospels or the NT letters, Revelation may sound like a completely different language. It’s full of symbolic numbers and visions of otherworldly creatures. At times is seems to lack any sense of chronology or logical arrangement. But, just like moving to a new country, if you will commit to being a learner, if you will be patient and practice reading this book, you will not only learn how to speak the language but your life will also be shaped by its message.

Many avoid the book of Revelation. Some are frightened by it. Images of beasts and dragons and plagues. Others are intimidated by it. There is no other book in the Bible like it. It’s difficult to read and interpret. Many are discouraged by the division it can cause between Christians who disagree over how to interpret the book. But John tells us that those who do read, hear, and obey it will be blessed. So, this book is not given that you might fear, fail, or faint. It’s given that you might be faithful.

The first three verses of Revelation give us the title of the book, as well as a summary of the book’s content as well as how we ought to approach this book so that its message can be clearly heard. As we wade into these initial verses we’ll unpack their meaning by seeing how they answer 4 questions:



The first five words of the book tell us exactly what we are reading:

“The revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Revelation is a translation of the Greek word apokalupsis, from which we also get the word apocalypse. Unfortunately, for us, “apocalypse” has come to mean “a world-ending event.” Maybe you’ve read a post-apocalyptic novel in which a cataclysmic event has ended the world as we know it. But the Greek word apokalupsis doesn’t mean world-ending event. Rather, the word literally means “unveiling or uncovering that which was formerly hidden.” If you rolled up your sleeve you would bare your arm; uncovering that which was previously hidden.

In other words, even though Revelation is filled with symbols and visions, it was not written to be obscure, elusive, or enigmatic. Revelation was written to make something clear, plain, and obvious. Verse 1 says that God gave this revelation in order to show his servants. The goal of the book is to show, not hide, to reveal, not conceal. So, the visions of this book are not concealing information, they are revealing information.

Not only is this book an unveiling. We are told it is the unveiling of Jesus Christ. The book identifies itself as the revelation of Jesus Christ. This expression might mean a revelation with Jesus Christ as its source. Or it might mean a revelation with Jesus Christ as its principal content. Both possibilities express important truths.

This book reveals Jesus Christ. In Luke 24:27 we’re told that Jesus began with Moses and all the Prophets and he interpreted in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Jesus is the key that unlocks all of the Bible, therefore he is the key that unlocks Revelation. As Joel Beeke put it: “This vision is about Jesus Christ, not the pope, Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Saddam Hussein, or any other person in world history.”

Certainly, it has much to say about world history, governments, motives and methods of world leaders, but first and foremost it is a revelation about Jesus Christ, and what God has accomplished in his resurrection in the past, and what God will accomplish at his Second Coming in the future. Rather than reading world histories and historic figures into the book, we ought to read history and historic figures in light of the main message of the book: that God is the author of history and will bring it to its final culmination on the day of Christ.

Revelation is not a horoscope, a Ouija board, or a cipher that must be decoded. Jesus is the theme of the book: the one who is revealed. He is the author of the book, for the Spirit of Christ inspired John to write it. Jesus is the revealer of the book, as verse 1 says “the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him to show his servants.” It is not always an easy book to understand, but God is not hiding its meaning from you. Revelation declares that God alone is the author of history, and will bring history to its culmination through what Christ has done in his death and resurrection, the spread of the gospel, and the return of Christ to judge.


Let’s look back at verse 1:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,

Follow the chain of action: God gave this revelation to Christ to show his servants things which must soon take place. Jesus in turn gave this revelation to an angel who then relayed it to Jesus’ servant, a man named John, who in turn wrote it down for Christ’s other servants, the church.

Revelation was likely written in the late 90s A.D.. Several decades earlier, the church had endured one persecution under the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. That was the persecution that resulted in the beheading of the Apostle Paul. Now, at the end of the Apostolic age, the Roman Emperor Domitian increases the persecution of the church to such a degree that to even be a Christian was a crime punishable by death. These servants, to whom John is writing, are walking precisely in the footsteps of their master, Jesus Christ who promised in John 15:16, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; for I have overcome the world.”

The human author of this letter gives us only one name. No title. No biography. We are only told that the angel delivered this message to a man named John. Of course, we know who this is because there is only one person in the time around Christ who could introduce himself as “John” and know that the church would understand who was writing. This is the brother of James, the son of Zebedee. Indeed, this is the same man who left his nets on the shores of Galilee to follow Christ as a fisher of men. This is the same author of the Gospel of John and the 3 letters of John at the end of the New Testament. This is the same John who sat with the mother of Christ at the foot of the cross. This is the same John who eventually made his way to minister in the city of Ephesus and there took care of the aging mother of our Lord. But the rise of Domitian’s terror meant that John could no longer preach freely about the gospel. In verse 9, John tells us where it is that he received this Revelation of Jesus:

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Just as Christ suffered, so did John, and so did all of the church under the reign of Domitian. So, the book of Revelation is for the church, but more precisely the book has a special meaning and message of a church in tribulation.

Friends, every year that passes we find ourselves in a nation more and more opposed to the rule and reign of Jesus Christ. And, because they cannot go up to heaven to attack him, they attack his bride on earth, the church.

A Biblical understanding of marriage is under assault. During 2020 we saw several governments unequally target church meetings as non-essential as pot dispensaries and abortion clinics remained open. Our society worships the state, and the state worships itself. There is no humility. There is little honesty. We are a nation that has blasphemed the name of God and forsaken his laws.

Sadly, we find most of the churches in our nation either compromised or apathetic. We have lost our prophetic voice. The teaching of the church no longer threatens the powers of the state. In the 16th Century, the Reformer John Knox said, “Give me Scotland or I die.” To which the Queen Mary said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than the assembled armies of Europe.” No heads of state fear the prayers of the church. Instead, today they mock and scorn them. The servants of Christ have forgotten their first love, embraced the world and its desires, and conceded on the truth in order to avoid ostracism. A few have kept the Word of God, and through difficulty, they will prevail with Christ.

By the end of the book, it becomes clear that God has given Revelation to bless every church in every age who reads this book.

6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” 

7 “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Rev. 22:6-7)

Friends, this book is not for a future generation, it’s for us. It’s for every servant of Jesus Christ who must endure tribulation as they patiently wait on the return of the King.


As we study this book, we have to make sure that take the proper approach to understanding its message. For the next few minutes, I am going to overview the 5 predominant ways Revelation has been interpreted. I appreciate how the commentator Joel Beeke summarizes these views and helps us see the benefit of them all. He writes:


First is the preterist approach. This view sees Revelation wholly in terms of the circumstances that transpired in John’s day prior to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, without any reference to future events. The word preterism is derived from the Latin word praeteritum, meaning “that which is past.” Preterists believe that any interpretation of Revelation must be confined to the historic past rather than projected into the future.

This view interprets Revelation’s opening words, “things which must shortly come to pass,” as events that happened in John’s own time. Preterists argue that, just as the seven churches of Asia were real first-century churches to which letters were addressed, so the entire book of Revelation contains only things that came to pass in John’s day or shortly thereafter, with the exception of chapters 21–22, which clearly refer to the time of the new heaven and new earth.

The strength of this approach is that it strongly affirms the operative framework of the book as “things which must shortly come to pass.” Its weakness is that Revelation then has little to say to the church today in the midst of her struggles


Second is the historicist approach. This view, which was held by most of the sixteenth-century Reformers, sees the book of Revelation as a symbolic representation of the panorama of church history, from the first coming of Christ to His second advent at the end of the world.

A historicist might say that the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2–3 do not refer to seven particular churches in Asia Minor but to seven ages of church history. They would then conclude that today we live in the age of Laodicea or the era of the lukewarm church. They thus view Revelation as a chart of church history, offering a series of historical pictures moving from Christ’s first coming to the end of the present age. In Revelation 13, the beast rising from the sea could be the rise of Islam in the seventh century, while Revelation 17, several centuries further along, may refer to the Roman Catholic Church and the rise of the papacy.

The strength of this approach is that it embraces all of church history; its weakness is that it too easily assumes that Revelation prophesies a linear movement through church history, with no recapitulation of events seen from different points of view.


Third is the futurist approach. This was the most popular view of evangelicals at the beginning of the twentieth century, especially premillennial dispensationalists, but it has lost ground in recent decades. The futurist believes that the visions of Revelation 4–22 refer to events that are still future, but that they will transpire immediately prior to and along with Christ’s second coming at the end of history, ushering in the millennial age. Most futurists are premillennial; that is, they believe that Christ’s return will precede the millennial age.

The problem with this view is that it reads the book as almost entirely without reference to the needs and struggles of the churches to which John first sent this book. It also affords little consolation for the suffering church at any other point in church history, including today, because it is exclusively focused on events surrounding Christ’s second coming. The strength of this view is that it emphasizes the ultimate victory of Christ and His elect over the world at His second coming.


Fourth is the idealist approach, sometimes called the poetic or inspirational approach. This position is sometimes called iterism, from the Latin verb itero, meaning “to repeat,” because idealist interpreters hold that the events described in Revelation are repeated from time to time in the experience of the church from age to age.

This approach teaches that Revelation is relevant for everyone since it deals with principles and symbols that are always valid in our personal history and experience. The idealist scarcely wrestles with the problem of chronology in Revelation, preferring to see this book and its symbolism as a tract written for persecuted Christians of any period. The symbolism is interpreted loosely, in a very general way, to give comfort and encouragement to persecuted Christians.

The strength of this approach is its applicability to the church of all ages; its weakness is that it is difficult to affirm this view exegetically, based on the description “things which must shortly come to pass” (1:1).


In accord with many Reformed theologians, I propose an eclectic approach that accents the idealist or iterist approach. This approach has also been called the parallel or cyclical view of Revelation. Imagine a man with a video camera who is recording a church congregation. He pans over the people, starting on one side of the church and going all around. Then he goes up into the gallery and does the same thing. Then he goes to the back, comes from behind, and pans over everyone again. That is what we see in Revelation. The book offers us views of the entire history of the church but seen from different vantage points.

I believe there are seven parallel sections in Revelation. Each section offers a different view of the church in history, as we will see as we make our way through the book. With this parallel or cyclical view of the book, we will see how each section spans the entire dispensation of the gospel, from the first coming of Christ two thousand years ago down to His coming again at the last day.

Here are the 7 parallel sections of Revelation:

  • The Seven Churches (1-3)
  • The Seven Seals (4-8:1)
  • The Seven Trumpets (8:2-11)
  • The War with the Dragon (12-14)
  • The Seven Bowls of Wrath (15-16)
  • The Fall of Babylon (17-19)
  • The Victory of Christ & His Bride (20-22)

One of the interpretive keys, if not the most important interpretive key to unlocking the message of Revelation is found at the end of verse 1 when John writes:

He (Jesus) made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,

That phrase, “He made it known,” may appear in your Bible as he “signified it.” It’s means to signify by symbols and is a direct quotation from Daniel 2:28 in which God has just given a symbolic vision to the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar.  In other words, here in the first verse, John is telling us how to read and understand. This book is symbolic. Some ignore this book saying, “It’s too difficult. So many have gotten it wrong. I can’t possibly understand it.” Other obsess over this book, associating every detail with a geopolitical leader or event. Years ago, they found Henry Kissinger in Revelation as the anti-Christ, then it was Mikhail Gorbachev, then Saddam Hussein.

Dear church, there is a better way. You don’t have to ignore this book. It can be understood and applied. But you need not, indeed, you are not to treat it like a key to unlocking the politics of the Near East. Revelation is not a puzzle book. It is a picture book.

John’s witness to the revelation of Jesus Christ is not intended to be a secret, concealed curiosity, but an exhortation about how God wants Christians to live in light of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ above all earthly powers. I love how Vern Poythress puts it: “Revelation is not intended to tickle our fancy, but to strengthen our heart.”

The goal of Revelation is not to solve a puzzle, it’s to behold a picture of that which is being revealed: Christ as the conqueror. It is his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and rule in the heavenly places, his Spirit empowering his church, his gospel, his mercy, his pardon, his truth, in all ages, and his soon return to judge the living and the dead.

If you keep Christ at the center, you will read and understand this book.


God promises to bless those who read this book.

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

In the earliest church services, it was customary for one of the elders to publicly read aloud the writings of the Old Testament, or one of the letters of the Apostles because there were limited copies of the Scriptures and because many were illiterate. Verse 3 is an encouragement to pastors to read and church members to listen, and all to obey.

What is the blessing of reading, hearing, and obeying? John tells us in verse 3 that this book is a prophecy. Revelation 1:1 says God gave this revelation to Christ “to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” At the end of verse 3, we are told that “the time is near.”  Revelation is not about some distant future. It’s about today. It was applicable the moment the ink dried on John’s papyrus. The New Testament says the onset of the last days was marked by Christ’s pouring out His Spirit on the church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17). That is when Christ inaugurated His kingdom, which is now spreading to the ends of the earth. The last days include the days in which we are living. (Beeke) The church is to proclaim Christ to the ends of the earth. Satan has no power to stop that proclamation or deceive the nations any longer. But he can persecute the saints. He can pursue the saints through wicked rulers and governments. He can tempt the saints with doctrinal compromise and spiritual complacency. He can thwart the evangelistic purpose of the church by sowing seeds of disunity all while this lost world careens towards hell.

And Revelation throws back the curtain on our lives so that we see what’s going on. There is a cosmic war being waged. Everyone must take a side. There can be no riding the fence. This book presents us with horrific pictures of beasts and dragons in order to portray the spiritual gravity of our present circumstances. The blessing of this book is that it wakes you up. Those who have ears to hear will perceive the seriousness of this situation and cease compromising. (Beale) Revelation speaks to spiritually anesthetized saints, through symbols, in order to shake and sober us to the reality that God rules history, and will bring it to its consummation in Christ.

Conversely, to neglect the reading, hearing, and obeying of this book is to be cursed. To fall prey to Satan, the lies of this present evil age, and to fail to prepare for the coming of Christ.

As we embark on this journey through Revelation, how should we respond?

Dear church, read this book. Do not neglect it. Read it with faith. Read it to build spiritual muscle and courage. Don’t wait until the time of tribulation is upon you. Dig the well of endurance before you are tested.

Obey Jesus Christ. The blessing of this book is not found in reading alone. It is not found in greater knowledge but in greater commitment to Christ. If you can speak as an expert on Revelation but have not love for members of the church, you’re a clanging cymbal. If you can trace every detail of this book, but you do not pray, you are nothing. If you can unravel the mysteries of Revelation, but take no time to disciple your children in the fundamentals of the faith, you gain nothing.

Be prepared for Christ’s coming. Examine yourself to see if you are truly in the faith. Have you been made right with God through faith alone in what Jesus Christ has done at the cross? Friends, the time is near, indeed it is at hand. The war of the cosmos is raging and you have a few short years to settle your accounts with God. After that, there will be no future opportunity.

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.
(C.T. Studd)