Reflections on Preaching the Apocalypse

On January 10, 2016 I began to preach through the Apocalypse. After forty-four sermons last night, July 2, 2017, I finished preaching the book.

For some time I debated on preaching the Apocalypse and felt that I would need about a year to prepare, read, and think. Twenty-two chapters of symbolic language, coupled with the various interpretative methods, makes this book notoriously difficult to interpret. Nonetheless, I felt that it would be a good exercise for myself as a pastor and my congregation.

Here are seven (let the reader understand) reflections from my time spent in the Apocalypse.

1. The book is not as difficult as I initially expected.

To be sure, the Apocalypse is difficult. The book is loaded with heavy symbolism and employs this symbolism to describe the unholy trinity (chps. 12-13) and the Christ (1:12-20; 5:5-7; etc.). Yet, these symbols find their fulfillment in various Old Testament passages. John expects his readers to be familiar with those images, which is suggested by how little he explains their meaning.

2. Many people bypass the seven churches in chapters 2-3 to get to the narrative.

We spent seven weeks on these churches, and it was a profitable time for our church. The Apocalypse was written for these churches to provide encouragement to remain steadfast against the opposition they faced from outside (Rome) and within (internal false teaching). Furthermore, there is the common refrain “to the one who overcomes” (Τῷ νικῶντι) that is revisited in the book, as well as the rewards given to the one who overcomes (cf. 2:7 and 22:2)

3. The one introduced in chapter 4 as “the one who sits upon the throne” is also the one to initiate the judgments upon the world.

There are many verbs in the passive that can be understood as the “divine passive,” which simply means that a certain action is done by God. There are several, but one that has resonated with me is from 13:5. The beast from the sea was given (ἐδόθη) a mouth to utter blasphemous words against God. I think the point of that is to remind the reader that even the unholy trinity is not beyond the sovereign control of the one who sits upon the throne.

4. The Apocalypse has implied division markers.

This is where the number “seven” plays further into this work. Within the narrative of the Apocalypse is a continual cycle of sorts. There are seven seals (4:1-8:5), seven trumpets (8:2-11:19), seven visions (12:1-14:20), and seven bowls (15:1-16:20). At the end of these sections is a reference to the presence of God, and each time a new description is added (8:5; 11:19; 16:18-20). Furthermore, when the “sixth” event ends there is an abrupt end to the narrative of judgment, and a panoramic view of the redeemed is provided for the reader (chps. 7, 10, 14).

5. The Trinity is present throughout the book.

My friend Brandon Smith is working on this topic as his PhD dissertation, so I will let him have the final word in the matter. Until he completes the work and a book on this topic for Broadman and Holman, I would encourage you to read his article “The Identification of Jesus with YHWH in the Book of Revelation: A Brief Sketch.” It can be found in the Criswell Theological Review 14.1 (2016): 67-84. See especially the argument on 69-72.

6. A “pre-tribulation rapture” cannot be defended in the Apocalypse.

This comment was made by Grant R. Osborne, who holds to a pre-tribulation rapture.

7. The Apocalypse is a book to be “kept,” not simply “decoded.” 

This is how the Apostle concludes the work. Jesus, through the Apostle, reminds the reader that the one who keeps (ὁ τηρῶν) the words of this prophecy is blessed.

The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ given to the Apostle John, through all of its twists and turns, is a book that is worth digging and uncovering the theological truths found within. It reminds the reader of the realities of hell and the final judgment that will come. However, those who are followers of Jesus will conclude, after reading and studying this book, with the Apostle John: Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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