Unlocking Revelation (WEEK 3)

Unlocking Revelation (WEEK 3)


Last week I shared with you how there are 4 main lenses that people use to understand the Book of Revelation:

– The Futurist

– The Historicist

– The Idealist (also know as the or Spiritual)

– The Partial or Full Preterist

The Futurist believes that the majority of the prophecies in Revelation still await a future, literal fulfillment.

The Historicist teaches that Revelation is a symbolic representation that presents a panoramic view of church history from the the Apostle John’s life through to the end of the age.

The Idealist sees Revelation much like a poem with the symbols portraying the ongoing cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil.

The Partial Preterist sees the events of the Book of Revelation as events that were either occurring in John’s time or soon to occur in the life of Christians in John’s day.

A number of people have asked me if the Partial Preterist view is a new view of Revelation? In fact the Partial Preterist view was the predominant view of the the End Times for the first 2000 years whereas the Futurist view is only 200 years and only really gained traction in the last 60 years with the Left Behind series. This more pessimistic view of the End Times did not enter into Christianity in any significant way until the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909).

Last week we also looked at Revelation as an art critic would a painting and asked these four questions through each of the four lens:

    • Who painted it?
    • How was it painted?
    • When was it painted and connected with this what was happening at the time it was painted?
    • And most importantly why was it painted?

Who painted it?

The Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John. One of the 12 Disciples. The last remaining disciple. All the other 10 were killed for their faith proclamation. John lived out his life. 

How was it painted?

Revelation uses a prophetic pallet from the Old Testament, in particular the Book of Ezekiel.

Revelation and Ezekiel





The throne room vision




The Book




The Four Plagues




The Slain under the Altar




The Wrath of God




The Seal on the saints’ foreheads




The Coals from the altar




No more delay




The eating of the book




The measuring of the Temple




Jerusalem and Sodom




The cup of wrath




The vine of the land




The great harlot




The lament over the city




The scavengers feast




The first resurrection




the battle with Gog and Magog




The New Jerusalem




The River of Life



What did the Book of Ezekiel prophesy? The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

So why might John use a similar structure and familiar features for his audience?

John models Revelation after Ezekiel to show a similar sort of destruction was coming.

The only differences were the destroyer: Rome instead of Babylon,

Also John shows a different end result. Ezekiel shows the Jews of his day that there would be a post exilic return and rebuilding of the temple. John does not not prophesy this. Instead he prophesies Jerusalem being replaced by a new heaven and new earth and a new heavenly Jerusalem. 

Really interestingly the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in Ezekiel’s day and John’s day happened on exactly the same date in the Jewish calendar – the ninth day of Av.

The destruction of the Temple was a really big deal for John’s audience. It was bigger than 9/11 was for us. In John’s day there were no secular Jews. They were all strict radical. And as such the Temple for the Jews of John’s day was the centre of the universe. It was where God lived. No Temple, no God.

John’s first Book, The Gospel of John places the Temple right at the heart of his story about Jesus.

Through John’s 7 signs in his Gospel he systematically goes about showing that Jesus is the true temple.

In John chapter 2, Jesus clears the Temple out of the traders and money changers. And they ask Jesus, what sign proves he has the right to do this? and Jesus replies, “I’m going to destroy this Temple and rebuild it in three days.”

That was as sacrilegious as saying to a Muslim that you were going to burn the Koran. The Temple to the Jew was a BIG deal.


I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Revelation 1:9

About 100 years prior to this letter that John writes, Julius Caesar, who was the first Caesar in the Roman Empire, was assassinated. The Roman empire which Julius Caesar ruled over was made up of the whole inhabited word in his day, stretching from Western Europe to the far, Far East. The Romans were not just a super-power they were the one Superpower.

Julius Caesar’s death started an internal power struggle for the throne which was eventually won by his adopted son Augustus.

But the kingdom which Augustus took hold of was a fragile, fractured, loosely held together kingdom. Augustus devised a genius way to rally people around him. At the time of Julius Caesar’s death there appeared in the sky a never seen before comet.

The Romans were deeply religious and suspicious people and they believed the stars were heavenly beings.

So when Augustus took the throne the people were all talking about this never seen before comet in the sky and they are asking “What is this sign in the heavenlies? What are the gods saying to us?”

Augustus seized upon this in a brilliant way by telling the people, “Let me tell you what this heavenly phenomena is. That my friends is my father Julius Caesar, ascending to heaven to take his rightful place amongst the gods.”

What he is effectively telling them is that is his “father” is god.

Now if Julius Caesar is god, what does that make Augustus his son? The son of God.

If you want to shore up your fragilely held together Kingdom, then a great way to do it is to convince people you are a demigod!   

So the phrase Augustus popularized was: “I saw the son of god ascend to the right hand of the father.”

Sound familiar?

The evangelist Phillip says as he is stoned to death because of His proclamation that Jesus is God’s Son:

“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Acts 7:56

This is not the only phrase which we now apply to Jesus, which was first applied to Caesar.

The Roman sages, oracles and prophets just before the time Jesus was born began to prophesy all over the place that someone of cosmic significance was coming.

And this “Coming One” they prophesied would mediate between heaven and earth in a way that would bring salvation to the whole planet and heal human condition.

Think about this for a moment. This is prophesy was coming from the pagans not just the Jewish prophets. How could this be? Yet God was speaking to the whole world about the coming of His Son!

When Augustus took the throne they asked him:

“Are you the one who is to come?”

Sound familiar?

Who asks Jesus this question? John the Baptist (Matthew 11:3). When does he ask it? When John is in prison locked up in prison. Who is in charge when John is prison? Augustus!

So Augustus begins a nationwide campaign designed to convict people that he is the son of god who was god-incarnate and who was sent to bring about universal peace, harmony and prosperity to the world.

Another phrase they used about Augustus was that “There is no name, save Augustus that men may be saved” (Also Acts 4:12).

One thing Augustus did to convince people he was this son of god was to inaugurate a 12 day celebration called, “Advent.”

The youth choirs of Rome sang hymns about Augustus proclaiming him as the saviour of the world. They used nature language to depict this… They said lions would lay down with lambs.

The priests during these celebrations gave people incense to offer up to Caesar which they were told would release to them forgiveness for their sins.

By the time of Nero, who was the six successive Caesar some a hundred years on, Emperor worship was, “Huge.”

Historians tell us that by the time of Nero, who ruled 50 years on from Augustus, Emperor worship was everywhere and deeply ingrained in the psyches of the populous through a genius means of social engineering.

Roman coins reinforced the Emperors Divinity. Moreover, you couldn’t buy things without having worshipped the emperor first.

In Ephesus the one city supermarket for the whole region was the Agora. Everything was had to be sold at the Agora. Before you could trade you had to offer a sacrifice to Nero at the altar by Nero’s statue. The priests would watch you as you paid your homage to Caesar and after having done so they would put an insignia on you which most scholars think was an colourful ink mark on the a person’s forehead.

So the question the first century Romans asked of people wanting to trade was “Have you received the mark of the Emperor?” The questions the Christians in Ephesus asked was, “Do I take the mark of the Beast?”

The Jewish-Christians referred to Nero as the “Beast” because Nero was evil through and through. 

Nero had had his own mother murdered because he grew suspicious towards her that she was plotting against him. He also brutally kicked his own pregnant wife to death.

Apollinius of Tyana, a contemporary of Nero, specifically mentions that Nero was called a “beast”:

“In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this ‘BEAST’, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs…. And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.”

Amongst the Jews in the Roman world were a tiny Jewish sect which were referred to as Christians. When we say tiny, we mean a handful of Jesus followers in each city.

This sect would have flown under the radar because they were one of many Jewish sects in John’s day. However, when these believers of Jesus stopped paying homage to Caesar as Lord, and instead said instead that a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth Jesus the Christ was Lord the Romans had the makings of a revolution.

In an effort to stop this sect from growing any further Rome decided to gag one of their main mouthpieces. One of their key leaders, a man named John, was imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos, a penal colony. The authorities must have figured that if they could separate this leader from his flock the problem would simply go away.

However, whilst on the Isle of Patmos John has an encounter with Jesus:

9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lamp stands, 13 and among the lamps tands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lamp stands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.

John meets Jesus and sees a number of things about Jesus that would have meant a lot to John and encouraged him.

John sees Jesus appear to him like the Son of Man:

12 And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 

The imagery here is clearly taken from the Temple and more specially Jesus is seen as being in the heart of the Temple in the Holy of Holies.

What is integral to what John sees of Jesus is that Jesus is a human light conductor. One of the universal image of the Person of God throughout Scripture is light. God is luminescently-glorious and His glory manifests as light, fire and the sun in all its brilliance.

John says of God in another of his letters:

“God is light and in him is no darkness at all”
1 John 1:5

But this is not the only connect with Jesus and light John sees. The robe Jesus wears which reaches to His feet, has a golden sash around His chest and is a reminder of the official dress of the High Priest, whose clothing was a representation of the Glory-Spirit, a symbol of the radiant image of God.

The whiteness of Jesus’ radiant face, his white hair, the flaming fire from His eyes, and His feet like bronze glowing in a furnace all combine to make the point that Jesus manifests the very glory of of God-Himself. Jesus is the glorious one who oozes fiery glory out of every pore of His being.

Completing this glorious picture of Jesus, John tells us that: “His Voice was like the sound of rushing waters.”

Throughout Scripture, the glory of God whenever it appears is accompanied by a noise. Sometimes this noise sounds like the wind, sometimes it sounds like thunder, at other times like trumpets, and then at other times the sound of large marching armies or multitudes of chariots.

Ezekiel in one of his visions of heaven sees the source of this noise when he looks from earth to up to heaven through the eye of the glory cloud vortex. He see multitude and multitudes of angels swirling around the throne. Their buzzing wings are what makes the noise (Ezekiel 1).

The point I want you to see is that the light of Jesus that radiates in all these different ways and the voice John hears that sounds like many waters connects Jesus with the Glory.

The conclusion for John’s readers was obvious: The resurrected, transfigured Jesus is the incarnate Glory of God. In other words Jesus is God and this makes Jesus, not Caesar, the rightful Son of God.


We can connect with God in the midst of Hell

John was in the midst of hell but was able to find himself in the Holy of Holies. Likewise we to have continual access with Jesus no matter if we find ourselves in the midst of Hell.

Your circumstances cannot close heaven over you. The only closed heavens are between our ears.

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 

Acts 16:25-26

The best thing to do when your world is falling apart is to worship.

Jackie Pullinger is a missionary who has worked amongst the homeless and street people of Hong Kong for years. I remember hearing Jackie once say that so often she felt overwhelmed facing insurmountable obstacles. They had learnt in those time to worship.

God is true regardless of what our circumstances might speak to us.

John was in a reality where everything around John said that Jesus wasn’t Lord. Statues which pointed to every god under the sun, except Jesus. In fact the fact that the Romans had crucified Jesus in their minds would have said to Him that He wasn’t God. Their god’s were the real gods.

However, our God is real and His promises are true regardless of what our circumstances might try to speak to us. Sometimes we have to hold on to this reality until our circumstances catch up.

I mentioned in week 1 of our series how in the middle of Rome stands an Egyptian Obelisk from Heliopolis. It was the only one that survived the destruction of Rome when Rome fell. An early Caesar had captured it as a spoil from Egypt. Marking their victory at the hands of the Emperor onto the base of the obelisk were the words “Augustus Divinus” (Augustus Divine).

Christians in Rome would have seen this reminder to the divinity of Caesar daily; Daily until these words were erased and replaced with the words:




-which is interpreted:

Christ is conquering;

Christ is reigning;

Christ rules over all.”

Many Christians had died in Rome before seeing this reality. And sometimes we die before our circumstances catch up to the reality. But our standing in faith creates the impetus towards breakthrough of subsequent generations.

The Hebrews 11 Hall of Fame lists heroes of old who died before they saw the fulfilment of what they hoped for come to pass. The Messiah they looked forwards to came, but not in their life time. Their not seeing the fulfilment of the promise did not disqualify their faith. 

Jesus is Lord of all or not at all

The Book of Revelation shows us that our faith is ultimately founded on the question of sovereignties. Who’s your King? In John’s day the Christians were being challenged by is it Caesar or Jesus?

In our day it is still about Kingship and though not maybe as obvious the altars and statues in John’s day the gods of our day are no less real. Sometimes we worship family. Sometimes we worship ourselves. Sometimes we worship sex. Sometimes we worship our spouse. Sometimes we worship our jobs. Our possessions. Whatever we put our faith in besides God is an idol.  

Jesus demands that we lay them all down. He demands to be King alone. It’s Jesus plus none. He won’t have it any other way.

The Lordship of Jesus is political

The message of Jesus in John’s day was as political as you can get. Today we often try to separate faith and politics.

The reason for the stability of Western society is primarily down to the fact that the governing laws are based on Judaeo-Christian values. We are in a watershed moment where these century old laws are being exchanged now.


Other Sermons In This Series

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