There’s beast in there.
And a dragon.
A woman who sits on seven hills.
And a guy riding a white horse with a sword coming out of this mouth.
OK we’re getting into some strange stuff here. And it’s all from the book of Revelation.
Now not many people call Revelation their favourite book of the Bible
Most people love Psalms. Philippians rates pretty high because it has so many famous verses and who doesn’t love John?
However, Revelation is difficult to love primarily because it’s difficult to understand and we generally find it hard to love things (and people) we don’t understand.
My First Foray Into Preaching Revelation
Nearly twenty years ago I preached an 8 week series on Revelation. Then a few years ago I took our young adults on a journey through Revelation over the course of a year.
Now while it’s not my favourite Bile book (it used to be Hebrews but Acts is up there now) it fascinates me.
I love showing people how to interpret the book of Revelation and even more importantly how to understand it.
Five Insights To Help You Understand Revelation
Even before you begin to prepare to preach Revelation it’s important to understand it.
Here’s 5 insights that will show you how to understand the book of Revelation whether you are reading it devotionally or studying it. Ultimately this will help you in your quest to understand how to preach the book of Revelation
1. Apocalyptic Literature
The Book of Revelation is in the genre of apocalyptic literature. It is not history like Exodus, Matthew and Acts.
It’s not wisdom literature like Job, Songs of Songs and Ecclesiastes.
It contains songs but is not a song book like Psalms.
It’s not a letter like Romans, Colossians and Jude.
It’s apocalyptic literature.
Now apocalyptic is a fun word to drop at dinner parties and over coffee with less learned believers. It has an ability to elevate you in the eyes of your listeners or ensure people avoid you for days.
Apocalyptic literature has these key elements to it:
a. not chronological
One minute you can be locked into the first century and the next you are fast forwarding thousands of years into the new heavens. Even the apocalyptic chapters in Daniel move around the centuries. This makes nearly impossible to create linear timelines from this style of literature and when people attempt it they tend to end up with egg on their face.
b. highly symbolic
Symbolism reigns in apocalyptic writings. For instance, in Rev 19 we see Jesus riding on a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth.
Not only would that be highly uncomfortable it would make talking ultra-difficult. I even think the white horse is symbolic because I don’t believe Jesus needs a horse to get around.
c. primary theme
Apocalyptic literature has an overriding theme that is vital to keep in your mind as you dissect the images, colour and sometimes bizarre things that are happening.
By the way, if you want a good dose of the bizarre check out Zechariah which is a classic example of apocalyptic writings in the Old Testament.
So what’s the primary theme? Basically, it’s the hope that God will intervene to save His people and judge and destroy evil.
d. end times
This hope filled theme will naturally lend itself to a focus on the last days, the end times or as scholars like to say, eschatology.
This is probably why books like Daniel and Revelation have fascinated so many people over the centuries because we all love a good speculation about the future.
The last style element I want to note is the dualistic nature of Revelation.
You find throughout this book contrasting characters (God and the devil) contrasting ages (present evil age and age to come) and contrasting locations (heaven and earth).
In fact one good way to approach the structure of Revelation is to track the flow from earth to heaven to earth to heaven that is obvious in the book.
2. Get A Helpful Commentary
When a pastor asks me how to preach Revelation I always recommend that they buy a minimum of one excellent commentary. I think it’s basically impossible to grasp apocalyptic scripture like Revelation without the help of good scholars who have written respected commentaries.
One commentary I have used extensively is The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) by Robert Mounce.
Mounce’s commentary is recognised as one of the leading works on Revelation. He is able to take diverse and complex opinions and succinctly summarize them.
Not sure what commentaries to buy? The best place to find the right commentary for you is Best Commentaries which has extensive information and reviews on Bible commentaries.
3. Adopt a First Century Viewpoint
Viewpoint I think a good way to approach Revelation is to read it as if you were a first century Christian living under the heavy handed persecution of the Roman Empire.
This will help you see the book through different eyes and lift you out of a 21st century interpretation which can be misleading.
4. Read Revelation Devotionally
Read Revelation for spiritual nourishment just as you do other sections of Scripture.
Apply the commands and promises in the first three chapters to your own walk with Christ.
Be inspired by the unlimited worship as seen in chapters four and five.
Let the joy of eternity that’s unveiled in the closing chapters motivate you to live a godly life for Christ today.
5. Focus On Hope Not Fear
Michael Card produced an album based on Revelation called Unveiled Hope. I’ve used that title whenever I’ve preached a full or mini series on this book.
Well I think that’s actually the purpose of apocalyptic Scripture. It’s the unveiling of the ultimate hope that we have in Christ that justice and truth will prevail in the end.
We live in a broken world which Paul calls it this “present evil age” Galatians 1:4. Injustice abounds. Evil is apparent.
People need confidence and hope to survive the rigours of daily life.
They want to know that there is a God in heaven who will not only bring justice to bear on all evil but will reward His people who for their righteousness and perseverance in Christ.
How to Preach The Book Of Revelation
Learning how to preach the book of Revelation is no easy task. Here’s five ways to approach preaching Revelation.
1. Jesus, Lord and King, Unveiled
You don’t have to study this book for very long to discover that Jesus Christ is the key focal point of Revelation. It was given as an unveiling of Jesus Christ so one approach in teaching can be a focus on Christ and His role in the book.
2. How Then Should We Live?
There’s more than enough material in the first five chapters to preach a series of messages on how to live the Christian life.
The first three chapters are filled with exhortations, promises and rebukes to the churches of the first century and are ultra-applicable in today’s climate.
Also chapters 4 and 5 provide excellent material for messages focussed on worship.
3. Act Local Think Eternal
The last four chapters of Revelation give a clear view of what will happen at the end of the age and the transition to eternity. The return of Christ ushers in eternal judgment, resurrections and the new heavens and new earth.
This eternal perspective brings sobering and motivating reminders to live for more than the moment.
4. What Would This Mean for a Corinthian Christian?
Put yourself in the shoes of a Corinthian (or Ephesian or Philippian) Christian and ponder the impact of this book upon a first century believer when heard it for the first time.
How would they have interpreted the symbolism, metaphors and graphic images in Revelation?
How would they have answered the question, who is mystery Babylon in Revelation?
5. Revelation And Today’s News
The Google search, what does the book of Revelation say about the antichrist, draws some fascinating results. However, it indicates that people are fascinated by the end times and love to speculate on the end of the age and the primary figures.
This is the most problematic way to preach the book of Revelation.
Trying to align the many symbols and happenings of Revelation with current day news events is risky and generally unwise.
Church history is replete with examples of the failed attempts to predict end times events. Australian pastor Andrew Corbett has complied a small list of such of failed interpretations.
This preaching approach can reveal the folly of predicting the future and dissuade your people from chasing after fantasies.
So that’s my approach to Revelation.
What’s your approach?