I suppose one reason I don’t prioritize the book of Revelation in my devotional times—along with its length and its ancient, often mystifying, imagery—is for the fact that I simply forget the book’s purpose. But I should know better, for the purpose is clearly stated at the beginning of the book, and at the end of the book. Those purpose statements form two unifying bookends around all the visions, letters, and dramatic battles in between.
To use the simple terms of Apostle John, in the book of Revelation God beckons us to hear and to heed (vss. 1:3, 22:7). We are blessed to hear, blessed to pay attention, blessed to struggle through page after page of prophetic imagery, blessed to read soberly and carefully. That one I understand. But we are also promised blessing for perpetual state of heeding (τηρέω) the book. And this is the thorny one for me. How exactly am I to apply most of the book to my everyday life?
Revelation provides us with high-def footage of the climactic conclusion of world history, it ties together and consummates all of God’s redemptive purposes in this world, and it delivers us to the doorstep of a glorious eternity. And a conscious awareness of this truth will begin to change our entire perspective of this world. If we listen carefully, this hearing will become heeding.
It appears that one of God’s main purposes in the book of Revelation is simply this–He wants to change us. He wants to change how we live, what we live for, how we treat our spouse and children and friends, how we order our goals, what we prioritize, the zeal with which we kill personal sin, the purity of the local church, our compassion towards the hurting, our counsel for fellow sinners, our love for the lost, our earnestness to obey, our diligence to pray, our disgust of our personal worldliness, our heartfelt earnest longing for the return of Christ. God wants us to be holy like His Son.
But sometimes we don’t view Revelation this way. These two bookend reminders in Revelation—to hear and heed—are not commands to chart the book out with graphics, to estimate the date of the word’s end, or to argue over different millennial views. There is a place for charitable discussion over differing interpretations of Revelation. But we are to heed the book. And as we read carefully, we pray that the Holy Spirit will use the book’s pervasive imagery to change our hearts.
In the future I want to read the book of Revelation more seriously—to allow this breathtaking, earth-scorching, imagination-stretching, sin-defeating, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying book change the way I think, act, and speak. For this, it appears to me, is the immediate purpose of Revelation.
And this leads me to think of any number of implications. For one, it forces me to believe that imagination is important for comprehending large chunks of biblical truth. As C.S. Lewis reminded us, truth and imagination are not mutually exclusive. The imaginative can be non-fictional. In fact, the book Revelation proves that some eternal truth cannot be comprehended apart from a healthy imagination! As we read the visions of Revelation we are changed; scripture passing into our eyes, sparking our imagination, stirring our affections, and settling into our hearts. However, this connection between truth and imagination—and even personal holiness and healthy imagination—is better left for another post.
Have a great weekend! I look forward to seeing a few of you in Palm Springs.
Painting: “The Adoration of the Lamb”, Jan Van Eyck, 1432.
4 thoughts on “On Reading Revelation”
You should check out Mark Dever’s recent excellent series on Revelation at Capitol Hill Baptist:
Great sensible post on Revelation. Thanks, Tony.
I penned thoughts on this issue awhile back:
Brother, you said
How about interpret Revelation with our newspapers in hand? ;-)
Good post, thanks!