The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1, ESV)
When I disciple people, I often ask what they are interested in learning or how they are looking to grow spiritually. One of the most common answers is, “Revelation. I want to study Revelation. I don’t really understand it, but I’d like to.”
I’ll show you my cards. I don’t really understand Revelation either!
The last book of the Bible is one of the most cryptic. Because it is difficult to understand, many either ignore it altogether or get so lost in the weeds that they forget to apply it to their lives. Even the phrase I just wrote catches a lot of Christians off guard.
“Wait. I thought Revelation was all about the end times. How am I supposed to apply it to my life now?”
Yes, Revelation foretells forthcoming events, but that is not all it does. It’s easy to become distracted by speculative futuristic interpretations of enigmatic passages and forget that Revelation was written by a real person, the Apostle John, to seven real churches in Asia made up of real people who lived in real places and experienced real historical events. The Revelation of Jesus Christ was relevant to their lives then and is relevant to our lives now, just as it contains prophecy that is relevant to future proceedings.
That said, Revelation is still a difficult book. Every paragraph is filled with allusions and echoes of the Old Testament. Revelation by itself has more Old Testament references than all the rest of the New Testament! If you don’t have a solid understanding of the Old Testament story and theology, you’ll miss most of the Old Testament threads John is weaving together into the tapestry that is Revelation. But even if you do have a solid understanding of the Old Testament, you’ll still miss many of the references in Revelation!
That’s because Revelation, like the rest of the Bible, isn’t intended to be read once and put away—the way we read so many books these days. It’s meant to be read and re-read, meditated on, and prayed through, over and over and over again. Every time you read it, you’ll discover something (many things) new. That’s why, in his opening words, John wrote:
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 (Revelation 1:3).