We’ve just begun a series on Revelation at GPC. Approaching Revelation can be a bit daunting for a lot of Christians; many of us are all too aware of its odd imagery and often terrifying subject matter. Seriously, how should we interpret a passage like this?
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
Revelation 13:1–4 (ESV)
Well, Revelation gives us a few clues in the first few verses that will help us. Right at the beginning, the apostle John writes:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 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 1:1–3 (ESV)
In these opening verses, we learn that the contents of this strange book were given first not to John, but to Jesus. Jesus then passed this on through a heavenly mediator, an angel, who “made it known” to John. The Greek word translated as “made it known” in this verse is a direct reference back to an Old Testament passage – Daniel 2:28-29 – where Daniel tells the king that this vision he has seen is a vision of symbols and pictures designed to illustrate God’s plan.
So when we read the rest of Revelation, we need to understand that it’s not a book designed to be taken “literally” – it’s an mosaic of artwork and symbols designed to elicit a response in us. When we understand the context of those who would receive the book, it makes even more sense. Christians in the late first century were suffering increased persecution and pressure to turn back to state-sanctioned religious activities. God gave Revelation to his Church to encourage them in these times – stay strong and persevere! God will continue to be victorious, through the gospel, over Satan and his forces! In this way, Revelation is an encouragement to us too – as we see the Lamb of God triumph over the beasts and forces of the Devil in this book, we can be encouraged to stand firm and persevere. God brings victory out of violence. God wins.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Revelation 1:5–7 (ESV)