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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2011)
Skip Heitzig is a popular speaker, author, and the senior pastor of Calvary of Albuquerque, ministering to more than 13,000 adults and families weekly. He earned a B.A. and M.A. from Trinity Seminary and has a popular multimedia teaching ministry, including a nationwide radio program, television broadcast, and podcast called The Connection. He is a sought-after speaker at events including the Franklin Graham Festivals and Harvest Crusades with Greg Laurie.
Visit the author's website.
Revelation is often considered the most difficult book of the Bible to understand. But dynamic pastor and speaker Skip Heitzig brings refreshing clarity to the mystery of Revelation as he reveals the good news that many Christians miss and shares why this book is important, exciting, and relevant for today.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2011)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
While the book of Revelation is certainly a mysterious book full of curious symbols and imagery, the central theme of the book could not be clearer: Jesus Christ. From beginning to end, this book is all about Jesus and what He has done, is doing, and will do to bring about the eternal plan of His Father.
Related Scriptures for Study
Psalm 22:6; Isaiah 53:5; Daniel 7:13-14; 1 Peter 2:5-9; Revelation 21:6; 22:13
Through the centuries, the book of Revelation has sparked as much controversy and disagreement as it has fascination and awe. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus and other bishops argued against including it in the Bible because it presented so many problems with interpretation. Although the Council of Carthage in 397 fully accepted Revelation into the canon of Scripture, the Eastern Orthodox church still doesn’t include it among the church’s Divine Liturgy. Although the reformer John Calvin accepted Revelation as canonical, it’s the only New Testament book for which he did not write a commentary. And Martin Luther included it among the books he classified as “antilegomena”—books he considered of questionable use or origin.
Without question, the book is difficult to interpret. It is deeply mysterious. And yet God has given it to us not only to set our minds at ease about the future, but also to spur us on to “love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). So let’s briefly investigate why we have this book, why it is so different, who wrote it, and the identity of its main character.
A Quick Look at the Book
Back when we announced at our church that we were going to tackle the book of Revelation, you could hear a ripple skitter across the auditorium: “Wow, Revelation!” The congregation had mixed sentiments. I’m sure some thought, Hot diggety dog! I can’t wait to give Skip some tips. Others gasped, “Oh no! Not the book of Revelation! You’ve gotta stay out of that book—that’s one of those closed books. That’s a sealed-up book.”
Many folks no doubt got a surprise when they discovered that the word “revelation” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, from which we get our word “apocalypse.” Most people who hear of an apocalypse think of a catastrophe or a cataclysm—but that’s not what the word means. In fact, it signifies an unveiling or a disclosure. It speaks of uncovering or revealing something that had been hidden. Imagine a new statue placed in front of city hall, covered with a sheet. At the dedication ceremony a band plays, the mayor gives a spiel, and finally the artist talks about his commissioning. At the precise appointed moment, the sheet comes off and the statue is apokalupsis—unveiled. What once was hidden now stands in the open.
In a similar way, the Holy Spirit draws back the curtains on the book of Revelation and reveals things to us. Remember that this book is a prophecy (v. 3). It’s not an allegory; it’s not mere symbols to be spiritualized however one may choose. It makes specific predictions about the future. Verse 1 speaks of things that Jesus “signified” by an angel “to His servant John.” The word “signify” means “to reveal through signs.”
The book of Revelation employs symbol after symbol, many of them deeply mysterious. The opening vision of Jesus, for example, portrays Him with white hair, fiery brass feet, and a sword flashing out of His mouth. Revelation also speaks of many “sevens”: seven lampstands, seven spirits before the throne of God, seven trumpets, seven seals, seven thunders. You might wonder, Why such an emphasis on the number seven? In the Bible, seven is the number of completeness. Even as seven days make a complete week, so the number seven denotes completeness—a complete revelation of God, a complete judgment, a complete church.
But why the symbols and weird language? Why didn’t God just say, “Point number one: This is the rapture of the church. Point number two: After the rapture, this will happen.” Why such an extensive use of symbols?
I can think of several reasons. First, the text of Revelation functioned like a spiritual code for the early church. The Roman government fiercely persecuted first-century Christians, carefully examining any documents they confiscated. A Roman official reading the book of Revelation would respond, “What’s up with this? This is weird.” But a New Testament Christian would grasp its meaning. It feels very Old Testament, and early Christians practically bathed in the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, out of 404 passages in Revelation, at least 360 quote or allude to the Old Testament. First-century believers understood apocalyptic literature from the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezekiel, so when they read this book, they got it.
Second, the passing of time does not weaken symbolism. Symbolism tends to transcend cultures, language groups, and people groups. It can bless all people of all times—and God inspired this book in order to bless all ages of the church.
Third, symbolism arouses strong emotions. Symbols create mental images that other forms of literature simply can’t duplicate. As my son was growing up, for example, we would read a Bible story, then act out the Bible story. We dressed up as certain characters and put on towels as headdresses and robes—he was always David and I always got the rock. And then afterward we would pray about the lesson. Our games gave my son a visual handle on the stories. He grasped as a child what it took me until my mid-twenties to understand. John uses a similar approach in Revelation by employing vivid images and potent symbolism.
Fourth, verse 1 speaks of the “things which must shortly take place.” My son once said to me, “Dad, this was written 2000 years ago—and John said it will ‘shortly take place.’ Wasn’t he wrong?” You might have the same question. Did John think the events he described in Revelation would happen during his lifetime? In fact, the word translated “shortly take place” comes from the Greek term en tachi, which means “swiftly.” From this term we get our word “tachometer,” a device that measures velocity. It means to unfold in a brief period of time. In other words, once these events start occurring, they will unfold swiftly until they reach their conclusion. A time will come when the machinery of world history will kick into high gear; and then, as suddenly as it began, it will all end.
A Look at the Biographer
The book of Revelation came from God the Father, to His Son Jesus Christ, to an angel, and then finally to the apostle John, who wrote it down. In his early years, John worked as a Galilean fisherman. His dad was Zebedee, his mom was Salome, his older brother was the martyr James (who had his head cut off; see Acts 12:2).
John became part of Jesus’ inner circle, along with James and Peter. This trio was privy to things from which the other disciples were excluded. When Jesus healed Jarius’s daughter in Capernaum, for example, the Lord took with Him Peter, James, and John. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus again took Peter, James, and John. In the Garden of Gethsemane, these three again accompanied Jesus further into the garden than the other disciples.
Beyond this, John apparently had a certain intimacy with Jesus Christ that the others lacked. In his Gospel, John repeatedly called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Jesus loved all His disciples, of course, but He felt a special bond with John. At the Last Supper, it was John who laid his head on the bosom of Jesus, hearing His heartbeat—as if to grasp every word from His master’s mouth. Among the disciples, only John stood at the foot of the cross as Jesus gave His life for the sins of the world. It was John to whom Jesus entrusted the care of His elderly mother. And it was John who ran to the tomb first and believed first.
John wrote this book on the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony about twenty-five miles off the coast of Asia Minor. To this day, the island has no source of fresh water. In John’s day, Patmos was merely a barren rock jutting out of the Aegean Sea, a perfect place to isolate prisoners. John probably was in his nineties when he wrote this book—an old guy isolated and alone on a dreary, forsaken island. Tradition tells us he didn’t die there; rather, he returned to Ephesus, where he lived out his remaining days. A beautiful church tradition says that shortly before John died, fellow believers carried him in a chair to all the churches of Asia Minor. Wherever he would go, he’d raise his arms, smile, and say, “Little children, love one another!” His harsh experiences didn’t fill him with bitterness, but with the love of Jesus Christ. John wrote Revelation to suffering Christians in order to encourage them in their faith.
Could it be that you are one of those suffering Christians? Do you feel exiled on your own desolate Patmos? Do you feel imprisoned by life’s circumstances? Or perhaps you feel trapped by another person, or maybe your Patmos is a hospital bed. Regardless of your situation, the book of Revelation will encourage you. Remember that John received his greatest revelation from God in a place of extreme isolation.
If you feel exiled on your own personal Patmos, understand that God has brought you there in order to reveal Himself to you. While a little faith may bring your soul to heaven, a lot of faith—clinging to God despite your circumstances—will bring heaven to your soul.
A Look at the Benefits
Of all the books in the Bible, only Revelation offers a promise like the one in verse 3. Only this book opens by saying, in essence, “Read me and you’ll be blessed.”
To be blessed means “to get happy.” The more you read this book, the more you will understand Jesus Christ and His plan for your future—and the happier you will feel. The text says read it, hear it, and keep it. While you can read it for yourself and listen to others as they read it aloud to you, only you can keep it and apply these truths to your life.
As we move through this book, I encourage you to keep asking yourself, What did I learn that I can apply both today and tomorrow? The real joy, John said, comes when you do what the Bible says. Happiness comes when you apply God’s Word to your life.
A Look at the Blessed One
John began by introducing us to the central character and capstone of the book of Revelation: Jesus Christ (vv. 4-8). The book explains who He is, what He has done, and what He will do. Jesus is the main thing, and John keeps Him the main thing throughout this book.
Notice that the book is called the Revelation of Jesus Christ—singular, not plural. It’s not the book of revelations, but the book of Revelation. It’s not a bunch of analogies or a collection of predictions regarding the future. Rather, it offers a revelation of a Person, Jesus Christ. The Savior takes center stage.
For that reason alone it could be that you desperately need this book. You require a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ. Maybe you have heard about Jesus, but you don’t yet know Him personally. To you, perhaps, He’s still a little baby in a Christmas manger. Revelation pictures Jesus as the ruling Lord of the earth. In fact, when John saw Jesus, he “fell at His feet as dead.” John said Jesus responded by laying “His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last’ ” (v. 17). John remembered Jesus in the flesh—the man with tattered robes and beat-up sandals, the carpenter from Nazareth—but now recognized Him as God in human flesh. He saw Jesus as a glorious, reigning King, ruling with an iron scepter over the whole world.
Jesus is the central character of the book of Revelation not merely because of His exalted status, but also because of what He has done for us: “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood…” (v. 5). Jesus has every right to rule your life because He’s done everything to redeem your life.
And of course, Jesus is coming to earth again (v. 7). This is the major theme of the book. Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose again, will return to this planet—and not as a common servant, but as an exalted King. He will rule! The theme of Revelation and of all history is simply this: Jesus wins.
A Startling Beginning
John tells us that he heard something, saw something, and did something. He heard a voice, he saw a vision, and he fell and worshiped. Then he wrote down what God directed him to record. In other words, this is not original material. John didn’t sit down and say, “Here I am on Patmos. I’ve got time to kill, so maybe I can write a best-seller.” No, he wrote down the heavenly message that Jesus Christ gave to him.
Because John’s account is utterly faithful to the vision he received from God, in verse 2 he calls what he sees “the word of God.” It’s the testimony of the Holy Spirit, supervised by Jesus Himself. As John finds himself catapulted into the future, he is given a preview of amazing events and records everything he sees and hears.
A Loud Voice Like a Trumpet
John heard a voice so loud that it sounded like a trumpet blast. This wasn’t some quiet whisper! Jesus spoke in a piercing, brassy voice that John compared to “the sound of many waters” (v. 15). John remembered the sound of Jesus’ mortal voice—but now it’s different, thunderous, and utterly unmistakable.
Did you realize that the voice of God changes depending on the circumstances? The prophet Elijah wanted it loud, and yet it came to him in a still, small voice. On Mount Sinai, by contrast, the great Lawgiver roared forth His Law, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Since John wasn’t used to such a roar coming from his Savior, the blaring voice of the mystery-revealing Jesus startled him. Today on the Isle of Patmos, guides direct you to the grotto of Saint John—a little cave with a church built up around it. Locals will point to a crack in the rock and tell you that’s where the trumpet voice came from; they claim the sound split the rock. While it may be a fanciful story, the voice certainly startled John.
Jesus loudly emphasized that He is God (vv. 8,11,17). Jesus Christ is deity in a body. Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet; omega is the last. Any Jew would have replied, “Wait a minute! That’s a title reserved for God alone” (see Isaiah 41). So when Jesus reintroduces Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty, He plainly describes Himself as God.
And then Jesus speaks of His eternal nature: “I am…[the One] who is and who was and who is to come” (v. 8). When Moses first spoke with God at the burning bush, the Lord used this name to describe Himself: “I AM THAT I AM.” This special name in Hebrew means, “I was, I am, and I will be.” And here is Jesus, taking that eternal name upon Himself! The fact is, if you try to remove the deity of Christ from the person of Christ, Christianity collapses. It’s not optional. Jesus Christ is God. That’s the underlying fact of the New Testament.
A Captivating Vision
As soon as John heard the unearthly voice, he turned to see the face that went with it. Instantly he saw Jesus in all His glory, standing in the midst of some golden lampstands. A Jewish person reading about seven lampstands would think of the menorah, the seven-branch candlestick that stood in the holy place of the tabernacle. Verse 20 tells us this image refers to the church. What a fitting description! A lampstand is meant to give light, to dispel darkness, to show people the way out. Jesus not only claimed to be the light of the world (John 8:12), He also told His disciples that they were the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Jesus is like the sun, the source of our light. We are like the moon, reflecting His glory. And so Jesus stands in the midst of His church, the body He designed, to dispel darkness and show people the way out.
Verse 13 describes a garment that reaches to Jesus’ feet, speaking of His majesty and greatness. Verse 14 tells us, “His head and hair were white like wool.” How do you picture Jesus Christ? Maybe you see Him as a fair-skinned Anglo-Saxon, as in so many paintings. Since Jesus was Semitic, He probably had dark skin and dark hair; but when you see Him in His glory, He’s going to blow your mind. He’s not going to be what you pictured! This isn’t Jesus as John remembered Him. This Jesus had “eyes like a flame of fire.” Perhaps that refers to Jesus’ ability to see into everybody’s heart. I think the eyes of fire are related to His feet, “like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace” (v. 15). Whenever you read of brass in the Scriptures, think of judgment. John had never seen anything like this! But now he sees the holy Jesus of righteous judgment…a prelude to Revelation chapter 4, when a series of judgments begins.
In verse 16 we see Jesus holding seven stars in His right hand and a sharp, two-edged sword flashing out of His mouth. In the Bible, a person’s right hand represents power and authority. So in great power and authority, Jesus holds the stars, the messengers of the churches (v. 20). In response, John fell on his face not only because of Jesus’ majesty, but also because he recognized that God was speaking to him. When people in the Bible had a real encounter with God, they didn’t get puffed up about it. They didn’t say, “Hey, I’ve had a vision! I should write a book.” Instead, they became extremely self-conscious and meek. Far from exalting them, such an otherworldly experience humbled them.
I believe that the modern church desperately needs a new awareness of Jesus Christ. We need to see Him as high and lifted up and in total charge of His church. Too many Christians tend to think of Jesus as “my good old Buddy in the sky.” I believe we speak too much about standing on our own two feet when we ought to fall down at His feet. Have you prostrated yourself before Him in humility, worshiping Him? Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Why is it that some people are often in a place of worship and yet they are not holy? It is because they’ve neglected their prayer closets. They love wheat but they do not grind it. The water flows at their feet, but they do not stoop to drink of it.”1 Then he asked a penetrating, uncomfortable question:
Are we tired of God? If not, how is it that we do not walk with Him from day to day? Really, spiritual worship is not much cared for in these days, even by professing Christians. Many will go to a place of worship if they can be entertained with fine music or grand oratory; but if communion with God is the only attraction, they are not drawn thereby.2
By contrast, John immediately fell down on his face, recognizing that this Jesus he followed was God in the flesh. This awareness overwhelmed and humbled him, as it should us.
Obedient to a Vocation
Jesus instructed John to write what he saw to seven churches of Asia Minor (v. 19). This verse is the key to interpreting the book of Revelation, because in it Jesus gives John an outline of the whole book.
“John,” He said, “first write down the things that you have seen.” And what had John already seen? A vision of Jesus. “After that,” Jesus said, “write down the things that are.” Here Jesus points ahead to His words intended for the seven churches of Asia Minor (chapters 2–3). “Finally,” Jesus continued, “write down the things that will take place after this,” referring to the events detailed in chapters 4–22. And John faithfully obeyed what Jesus had commanded.
If you remember nothing else from the book of Revelation, remember this: When Jesus speaks, obey Him. John heard, John saw, and John obeyed. John understood that God had a call upon his life, and he pursued it faithfully.
God has a calling upon your life too. Because the Lord wants to minister to others through you, give fresh attention to His voice. Get a fresh perspective of Jesus Christ. Seek a fresh experience of worship. Surrender your life in total humility to God, and expect to hear His voice. When you do, obey what you hear. Follow whatever vocation He gives you, and do so with all of your heart.
Our Real Hope
One day a weary father returned home, exhausted after a long day at work. He couldn’t wait to hit his favorite chair, put up his feet, kick off his shoes, and read the newspaper. When he dragged himself through the door, he plopped down, opened the newspaper—and his five-year-old son launched himself into his lap.
“Daddy! Let’s play!” the little boy shouted. The father knew his son needed time with Daddy, but he thought, I have a greater need, for just a few minutes. I need time alone. He didn’t want to tell his excited son to bug off, so he mentally constructed a brilliant scheme. He noticed that one section of the newspaper featured a picture of the earth, taken from a moon probe. “Give me that section,” he instructed his son. Using some scissors, the father cut the picture into puzzle-shaped pieces, piled them up, then gave them to his son, along with some cellophane tape. “Put this puzzle together,” he said. “When you’re all done, bring it to me, and then we’ll play.”
The boy whizzed off and the father thought he had bought himself a chunk of time. But a few moments later, the boy returned with the picture of the earth, perfectly taped together.
“How did you do it so quickly?” the startled father asked.
“Dad,” the boy replied, “it was simple! On the back is a picture of a man, and when you put the man together, the world comes together.”
That little boy is on to something. The world will come together when Jesus Christ returns. Judgment will fall, Jesus will begin to reign, and God will create His perfect world order. But until that day, the Lord puts the world back together one person at a time. He rebuilds and reshapes and tapes each of us together until we start functioning in the way He designed us to operate.
Let God put you back together, and then start living as the Lord has always meant for you to live.