John’s ultimate purpose for Revelation is to encourage seven specific churches that are struggling within the Roman Empire to overcome through faithful living and sacrificial love. He accomplishes this task by creatively crafting a prophetic literary work based on an apocalyptic vision he had received. This literary work draws from hundreds of Old Testament allusions and contemporary imagery from the surrounding Roman culture to create a symbolic world that both provides a countercultural imagination and communicates how the church’s faithfulness is viewed from a heavenly perspective. And being that “seven” is a significant symbol for “fullness,” John’s use of seven churches expands to include all the churches.
In Revelation, John is revealing a world reborn. He is showing how God’s New Creation, inaugurated by the Risen King Jesus, is confronting the false and dark powers in the world and establishing God’s rightful reign through those faithfully loyal to the King.
This is how Revelation’s story unfolds:
John opens with an equally intimate and majestic vision of the Resurrected King Jesus. Jesus, embodying the Father’s incredible and terrifying glory, is the world’s true King and is confronting all the counterfeit tyrants and thrones. In fact, King Jesus holds the keys to Death and Hades, the ultimate weapons of false rulers. And this same Jesus is intimately walking among and interacting with his churches, speaking to and strengthening his people. John’s plan for Revelation is to evoke the faith and courage to live aligned with this vision of Jesus.
The vision of King Jesus shifts as he addresses seven specific churches. By addressing “seven” churches, John demonstrates that Jesus’ words both address unique issues specifically in seven churches but also symbolically in the entire Church.
While each church’s struggles are unique, Jesus’ encouragement is the same — overcome. By loyalty to Jesus expressed in sacrificial love, the Church continues Jesus’ incarnation, embodying the place where heaven and earth continue to meet. The call to overcome is the rallying cry for the struggling churches to continue what Jesus had started.
Next, the thin veil between heaven and earth is pulled away and John is allowed to see our earthly experiences from heaven’s perspective. This is the True Reality Jesus’ people must hold in their thoughts and imaginations. Behind life in ancient Turkey, behind the threats of Roman rulership, behind the seduction of false prophets, behind the struggles and temptations of ordinary life stands the heavenly throne room where the Creator and King eternally reigns. This vision is essential for Jesus’ people to make sense of everything taking place around and among them.
As we gaze into the throne room, we see God’s creation, embodied by remarkable creatures, worshipping him. Creation’s worship is magnified and given fuller expression by humanity’s worship. But amidst the praise, there is also a problem. No one can be found worthy to implement God’s plan for his creation, symbolized by the scroll. From the beginning, God is committed to run the world through humans. Humanity’s failure didn’t change his plan. God is committed to rescuing the world through Israel. Israel’s failure didn’t change his plan. Who, then, will open the scroll?
When all seems lost, John is told to behold “the lion from the tribe of Judah.” Here is God’s worthy and victorious King! But when John turns to view the lion, he sees a sacrificial lamb. The Lion, which symbolizes ultimate power and rulership, is now fused with the Lamb, which symbolizes vulnerability and weakness through sacrificial death. The two are the one and the same. God’s ultimate sovereignty is accomplished through sacrificial love. The Lamb’s sacrifice is the Lion’s victory.
In this startling revelation, the churches’ unique struggles as well as King Jesus’ encouragement make sense. We continue the Lion’s victory through the Lamb’s sacrifice. Through our sacrificial love, we overcome and are victorious like Jesus. In other words, Jesus implements God’s plan contained within the scroll, rescuing people to be a royal priesthood in order to carry out the Lion-Lamb’s worldwide victory.
We’ll conclude Revelation’s story next time…