People want to know the future, to have an idea of what lays ahead.
And we’re creative in how we try to do that. An article I read this week lists “30 Ways to Tell the Future.” Among them is lecanomancy, telling the future by watching water in a basin; chiromancy, the reading of hands and palms; cartomancy uses playing cards, pyromancy studies fire, and xylomancy examines pieces of wood. All attempts to peek beyond the curtain of tomorrow.
If this sounds niche to you, you should know that, this year, the future-telling business is projected to be a $2.3-billion industry in the U.S. Fortune Magazine reported that, today, “Young people are almost as likely to consult fortune tellers as financial experts.”
Wanting to know the future isn’t niche … and it isn’t new. God told Israel at Sinai, “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists … I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19). King Saul sought a medium (1 Sam 28). Paul and Luke were in Philippi when “a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met [them], who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling” (Acts 16). Wanting to know the future isn’t niche and isn’t new.
People want to know what’s ahead. And while there are clearly many ways the world tries to go about that, as Christians we have the privilege of going to the One who’s already there, “the Alpha and the Omega … the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13), the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:8).
It’s the “is to come” that Christians most look forward to, standing with the disciples in Acts 1 when the angels say, “why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” That’s what what the future holds: the return of Jesus!
And the book of Revelation, that which we’re going to study over the next couple of months, is God’s account of that future return—the events leading up to it, the glory of it, and the beauty that follows it.
We need to understand that God wants his children to know and anticipate that future. He doesn’t tell us everything but what he does tell us is for our understanding, our growth, and his worship.
That said, the study of eschatology, or last things, has a tendency to produce a variety of responses in the church; sometimes more heat than light. And we’d be foolish not to acknowledge that we at Oakridge come from a variety of backgrounds; God has blessed this assembly with a rich diversity. But that means some here come from churches that approach the Bible—and, particularly, Revelation—differently than the person sitting next to you right now and the person speaking to you right now.
But that diversity doesn’t change the inspiration of this book or our need of its message. Studying what God says about the future doesn’t have to produce fear and anxiety, pride and division. It should produce the opposite, actually: confidence and comfort, humility and unity. And that’s our prayer for these months ahead.
But for that to happen, we need to set some things in place first. And that’s my goal for this morning: to get us ready. Turn to Revelation 1.
Recently, my wife and I went on a road trip but, before we left, we did a few things to help us get the most out of that journey. We looked at a map to get an idea of the best route to take, we packed our bags with what we thought we’d need, and we anticipated the fun, talking and daydreaming about the adventure ahead.
CHECKING THE MAP
That’s how I want us to prepare for the journey through Revelation. First, by checking the map. This won’t tell us everything about the trip but it will help set our bearings.
In Revelation 1 we find the risen and glorified Christ appearing to the Apostle John. Notice John’s response. [1:17–18] Here the finite is being shown the infinite, the frail glimpsing the Almighty. In a way, this scene sets the tone for the book and, here, John’s knocked to his face.
But the Lord tells him “Do not be afraid.” Why? “Because of who I am. I’m the first and the last and I’m going to show you what you need to see and explain to you what you need to know. Don’t be afraid.”
And then, in verse 19, we’re given an inspired outline of the book. “Therefore write the things which you have seen” that is, John’s vision of the glorified Christ in chapter 1; “The things which are,” pointing to the present condition of the churches represented in chapters 2 and 3; and, finally, “the things which will take place after these things,” which points to the future as disclosed by God in chapters 4 through 22.
A couple of years ago, we studied the first three chapters of Revelation and the first two sections of that outline—“the things which you have seen [and] the things which are.” Next week we’re going to pick up where we left off with section three, “the things which will take place after these things.” In fact, flip to chapter 4 and note the clear connection to that ourtline. [4:1]
As we check the map, that’s our starting point. And the route we’re going to take leads us through majesty and power, judgment and war, hope and preservation, worship and consummation. It’s an epic trip.
PACKING THE BAGS
But looking at the map isn’t the only preparatory work we need to do. We also have to pack the bags. And not everyone packs the same way. On our trip, my wife packed well—clothing for different types of weather, snacks for the road, exercise apparel. I packed a toothbrush.
We’ve all packed differently for our trip through Revelation. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all come with different ideas and convictions that affect the way we’ll read it. And, as we begin, I think it’s important that you look through my bag. I want you to know what I’ve packed, how I approach this book, not because you must approach it the same way—many here don’t (I’m okay with that, I hope you are too)—but because it will bring the most amount of clarity to our study.
Let me highlight three things I’ve packed. First, I hold to a plain reading of Scripture. It’s my conviction that God has spoken, he’s good at communicating, and he wants to be understood. We don’t need to spiritualize, dig for hidden meaning, or get creative to comprehend him and obey him. (In fact, in my view, those attempts often cloud and distract from what the Bible’s saying.)
I believe the Bible itself models and assumes a plain interpretive method. In Genesis, God means what he says—he speaks and people understand him plainly. In the Psalms, God means what he says. In the prophets, God means what he says. In the gospels, God means what he says. In the epistles, God means what he says. And, when we come to the book of Revelation, guess what? I think God means what he says. In fact, it’s assumed that we can understand this book. [1:3]
Are there tough and confusing sections? Yes. Are there symbols and figures of speech? Of course. And we’ll identify them as such as a plain, normal reading would. In fact, if we’re patient and attentive, often the text explains itself. So, I hold to a plain, normal reading of Scripture.
Second, I hold to a futurist view of Revelation. While some believe much of Revelation 4–22 has already taken place or is taking place in some way, I do not.
I believe the OT and NT predicts, and Revelation describes, a time when God’s wrath will be poured out in an especially potent way. And, unless we abandon a plain reading of those chapters in Revelation, what they describe hasn’t happened yet, which means it’s future.
I also believe in a future, bodily return of Jesus to the earth to sit in on a literal throne in Jerusalem and reign over a literal kingdom for a literal thousand years. I hold this, not only because of what Revelation teaches, but because I think it’s exactly what the whole of the Bible up to this cumulative point anticipates. It’s what the disciples anticipated. [Acts 1:6–7] So, I hold a futurist view of these chapters.
Finally, I hold to a pre-chaos removal of the church. You’ve likely heard this called the pre-tribulational rapture, or catching-up of believers at the end of the current age. I’ll be honest, I don’t see this as explicit as, say, the future kingdom reign, but I do think it’s the best explanation of the biblical data.
The tribulation or “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7) is largely for Jacob. That is, Israel. Like so many times throughout their history, the covenant people of God broke the terms of their agreement and rebelled against the Lord. And with varying degrees of severity, God brought them to repentance and restoration. Well, that’s going to happen again in the future. Right now, Israel is experiencing a discipline because of their rejection of Christ at his first advent. But God is going to bring them to repentance through calamity, through tribulation.
The church, however, is not Israel. That coming tribulation is not for us. And, because of a number of OT and NT texts, I believe that the church will be taken away before the events of Revelation 6 begin. That doesn’t mean that we can’t still learn from those chapters—we can and must—but it does mean we need not fear them.
So, that’s a few things I’ve packed for this trip. I’m not going to make our study of Revelation about those things, but they are important for you to know beforehand.
Now, let me sum-up this section of our preparation by stating a few things about which I’m confident. First, I’m confident that I’m right. I wouldn’t hold these views if I didn’t think they accurately represent God’s word. I’m confident a plain reading of Scripture is the right approach to understand and apply it. I’m confident in a futurist view of Revelation and that the church is not “destined for wrath” and will be kept “from the hour of testing.” And I’m going to preach this series that way, confident that I’m right.
I’m also confident that I might not be right. I’ve been wrong in the past, I’ll be wrong in the future, and I’m wrong somewhere in the present—if I knew where, I’d change, but I don’t so I don’t. So, I’m confident that I’m right but I’m also confident that I might not be.
Finally, I’m confident that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This is God’s word. The Spirit who wrote it lives in us and as we, a community of believers, prayerfully come to this book aching to not only see the future but to be changed by this text in the present, transformation will happen regardless of our disagreements, errors, and confusion.
ANTICIPATING THE FUN
We’re almost ready to hit the road. We’ve checked the map and packed the bags. But now we’ve got to spend some time anticipating the fun. Before our trip, my wife and I would talk about the food we’d eat, the ocean we’d see, the rest we’d enjoy. It was going to be a blessing and we knew it, which just added to our excitement.
Our journey through Revelation is going to bless us, Oakridge. In fact, Jesus promises that it will. [1:3; 22:7] And so, I want to help us anticipate the fun we’re going to have by suggesting five blessings we’re going to experience as we study together.
First, we will experience the blessing of humility. In his second letter, Peter admits that, while Paul’s writings are Scripture, they’re also “hard to understand” (3:16). Over the next couple of months we may add John’s Revelation to that same category.
And yet, it honours God—it’s an act of worship—to prayerfully engage anyway. [2 Tim 3:16–17] As we study a book many stay away from, we are declaring in a unified voice, “God, you are worth the discomfort and effort.” We’re going to humble ourselves and be humbled in this study of God’s word, because that’s what Revelation is, God’s word.
Second, we will experience the blessing of purity. Studying things to come pushes us to holiness, to maturity. [Rom 13:10–14] Notice the fuel for killing sin: the day is near. [1 John 3:3] The anticipation of Christ’s return has a purifying effect, and it will for us.
As we sometimes sing together: “Like a bride waiting for her groom, we’ll be a church ready for You; every heart longing for our King, we sing, even so come Lord Jesus come.” That blessed hope, looking to the end, it prompts God’s people to be ready, pursuing holiness, godliness, purity.
Third, we will experience the blessing of community, fellowship and intimacy with one another. [Heb 10:24–25] As we understand what lays ahead and we grow in our confidence in the doctrine of the imminent return of our Lord, we will press into this place, becoming increasingly freed from the snares and distractions of this world and more ensnared with the needs and love in the assembly.
[1 Pet 4:7–10] Do you see what looking at the end can bring? Humility, purity, and true community in which needs are met, prayers are prayed, care is given, service is offered, and faithfulness is encouraged.
Fourth, we will experience the blessing of urgency. [Phil 2:14–16] Like first-century believers, us in the twenty-first live in a “crooked and perverse generation.” Yet, we are to “appear as lights in the world.” How? We root ourselves in the “word of life” with an eye to “the day of Christ.” It’s been said that we will not commend to a world a God we do not adore but Paul adds that we won’t commend to a world a future that we do not anticipate. Studying the end fuels evangelism.
[1 Pet 3:15] To make that defence of the hope that is in us we have to know the hope that is in us and the more we know what that hope is the more we will share it with passion and urgency.
And that leads to the final blessing I want to highlight, the blessing of expectancy, of a growing hope. And we all need hope, don’t we, the anticipation of a future certainty? Let me read a couple of passages without much comment, letting them speak for themselves. [1 Pet 1:3–8; 1 John 3:2; Col 3:4]
That’s our hope, brothers and sisters. Resurrection, glory, sinlessness, eternity with Christ our Saviour and our God. The more we know it, the higher our expectancy for that day, and the more we can say with excitement and sincerity, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.