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Don’t you want to grow in your understanding of the book of Revelation? Don’t you want to do so while keeping your eyes on Christ and growing in your awe of Him? Wouldn’t it be great if a commentary out there was beneficial to the scholar as well as accessible to the average person in the pew? Our featured book this week will help!
This week’s book is Victory in Jesus: A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Revelation by Donald R. Johnson. You can get this hardback book for just $20 (normally $28) directly from Free Grace Press.
Who might benefit from this book?
Included in this week’s post is chapter 1 of this work in its entirety. May you be blessed in your reading! Be sure and enter to win one a free copy at the end of today’s post. Contest ends at 12pm CDT Saturday, 5/9/20 (can only mail the free copy to U.S. residents).
Chapter 1 of Victory in Jesus is below:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
We launch into a strange and wonderful book to uncover a wondrous treasure. Some people, however, after despairing over the proper meaning of the book of Revelation, have diminished its value and importance. For instance, Martin Luther claimed, “In it there are images and visions such as are found nowhere else in the Bible. The meaning is obscure and no one can know what the writer means. In the book, Christ is neither taught nor acknowledged; and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not perceivable in it.” As to say, since the book of Revelation is hard to understand, and since there are so many diverse interpretations of its meaning, the book is best left unopened.
Our great enemy would like nothing more than for this glorious book to be practically dropped out of the canon of Scripture. It is the desire of the devil to keep us away from this book by prejudicing our minds against it and making us think that it is too dark, confusing, complicated, and controversial to seriously study.
It is true that a casual and half-hearted interest will yield little to no fruit. Yet, the Spirit-filled student of God’s Word who humbly and seriously reads, re-reads, and meditates on its meaning will receive many of its promised blessings.
According to John’s introduction, the book has a threefold purpose: to reveal Jesus Christ, to show the things that must soon take place, and to place a special blessing on those who obey what is written in it. What is interesting about the very first clause of the book is that it shows how its principle purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ, not obscure Him. The word revelation (apokalupsis) means to unveil, uncover, expose, or to make known. Contrary to how most people view the book of Revelation, it truly is meant to be a book about exactly that: revelation—revealing the Lord Jesus Christ who is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega of all history. It is about the man who is the Son of God, the crucified and resurrected Savior, the reigning Lord, the King of kings, and the returning Judge. Jesus Christ is at the center of this book, and John made that clear by beginning with these words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.”
It’s a mistake, therefore, to open the book to only look for clues about end-time events. Our goal in reading this book should not be merely to become more educated about future events but to grow more in love with our Savior. We are to enter the book to see Christ and to see Him enthroned and lifted up, not only in Heaven but also on the thrones of our own hearts. In all the visions, symbols, and stories contained within the pages of this book, let us not get so distracted in trying to piece together the detailed events of the last days that we lose sight of Christ. It is when we begin to discover Christ more fully that the greatest treasure of the book will be more and more revealed to us. This is because the great blessing that is promised to us readers is none other than Christ Jesus Himself. What we shall see is Christ, and that is the greatest reward.
The second purpose of the book is “to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.” God is the one who gave us the book of Revelation, and He expects all His servants to be aware of its contents. Our walk in faith benefits from understanding what Revelation has to say, for within its pages God is showing us things that aren’t shown anywhere else in Scripture. It not only gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the intense spiritual warfare taking place between the church of Christ and the devil, but it also provides tremendous encouragement for a battered and persecuted church. The early church was under persecution and in need of hope, and this book gave them a timely word of encouragement. And even so, it gives God’s people throughout the ages a glimpse into what is going on behind the scenes of their persecution regarding the spiritual warfare between the church of Christ and the devil.
Therefore, the central message of the book is a declaration of the coming victory of Christ over all the enemies of the church. Although the church is under much distress, the bride of Christ will not be dismayed, for the gates of hell shall not prevail. By reading this book, the early church was able to see things immediately on the horizon (things which were “at hand”) and things that would occur concerning this epic battle between good and evil. And in everything, they were assured that it would work together for their good and that their King would be victorious.
The Lord at His first appearing mortally wounded the Prince of Darkness, and now, the devil, knowing that he has but a short time, is enraged against the people of God. That fatal wound, which Satan received when Christ was on the cross, has set in motion a cosmic war that continues to this day—a war that will not end until the second coming of Christ.
Yet, the church has the promise that the Lamb of God shall come quickly as victor over all the spiritual, political, and physical enemies of the church. Thus, the great encouragement and comfort of the book of Revelation is that the cosmic battle between good and evil, between the church and the devil, is a present reality that will surely come to an end, with Christ returning for His people and defeating the devil. There is victory in Jesus.
As we open the book, we must not only look for futuristic events but also for events that have already occurred in the past (seeing that we are two thousand years removed from those events that were said to be “at hand” in John’s day). Some events have already been fulfilled, and others give us glimpses into present-day realities, while some events depict the new heavens and the new earth. We must be aware that Revelation spans from the time of the first advent to the second advent and beyond.
The third purpose of the book of Revelation is to provide its readers who seek to obey its instructions a promised blessing: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”There is a unique blessing to be gained by reading, meditating on, and obeying the truths contained within this glorious book.
The book was not given to satisfy our curiosity about when or how this age will end. Rather, it was written to give admonitions and encouragements as to how we should live in this present evil age. The instruction on how to live is urgent: for the time is at hand. The future predicted in this book is quickly coming on us and should motivate us toward serious obedience, and in our obedience, we are to take encouragement that our victory belongs to the One who sits enthroned in the heavens.
God utilized three instruments to communicate the truths of Revelation to the church: John the apostle, an angel, and a cosmic drama containing various symbols.
John, the beloved apostle and servant of God, is the means used by God to deliver this great message to the church: “and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). John was well known to the churches of Asia. In his old age, John had proven to be a faithful servant—faithful to bear record to exactly what God had revealed to him in this cosmic drama. Therefore, we should have no doubt that he faithfully fulfilled his task of writing down “all things that he saw.”
The Holy Spirit can open, reveal, and lead us into a proper understanding of the most mysterious of all visions. With this said, we still must use the talents that God has given us to study this book. These words are the means of our final happiness, and they deserve a serious reading. We are to view this book as a book of instructions rather than just prophetic literature that contains curious and mystical puzzle pieces about end-time events. The book of Revelation is a handbook for our eternal survival: only those who trust and obey its message will avoid the serious judgments pronounced in the visions.
The second thing to consider is the heavenly helper who assisted John: “That God gave unto Him (Jesus Christ), to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel.” John received this revelation from God by the help of a special messenger. This angelappears throughout the series of visions and helps John understand and record what was transpiring before his eyes. Ministering spirits help the heirs of righteousness. The revelation would have been too much for John to comprehend if it were not for illumination and instruction from this heavenly helper.
All that John saw in this revelation comes to us by illumination as well. As it took supernatural help for John to understand what he saw, we too need supernatural help to understand and embrace what we see within these recorded pages. We must be open, honest, and humble as we seek divine assistance. Quoting some commentary is not the same thing as seeing the truth for ourselves. Authority, conviction, and fruitfulness come only by the Holy Spirit opening our eyes so that we may truly understand.
John sees a heavenly vision(s) transpiring before his eyes. The symbolic nature of the book of Revelation is clear at the very beginning: “and He sent and signified it.” The unveiling of this revelation was given to John in symbols. Symbols are signs that depict or illustrate a spiritual or heavenly reality. This makes us aware of the genre of this book, for with every book, we must interpret it within the bounds of its genre.
Because of the symbolic nature of this book, we should not look for a literal meaning when emblematic language is used. These visions were not literal happenings but rather exaggerated dramas that depicted spiritual realities. When spiritual or symbolic language is used, we are to look carefully:
1. We are not free to create our own meaning when the meaning of a symbol is unclear. We do not have the liberty to invent novel, fantastic, or unbiblical explanations from obscure passages. Rather, we are to see if the symbol is explained or clarified elsewhere in the book or in Scripture as a whole.
2. We are to stay with the overall context of the book and remember that the meaning of the more obvious symbols has precedence over the more obscure symbols.
3. Our understanding of the book and its various symbols is to confirm and support the clear and more literal teaching of the rest of the books of the New Testament. The book of Revelation is not the place to discover new doctrine concerning the end times.
4. We are not to force a meaning on a symbol if we do not know for sure what is being depicted by that symbol. It is okay to say, “I don’t know.”
5. We are to believe and obey what we do understand. It is not likely that the Spirit will give us more understanding if we are not currently being good stewards with what He has already given to us.
6. We should read this book on our knees. We should pray about what troubles us and ask the Lord to give us more understanding for the things that remain hidden. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy [Word]” (Ps. 119:18). Though certain events depicted in Revelation have already occurred, there is still much left to unfold (e.g., the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, the eternal state); therefore, we must take heed as well. All that is going to happen is certain to happen, and it is to our advantage that we be prepared.
 William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1959), 1.
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