As noted in Back to the Future concering the Book of Revelation, it has been wisely said that, “…the purpose of a book is the key to its interpretation.” And this principle applies especially to this book, which has been terribly misunderstood because commentators are so confused about its purpose.
Fortunately, determining its purpose is not a guessing game, for the Book of Revelation tells us just what its theme is:
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth [land] will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. (Revelation 1:7)
The Message, Purpose or Theme
The theme of the Book of Revelation is the coming of Jesus Christ. But that does not necessarily clear everything up, as there are at least six types of comings of God mentioned in the Bible. It is essential that we properly understand and, most importantly, distinguish each of them.
Book of Revelation - The Coming in Theophanies
The first type of coming of Jesus is His coming in Theophanies in the Old Testament.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1)
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Book of Revelation - The Coming at Bethlehem
The second type of coming of Jesus is His incarnation coming at Bethlehem. The Gospels tell the story.
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel. (Matthew 2:6)
In addition, John mentions it in his first epistle using a different but related word.
You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (I John 3:5-8)
Since this point is obvious and is not under doubt by Christians, we will not belabor the point. Yet it was a coming by Jesus.
Book of Revelation - The Final Coming at the End of Time
The third type of coming is His Final Coming at the end of time and the only one many Christians consider when discussing this topic and this book of the Bible. We find it mentioned in several verses in the New Testament.
They also said, “Men of Galilee, 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.” (Acts 1:11)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:13-17)
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. (I Corinthians 15:20-26)
This coming is yet in our future for it is the coming at the end of time. “…the so-called ‘second coming’ is actually a final coming concluding the whole process of comings.”
Book of Revelation - The Coming to the Father - The Ascension
The fourth type of coming is Jesus coming to God the Father in heaven. From our point of view we see it as a going from earth to heaven, but the Scripture pictures it as a coming of the Son to the Father after His resurrection and at His ascension.
I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. (Daniel 7:13)
This occurred after the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Book of Revelation - A Spirit Coming
The fifth type of coming is a Spirit coming.
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)
This occurred at Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Book of Revelation - The Coming in Judgment
The sixth type of coming is a coming of God in judgment. Many examples of this type of coming are found in Scripture.
Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)
The Book of Revelation is about a judgment coming of Christ; as simple as that may seem, in fact, it is not simple because this coming of Christ is not His Second Coming. It is, instead, a judgment coming against Jerusalem, Israel and as seen in the above verse, His Church. It is typical of many such sign-comings found in the Old Testament. They may be typical and common to Scripture but most Christians have never heard of them. “Cloud-comings are frequent prophetic emblems in the Old Testament. They serve as indicators of divine visitations of judgment upon ancient, historical nations. God ‘comes’ in judicial judgment upon Israel’s enemies in general (Psa. 18:7-15; 104:3), upon Egypt (Isa. 19:1), upon disobedient Israel in the Old Testament (Joel 2:1, 2), and so forth.”
Book of Revelation - A Coming Judgment Against Israel
Jesus Himself made this very point that He was coming in judgment against Israel in His earthly ministry.
“Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” …. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. (Matthew 21:40-41, 43-45)
Here Jesus clearly promises He will come, but it will be a coming unto judgment. “Our Lord here causes them to pass that sentence of destruction upon themselves which was literally executed about forty years afterwards by the Roman armies.” Consider also these passages.
…and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. (Matthew 22:6-7)
This is exactly what He did in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. Our point in this section is that there is a coming judgment against Israel, which is what Jesus predicted.
“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth [land], from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’" (Matthew 23:33-39)
How could He have made it clearer? He was coming in judgment upon the very generation that He was speaking to.
In summary, the theme of the Book of Revelation is the coming of Jesus Christ in judgment against Israel. This will be discussed, in great detail later in this commentary.
Book of Revelation - The Purposes of this Judgment Coming
It Closes the Old Covenant and Implements the New Covenant
The Book of Revelation is primarily about the close of the old covenant that God had with the people of Israel and the implementation of the new covenant, which was made with Jesus Christ and His Church. Christ Himself alluded to this in His conversation with the woman at the well.
“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John 4:20-23)
While this may be a rather thinly veiled discussion of the coming change in the covenant, the writer of Hebrews speaks more directly when he tells of “…removing of those things which can be shaken” “…so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” That which can be shaken is old Israel; that which cannot be shaken is the true worship of Christ in the New Covenant Church.
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29)
Israel of old had come to the mount of God to receive from Him the Ten Commandments. The Mount Sinai experience was a frightening one for it was a mountain that burned with fire. But the coming of God’s people to the heavenly Jerusalem was of greater import says the author of Hebrews. The first kingdom was temporary and was passing away. The second kingdom, the new covenant, is permanent and will not pass away. Hebrews is telling us that God’s word speaking the gospel today must be listened to with even greater attention and faith than Israel did in receiving the law at the mountain. There they received a covenant that passes away, but now the Church receives a covenant that never passes away.
The issue here is a faithfulness or faithlessness to God by Israel. God’s relation to Israel is by Covenant or treaty. One kingdom, old Israel, is replaced with another, the Church. In doing so, one Covenant is replaced with another, the New Covenant.
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Hebrews 8:13)
These passages in Hebrews are critical to understanding New Testament theology. Although the new covenant had come, with its institution by Christ at the Lord’s Supper, yet the old covenant was also in force in this age of transition between Christ first coming at Bethlehem and his judgment coming to Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But this transitionary age would only last one generation, for Christ had made the first obsolete (Hebrews 8:13) and it was therefore ready to disappear (Hebrews 8:13). Book of Revelation is the story of how God made it disappear.
Book of Revelation - It Reveals the Lord’s Divorce of Israel and the Taking of a New Bride - The Church
The Book of Revelation is about Christ’s judgment-coming to punish Israel, for her spiritual adultery, and the establishment of the new covenant family in His marriage to a new bride, the Church. God’s relationship to the Church is the same as God’s relationship had been to Israel of the Old Testament; namely, He is the husband of his bride or wife. In the Old Testament we read these passages that make that point with clarity:
“Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a [marriage] covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 16:8)
“How languishing is your heart,” declares the Lord God, “while you do all these things, the actions of a bold-faced harlot. When you built your shrine at the beginning of every street and made your high place in every square, in disdaining money, you were not like a harlot. You adulteress wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband!" (Ezekiel 16:30-32)
Isaiah, speaking at a time before God divorced Israel says,
Thus says the Lord, “Where is the certificate of divorce by which I have sent your mother away? Or to whom of My creditors did I sell you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away." (Isaiah 50:1)
For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5)
“…not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:32)
In time, God divorced the ten northern tribes called Israel. God brought a covenant lawsuit against the ten tribes, found her guilty, divorced her, and put her to death for breaking the covenant through her spiritual adulteries. He did so by destroying her as a nation, and sending her survivors into captivity and exile. See how the following verses speak to this experience.
And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. (Jeremiah 3:8)
Therefore, I gave her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. They uncovered her nakedness; they took her sons and her daughters, but they slew her with the sword. Thus she became a byword among women, and they executed judgments on her. (Ezekiel 23:9-10)
But this theme goes back further than Israel and Judah. Paul draws that to our attention in Galatians chapter four. There he notes the relationship between Hagar and Ishmael who represents the “Present Jerusalem” and Sara and Isaac who represent the “Jerusalem above.”
But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:30)
So this imagery of casting out the rejected that the chosen might fully fill the role of God’s true people has deep roots in Scripture. And notice this is between two women there as it is in Revelation-the fornicating harlot-the “present Jerusalem,” and the virgin bride-the “Jerusalem above” or as John calls her the “new Jerusalem.”
The penalty for harlotry in Scripture is death and the Book of Revelation details how that sentence was carried out on Judah, as it had been earlier on the ten northern tribes. The nation, city, and the temple are going to be destroyed. Old Testament Israel will no longer exist; the old covenant is abolished. God is now married to another, the Church; the new covenant is fully instituted. The Book of Revelation “…predicts the curses which are about to be brought upon the Judaistic system and its people because of their violations of the covenant.” “Thus, the theme of Book of Revelation is the execution of God’s divorce decree against Israel, her subsequent capital punishment and cremation, followed by his turning to take a new bride, the Church.”
But if you or your sons indeed turn away from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them, and the house which I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight. So Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by will be astonished and hiss and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them, therefore the Lord has brought all this adversity on them.’ (I Kings 9:6-9)
Book of Revelation - It Predicts the Pouring Out of God’s Wrath on Israel for Murdering His Son
Book of Revelation is a pouring out of God’s wrath on Israel for murdering God’s Son. The Jews demanded Christ’s crucifixion and are directly responsible for his murder. Naturally, that act is not without consequence, and that consequence is described in the Book of Revelation.
So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” (John 19:6)
…let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by this name this man stands here before you in good health. (Acts 4:10)
As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12)
And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:14-15)
“…the crucifixion is the beginning of that process of which the destruction of the city is the end.”
Origen draws the same conclusion in the fourth century saying, “But, according to Celsus, ‘the Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the Son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews hating chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath.’ And anyone who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands.”
Our study in the Book of Revelation will clarify the relationship and consequence of the murder of Jesus the Christ of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem.
Book of Revelation - It Communicates Hope to the Church on the Verge of Persecution
The Book of Revelation, along with its message of doom for Israel, is a message of hope to the church, God’s new bride. As Dr. Jay Adams says, “At bottom the book of Revelation is a message of encouragement and exhortation to the churches of Asia Minor in view of portending persecutions of great magnitude.” On the verge of persecutions that will prove to be most vicious, the church is forewarned and assured that God is in charge and will from the misery and chaos bring victory to His church. “By predicting events shortly to come in great detail-events they will see transpire before their very eyes exactly as predicted-they will recognize that God is in control of history.”
Dr. Adams points out an important verse in Daniel that focuses on what God is doing in the period of the Book of Revelation.
I kept looking, and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom. (Daniel 7:21-22)
This passage details several critical points of prophecy. “The three things mentioned in that passage are primary in Book of Revelation. The brief successful persecution of the church, God’s vindication of his suffering people by the judgment of the persecutor, and the establishment of the new kingdom of God.” Revelation is Daniel 7 come to fulfillment.
Book of Revelation - It Pictures the Consummation of the Age - the Ending of the Jewish Era
The destruction of Jerusalem, the theme of the Book of Revelation, is a sovereign act by God that closes the Old Testament sacrificial system. (See Hebrews chapters 8 through 10.) “Theologically, the significance of the destruction of the temple is that the old covenant is completely gone and the church is the new temple of God.”
… but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
The Jewish age is about to end. The writer of the book of Hebrews describes his time as the consummation of the ages. This is not the end of the world. That is not what he was talking about, but the end of the Jewish era. The sacrificial system is no longer required or even appropriate with the finished work of Christ.
Book of Revelation - It Promotes the Worldwide Focus of the Great Commission
The destruction of Jerusalem frees Christianity from Judaism and allows it to turn its focus worldwide in fulfilling its great commission.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:14-16)
In the early years of Christianity, the Church was tied to unbelieving Israel. In experiencing the judgment of God for its many sins, Israel is set apart as something other than the people of God. That role is now the exclusive property of the Church. The Church is now free to preach the Gospel to the world, no longer fearing the disapproval of Judaism.
In conclusion, although the purposes of Book of Revelation are multifaceted, they are summed up with admiral simplicity in Revelation 1:7.
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth [land] will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. (Revelation 1:7)