“It’s the End of the World”
Today I’m going to do something a little different. Instead of writing about church, which I’ve done a lot of lately, I’m going to offer my thoughts on a sermon series I’ve been listening to about the book of Revelation. You can find the series here, if you’re interested. Just scroll down to the “It’s the End of the World” sermon series. It’s really worth a listen, whether Revelation fascinates you or terrifies you (I’d say both are true for me!).
What I love most about Jonathan Martin’s sermons is that he places Revelation within the context of the cross, and reminds us that this enigmatic book is ultimately about the restoration of the earth and of God’s people, rather than about the spilling of blood and apocalyptic terror, which is what we ordinarily associate Revelation with. For example, he mentions time and again that when Jesus returns as the Lion, he is still comes wearing a robe dipped in blood (Revelation 19:13), signifying that he has not shed his identity in the Gospels: his identity as the Lamb. Even when he comes as a conqueror, he comes bearing a sign of the cross, reminding us that the true victory happened at Calvary.
I also think it’s absolutely fascinating how Jonathan uses first century Middle Eastern culture/history to exegete Revelation, especially Revelation’s use of numbers. He talked about how it was very common in that time to write Greek letters in numeric codes, and how the numbers “666” can be translated to mean the name “Nero.” Another number that we see constantly throughout the book of Revelation is the number seven. Seven trumpets, seven bowls of wrath, seven churches, seven spirits of God. I could go on and on. But what is significant about these references is that the number seven represents fullness, or wholeness. So when Revelation 4:5, for example, talks about the seven spirits of God, it is not a literal figure but rather a way of saying, here, at the throne of God, we see His fullness.
Another sermon of Jonathan’s that I found fascinating had to do with the two witnesses. In Revelation 11, we read about two witnesses who will prophesy, strike the earth with plagues, and spew fire from their mouths. Whenever I think of this passage, I think of the literal interpretation—two witnesses, literally clothed in sackcloth, roaming around the earth burning people up and turning water into blood and testifying about God.
However, Jonathan’s treatment of the passage makes so much more sense. He contends that this passage is metaphorical. For example, in Revelation 11:4, we are told that the two witnesses “are the two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” Earlier, in Revelation 1-2, John describes an image of seven lamp stands. He explains to us that these lamp stands represent the seven churches to whom the letter of Revelation is addressed. If the lamp stands in Revelation 1-2 represent churches, would it not make sense that the witnesses in Revelation 11, also called lamp stands, are also a metaphor for the Church?
These are only a few examples of many in which Jonathan talks through the book of Revelation in a way that is logically sound and practically applicable—which I think is quite a feat for a book as weird and complicated as Revelation! I never would have imagined that Revelation could have much to do with the current Church, or my current individual walk with God. But in the light of Jonathan’s talks about the book, I’ve discovered that it really does, and I can learn so much about the nature of God, and God’s love for us, from even this book.