This is an excerpt from an upcoming book on discipleship.
Far too many people think the book of Revelation is mostly about the beast and suffering. The book of Revelation does contain very sobering warnings that should be taken seriously, but this is not the main theme of the book. The main theme of the book is the revelation of Jesus in majesty through the events of the second coming. If we do not read Revelation, and all prophecy, with this in mind we will miss the main point of these prophecies because prophecy exists to reveal Jesus.1
For example, if you consider a few stats in the book of revelation the main theme becomes immediately apparent:
- Jesus is mentioned in 127 verses.2
- Satan is mentioned in 28 verses.3
- The Beast (Antichrist) is mentioned in 32 verses.4
We have seen that Jesus is going to be revealed in a people, so if the book of Revelation is primarily about the revelation of Jesus5 then it must also be about the revelation of His people and this is precisely what we find in the book of Revelation. In every passage where Jesus appears a people appear with Him. This correlation is part of the message of the book: Jesus will be glorified and a people are part of the that process.
We need to quickly summarize this pattern in Revelation because we need to learn to read the Bible’s predictions about the end times the way they were intended to be read. We must not minimize the trouble, but we must put the trouble in context. The trouble of the end times is not meaningless nor is it a temporary triumph of evil. It is part of the Father’s intentional, but mysterious, plan to reveal His Son and His people in a spectacular way.
Revelation 1 is the introduction to the entire book. It carries special significance because it summarizes the main message of the book. As we have mentioned, the book begins by plainly summarizing the main purpose of the book:
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place… (Revelation 1:1 ESV)
This book contains a revelation of Jesus given by God so that Jesus’ people can understand it and cooperate with God’s plan.
As the introduction continues, John describes who Jesus is and what He has done. These descriptions are intended to emphasize Jesus’ beauty, and in verses 5–6 we find John’s first statement summarizing what Jesus has done:
5 …To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5–6 ESV)
John could have begun His summary of Jesus’ glory with many different descriptions. For example, it would have been reasonable to speak about the revelation of Jesus’ majesty in creation because all things were made by Him.6 John could have said a number of things about Jesus and he began by saying that Jesus has formed a people. John started with this because it is the most spectacular thing Jesus has done.
A few verses later John described an encounter with Jesus. In the encounter, he saw Jesus’ in His beauty and John was unable to stand. In the context of Revelation 1 this encounter carries a message: When Jesus is revealed at the end of the age He will be spectacular. Those who think they know Him best will be unable to endure the glory of His person and will fall at His feet as though dead.
When John encountered Jesus, He was standing among lamp stands which represented churches.7 The message is clear: the glory of Jesus that will be seen at the end of the age will be revealed among His people. To use Paul’s analogy,8 the “head” will be with the “body” because Jesus’ glory is not only associated with His people, it is found among His people.
Jesus gave John a series of messages for the churches. These messages complete the introduction of the book and they are found in Revelation 2–3. Before Jesus describes the end-time drama or speaks about the beast, He focuses on His church.
The introduction of Revelation focuses almost entirely on Jesus and His people indicating the main theme of the book is Jesus and His people.
Jesus’ introductory message to the churches contains a number of astounding statements:
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ 10…Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11…The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ …17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ …26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father…5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels…9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you….12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name…18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see…21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 2:7, 10–11, 17, 26–27, 3:5, 9, 12, 18, 21–22 ESV)
We could summarize these chapters by saying Jesus wants to share His glory with a people. Jesus lists a number of rewards He wants to give the church and these rewards are essentially the reward of becoming Like Jesus and being exalted with Him. Revelation 2–3 contains important instructions to share Jesus’ glory.
The first subject of the book of Revelation is the beauty of Jesus9 and the first message given in the book is a series of exhortations to be faithful and live carefully in order to share in Jesus’ glory and be exalted with Him when He returns.
The book of Revelation is introduced as the revelation of Jesus and a people but that is only the beginning.
Before John is shown any end-time details, He is invited to “come up”10 and see a stunning revelation of God. It begins with a description of God on His throne, but as John continues to gaze the vision becomes more specific: He sees Jesus as the divine, slain Lamb enthroned over all creation. This encounter sets the tone for the rest of the book by emphasizing Jesus’ beauty, majesty, supremacy, and sovereignty. All the end-time details that follow this part of the book should be read in light of this encounter.
As the Lamb is given a scroll to set into motion God’s end-time plan, heavenly creatures fall on their faces, and erupt in a chorus of worship:
8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:8–10 ESV)
They sing of the glory of the Lamb because He has done the impossible: He has ransomed a people for God and transformed them into a kingdom of priests who will reign with God. The song of Revelation 5 is an exposition of Revelation 1. John introduced Jesus’ majesty with the fact He had redeemed a people, and heaven’s worship began with the same accolade.
In fact, in this throne room scene, the entire chorus of praise specifically directed at Jesus centers on His formation of a people who can stand with Him in the heavenly realm (priests) and rule with Him (kingdom). These heavenly creatures saw the beauty and majesty of Jesus and then responded with the highest accolade they could give Him. They praised Him for His ability to form a people like Himself.
The heavenly chorus of praise indicates the redeemed people of God are the most spectacular thing Jesus has done from heaven’s perspective.
To further emphasize the majesty of Jesus’ people, John tells us the elders have golden bowls filled with the prayers of the saints. Because of Jesus, there is a people whose words are now captured by the highest beings in heaven. People are now speaking in the place of God’s government and ruling with Him. It’s an incredible picture of the exalted place of Jesus’ people.
The question is do we think about the people of God the way heaven does?
Some people may fear discussing the exalted people of God will produce pride, but it will not. In fact the opposite is true. When we minimize the glory of Jesus’ people it fosters pride because we imagine our glory is connected to our strength, achievements, or ability. When we see the true majesty of Jesus’ people, it is obviously no human could exalt themselves to this place. The fact humans who were born fallen—enemies of God—can be exalted to this place demonstrates the majesty of Jesus in a profound way.
Revelation 1 contains the first description of Jesus in His majesty on the earth and Jesus appears among His people. Revelation 5 contains the first description of Jesus’ majesty in the heavens and Jesus’ majesty is in context to His people.
Heaven worships Jesus for His ability to form a people—do we?
Revelation 1-3 is the first scene that reveals Jesus’ beauty on the earth, Revelation 4-5 is a second scene that reveals His majesty in the heavens, and Revelation 6–7 can be considered a third scene that reveals His sovereignty over creation. In the first two scenes Jesus’ majesty was accompanied by a revelation of His people, and the same thing occurs in Revelation 6–7.
In Revelation 6 Jesus breaking seals on a document that He alone is worthy to open. As these seals break events dramatic events unfold under Jesus’ leadership and control. The chapter emphasizes the theme of Jesus as the exalted divine man who is ruling over creation.
As Jesus exercises His dominion over creation, John sees the martyrs:
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9–11 ESV)
The martyrs are told to be patient with the process because Jesus’ end-time plan is going to vindicate and exalt them. John then sees 144,000 people marked to be kept and saved by Jesus, and then he sees something spectacular. In the first two scenes revealing Jesus’ beauty, His people were described, but this time there is more than a mention of the exalted people, John actually sees them and they are breathtaking:
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10 ESV)
When the angels see the end-time church, they are overcome and fall on their faces with shouts of praise:
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:11–12 ESV)
As in Revelation 5, angels fall on their faces because Jesus has produced a people. The angels’ response indicates quite a bit about the end-time church. Again we have to ask do we see the church this way and are we anticipating this end-time event?
As the angels magnified God, one of the elders spoke to John:
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple…17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9–17 ESV)
This elder wanted to make sure John understood why the angels fell on their faces in worship. John had to understand God is producing a people, they will emerge in the end-times, they will proclaim the glory of God, they will come from every people, they will be a great multitude, and this plan will provoke angels to worship. John carefully recorded this conversation with the elder so we would know the nature of the end-time church.
The message is clear: Jesus’ end-time leadership is going to produce a majestic people. When He is exalted, they will appear with Him and be like Him.
The end-time people of God are so stunning it causes angels to fall on their face and worship God.
The next main appearance of Jesus occurs in Revelation 12. This chapter uses apocalyptic imagery to summarize God’s redemptive plan and Jesus appears as the “Male Child”11 born to rule. The chapter focuses on the rage of a dragon (Satan) against the Male Child (Jesus). Jesus is carried away so Satan wages war on Jesus’ people.12
Satan is called the “accuser” because accusation is his primary weapon against the people of God. He does not want the church to know who they really are.13 However, the people of God overcome Him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. They are faithful unto death, like Jesus they overcome Satan though obedience unto suffering.14 When Satan is thrown down to the earth in this chapter, he rages against God by trying to destroy and eliminate the people who belong to Jesus.
Revelation 12 describes Satan’s rage against God’s purposes, but it is similar to the other we have considered because, one again, Jesus and HIs people are deeply connected. Satan’s rage against Jesus is expressed through rage against His people and Satan is described as the “accuser of the brethren.”
Accusation is a tool that is used to keep someone from being seen for who they truly are. You may accuse a person to give them a negative image of themself or you accuse them to others so others will desire them. Either way, you accuse someone when you are threatened by who they are or who they will become.
The end-time drama in Revelation 12 indicates Satan does not want the church to know who they are, fears who they will become, and wages war on Jesus by seeking to destroy His people. Once again there is a deep connection between Jesus and His people and strong hints at their glory and exaltation with Him.
When Jesus appears standing on Mount Zion in Revelation 14, once again, He appears with a people:
1 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads….4 It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb. (Revelation 14:1–4 ESV)
Revelation 14 ends with another vision of Jesus ready to judge the earth and the first thing He does is gather a people from the nations:
14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. (Revelation 14:14–16 ESV)
This is the great end-time “harvest” of people out of the nations.15 This is the last thing Jesus does in the book of Revelation before He begins to release His wrath and His final judgments because once Jesus gets the people He wants, this age will have served its purpose and it will come to a close.
Revelation 17–18 describes an end-time system called “Harlot Babylon” that will be used to bring great deception and suffering. While Jesus does not appear in this chapter, there are two references to the saints that give us insight into the end-time church.
The saints are described as the “witnesses” of Jesus:
6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. (Revelation 17:6 ESV)
This verse summarizes everything we have seen. The word translated “martyrs” can also be translated “witnesses” (NASB, NLT) because it is a word that describes legal witnesses. In a courtroom, witnesses are evidence of what is true and the same is true for the church. This is an indicator Jesus’ prayer will be answered. At the end of the age the church will become the undeniable evidence (witnesses) of Jesus in the earth. That witness will be so compelling this evil system will kill saints.
Jesus is mentioned one other time in the chapter:
14 He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14 ESV)
Jesus is presented as the exalted “Lord of lords and King of kings” and He does not stand alone. He has a people with Him.
We have already discussed Revelation 19, so we will only briefly mention it here. Revelation 19 contains a dramatic description of the return of Jesus as He executes judgment on the beast and His armies who have enslaved the earth. The chapter begins with a shout of praise because the “bride” has made herself ready and it is time for the marriage of the Lamb to His people:
7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7–9 ESV)
The message is simple and powerful: when Jesus’ church is ready to be joined to Him the age will end. Once Jesus has his companion, there is no more need for this age. It will have served its purpose by revealing God and forming a people for Him.
When Jesus appears He releases His judgments to liberate the earth from evil and He enthrones a people with Him:
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands….6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4, 6 ESV)
Yet again, Jesus appears with His people.
Revelation 21–22 is the great climax of the book and the final two chapters of the Bible. These chapters describe a new creation and the restoration of all things as Jesus rules on the earth and prepares the way for the heavenly city to descend as God comes to dwell on the earth. These chapters are like the final scenes in a movie. They are a celebration—a resolution—to all the drama that has come before. The age had ended and the story now turns to a new time—a new age.
As the next age begins, there is a great celebration because God finally has what He wanted: a companion:
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”… 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:3–5, 7 ESV)
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14 ESV)
God’s plan is so deeply connected to His people that the walls and the foundations of the heavenly city have human names written on them:
12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed…14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:12, 14 ESV)
The heavenly city is the dwelling place of God, but it was established as a place for God to dwell with a people.
The Final Glimpse of Jesus and His Companion
The book of Revelation does contain a number of dramatic predictions about the coming beast and the great tribulation at the end of the age, but the main theme of the book is the unveiling of Jesus. If we miss that theme we miss the main message of the book. We need to soberly consider everything in the book, but we must read the book the way John (and the Lord) intended us to read it.
As we have seen Jesus’ exaltation is directly connected to a people. Revelation contains repeated visions of Jesus’ beauty, and in each of those visions we see Jesus accompanied by a people. We began this book seeing that the mature, church is a major end-time theme. When we compare the significance of this theme in the New Testament with people’s grasp of it, It could potentially be the most neglected end-time theme. The book of Revelation describes the end-time church as overcoming and faithful to Jesus even unto death. It is clear something significant has happened. The church has come to maturity in the midst of the end-time crisis.
The Book of Revelation describes the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.
As John wrote his vision down he was likely amazed as he described the glory of the fulfillment of the prayer he had heard Jesus pray so long ago.
- Revelation 19:10. ↩︎
- Revelation 1:1–2, 5–18, 20; 2:1–10, 12–14, 16–28; 3:1–5, 7–12, 14–16, 18–21; 5:5–10, 12–13; 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 16–17; 7:9–10, 14, 17; 8:1; 11:8, 15; 12:10–11, 17; 13:8; 14:1, 4, 10, 12, 14, 15–16; 15:3; 16:15; 17:6, 14; 19:7, 9–16, 19, 21; 20:4, 6; 21:2, 9, 14, 22–23, 27; 22:1, 3, 7, 12–13, 16–17, 20, 21. ↩︎
- Revelation 2:9–10, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:3–4, 7–17; 13:1–2, 4; 16:13; 20:2–3, 7–10. ↩︎
- Revelation 11:7; 13:1–8, 12, 14–15, 17–18; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2, 10, 13; 17:3, 7–8, 11–13, 16–17; 19:19; 19:20; 20:4; 20:10. ↩︎
- Revelation 1:1. ↩︎
- Colossians 1:16. ↩︎
- Revelation 1:12, 13, 20. ↩︎
- Colossians 1:18. ↩︎
- Revelation 1:5–18. ↩︎
- Revelation 4:1. ↩︎
- Revelation 12:5. ↩︎
- Revelation 12:4, 5, 17. ↩︎
- Revelation 12:10. ↩︎
- Revelation 12:11. ↩︎
- Revelation 5:9; 7:9. ↩︎