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The name of the book of Revelation is taken from its first verse which reads: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” The word revelation here is translated from the Greek word apokalypsos, which means “unveiling” or “revealing.”
John wrote Revelation in a special literary style well known to Jews and early Christians called “apocalyptic.” Apocalyptic uses fantastic images and symbols to describe God’s judgment and victory over the oppressors of his people and all evil. It was popular during the last two centuries B.C. and the first century A.D. The symbols and figures in apocalyptic writing were not to be taken literally, but were to be understood in the context of the apocalyptic style, similar to the way we might understand the symbolism of a political cartoon today.
The symbols found in Revelation might appear strange to Christians of later centuries, and they have certainly been the subject of great debate and mystery. But John used them because they were understood by the Christians of his day. Revelation was not a secret code book to enable Christians of future generations to decipher when Jesus would return. It was a book of hope and encouragement to Christians of the first century, written to assure them that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Jesus Christ had already won the final victory over all tyrants and tyranny.
Even if the faithful saints must face martyrdom at the hands of the enemies of God, in time they will be vindicated, raised from the dead, and reign with Christ. Revelation urges the faithful to trust Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and resist any temptation to give their allegiance to those who stand against him.
That message has the same striking force for Christians today. Whatever despots arise, wherever tyranny takes hold, Christians are assured by the message of Revelation that the day of their deliverance and vindication is coming. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes,” Revelation 21:4 tells us. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Whenever throughout history Christians have faced persecution and oppression, even as many do today in various parts of the world, they have found John’s apocalyptic book a source of great faith-building joy. Because Jesus reigns, every believer’s story, no matter how dismal it might be in the present, will end triumphantly.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of LIFE.