For many Revelation is about a cataclysmic conflict somewhere in the future – maybe ours. As such it holds out a gloomy prospect – things certainly aren’t going to get better, in fact quite the opposite. But is this really so?
The end of Revelation takes us back to its beginning, with reminders of the immedicy of the prophesied events: ‘quickly take place’ (6), ‘coming quickly’ (7, 12, 20), and ‘don’t seal the words’ (10) – something that Daniel was told to do as the words that he had written were for another generation hundreds of years later, but John is told not as they were for his generation. That doesn’t mean they can’t speak to us, after all, all of scripture is God breathed and profitable, Old Testament and New Testament, the Gospels, letters and Revelation, and there is much that has helped the church down through history in Revelation to stay strong and true in the face of difficult and trying circumstances.
In the last chapter (22:6-21) it reminds us that these are prophetic words (4 times) – words of diagnosis and remedy that needed to be taken seriously and act upon them.
It reminds us too that there is no grey area, or halfway house to the things of God (Let the unrighteous…. let the righteous… (11) outside are …. (15)). Nevertheless God is patient, and the gospel is offered right up to the end with the invitation to ‘Come…’ (17) but his patience will not last forever.
Revelation spoke to its generation and speaks to every generation since, that God is sovereign and utterly holy, and his purposes will come to pass, and as such he cannot be trifled with.
It tells us that Jesus has conquered, he has already won – there’s not another battle up ahead he’s got to fight and win to be sure of his crown. He is already heaven’s conquering hero, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Earths empires rise and fall, but he is the King of an unshakeable kingdom that will outlast them all.
It tells us that the things that were passing away (something that was a real hindrance to some of the Hebrew Christians because they appeared to be remaining), were indeed about to, and with them the physical end of the Old Covenant – the Temple with all it’s ritual and the place of relationship to God, the priests as intermediaries, and the continual offerings as the basis of that relationship.
It tells us the devil has been bound, the gospel can now be preached effectively in all the nations of the earth, and God will bless it to the extention of his kingdom among all peoples.
It also means that we as God’s people can be active in society for the increase of the common grace of God among all peoples, and not simply abandon it to whatever under the pretext that it’s all going to burn up anyway.