Possibly one of the most feared books of the Bible is Revelation. Most Christians approach it with the fear of not knowing what the message is, what will happen in the end times, the relevance of the book, and seem to feel as if it is “too difficult” to understand. I know for years I have never really studied Revelation for many of these reasons, and others as well. However, the main theme of Revelation is to reveal the glorious person and work of Jesus Christ, what He has accomplished, what He will accomplish in the future, and His power over Satan and death. G.K. Beale writes, in his commentary, some observations on the theology presented in the book. I will post several excerpts over the next several days showing the main theology of the book which serves to encourage Christians, reveal Christ’s glory, and motivate believers to resist worldliness and pursue godliness.
The Place of Christians in the World
In the light of all this and the exegetical analysis in the following commentary, we have already contended in the section of this Introduction on “Structure and Plan” that the main idea of the Apocalypse could be roughly formulated as follows: the sovereignty of God and Christ in redeeming and judging brings them glory, which is intended to motivate saints to worship God and reflect his glorious attributes through obedience to his word (see, e.g., on 22:9). It is not coincidental that the Apocalypse’s most significant expressions of worship occur where God’s glory is highlighted (chs. 4–5; 7:9–12; 11:15–19; 15:2–8; 19:1–8; see also where words for “worship” are found). Idolatry is regarded not merely as worshiping other gods, but as “the failure to worship the one who is Lord of all.”
The book portrays an end-time new creation that has irrupted into the present old world through the death and resurrection of Christ and through the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. John’s vision communicates values that run counter to the values of the old world and provide “a structure of meaning that grounds” the lives of Christians in the new world.
The symbols describing the new world spell out the eternal significance and consequences of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and of the present choices and behavior of the readers. Part of the main point is to motivate the readers not to compromise with the world but align their thoughts and behavior with the God-centered standards of the new creation. They are to see their own situation in this world in the light of the eternal perspective of the new world, which is now their true home.
In this respect, the churches are to read and reread the book in their assembly so that they may continually be reminded of God’s real, new world, which stands in opposition to the old, fallen system in which they presently live. Such a continual reminder will cause them to realize that their home is not in this old world but in the new world portrayed parabolically in the heavenly visions. Continued reading of the book will encourage genuine saints to realize that what they believe is not strange and odd, but truly normal from God’s perspective. They will not be discouraged by outside worldliness, including what has crept into the churches, which is always making godly standards appear odd and sinful values seem normal.
John refers to true unbelievers in the book as “earth-dwellers” because their ultimate home is on this transient earth. They cannot trust in anything except what their eyes see and their physical senses perceive; they are permanently earthbound, trusting only in earthly security, and will perish with this old order at the end of time when the corrupted cosmos finally is judged and passes away.
On the other hand, Christians are like pilgrims passing through this world. As such they are to commit themselves to the revelation of God in the new order so as progressively to reflect and imitate his image and increasingly live according to the values of the new world, not being conformed to the fallen system, its idolatrous images, and associated values (cf. Rom. 12:2).
In this connection it may be profitable to ask why Christ addresses the churches in the letters through their angelic representatives, especially since it does not seem logical to blame angels for the sins of churches. One answer is that it is essential to the idea of corporate representation that the representative be held accountable for the group and the group for the actions of the representative. So there is some sense in which the angels are accountable for the churches, yet the churches also benefit from the position of the angels.
In this respect, the existence of the churches in heaven is represented and embodied in their representative angels. In fact, one reason for the presence of so many angels throughout the visions in Revelation, and especially for addressing the churches through their representative angels (chs. 2–3), is to remind true Christians that a dimension of their existence is already in the heavenly realm, that their real home is not with the unbelieving “earth-dwellers,” and that they have heavenly help and protection in their struggle not to be conformed to the pagan environment. And one purpose of the church gathering on earth every week (as in 1:3, 9), in addition to the purposes noted above, is to be reminded of its heavenly identity by modeling its worship on the angels’ and the heavenly church’s worship of the exalted Lamb. This is why scenes of heavenly liturgy are woven throughout the Apocalypse, especially in concluding sections, which serve as interpretations of the preceding visionary narratives.
It is in this manner that the churches are to learn how to worship in their gathered meetings and are to be given a zeal for worship of the true God. The intended consequence is that believers experience an increasing attitude of worshipful reverence for God, not only in church assemblies, but in bowing to divine sovereignty in every aspect of their lives and in every facet of its outworking.
~Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999, 174-176.~