THE THEME OF REVELATION
by Bob Wheeler
When we turn to the Book of Revelation itself, it is significant that it was written to a persecuted church. John, who saw the visions, identifies himself as “your brother and companion in the tribulations and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,” who was “on the island that was called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9; NKJV). As we shall see, “tribulation,” “kingdom,” and “patience” are all major themes of the book.
According to ancient church tradition, Revelation was written near the end of the reign of Emperor Domitian, a cruel and autocratic ruler who was both sadistic and paranoid. During his reign people were condemned for refusing to sacrifice to the emperor. Thus at least part of the purpose of the Book of Revelation was to give comfort and encouragement to believers who were already suffering persecution in the First Century.
The book opens with a vision of Christ who has a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. Then there follow letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. In at least three of these letters there are references to “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
Most of the churches addressed in the letters have a variety of spiritual problems and are told to repent. But each letter ends with a promise to him “who overcomes.” The theme of the book, in fact, is contained in a statement in the letter to the church of Thyatira: “But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end. To him I will give power over the nations . . .” (Rev. 2:25,26). Thus the book is a charge to remain faithful to Christ in the face of persecution.
In Chapter 4, verse 1, attention is turned to the future. John is told, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” The vision begins with the throne of God in heaven, and proceeds to describe a series of plagues and disasters that are sent upon the earth at divine command. It is not until Chapter 13 that we are introduced to the “Beast” (i.e., the Antichrist) and the False Prophet. Significantly we are told that “It was granted to him [i.e., the Antichrist] to make war with the saints and to overcome them” (13:17). The False Prophet, in turn, presides over a religious cult centered on the Antichrist, and it was granted to him to “cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (13:15).
Chapter 14 goes on to describe those who remain faithful to Christ during the Tribulation. The live faultless lives (vv. 4,5). The gospel is proclaimed throughout the world (vv. 6,7). And the immanent destruction of “Babylon” is announce (v. 8), and a warning is issued against worshipping the Beast (vv. 9-11). And then the theme of the book is restated: “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (v. 12). John then says that the heard a voice from heaven saying to him, “Write: ‘blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (v. 13). The word translated “patience” (hypomone) means “patient enduring,” or “endurance.” It could also be translated “perseverance” (NASV) or “patient endurance” (NIV). This is the story of patient endurance in the face of persecution.