The book of Revelation can easily be considered the most complicated book of the Bible. Fortunately, the folks at the Bible Project have broken down the complex book to help us understand the meaning behind its symbolism and the ultimate message it communicates.
True to their typical format, the Bible Project sets the stage for us: The book was written by “John,” who is either the same John who wrote the Gospel of John or another John who was a messianic Jewish prophet and taught in the early church. While John is on the island of Patmos, he has a series of visions that he shares. Here is a key element to understanding Revelation: the genre of writing is Apocalyptic, which is a type of Jewish literature that contains symbolic visions which reveal a “heavenly perspective on history in light of its final outcome.” John also refers to the book as prophecy.
In the first video which takes us through chapters 1-11, we are told that John frequently sees imagery from the Old Testament, and instead of explaining all of it, he expects his readers to go look up what he is referring to. Another theme throughout the book is the number seven, which is understood as the number of completion (representing the seven day period of creation).
In the first half the book, we are given the visions of Jesus addressing the shortcomings of the seven churches, God’s throne room, and the contents of the scroll. In God’s throne room, we are introduced to the scroll, which contains information on how God’s kingdom will come fully to the earth. However, the scroll is sealed and its contents are inaccessible. Here is where John introduces the main character of the book: The Lamb that was slain. Only the Lamb is worthy to open the scroll.
By showing Jesus as the sacrificial lamb (and not, for instance, as the King of Kings), John is pointing to Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah who would die for his enemies. It highlights the fact that Jesus’s death wasn’t his defeat, but rather his conquest over evil.
Once the scroll is opened, we see God giving warnings to the nations, over and over again, about pending judgment for their rebellion. But here is a key theme of Revelation: God’s warnings and judgments did not elicit repentance, just like the plagues of Exodus only hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Instead, the lamb conquered his enemies by loving them and dying for them. In the same way, God’s kingdom will be revealed when the nations see the church imitating the loving sacrifice of the Lamb. Not by killing its enemies, but by dying for them.
In the second video, we are taken through chapters 12-22. This portion starts off with the seven bowls that will be poured out on the earth because of the nations’ rebellion. Once again, we are met with the theme that God’s mercy (not his punishment) leads to repentance.
Next we are taken into a section (chapters 12-14) that John refers to as the “Signs,” where he explains the message of the open scroll in greater depth. We see a dragon persecuting God’s people and are told about the mark of the beast. These things are used to help us understand that Rome, or any other human or nation, is not the real enemy. There are dark spiritual powers at work behind these things. The theme of overcoming your enemies through loving them is reiterated. Jesus gives people a choice: Resist Babylon to follow the Lamb or follow the beast (what nations turn into when they put their trust in power-hungry earthly rulers) and suffer its defeat.
Up next, we witness the fall of Babylon, the final battle, and the marriage of heaven and earth. John draws on imagery of the great nations of the Old Testament who fall: Babylon, Tyre, and Edom, to represent these unjust powers (Babylon) falling. We also see the martyrs vindicated as Jesus returns (this time on a white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth, but still covered in his own blood) to proclaim and bring about justice. Babylon and all who choose them are “eternally quarantined” and not given the chance to corrupt the New Jerusalem. Finally, we get to rejoice with all of heaven in the union of the beautiful bride (the church) to the Lamb. In the New Jerusalem, we see all the nations working together in peace and harmony, and there is no need for a temple because God’s presence permeates the Kingdom through all creation.
At the end of this video, we are offered a summary of the entire book. Revelation reveals history’s pattern: All human kingdoms eventually become Babylon and must be resisted in the power of the slain Lamb. In the midst of this cycle, God promises that Jesus will return to remove evil from his world.