As we consider the life of Jesus Christ, most of us tend to emphasize His mission as one of atonement, the reconciliation of God and humankind through His life. For Christians, this is the greatest major accomplishment ever in the history of man, but John Stott writes that Christ (in accomplishing atonement) also conquered evil. In the post “Crushing the Head of Evil” we confirmed the existence of evil and how some Christians don’t want to deal with that reality even though it is obviously in the world. In “Freedom from The Law, Flesh, the World and Death” I reported that Stott turns to New Testament writers to explain how Jesus freed us from those four evils that are in the title of the post. Now as we close chapter 9 of The Cross of Christ, Stott turns to one of the most challenging books of the Bible, the book of Revelation; “No book of the New Testament bears a clearer or stronger testimony to Christ’s victory [over evil] than the Christian apocalypse which we know as the book of Revelation” .
Unfortunately for most of us, Revelation is the hardest book to understand in the whole Bible. It is a record of visions given by God to the Apostle John. The visions are what the world will be like in the future. John is a first century man, yet he conveys (through “symbology”) the past, present and future of this world. His word meanings are obscure and much has been written about his intent. Yet Stott writes that one thing is very clear: John is declaring that God and Jesus have won the war of good versus evil.
It is also clear that Revelation opens with references to Jesus. Phrases like “the firstborn of the dead,” “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” “the First and the Last” and “the living One” all mean Jesus Christ, the “risen, ascended, glorified and reigning Lord” . By Revelation 12, Christ is seen as standing in the center of the throne and even though the activity of the first eleven books of Revelation is hard to understand, it is clear that Christ is in control.
Stott feels the central chapter of Revelation is twelve, when John saw a pregnant woman “who had the sun as her garment, the moon as her footstool and twelve stars as her crown.” She was about to give birth to a Son whose destiny was to rule all the nations [Jesus]. An enormous red dragon appears in front of the woman [“that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan”]. The dragon is ready to devour her child but God snatches the child and the woman flees to a desert place. War follows this activity. As the child goes to heaven, the dragon is hurled from heaven to earth. The reference in chapter 12 means that victory is accomplished by the “blood of the lamb” and the dragon is “filled with fury, because he knows his time is short” [Revelation 12: 12].
At this point the devil has been defeated and dethroned. He is enraged and even though defeated, his efforts to influence the world are not over. To wage his war against good, he employs three monsters.
We must remember that John was a first century man, so his references were heavily influenced by the powers in the world at that time. The first monster arises out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns and the dragon delegates to this creature his power, throne and sovereignty. The monster is worshipped by all but the Lamb’s followers. This creature represents the Roman Empire of the First Century but it could also represent all states that oppose Christ, oppress the church and demand allegiance from citizens. In today’s world one could easily point to Russia and its stance against the church and its cruel war against Ukraine.
The second monster rises out of the earth. This monster exercises his authority and promotes his worship. He is all about deception. He forces people to worship the image of the first monster and to wear the mark of the beast. This monster is called “the false prophet.” In John’s day this monster represented Roman emperor worship but today he could stand for all false religion and ideology, any power that deflects worship to any object other than “the living and true God.”
The dragon’s third ally is called “the great prostitute.” Stott says once again, she represents Rome in John’s historical context. The “great city rules over the kings of the earth” which makes it surely the city of Rome, but Rome represents moral corruption on a much larger scale. The prostitute sits on a scarlet beast [one of the kings on whom her authority rests] and she wears purple and scarlet, gold jewels and pearls and holds in her hand a golden cup “filled with abominations.” Those abominations include “intoxicating temptations” like sexual immorality, spiritual idolatry, excessive luxuries etc.
Even though John uses the Roman Empire as his First Century point of reference for the Book of Revelation, the devil has not changed his strategies today. Non-Christian cultures today still persecute anyone who worships God in those cultures. The internet spews forth so much information which is counter to the teaching of Jesus. False ideologies abound, as more and more people become fascinated by the occult and counterfeit religions. What we watch today in all forms of media is often less than uplifting and more often than not it is morally corrupt. The assault on the church itself is evident as denominations struggle with same sex issues and find the church split apart. Today a powerful denomination is meeting in its annual conference and it is being torn apart by its lack of attention to sexual abuse among it pastors.
What are we to do in light of these challenges? In the Book of Revelation, the last three chapters predict the final destruction of Satan and the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth. We cling to the idea that there will come a time when there will no longer be tears, death, pain or night. God will establish His perfect rule.
So we wait.
Stott writes that is not so. We should resist the devil as we wait for the “final victory.” We are to put on the full armor of God and take our stand against him. There is no need to flee. When we want to vanquish the devil, we have to tell him to be gone in the name of Jesus Christ. He knows who the final victor is and he will flee from us if we invoke the name of Jesus.
Second, we should proclaim Jesus Christ. In telling others about Jesus we will turn people from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God. If we advance the kingdom of God, the power of the devil will wane. He power is all bluff anyway. He was overthrown at the cross. Stott writes that being an “uncompromising witness to Christ is essential. So is the willingness, if necessary to lay down our lives for His sake” .
Surely Revelation is a challenging book to read but it was written at a time when First Century Christians needed its message. Christ had come to earth, given them a new faith, a new hope, a new inspiration for their lives, all in the face of a world that gave them little chance of any kind of fulfillment. Revelation is full of the word “victory.” “More than half the occurrences of the word “victory” found in the Bible are to be found in this book. Stott paraphrases H.B. Swete that “it summons its readers to lift up their drooping hearts, to take courage and endure to the end” .
As readers of Revelation, today we know the end of the story. Satan will be totally destroyed. God’s perfect rule will be established.
Hard book to read? Yes…
Hard book to understand? Yes…
A message that we need to know today in our challenging times? Yes, Yes, Yes…