(Christian Today posted an article about 5 Scriptures that most pastors won’t tackle from the pulpit. I decided that see if I could. This is number 5 of the 5 Scriptures from their article, which you can read here.)
There are some passages that are routinely passed over in favour of those Scriptures, but we want to change that. If “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)” then there shouldn’t be any Scripture that isn’t covered from the pulpit. And that includes the entire Book of Revelation.
So, let’s talk about it.
Just like the last one, Acts 19:11-12, I understand why pastors never preach from Revelation. It’s an intimidating text. The images that could out of it are something right out of a modern horror film. And then there is that fateful passage,
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” – Revelation 22:18-19
When you end your book with a warning like that, who wants to take a chance to exegete it? But that doesn’t mean that we should avoid talking about Revelation, whether it is from the pulpit, or in our bible studies, or in our blogs.
Rather then go through the whole book and try to explain everything, I’m going to give you three reasons on why you should preach this and three helpful hints to preach through this biblical book.
Reason #1: It’s There For A Reason
While it isn’t often talked about from the pulpit, the truth is that the Bible that we have was pieced together in the 3rd century. There were different church fathers that sat down, through much prayer and deliberation, and chose the books that should be in the Bible.
That included the Book of Revelation. Yes, some people thought otherwise. Even Martin Luther wanted to see it pulled from the Bible, but it remains there in almost every tradition and denomination of Christianity. Why? Well, there must be a reason. Why would you keep a mysterious, completely un-understandable book in our holy Scriptures if it is an utterly useless text? You wouldn’t. You’d cut it out. You’d leave it on the cutting room floor.
But that isn’t the case for Revelation. Men and women throughout history have routinely defended the keeping of Revelation in the canonized version of the Holy Bible. There is truth here. There is encouragement in these verses, and not just in the letters to the Seven Churches. The whole book is Scripture, meaning that the words of Revelation are good for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness.
The early church leaders that kept this book in the mix believed that, and so should we. So preach this book. It is there for a reason.
Reason #2: It Isn’t A Mystery, Just Misunderstood
A lot of pastors avoid Revelation because it is too confusing. What happens when? Who is that? Why is Jesus covered in blood before a battle? Why does He have tattoos?
And with pop culture literature being cranked out after every blood moon or solar eclipse, you would think that Jesus had returned over 80,000 times. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but to make a point. There are way too many end-times, “Jesus is coming back tomorrow” books from the 60’s-now that tell us that Jesus is most certainly, absolutely, without a doubt, “we double checked our math this time” books, that a pastor wouldn’t know where to start if they did decide to preach through Revelation.
But there is the truth. Revelation is not a mystery, it is just misunderstood.
How can I say that? Well, start by re-reading Reason #1. Then consider this verse from Revelation.
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” – Revelation 1:3
Before the Letters to the Seven Churches are recorded, John, the author of Revelation, includes a few verses of clarity and purpose. This is a book of prophecy, meaning it will be filled with imagery and symbolism. And I will expand on that idea in a moment.
And this is a book that is supposed to be encouraging. “Blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written.” What is recorded in Revelation, with all of its imagery and symbolism, is supposed to be giving you strength and hope, because the time is near.
Have you ever heard a pastor say that about Revelation, that it is a hopeful book? It would mean that we have to actually read the book first, and then realize that we are not reading a mystery, just something that we first misunderstood.
Reason #2.5: This Didn’t Bother Anyone In The Early Church
This is a rabbit trail thought off of Reason #2. When John received this Revelation, and wrote it down, no one freaked out. No one thought this was total garbage and should be refused. They didn’t think it was heretical. They didn’t find the images scary, or the implications terrifying.
For starters, the images and the language used were familiar to them. John was speaking their language the best he could about things that were astonishing. Note the number of times that John falls down in worship or in awe throughout the whole book.
This was a book that the Church enjoyed having. They were glad to have it, and include it in the canon of Scripture. The issue is that it bothers us because we don’t know, so we stay away from Revelation.
With thorough and research, it is possible to read and preach through Revelation without the images and symbolism bothering us, in a “we don’t get it” way or a “we are fearful” way.
Reason #3: This Is The Final Biblical Revelation And Declaration Of Jesus
Revelation is the last book of the Bible. There are no more after that, unless you are Catholic or have the Apocrypha added into your Bible.
But that is it. This is the last text where Jesus speaks. The last place we have the written words of Jesus to read and meditate on. This is the final biblical revelation and declaration of Jesus.
(I keep making the emphasis on biblical and written, because I believe that Jesus still speaks to us through his Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and through prayer, spoken through the Holy Spirit.)
When people pass away, we want to hear their last words, some wisdom, something that was important for us to know before they were gone. Not that Jesus is gone, His Spirit resides with us now, but these are the last words of Jesus. They are important. They matter. They need to be heard. They need to be examined and the rich blessings and truth there need to be enjoyed.
In no way do I believe that the last words of Jesus are somehow more important than what is recorded in the Gospels, nor does what Jesus say in Revelation override what comes before that (see Helpful Hint #3). But these words have value, and as a push back to pastors not talking about Revelation, I’m saying that these worlds have power and value, just as all of the red letters in Scripture do.
So, whether they are the first words or the last words of Jesus, in Matthew or in Revelation, they matter and deserve to be preached.
Helpful Hint #1: Read The Ancient Church Fathers
I’ve talked before in this series about the lame excuse that some pastors use for not doing any research: not enough time, and/or no access to material. It’s called time management, and the internet. Use them wisely.
But read the early Church Fathers. They might be found in old and thick leather books. They might not be easy to understand, but they are going to talk about Revelation. They fought to keep it in the Bible. They were there only a few hundred years after it was written. The early church fathers were amoung the closest to the world that would have heard this book and its content for the first time. They will give you some of the best understanding on Revelation.
Helpful Hint #2: Avoid Pop Culture Literature
Now, when you go into your local bookstore and go to the “religious” section, most of those books there will be what I’m calling “pop culture literature”. These are books written by pastors and teachers, and maybe professors of theology, that have been written to be consumed by the general public. These books tend to read more like a sermon, than a commentary.
The problem with these books is that they tend to be more “milk” than spiritual “meat”. They are written to the largest possible audience, and in doing so, some authors lower the “meat” content.
When you are preparing a sermon or bible study, you aren’t wanting to gather a bunch of milk and give that to your congregation. You want the people that you are sharing with to grow and mature, which is what should happen whenever Scripture is shared.
“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” – Hebrews 5:12-14
Don’t go after the pop culture literature. Go for the meaty stuff. Find the thick, old theology books. Find literature that isn’t written because there are four blood moons this year, or some other astronomical event that might or might not be related to Revelation.
(Now, if you are needing to address a problem in your church, or a doctrinal issue that is related to some pop culture literature, I would recommend reading it. Understand fully where people are coming from when they talk about their own Revelation understandings. It might be right or logical, but you will be doing your church or bible study a service by commiting to the truth and correcting faulty ideas.)
Helpful Hint #3: If Revelation’s Jesus Doesn’t Look Like The Gospel’s Jesus, You’ve Done Something Wrong
This is probably one that most people don’t think about, but really should. If you read or preach through Revelation, and the Jesus you talk about is a sword wielding, vengeance hungry deity, that is going to strike down evil humanity from his glorious place on high, you have a very skewed and unbiblical view of Jesus.
The Jesus of the Gospels was one of love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. That did not change throughout his life on earth, through his death or resurrection. As God the Son, whose character is unchanging, why would he make the switch to ultra-violent when he rebuked Peter for violence in the Garden of Gethsemane? Why would Jesus start damning everyone when Jesus said that he didn’t come to earth to condemn?
Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (13:8).” If Scripture is true, then the Jesus of the Gospels is the same one in Revelation. The Jesus of Revelation will be and perfectly reflect the Jesus of the Gospels. If not, then you are doing something wrong.
There are some passages that are routinely passed over in favour of those Scriptures, but we want to change that. We do believe that “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in all righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)”. And that includes the book of Revelation.
Those are just a few reasons as to why this verse is worth preaching and talking about from this often skipped portion of Scripture. Hopefully it will not stay that way.