In addition to being a minister, I’m also a Sheriff’s Deputy, albeit reserve. I receive no remuneration, and I haven’t gone through the academy. I qualify annually with my firearm to carry it on duty. I have a badge, and for all intents and purposes, I have the same powers as full-time deputies with a few exceptions: those being warrantless arrests in domestic violence scenarios and DUI’s, since the latter requires specialized training. Nevertheless, our Sheriff is cautious that we Reserve Deputies are always with a road unit, and in special details, we often are in the background as secondary support. I’ve worked at the judicial building for security, schools as a resource officer, and have ridden along with road units. When I’ve ridden along, there have been a few times that I’ve been with a deputy, and we’ve been in what’s to me a sticky situation. In one particular detail, we were working an area where a party was ongoing. As the party dispersed into the wee hours of the morning, gunshots rang out. I’ve heard gunfire many times, but this time was different. We were facing a possible stand-off. My adrenaline rushed, and honestly, I became a little anxious because I’d never been in that situation before. I won’t lie, I was worried. What gave me comfort, however, was that I was with an experienced deputy who’s also a man of faith and what we might call a hard-charger. He’s a good man dedicated to justice and peace, and if I was ever in a dangerous situation, he’s the guy I’d want nearby. That was comforting.
Anytime we as Christians enter uncharted, disastrous waters, we can rest assured that we’ve not been abandoned by the Lord. We can face hardship, and sometimes our difficulties may lead us to feel this way. The Christians in Asia undoubtedly must have felt this way. Some were in prison (Rev. 2:10), and one particular saint, Antipas, had already been put to death (Rev. 2:13). History has it that Antipas was a bishop in Pergamum. Remember when I said that the persecution usually began with the leaders of Christianity? This is one such case in point. The sad tradition of his death is that he was roasted to death inside a brazen bull in 92 CE, during Domitian’s reign. This traumatic event would have led many of the Christians to believe they were next since one of their leaders had been put to death for the faith. Jesus told the Philadelphians that they were going to be kept from the trial that was coming upon the world (Rev. 3:10), the beheaded souls cried for vengeance (Rev. 6:9–10), and the harlot was drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs (Rev. 18:24; 19:2). Things were terrible indeed. Comfort was needed, and John would see what the saints needed most to hear.
A Heavenly Perspective
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). However, it’s hard to keep this in mind when the battles we seem to face are waged in the flesh. If we as Christians turn our thoughts heavenward, as we should, we will be less fearful and more faithful. First, we note that God is sovereign over time and history. Therefore, anything that occurs on earth at any time does so under the enthroned Lord whose rule supersedes even the kings of the earth, the very officials who afflict you. We reign with Him in His kingdom, and we minister to Him in His kingdom (Rev. 1:4–6). Now, as we cull through Revelation, this won’t be a verse-by-verse, exposition, so while some of the symbols can be explained, my goal isn’t to explain each and every symbol, but to capture the overall message which is one of comfort and hope amid trial.
Second, what John sees after being instructed to write the book is genuinely marvelous. Jesus is standing, dressed as high priest, alongside a menorah (Rev. 1:12–13). He’s with and among His people in their suffering, and He’s both powerful enough to hold the constellation in the same hand that is gentle enough to comfort a frightened John (Rev. 1:16–17). This Lord lived, died, and is alive to never die again. His resurrection was death’s deathblow, and His ascension and enthronement give Him power over even Hades and Death itself (Rev. 1:18). The horrific things happening right now that are to happen are not so great that Christ the King is defeated. He has already won the victory, and He’s with and among not only His bride but the messengers of each of them (Rev. 1:20).
It Won’t Be Long
One thing we all wonder is how long the horror will last. There are always so many questions that arise during struggles and hard times. No one but God Himself knows the answer. All we can do is look at what God told the Christians in Asia. He said to them that “the time is near” (Rev. 1:3; 22:10), these things “must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1; 22:6), and that He was “coming quickly” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). This doesn’t sound like something that’s to occur over two-thousand years beyond the time John gave this Revelation. Daniel was told to seal up his vision because it referred to many days from his time (Dan. 8:26): “Therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future.” He was also told that the book was to remain sealed “until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4). As time went on, knowledge would increase as to the culmination of these prophecies. He was urged to go his way because the words of his prophecy were “sealed till the time of the end” (Dan. 12:9). Studying history, along with Daniel’s prophecy, reveals that it was not for another four hundred years that those kingdoms came, which he had been told of (cf. Dan. 2). Therefore, Daniel would not live to see the fulfillment of the prophecies, hence his being instructed to seal the book. So the sealing of a book of prophecy looked ahead to a distant period. When John wrote Revelation, the angel told him to not seal the words of his book (Rev. 22:10). Why? Because “the time [was] at hand.” If Daniel’s prophecy saw fulfillment some four hundred years later, and he was told to seal the book, would not John’s prophecy have been fulfilled long before the same period since he was told to not seal his book?
A concern arises: “But Christ said He was coming quickly.” Does this mean that Jesus lied? No, because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). What it means is that we’ve misunderstood what Jesus was saying. We’ve always taken this phrase and applied it to His second coming, but Christ didn’t always use it this way. He used it concerning the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in 70 CE (Mark 13:26; Matt. 24:30; Luke 21:27). This particular phrase was borrowed from Daniel 7:13–14, and it didn’t envision the Son of Man coming to the earth, but ascending to the Ancient of Days, God Himself. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is poised against the Temple establishment of the time and often contends with the Temple priests and ways. His foretelling of the destruction of the Temple would be His vindication, proof that He was Lord and Christ and seated at the right hand of Majesty. It wouldn’t be that one would peer out their window and see the Lord descending, but that the destruction of the Temple would be proof of His kingship. Similarly, the soon coming of Christ in Revelation would be His vindication and that of His kingdom, the church.
Put it this way, just a chapter earlier in Daniel, the prophet was in the lion’s den. He was clearly among beasts for devouring. The next morning when the king came to see if he’d survived, he noted that the lions had not harmed him at all. The king ordered Daniel to be lifted from the lion pit, and once he ascended from the lion’s pit, he was given the status of a ruler of the kingdom. Similarly, Christ would ascend to heaven at the right hand of Majesty, and those who doubted who He was would find out that He had in truth been exalted once the Temple was destroyed. That was His vindication. In Revelation, He uses this same turn of phrase from the gospels which derived from Daniel, and it isn’t speaking about His literal second coming, but His vindication among those who persecute His church. This is the language that especially Jewish Christians would understand, and they would know that it derived from Daniel and pointed to an exaltation, not the actual second coming. To answer the question: Revelation is somewhat about the end times, but not as much as it’s often made out to be.