Essentials of the New Testament - Lesson 12

General Epistles (Part 2) and Revelation

A dominant theme of the book of First Peter is how to live during times of suffering, particularly when that suffering is a result of being persecuted for your faith. The messages in Revelation for seven specific churches are also relevant for churches and individuals today. Much of Revelation is written in an apocalyptic style and contains imagery of the last days. (51 min.)

Craig Blomberg
Essentials of the New Testament
Lesson 12
Watching Now
General Epistles (Part 2) and Revelation

I. 1 Peter

A. Background

1. Author: Peter

2. Recipients: Christians in the Diaspora

3. Date: Early 60s

B. Outline and Exegetical Highlights of 1 Peter

1. The True Identity of Christians (1:1-2)

2. An Eternal Perspective on Suffering (1:3-12)

3. Rallying around One Another (1:13–2:10)

4. Being a Good Citizen in Society (2:11–3:7)

5. The “Spirits in Prison” (3:18–4:6)

6. Baptism as the Outward Sign of an Inward Commitment (3:21)

7. Victory in Suffering (4:12-19)

8. Servant Leadership (5:1-11)

C. Key Theological Themes and Application from 1 Peter

II. 2 Peter and Jude

A. Background

1. Authors

2. Recipients

3. Dates

B. The Key Themes of 2 Peter and Jude

1. To Conserve Christian Teaching in the Midst of Heresy

2. Holding Fast to the Central Truths of the Faith

3. Explaining Suffering in the World

III. The Letters of John

A. Background

1. Author: John, the Apostle

2. Recipients

3. Date: Late 80s or early 90s

4. Purpose

B. Three Key Themes in the Letters of John

1. Believing in the Incarnation (1 Jn. 2 Jn. 7-11)

2. Obeying Christ’s Commandments (1 Jn. 2:1-6; 5:18)

3. Loving One Another (1 Jn. 2:7-14; 4:7-21; 2 Jn. 4-6)

C. Problem of Perfectionism?

IV. Revelation

A. Background

1. Author: John, the Apostle

2. Recipients: Seven Churches in Asia Minor

3. Date: AD 90s

4. Genre: Apocalyptic and Prophecy

B. Interpretive Grids for Revelation

1. Various Views on the Millennium

2. One Perspective on the Issue

C. An Outline of Revelation

1. Opening (1:1-20)

2. Letters to the Churches (2:1–3:22)

3. A Heavenly Scene of Praise (4:1–5:14)

4. Three Sets of Seven Visions (6:1–18:24)

5. The End of the Cosmic Competition for the Souls of Men (19:1-22:21)

D. Key Theological Themes of Revelation

E. Key Applications from Revelation

  • There are many reasons why studying the Bible is informative and profitable. Effective approaches you use to study the New Testament will take into account questions of introduction, exegesis, theology and application. Your conclusions will be affected by your presuppositions and the extent to which you allow your previous knowledge and life experience to be part of the process. (45 min.)

  • The nations that controlled the nation of Israel prior to and during the writing of the New Testament affected the political and cultural climate in which it was written. The influence of the Greek religion and the relationship between Jews and Gentiles is an underlying theme throughout the New Testament. Roman rule in Israel and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 are significant to both Judaism and Christianity. The four main groups in Judaism were the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. (38 min.)

  • How and why were the books in the New Testament chosen to form the canon we have today? The three major criteria are that the writings be widely accepted, non-contradictory with previously acknowledged revelation and genuinely going back to an apostle or close associate of an apostle. The four Gospels have similarities and differences in their content and writing style. Matthew, Mark and Luke have so many similarities that they are called the Synoptic Gospels. John is significantly different in content and style from the other three. (47 min.)

  • This lesson is an introduction and overview to each of the four Gospels. We’ll look at the term, gospel, and the genre of gospel. Understanding the circumstances surrounding the writing of each Gospel helps us better understand the central themes of each book. We’ll look at the major themes of each book and how to apply them. (42 min.)

  • By comparing the texts of the Gospels, we can trace the major periods, activities and teachings of Jesus' life. Matthew and Luke describe events surrounding Jesus' birth and childhood. We can trace major events in the life and ministry of Jesus by following the order of events in the Gospel of Mark. (46 min.)

  • The public ministry of Jesus, also described as the "Great Galilean" ministry, is described in different ways in all four Gospels. After his public ministry, there was a phase in which the ministry of Jesus is characterized by growing rejection of him, leading to his death and resurrection. (49 min.)

  • The events surrounding the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, and an introduction to the book of Acts. (36 min.)

  • A summary of the book of Acts beginning with the third major section starting at Acts 9:32. Also, a summary of the background and contents of Galatians and 1 Thessalonians. (39 min.)

  • A major theme in Second Thessalonians is "the Day of the Lord." There are common themes and teachings in First and Second Thessalonians. First Corinthians emphasizes the themes of Jesus' death and resurrection, as well as the importance and use of spiritual gifts, and how we conduct ourselves in relation to those who are pursuing Christ and those who are not. (45 min.)

  • The outline and summary of the content of 2 Corinthians includes themes like financial stewardship and Christians being "ambassadors of reconciliation." Romans finds its theme in 1:16-17, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for both Jews and Greeks. The books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon are known as the "Prison Epistles." (50 min.)

  • Common themes and applications from the Prison Epistles and the Pastoral Epistles are theologically significant as well as practical in their application in daily life. Hebrews emphasizes Jesus as the great High Priest and includes warning passages against committing apostasy. James emphasizes the relationship between faith and works in a way that complements what Paul writes in his letters, even though it sometimes seems contradictory at first. (52 min.)

  • A dominant theme of the book of First Peter is how to live during times of suffering, particularly when that suffering is a result of being persecuted for your faith. The messages in Revelation for seven specific churches are also relevant for churches and individuals today. Much of Revelation is written in an apocalyptic style and contains imagery of the last days. (51 min.)

Dr. Craig Blomberg begins with a discussion of why this topic is important, he moves into New Testament backgrounds, how we received our Bible, a summary of all four gospels, and then on to the letters of Paul and others.

Recommended Books

Understanding the New Testament - Student Guide

Understanding the New Testament - Student Guide

This course is an overview of the content and themes of the New Testament by Dr. Craig Blomberg. Beginning with a discussion of why this topic is important, he moves into...

Understanding the New Testament - Student Guide

Dr. Craig Blomberg
Essentials of the New Testament
General Epistles (Part 2) and Revelation
Lesson Transcript


Lesson 12 - General Epistles (Part 2) and Revelation



This is the twelfth and final lecture in our series on New Testament introduction and survey. The remaining General Epistles that we have not yet covered include 1 Peter. The author according to uniform early church tradition was the Apostle Peter himself, the early leader of the twelve and one of the three inner core who were close to Jesus throughout his life and participated in various events that the entire group did not.

As with the letter to James the opening verse suggests that these could be Jewish people in the dispersion, Peter calls them God’s elect and specifically identifies them as dispersed throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, five provinces in the western and central parts of what today we would call Turkey.

But unlike James where references to God’s elect or to other uniquely Jewish terminology seem to be implied literally. In 4:3-4, we read Peter writing to his congregations, “for you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do,” and then come distinctively pagan vices: debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. The pagan friends and family members are now surprised that these new believers do not join them in their reckless, wild living and they heap abuse on you.

It would appear, therefore, that Peter has taken terminology that once applied exclusively to ethnic Jews or those who converted to their religion and is now applying it to the church of Jesus Christ, Jew and Gentile alike, but in this context primarily Gentile. This makes 2:9-10 particularly important because of its broad cluster of such uniquely Jewish terms now applied to Christians: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, once not a people, but now the people of God, once not having received mercy, but now having received mercy.

On Petrine authorship we must date this letter prior to Peter’s death according to church tradition, martyred under Nero sometime between 64 and 68. But it is not clear that full-fledged state-sponsored persecution has begun yet. 3:13-14 read, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good, but even if you should suffer for what is right you are blessed. Do not fear their threats, do not be frightened.” In other words, this appears to be at a time when Peter can still think that more often than not Christians who are good citizens will not be harassed or punished for that.

The closing greetings of the letter refer to “she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you sends you her greeting and so does my son Mark.” Babylon was, of course, the great evil empire in Old Testament times, but here is probably a code name for Rome as it is even more clearly in the Book of Revelation since ancient Babylon lay in ruins and only a small village had emerged in that part of what today would be Iraq. Rome, however, is being viewed increasingly as the contemporary Babylon, but if this letter were to fall into the wrong hands Christians could deny that it had anything to do with the Roman authorities. All of this combines to suggest that we are probably in the early 60s, perhaps even as late as 62 or 63 or the earliest days of 64 just before Nero’s persecution broke out, it may be looming on the horizon but has not yet unleashed its full fury.

Outline and Exegetical Highlights

In response, the outline and exegetical highlights of the letter can be understood as a series of antidotes, or ways of thinking and behaving in all kinds of suffering, but particularly in persecution for one’s faith. The opening greeting reminds the readers of their true identity in the world as strangers, because their citizenship is in heaven. And then the praise or thanksgiving from verses 3 to 12 encourages us to keep an eternal perspective on sufferings, however intense they may be, they are extremely temporary compared to all eternity and with the right attitude can have a refining and maturing effect on us.

1:13–2:10 then encourage believers to rally around each other, to make the church a refuge, a place of love and holiness and care and nurture for one another when the external world proves particularly hostile. But balancing that in 2:11 and running at
least through 3:7, some would take the section to go considerably longer, is a reminder to be a good citizen within society, just as slaves who cannot yet gain their freedom are to obey their masters, just as wives, particularly those who have unsaved husbands, should lead an exemplary, submissive life in hopes of winning their husbands to the Lord.

This has been called a New Testament equivalent to that remarkable passage in Jeremiah 29:7 in which the Israelites exiled in literal Babylon of old were called by the prophet to seek the welfare of the city, because as the city prospers so they would prosper. So, on the one hand they are to be pure and distinct from the world. On the other hand, they are to model that with good behavior according to expected social norms of the time in full view of the world.

In this context there is in chapter 4, actually beginning in 3:18 and extending through 4:6, the passage that has perhaps led to the most spilled ink, what does Peter mean when he refers to Christ, who throughout this letter is the model for patience and
godliness and suffering as having suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, a clear reference to his atoning death on the cross, but then Peter continues, “he was put to death in the body, but made alive in the Spirit in which he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits, to those who were disobedient long ago and God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built”?

We do not have time to survey all the different suggestions that have been made throughout church history, but merely to outline the view that seems to reflect the majority of modern scholars across the theological spectrum. This does not appear to be
any second-chance offer of salvation to those who have died, nor even a first-chance offer of salvation to those who had not heard the Gospel in this life. Rather, the verb here for “made proclamation” or “preached” is not the typical New Testament word for preaching the Gospel with an offer of repentance, euangelizo, from which we get words like evangelize, but it is rather kerusso, which simply means to announce a message like an ancient herald did.

Imprisoned spirits, using the plural reference “spirits,” most likely refer to the demonic world. In all but one instance elsewhere in the New Testament where “spirits” is used in the plural there is unambiguous evidence that these are angels or demons unless there is some clear qualification in the context to point out that human spirits are in view. In fact, a case can be made that in all other passages in the New Testament, with some ambiguity in one instance, such supernatural spirits are in view when the plural appears without some further qualification. Most likely, then, Christ is being described here, after his death, at some unspecified point, while his spirit remained alive, going and announcing to Satan and his demonic hoards in the realm of the dead that they were defeated, although the full outworking of this would await his second coming, it was guaranteed by Christ conquering death on the cross.

What then is the reference to those who disobeyed long ago in verse 20? Probably to the particularly wicked race that led God to destroy all but Noah and his extended family in the flood. That reminds Peter typologically of baptism, but the phrase “baptism that now saves you” must not be taken out of context, we must read the entire sentence. It is not the removal of dirt from the body, not a literal washing, but the pledge or appeal of a clear conscious toward God. In other words, the outward symbolism of an inward change of heart and life which is what, in fact, truly saves, not the ritual but the trust in Christ and the repentance that accompanies it.

And the reason that is possible is because of Jesus conquering death in the resurrection, the last part of verse 21, “who has gone into heaven,” a reference to the ascension, “at God’s right hand,” a reference to Jesus’ exaltation with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him so that this second reference to angels and demons seems to confirm our earlier interpretation as well as perhaps indicate when all of this took place, not necessarily between Christ’s death and resurrection, but as part of his return to God during the ascension given the common Jewish conviction, not merely that demons could be depicted as part of the underworld, but also that Satan, as in Ephesians 2:2, was the prince and power of the air.

Or that in 2 Corinthians 11 when Paul was given a vision of the third heaven it was because the first heaven is the atmosphere, the skies that we can see, the third heaven is the very throne room of God, but in between in the second heaven is the area of unseen warfare between angels and demons. This is more than just idle theological speculation, because 4:1 goes on to suggest that because Christ conquered even despite and indeed through suffering we can as well.

Verse 6 then will not contradict anything that we have said in terms of a second chance after death or even a first chance after death of receiving Christ, but rather as in the NIV and several other modern translations, this is the reason the Gospel is preached even to those who are now dead, an interpretation that suggests because all when they die will eventually have to stand before God on Judgment Day, we want to try to preach the Gospel to as many in this life even when harassment and persecution accompany that, because those who have responded properly, even though they have now died are living eternally with God.

The rest of the letter includes a reminder that it will not be long before such judgment begins and encourages proper responses and submission to church leaders along with proper sacrificial self-giving leadership on the part of those elders of the church.

Key Theological Themes

Summarizing the theology of the book we may conclude that Christians are called to endure persecution patiently and as one key application, prayer may be more effective than rebellion in overcoming many problems. But in a democratic society, unlike the totalitarian regimes of Rome, we must participate as much as possible in the corrective process as well.



2 Peter and Jude are often taken together because of their very similar contents, at least when one compares the second chapter of 2 Peter with the single chapter letter of Jude. Jude is, like James, another half brother of Jesus. Here the claims to authorship, particularly of 2 Peter, are highly debated, in fact, 2 Peter is the one letter whose authorship was doubted despite the ascription to Peter even in the early period of church history.

The readers are not specified at all. There may be specific communities in mind, but one can understand why they were included among the General Epistles, because there is no way to limit them simply from the texts themselves.

If 2 Peter does indeed go back to Peter despite a radically different writing style, then it must be dated before his death, again in the mid to the late 60s and Jude would appear to be earlier still because 2 Peter 2 reads much more like it has depended on and modified Jude than vice versa.

Key Themes

The main theme of both letters is the concern to preserve true Christian teaching in view of widespread heresy, especially in three areas brought out most clearly in consecutive chapters in 2 Peter: the inspiration of Scripture (see especially 2 Peter 1:16-21), the immoral depraved lifestyles of the false teachers (2 Peter 2 and the entire letter of Jude), and a denial of the belief in Christ’s return (2 Peter 3).

It would appear that behind these manifestations of the false teaching is the unifying conviction of disbelief in the supernatural and, therefore, disbelief that the world would end one day with the return of Christ supernaturally, resurrected from the dead to usher in final judgment for all peoples leading to eternal destinies of either heaven or hell. Apart from the supernatural there is no supernatural inspiration of Scripture making them uniquely authoritative. There is no reason not to live according to one’s pleasures as long as one’s lifestyle does not get in the way of preserving those pleasures and there is no reason to believe in the return of Christ to hold us accountable. Of course, Peter and Jude vigorously deny these claims so that a central application of these letters is that Christians must know what beliefs are central to their faith, that put their salvation in jeopardy, and only those, and take care not to let church leaders teach or practice them.

Perhaps the most significant verses in either letter come in 2 Peter 3:8-9 as an explanation for the problem of suffering and evil in the world or more particularly an explanation for why God has not already brought an end to human history as we know
it and Judgment Day, which has promised to right all of the present and past wrongs of the world. The answer is that he is not desiring any to perish.

This does not mean that many will not be lost, but that it is not his desire, but he has given us a measure of freedom to choose for ourselves within the limits of his sovereign choices himself. And, of course, as soon as all the evil in this world is put to an end then all human freedom to rebel as well as to choose in favor of God is also put to an end and no more can be saved. Thus, what seems to us like a delay increasing human suffering is actually his gracious choice to allow more people in turn to respond to him.



The three little letters of John tradition scribes to that beloved apostle, son of Zebedee, and their style is, indeed, quite similar to the Gospel ascribed to John as well. Certainly it is the easiest Greek to read in the New Testament and reads quite like what a
fisherman writing in a learned second language might have been expected to produce.

That same early church tradition as with the Gospel suggests that the readers are Christians in and around Ephesus. 2 John specifically is written to the elect lady and to her children, which has from early times on most often been understood to be a house church within the community of churches in Ephesus. And 3 John is written to an otherwise unknown Christian in that vicinity by the name of Gaius.

The date and circumstances as with the Gospel appear to be the late 80s or early 90s, probably a little bit after the Gospel combatting Gnostic tendencies, which we have discussed earlier in this lecture series, or at least combatting Docetic tendencies, that view that believed in Christ’s full deity but not his humanity. The epistles may even be a response to a possible over-reaction to the Gospel of John stressing the deity that he emphasized there so strongly that now a corrective has to be made in the area of his humanity and in other responses to the theology of the Gospel of John as well.

Three Key Themes

The letter is about as difficult to outline if not more so than the letter of James and like James is better analyzed simply under the headings of three key themes or tests of true life that John keeps coming back to again and again throughout the letter. These include belief in Jesus as the Son of God come in the flesh, obeying all of God’s or Christ’s commandments, and loving one another. 3:23-24 is a good sample of how all of these are intertwined.

Unconsciously, perhaps, John has combined the emphases of James – belief plus good works, that is obeying the commandments, and of Paul – belief plus love. All three help combine together to demonstrate who is a true believer and who is not. If someone is wrestling with the question of whether they have truly trusted in Christ or believe adequately, a good barometer is to see if they are living a transformed life in ways that they were not before having made any professions of faith. But, conversely, for those who are kind, compassionate, humanitarian, loving people, often following morality similar to that of the Bible, one takes heart that they are true brothers or sisters in Christ, much more so if they have a clear profession of faith in Jesus.

A key problem in these letters has often been referred to as the appearance of perfectionism – 3:6 perhaps focuses the problem as poignantly as anywhere. “No one who knows God sins, no one who has seen him continues in sin” and similar statements
are made throughout these epistles. But the full force of the continuous present tense needs to be taken into account here along with the repeated denials in 1, 6, 8, and 10 that anyone who claims to be sinless is a liar. John is not contradicting himself, but, again, simply saying that true believers will live transformed lives even while continuing to struggle, at times in many areas, at times particularly acutely in one area, with sin in their lives.

Nevertheless, John has particularly in 1 John 5:13 wants to stress by way of a contemporary application a strong assurance of salvation. But again it is assurance based on present realities. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He did not say, “I write to those of you who at sometime long past made some profession of faith, but have showed no interest in spiritual things ever since and indeed have been living consistently by quite different moral and ethical standards than those of Christianity.”



Finally, we come to that very enigmatic and controversial Book of Revelation. John is the traditional author. Again, the style is quite similar to the Gospel and epistles, though with a little bit of variety, no doubt accountable for by the unique contents and genre of this closing document of the New Testament.

The readers are the seven churches in Asia Minor spelled out in the opening chapter and then addressed in the seven discrete letters that form chapters 2 and 3. John is writing a record of visions he has received from God while in exile on the Greek island and penal colony of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. This is, therefore, probably the last New Testament book written in the mid 90s during the persecution of the emperor Domitian.

In addition to containing two chapters of short letters and being delivered to communities as epistles more generally were, the Book of Revelation partakes of two main literary genres. The apocalyptic – “revelation” in Greek is apokalypsis, which was a
commonly used form of writing by Jews, Greeks, and Romans alike and later Christian writers as well to depict in highly symbolic fashion convictions about the nature of history and particularly how it would end suggesting that humans are incapable on
their own of bringing about a good and just and utopian society on earth so that God, and in Christian context in Christ, will have to intervene supernaturally to change the course of human history from the way we know it and bring about a golden age of peace and prosperity and/or the final state of humankind for all those who are God’s faithful followers and eternal punishment for those who are not.

But 1:3 makes it clear also that Revelation is genuine prophecy. However symbolically couched, however many visions God gave John in forms that would have been understandable to him as a Jew living in the Greco-Roman world at the end of the first
century and meant to be communicated to people who would understand Old Testament backgrounds, intertestamental developments, and contemporary affairs in their world, however symbolic in light of all of these backgrounds John’s visions were,
they do refer to real events – past, present, and/or future. Indeed, the close of chapter 1 with its reference to John writing down the things which were and are and will be, suggest that this past, present, future scenario can form the simplest outline of this twenty-two chapter book.

Interpretive Grids

There are all kinds of interpretative grids that could detain us at great length. One hears about premillennial or post-millennial or amillennial approaches to Revelation. In other words does Christ come back before the golden age of peace and prosperity or after it or is it entirely a symbolic description of the church age?

One hears particularly in premillennial circles debates of pre-, mid- or post-tribulational raptures. Does the event described as believers being caught up to meet Jesus in the air depicted in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and elsewhere occur prior to that great tribulation, which climaxes in Jesus’ public return to earth? Does it occur halfway through it or at some point in its midst, or is it simply part and parcel of the picture of Jesus final public return to earth after the great tribulation.

Again, we don’t have time to go through the book reflecting all these different perspectives but merely to suggest our conviction that a post-tribulational, premillennial perspective does most justice to the work, but large sections of the book can be interpreted without recourse to this particular presupposition.


Thus, as we turn to the details of the book itself, after the opening vision of chapter 1 in which Jesus commissions John now as the triumphant returning judge to announce what must soon take place, the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 reflect the full range of obedience through disobedience of representative churches in John’s world and probably the full range of obedience and disobedience in churches in every age.

The church in Philadelphia receives the greatest amount of praise with no criticism at all and is promised an open door, perhaps for evangelism and a powerful effect in its world. Although the church at Smyrna is also not criticized and yet promised a short period of suffering, a reminder that good circumstances by worldly standards are by no means promised to all those who remain faithful.

The church that has no praise attached to it and that is most condemned, the church at Laodicea is described as lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, neither therapeutically refreshing like the nearby hot springs at Hierapolis, nor invigoratingly cold like the cold mountain streams coming down from nearby Colossae, but like the actual water supply of Laodicea in the ancient world after long aqueducts pumped it from both of those sources disgustingly lukewarm, and, therefore, about to be spewed out of Christ’s mouth.

Chapters 4 and 5 turn to a heavenly scene of praise, of temporary wondering who will be able to open the scrolls that will describe the judgments with which this age of human history will come to a close, but then after pause and lament when it appears
that no one was qualified to open those scrolls, Christ appears, described simultaneously as a lion, the king of all creatures in the universe, but also as a sacrificial lamb reflecting his completed, atoning work on the cross. It is important to recall this image because in apocalyptic literature in visions that are given one individual or entity can be described with two seemingly diametrically opposite visions or symbolisms. On earth there are no creatures who are simultaneously lions and lambs. They are about as distinct animals as one could imagine. But since this character is neither a literal lion nor a sheep, but Jesus Christ depicted in symbolic form as both coming triumphant king even after he once was a suffering sacrifice, both contrasting visions can be applied to the same reality.

Chapter 6 through 19 then forms the backbone of the Book of Revelation with a series of three sets of seven visions portrayed as symbolically depicted seals, trumpets, and bowls of God’s wrath. The seals are the kind of seals that one puts on a scroll and thus all of the seals have to be opened before one can read the contents of the scroll. This suggests that the judgments depicted in the visions of the seals beginning in chapter 6 are not part of the great tribulation of the final, unprecedented horrors of human history that take place subsequently, but the necessary prelude or precursors to those judgments.

And the nature especially of these first four judgments, things like famine and warfare and imperialism occurring on earth have indeed happened many times throughout church history. So, too, have the prayers of the saints asking how long such suffering must continue as in the fifth of these sealed judgments. The sixth of the sealed judgments at the end of chapter 6 seems to bring us to the climax of human history, but then when the seventh seal is depicted we have initially nothing but silence in heaven and more seals follow. Perhaps we are brought up to the threshold of the very end much like someone reaching the edge of a cliff looking over into the abyss only to withdraw from it and then to have another series of judgments move that person again towards the cliff’s edge, perhaps approaching it even more closely.

Thus, the trumpet judgments, many of them reminding us of the supernatural plagues unleashed by Moses against Egypt and against her Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus take on a greater intensity, now affecting repeatedly a third of the earth (see chapters 8 and 9). But still the majority of the earth remains unaffected. Again when we come to the sixth of the trumpet judgments we have the gathering for battle of the armies of the earth and it would seem that human history cannot continue in its same form, but the seventh trumpet judgment, which this time creates all kinds of cosmic and heavenly sound effects, but not a judgment of the same character as those that have been depicted earlier then gives way to yet one final sequence of seven judgments, the bowls of God’s wrath. Only after which do we read then that all has been finished or accomplished and we move to Christ return and final judgment. This suggests a kind of telescopic function of the twenty-one judgments. Each of the three series of judgments intensifying, no limitations to the final seven, but a certain recapitulative approach as if each one started nearer to the end bringing one even closer to the end at the end of its series, but then withdrawing some only to build and escalate toward the end yet again.

Key Theological Themes

Trying to correlate specific visions of judgment with specific contemporary events normally proves futile, though hundreds of such schemes have been suggested throughout church history, to date all of them have proved wrong. Thus, it is better to see the broader theological themes that emerge through this main central section of Revelation. Themes such as God’s people will have to go through suffering. This is true on any interpretation of the Book of Revelation, because beginning in chapter 7 there are a group of people described as God’s servants who are sealed and protected from the judgments that reflect God’s wrath on unregenerate humankind, but those seals do not protect them from the attacks of the enemy or from normal human persecuting forces.

If God’s people will have to undergo unprecedented suffering in the final age, this is simply the climax of what God’s people have had to endure in most periods and most places of church history. Those who, like many of us in the western world, have had
more comfortable lives than not are in the minority throughout Christian history and Paul could say in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Those who want to live godly lives in Christ will experience persecution.”

At the same time the sealing of Revelation 7 vividly depicts that God’s people will be protected from his wrath and common misunderstanding of Christians who believe that those alive in the final days who are Jesus’ followers will undergo the tribulation, is that such Christians believe that we must experience God’s wrath and the reply is – God does not poor out his wrath on his people, only on fallen humankind. But post-tribulationists agree with pre-tribulationists that Christians, whoever they are in the
great tribulation, will not experience God’s wrath, just as the Israelites, thanks to the blood on their doors and on their thresholds, were passed over at the time of the judgment of the Egyptians and it is telling that many of the judgments in the second
and even third series of judgments of the Book of Revelation remind us of the plagues of fire and of blood and of both fresh and saltwater turning to blood, and hail and darkness and so on, reminiscent of the plagues at the time of Moses.

At the same time these series of judgments also remind us that in this life even the most severe of God’s judgments on fallen humanity is always meant to give them one last chance to repent, to alert them to the reality of God and of his supernatural power. At the end of chapter 9 we are told in a back-handed confirmation of this truth that despite the great sufferings incurred by unbelievers through the trumpet judgments that they still did not repent, but this does, in fact, show us that that was one of the objectives and one of the possibilities of unbelievers’ response to these judgments.

It is possible that Revelation 11, however, suggests a more positive outcome. The two witnesses described in language that evokes memories of the miracles of both Moses and Elijah, whether referring to two individuals or the entire church or some option in between, all have been suggested, nevertheless shows that many after an earthquake in Jerusalem give glory to God, language which could, although it does not always, mean repentance and response to God’s judgments. At the same time others remain simply more and more hardened in their opposition to God’s people and to God’s power.

Arguably, then, one of the major themes uniting these main central chapters of Revelation is that in the end times there will be trends, as have often been suggested throughout the interpretation of this book, but not often suggested at the same time by
the same interpreters, namely trends both on the one hand that world evangelism and doing good throughout the earth, bringing justice and physical and social health and wholeness along with spiritual salvation in many parts of the world may well be on the increase. The conversion of people from every tribe and tongue and nation and people group, every ethnic grouping of humanity we are told in four separate passages in Revelation, will have representatives in the end times, so that God will have people from every division of humanity.

But at the same time evil and opposition and political and even religious powers will increase in their hostility eventually to create some worldwide empire with huge political, social, and religious influence that is not godly, that is anti-Christian. That such
developments could, indeed, happen simultaneously is hinted at by the number of times throughout church history when persecution actually spawns the growth of the church.

Finally, however, this cosmic competition for the souls of men will come to an end. Christ will return. He will put an end immediately to all of the growing opposition and preparations for battle that have been made by the armies of the world. He will usher in final judgment, bring a thousand years in which he rules on earth in peace and prosperity and which sin is constrained, the devil is bound.

But as if to demonstrate both God’s remarkable concern that all people have free choice as well as to reflect the depths of evil and hardness of heart of those who choose to rebel and thus the justice of eternal punishment, at the end of this millennial kingdom Satan is released and he is able to deceive people from all nations again and there is one final rebellion against Jesus which is finally decisively squelched so that the final judgment of the wicked dead accompanies the earlier judgments of all other people throughout human history ushering in the eternal state described in chapters 21 and 22, where for believers of all ages and all places, there is no more suffering, no more crying, no more mourning or lamenting, no pain, no evil.

And these new heavens and new earth are depicted in glorious perfection with a new Jerusalem, all of the prophecies to Israel and to the church as the new Israel now coming to a climax in a city descending from heaven and depicted as a perfect cube of
enormous dimensions meant to evoke the only building in the ancient world that was a perfect cube, namely the Holy of Holies within the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

All of the prophecies of a rebuilt temple that have thus far not seen literal fulfillment seem to come to their symbolic culmination in the new community of redeemed people functioning like a perfect cube or temple in a city which we are told, in fact, has no literal temple because the priestly mediation, so central to the function of a temple, is accomplished by Christ himself and has been fully accomplished through his first and second comings so that no such mediation is further needed.

Nevertheless, we are reminded in this context that there is a reality outside these new heavens and new earth where those who have been hostile to the Gospel and persecuting Christians remain and their smoke goes up forever and ever as well, as we read back in chapter 14.

The ultimate theological summary of the Book of Revelation can be expressed in two words, Jesus wins. Ultimately, humanity will be divided despite all of its many humanly created divisions, into only two camps of individuals, those who are on God’s side and those who are not, who have rejected every offer he has made to them and who have however quietly or overtly rebelled against him and resisted his gracious offer of rescue. They would rather live in an imprisoned state of existence throughout all eternity than with God and all things good.

Key Applications

Clearly the most crucial application at the end of the Book of Revelation, at the end of this New Testament survey, is for every reader to search his or her soul and ask – are you one of Jesus’ people, are you one of his followers, are you on his side, will he acknowledge you at the final judgment because you have trusted in him as your Lord and Savior, you have committed your life to him, you do not believe you can do anything to deserve salvation, you are not trying to merit God’s favor on your own, either before or after some profession of allegiance to Jesus, but you are entrusting entirely in Christ’s merits, in his mercies. If so, you can have that blessed everlasting hope of a joyous existence beyond our comprehension in a life to come. If not, now is the day of salvation. Turn to Jesus. Say a prayer to invite him into your heart.

Seek out fellowship of believers, however close or far away they are from you. Learn his Word. Learn what it means to follow all of the teachings of Scripture in detail. Follow Jesus even to your death, for the alternative, however metaphorically depicted in the various images of Scripture, is an agonizing, conscious existence apart from God and all things good in a reality called Hell, and for our friends and for all people that we don’t have confidence know Jesus. As we saw in 2 Peter 3 he delays, or what seems to us like delay, so that as few as possible might perish.

Are our lives organized around serving Christ with our unique gifts, as Paul would put it in his images of each one with different gifts, united in building up the church as the body of Christ. Anything we do in life that does not in some way contribute to the wellbeing of humanity and open doors for us to talk about God’s plans eternally for humanity, as well as in this world, and under the Spirit’s sovereignty to give people every chance to become part of Christ’s forever fellowship and then to build them up in what it means as Christ said in the Great Commission – “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Anything that has no role to play in some aspect of that grand charge of God’s people on earth has no eternal or lasting significance at best and at worst distracts us and hinders us from doing God’s work, or in a worst case scenario from even being a part of that forever fellowship.

Will you take this time at the end of this series to pray that Jesus would reveal what parts of your life fall into which of these categories and to help you do all that you can to maximize the parts of your life that will count for eternity and to minimize those that won’t and then be faithful to the guidance the Spirit of God in Christ gives you as you seek to serve him?

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