The Book of Revelation:
Understanding Its Message of Encouragement
Perhaps one of the reasons that the last book of the Bible is so mysterious, so confusing, or so fearsome, is that we don’t look at it as a loving, personal message from God. We focus on its meaning for the world and try to interpret it as a warning about a destructive and inevitable end. We search for clues about the timing of the Anti-Christ and the Second Coming of Jesus, while forgetting that the Word of God always has multiple levels of meaning, and that God always wants to speak to us individually in every scripture.
He wants His Word to affect our lives in the here and now. He wants His Word to help us grow closer to Him. He wants His Word to challenge us to more lovingly serve our brothers and sisters. And He speaks to us through all scripture ~ including the Book of Revelation ~ to make a difference in the only moment we’ve got: The Now Moment.
The “REVELATION” given to John was information about what HAS happened, IS happening, and is YET to happen. When he received this vision, he was in his late 60s and had become known as a visionary prophet. He had been exiled on the Island of Patmos (a Roman penal colony) because of his Christian faith.
At that time, the Romans were persecuting the Christians ruthlessly, and the followers of Jesus desperately needed encouragement. Are you in need of encouragement today? Think of the trials and sufferings you’re in the midst of right now. Would you like the Book of Revelation to minister to your present needs? Of course you would!
To be a Christian means to imitate Christ. We can measure how well we’re loving everyone by how much trouble it causes us. Unconditional love is not easy, and many people misunderstand it or reject it because we’re not like them. Persecution is a normal part of Christian living. Today ~ this single day ~ approximately 1600 people are being killed because they’re Christian. What sacrifices are you suffering because of your faith? Jesus said:
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: “No servant is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also …. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (John 15:19-21 NIV)
John wrote the Book of Revelation in symbols so the Roman persecutors wouldn’t understand what he was talking about. Imagine that a person of the 25th century will read something from today’s books: “It rained cats and dogs” or “The Giants slaughtered the Braves” or “That kid is a real pig” ~ all of these would cause the reader to misunderstand the true meaning of these phrases if he took it literally. To learn what the symbols in Revelation mean, go to our Glossary.
The theme of the Book of Revelation is “Stand firm in your faith!” It’s something we all need to be reminded of for life in the here and now. A summary of the book would be: Avoid compromises with paganism, don’t cave into adversity and martyrdom, wait patiently for the fulfillment of God’s promises, God has triumphed over evil through Jesus, and we must let God triumph through each of us as we follow the way of the cross.
John used imagery to teach about the struggle that Christ and His followers are having with Satan and his followers. Think of the battles you’ve been having lately against your own sinful tendencies. This book is telling us that, at the end of the present age, Christ is coming in glory to defeat the kingdom of Satan and usher in the everlasting reign of God.
What exactly is meant by “the end of the present age”?
A moment from now, isn’t this present moment gone? Ended? When you die, isn’t that the end of an age or a phase of your life? Whatever Satan’s kingdom has been doing to your life, be assured that Christ truly IS coming ~ right now ~ in glory to usher in His love, His peace, His joy, His solutions to your problems, His forgiveness, and His victory over your sinfulness! Isn’t that more encouraging to know ~ right now ~ than what time it will be when the Anti-Christ arrives and what cloud over what hill Jesus is going to descend upon when He comes again? We are fascinated by the future, but we can only live in the here and now. We can only love God in the here and now, because this moment is all we truly have. We can only serve others in the here and now. And God ministers to us in the here and now!
It’s tempting to associate the Book of Revelation with the Battle of Armageddon, and to focus only on the tribulations and war and Anti-Christ and Second Coming of Jesus. For 2,000 years, people have extrapolated clues from scripture and the immorality of the world to speculate about the time and location of this battle. But how does God want us to apply this scripture to our lives in the here and now?
“Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty.” … Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. (Rev. 16:13-16)
Armageddon is in Israel, in the Valley of Jezreel, not far from Nazareth where Jesus grew up. The valley of the battle described in Revelation is vast, as far and wide as the eye can see. Tel Megido is the small brown hill in the photo below. “Tel” means an archeological hill, a man-made mound. Megido (from which we get the name “Armageddon”) was a Canaanite town 4,000 years ago.
This land has endured unending hostilities throughout the millennia. Today, it’s the Israelis versus the Palestinians, Jews versus Muslims versus Armenians. Prejudice and hatred are evident everywhere. Residents, since childhood, are taught to fear and to cause fear in their enemies. Passersby in the streets treat each other with distrust, and even pilgrims from other countries unconsciously pick up this atmosphere. There is little eye contact and fewer smiles ~ that is, until we decide to overcome it.
We don’t have to accept the atmosphere of hostility in our families, our workplaces, or the divisions within our churches. We can bring peace to our own Armageddons by doing good to our enemies, showing that we care, and giving the unconditional love of Jesus to everyone ~ even to the people who are hostile toward us.
The Book of Revelation gives us plenty of encouragement for this. It tells us that as we wait for victory, it helps to remember that although persecution and martyrdom are evil, it is actually through this suffering that we triumph over evil. For example, when someone gives you a difficult time for believing in God, by turning the other cheek and going the extra mile (more suffering), you are giving Jesus to that person, whether he or she realizes it or not. Just as the evil of Jesus’ beatings and crucifixion brought redemption to the world, our sufferings can bring redemption into current-day hardships.
To further comfort and encourage us, there are SEVEN BEATITUDES in Revelation (“seven” means “total amount, full, complete”). Notice that none of them are original ideas from John. All of them are reflections of words Jesus spoke in the Gospels:
- Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time [Jesus] is near. (v. 1:3)
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:27-28)
God wants us to see this verse in Revelation as a reminder to really hear Jesus, because our actions indicate how well we’re listening and believing His Word. If we truly take to heart what He tells us, then we will live the way He lived, and by this means He is with us.
- Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (v. 4:13)
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25-26)
It’s very difficult to give up our sinful tendencies, but when we allow their control over us to die, we can rest in the goodness of God’s love and mercy.
- “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (v. 16:15)
If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Luke 12:39-40)
Are you ready for Jesus to surprise you with a mission to do with Him? Are you praying enough and staying tuned-in enough to God’s will so that when He asks you to minister to a need, you won’t miss it? Is your love for others strong enough so that when someone causes a problem, you can see Jesus in him and know that there is a blessing in the suffering?
- Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! (v. 19:9)
The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come…. For many are invited, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:2-3,14)
To say yes to God’s invitation, we say yes to suffering for the sake of loving others unconditionally, no matter how difficult that is. At the wedding feast, we drink of the same cup that Jesus drinks from. Will you refuse to go to the banquet because you prefer comfort and ease over trials and difficulties? There’s a great party going on! The blessings far outweigh the sufferings.
- Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand [huge amount of] years. (v. 20:6)
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
And see this connection to Peter’s writings:
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Jesus is our High Priest. If we are to live in His kingdom with Him ~ here and now ~ we are to be priests, too ~ the common priesthood (rather than the ministerial priesthood, the clergy). What do priests do? Offer sacrifices. Pray and intercede for others. Seek God’s forgiveness for sinners. Guide people in the way of Truth and Love.
- “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.” (v. 22:7)
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
Think of the problems you have that you’ve put into God’s hands, but in which you’re still waiting for His intervention. Don’t get impatient! Don’t give up hope! Don’t look for short-cuts! Jesus is already on His way to help. God is already working a plan for good and not for disaster. If we stand firm on the promises in the Book, we will withstand the storm.
- Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (v. 22:14)
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep…. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture…. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10)
At the end of his book, John brings us full circle to the first book of the Bible. Genesis 2:9 says, “In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” After Adam and Eve sinned, God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Gen. 3:22). God decreed this because of His great mercy: He didn’t want us to live forever in the state of original sin. But at the end of the story ~ the ending that Jesus ushered in with His sacrifice on the cross ~ we once again have access to the tree of life. “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).
Are you letting Jesus heal you, in the here and now? He wants to give you life in abundance, instead of watching you be destroyed by the evil of your sins. Jesus is the tree of life! He died on a tree so that you can live in the fullness of joy, no matter what battles are raging around you. Read the Book of Revelation as a personal letter of encouragement from Jesus to you. Let it challenge you to purify your life so that you can live like Jesus did and experience the awesome treasures of eternal life ~ in the here and now!
Recommended additional reading:
The Apocalypse: Understanding the Book of Revelation and the End of the World
by Father George T. Montague, S.M.
Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1992
Revised 1998 under the title The Apocalypse and the Third Millennium: Today’s Guide to the Book of Revelation
Catechism of the Catholic Church
“From Thence He Will Come Again to Judge the Living and the Dead”
© 1998 by Terry A. Modica
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