This week we finish our chronological reading of the Bible with 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
The end of the New Testament (and the Bible) is written by the apostle John (son of Zebedee), one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. While Luke wrote the most Greek words (37,933) of the new Testament (the books of Luke and Acts), and Paul wrote the most books (a total of 32,407 Greek words), John is credited with writing the third largest portion of the New Testament – the gospel of John, his 3 epistles, and the book of Revelation (combined to a total of 28,092 Greek words (according to this New Testament statistics page).
I’ll mention briefly the other final books before commenting on Revelation. The three epistles (letters) of John are written, like most of the other letters in the New Testament, to be distributed among various first century churches. These initial churches were generally small groups of families who met together in homes. Letters and communications from the apostles would be circulated within a region amongst these various home churches. The letters often dealt with specific issues common to the churches in a region. John’s letters, as his gospel was, were primarily focused on upholding the deity of Christ and encouraging believers to strengthen their faith in Jesus and to live lives worthy of the gospel they claim. For example, in 1 John 1:5-10 he says
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John points out the essentials of the gospel here – that Jesus and God are one and the same, and our lives, as Christians, are connected to him and he provides forgiveness for our sins. Yet we must live lives consistent with the forgiveness that he has given us.
The book of Jude is written by one of Jesus’ brothers, who became a believer after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It follows much the same topics as Peter’s second letter and was probably written to a similar group of churches. The main thing I wish to point out from this letter, though, is how Jude identifies himself. Note his opening identifier – “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” He was willing to identify himself as being related to James (also Jesus’ brother), but calls himself a “servant” of Jesus. Likewise, James identifies himself, in his letter, simply as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Neither of these individuals chose to claim special recognition as blood relatives, but instead chose (properly) to identify their submission to Jesus’ Lordship over their lives. This should be the stance we all take. We should not become too casual or relaxed with our stance with Jesus. He is God, He is our King, He is our Lord, He is our Savior, He is our Creator!
This brings me to John’s book of Revelation. I’m not going to try here to give a comprehensive overview of this book. I think, though, that people tend to spend so much time trying to grapple with interpretations and times and details from this book of prophecy, that they overlook the important broad themes, and it’s these that I want to focus on.
Chapter 1 of Revelation provides the context and setting for the rest of the book. John has been exiled to an island (Patmos) and is worshipping God there when he encounters the risen Jesus. This is a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus that is often overlooked. John hears a voice (which sounds like a trumpet) that says, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…” (1:11). He later (4:1) identifies this as the first voice he heard. However, when he turned around to see the speaker, he saw “seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” (1:12-16)
This person identifies himself as “the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” This can be no one else but Jesus.
Chapters 2 and 3 are letters dictated to John by Jesus, to be sent to seven prominent churches across Asia (current Turkey).
Each letter follows a similar outline:
- Identification of the church
- A reference to some aspect of Jesus’ appearance as described by John in Chapter 1
- Details about good and/or bad aspects of the church and steps needed for correction
- The admonition “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
- A promise or foreshadowing of some aspect of future heaven as revealed later in the book
Chapters 4 and 5 describe a huge worship setting in heaven in which God and Jesus receive all praise and prepare to unleash the coming judgments on the world, as contained within a sealed scroll which only Jesus is worthy to open.
Chapters 6 and 7 describe the increasingly difficult times and tribulations associated with the opening of the first six seals of the scroll.
Chapters 8 through 11 describe the unleashing of God’s judgment on the world associated with the opening of the seventh and final seal of the scroll.
Chapters 12 through 18 are a figurative retelling of all of history as seen through the lens of the great conflict between God and Satan over all of time leading up to this final judgment.
Chapter 19 is another worship service in heaven celebrating God’s right judgments and the approaching ultimate defeat of Satan and all evil.
Chapter 20 describes a period (thousand years) of peace in which Satan is bound and unable to influence events. This is a time in which Jesus reigns on Earth (in the future) and all who have believed in him over the eons reign with him. At the end of this period, Satan is released and once again lures the people of the world who refuse to submit to God in a final battle against the armies of heaven, culminating in the great White Throne judgment, in which Death, Hades, Satan and all his followers – those whose names are not found to be written in the book of life – are thrown into the eternal lake of fire.
Chapters 21 and 22 describes the removal and destruction of the old universe and the creation of a brand new one. The end of the book culminates with John and Jesus speaking again, finishing up the conversation they began in Chapter 1. Jesus finishes by saying (22:10-20)
Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.
Jesus is coming soon. Soon may not seem like “soon” to us here 1900+ years after this was written (assuming it was written around 95 A.D.). However, I continue to remind people that God’s plan has been steadily unfolding and playing out since the beginning of time. In the garden of Eden, God promised a son who would ultimately crush Satan. He promised Abraham (1900+ years before Christ was born) that a son would come through whom the whole world would be blessed. David was promised a son who would reign on his throne for all of eternity. Isaiah was promised a son who would be called Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. Mary was promised a son who would save his people from their sins. This son finally came. His name was Jesus. He was crucified, died, and was buried. But he came back to life, rising from the dead and ascending to heaven to prepare a place for those who believe in and follow Him. And this Son has promised to come again, and when he does he will bring God’s final judgment on the world with him, and usher in the new eternal home of all those who follow Him. If you haven’t done so, please give your life to Him.
Next week I plan to start a new set of Bible Study blogs. I’ll let you know then what my plans for them are.
For Further Investigation
- 1, 2, 3 John video from The Bible Project
- Jude video from The Bible Project
- Revelation (Chap. 1-11) video from The Bible Project
- Revelation (Cha. 12-22) video from The Bible Project
- Revelation Sermons from John Piper on Desiring God