The final book of the Bible opens with a bold statement about Jesus: “The faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5). In an ancient world dominated by violent, self-serving Caesars, Jesus is proclaimed as the real ruler over all others, including the one who sat in Rome. This is an echo of what Daniel heard 600 years before, “And to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). This is wisdom arising the Old Testament and reaffirmed in the New.
We often think the Book of Revelation relates only to the future, but it also finds its roots in the past. It reaches into the Old Testament and pulls out people, places, and eternal wisdom to teach us the needs of the present – faithfulness, purity, and the need to overcome all obstacles – and caps off the entire Bible with a fixed gaze toward the future realm.
For the purposes of this article, we will concentrate on the wisdom in the book. And in Revelation style we’ll do it in seven points.
1. The Wisdom of Homage to the Lamb.
Having encouraged and warned the seven churches of Asia (see Kevin Cleary’s article following this one), John sees a vision in chapters 4–5 of God on His heavenly throne. Isaiah saw a similar vision (Isaiah 6), as did Daniel in his book (chapter 7). The apostle witnesses endless praise and honour given to God and the Son of Man. Surrounding the throne he sees 24 elders on their own thrones, at peace and glorified with white garments and crowns. They represent the church, safe and protected by God regardless of its trials on earth. Rome and its allies were about to unleash a terrible persecution against God’s people, but they are safe.
A cry goes up for someone who is worthy to open the seals of a book containing “the immediate will of God for His church amid the trials soon to happen” (Jim McGuiggan). The implication is that whoever can do it must also manage the events the book describes. No easy job. The lamb appears and accepts the role and all of heaven falls in homage to Him. In fact, in the vision everything created in heaven and on earth worships Him. And so should we, for He still rules and manages history. In this we find comfort, blessings, and wisdom from the past fulfilled in this final book of the Bible.
2. The Wisdom of Trust in His Judgments.
As the seals begin to be opened in chapter 6, Jesus is represented as a warrior on a white horse. “And a crown was given to him; and he went out conquering and to conquer” (6:2). We know this is Jesus because the only other warrior riding a white horse in the book is named “The word of God” (19:11–13). He will conquer in this world as we follow Him, and thus we will conquer too.
The rule of the Son of God is proclaimed in Psalm 2:7–9, where He is given rule over the nations, which He proceeds to judge. Again, in Psalm 110 this priest-king is given universal rule, able to “judge among the nations” (v. 6). And this is what we see Him doing in the Book of Revelation, unleashing judgments as the seals are opened (chapter 6), giving warning judgments against the oppressor in trumpet blasts (chapters 8–9), and increased, final judgements against Rome (chapters 15–16, the bowls of wrath).
Christians suffered at the hands of Rome and the Lamb’s judgments against her. Many were martyred, but God assured them of victory. We do not understand the Son’s judgements in the world today and why, at times, they seem to be delayed. But God’s people have always been encouraged to trust His judgments, even if we must suffer when they happen. It is a truth revealed in the Old Testament and remains with us in the New.
3. The Wisdom of Rest in His Care.
With judgments coming, He holds them back temporarily in chapter 7 so that His people can be sealed for protection. This also occurs in Ezekiel 9 where God exempts faithful people from judgment (but not hardship) as Jerusalem falls. Here in Revelation, they are pictured as the 144,000 (all of God’s people), and a great multitude equipped with palm branches, clothed in white robes. This symbolism is borrowed from the Feast of Booths (Leviticus 23:33–42), first celebrated when Israel emerged from the desert into the fertile promised land. They built booths made of the foliage and fruits of the new land and celebrated God’s new blessings there, as they did every after year at harvest time.
Just as Israel rested in God’s care during the feast, hard-pressed Christians of John’s time could feel secure and protected in their difficult circumstances. Today our world faces moral boundaries being torn down, struggling economies, aggressive nations, and a withering pandemic – yet we can follow the wisdom of the past and rest in God’s care. “For the Lamb in the centre of the throne shall be their shepherd” (7:17).
4. The Wisdom of Expecting Victory.
We are presented with two remarkable prophets in chapter 11, unstoppable in their work, yet all is not easy for them – they also suffer. They are like Elijah of 2 Kings 1 who called down fire from heaven upon the soldiers of king Ahaziah; like Moses who could turn the waters of Egypt into blood; and like the two witnesses of Zechariah 4. God’s two prophets here represent the church with its unstoppable mission.
But in the vision the beast kills them both, leaving their bodies exposed for all to see. Has their God-given mission been ruined? Has all been lost? We are relieved to read God gave them the breath of life, and there they stood healthy and vindicated. In fact, God took them up to heaven. First century Christians are being told they can win victories as they follow Jesus, even if they must suffer. Today the faithfulness and labour of the church will be met with derision, and in some places even violence. We do not panic or withdraw; we follow the wisdom of the past and expect victories from God.
5. The Wisdom of Trust in God’s Rescue.
Of all the chapters in the book, none is more frightening than chapter 12 with its monstrous dragon attempting to destroy the offspring of a woman in labour. She is God’s people struggling to bring the Messiah into the world with the devil doing all he can to stop it. (Isaiah spoke of Israel as a woman with child in 54:1–3.) The devil fails as the child is whisked up to heaven with the dragon following, and war ensues. The devil loses again and he turns his attention to persecuting the woman. She is promptly given a place of safety in the wilderness where God sustains her, much like he did Elijah (1 Kings 17). In this conflict Jesus wins, and the devil loses. The church will suffer, but God will sustain her. This was a great message for the early church confronted by persecuting Rome. They trusted in God’s rescue.
With many things going against us in society today we find comfort knowing Jesus will win and His people will be nourished and sustained. The devil and his tools seem invincible, but he will lose. God’s people of the past learned the wisdom of trust in God’s rescue, even when it seemed impossible. We may suffer, but we will win through Jesus. Don’t think of the church as a dwindling, obsolete group. We can win victories for Him through the strength of the Son of God.
6. The Wisdom of Worship.
As if the dragon of chapter 12 was not enough, chapter 13 introduces us to a snarling beast coming up out of the sea, full of threats and blasphemies. And then his mild-looking associate arises from the land, looking like a lamb but speaking like a dragon. The first represents Rome as a civil persecuting power, the second is Rome as a religious renegade able to fool and beguile people. These formidable enemies of the church seem impossible to resist.
But chapter 14 has better things to say.
We see the Lamb of God standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000 (chapter 7), marked and protected. And what does John say they are doing? He hears them singing like a huge, thunderous chorus raising their voices to God. They’re singing the new song, and it’s personal, meaningful, like the song of Moses, a song of victory (Exodus 15; Rev.15:3-4). Despite the beasts lined up against them, the church sings!
The church is secure and cared for, therefore we worship. This is wisdom from the entire scope of the Bible. God has saved us and stands with us, like a well-cared for flock of sheep (7:17). Therefore, we come together to worship Him in the assembly, and privately on our own. This reminds us of His constant care. Heroic people (14:4–5) are not full of pride, they are full of praise to God.
7. The Wisdom of a Healthy View of the Church.
John sees the glory of the new heavens and new earth in the final two chapters of the book. The holy city of Jerusalem comes down out of heaven bringing the tabernacle of God with it (21:2–3, 30). This is a vision of God’s victorious people protected by 1500-mile-high walls, gates made of pearls and manned by angels, and 12 foundation stones named after the apostles – for the church is built on what they taught. Ezekiel saw a similar vision of Israel after their victory over their monstrous enemies (see the final nine chapters of his book). Isaiah spoke of the new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 66:22), as did Peter (2 Peter 3:13). John writes of the river of water of life flowing through, flanked by the tree of life. Ezekiel spoke of the same (47:1–2) as did Joel (3:18) and Zechariah (14:8).
Much could be said about these marvels, both present and future. First century Christians were rocked by persecution and hardships, but they needed to view Christ’s church as precious, protected, holy, and victorious. Today we often grumble about the state of the church: we become upset with its leadership, don’t like the preacher, complain of weak evangelism, etc. But we need to love and respect it, for John is telling us about its preciousness and glory. Jesus welcomes us in with these words, “Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city” (22:14).
The wisdom of God arising from the past appears and completes the final book of the Bible.