Lifting the Lid
A journey through the book of Revelation
Visions of hope for challenging times
If we want to know what someone thinks about an issue, we might ask them, “How does that look to you?” Perspective is fundamental to response.
First century Christians in what is now modern-day Turkey faced a challenging context. Emmeshed within what appeared to be the invincible Roman Empire, the early Christ-followers wrestled with very real pressures to conform to a pagan society and compromise their faith, coupled with the threat of persecution. When the might of Rome held sway around them, administered by local authorities, these early Christians faced the daily reality of a regime which declared that, “Caesar is Lord.” What does a Christian do in such a context, when they believe the only One you are to declare as Lord is Jesus? And when the threat of persecution hangs over you, even when you are being faithful to Christ, that poses a challenge to what you might think about God and His goodness.
One day into their hands was placed a most remarkable letter, designed to be heard in one reading in the context of gathered worship. The author they knew well. John was well-respected as a Christian leader, personally acquainted with the seven Christian assemblies in Asia Minor to whom he wrote. John’s very first word of the book summed up succinctly what he thought his book would do. In his original Greek version, the first word of the book is Apokalupsis, literally meaning to take the cover off something. His book was a revelation, an unveiling by Jesus which would give greater understanding of Jesus.
I have chosen a title for this series which reflects the primary aim of Revelation. Lifting the Lid expresses the sense in which Revelation takes the cover off reality so that we might see it for what it really is. While it is true that some of the visions in the book pertain to events still to come, much of the book relates to current reality. Revelation is a pastoral letter, written to encourage Christians in their first-century circumstances. Those first readers understood that John was writing to them mostly about the here and now. If Revelation were all about the future, the book would have had little meaning for its first readers. But it did have meaning; it meant something profound. For John’s first readers, they looked around them at the might of the Roman Empire, at the power of the Emperor who bid people to worship him and acclaim him as worthy. They lived in a world where warfare and violence, famine and death were never that far away. Facing into such challenges, it would have been tempting for the early Christians to believe that Rome was the ultimate power and that the forces of darkness that plagued the world could not be checked in any way. To have had that perspective would have led to despair.
We, too, in our day, can face discouragement because of the way we view situations and circumstances. The violence, injustice, uncertainties, darkness and fears of the world can at times overwhelm us. And the problems and challenges we personally face can also paralyse us and make us believe that there is no way through them.
But Revelation lifts the lid on that perspective to show God’s eye view. The visions of Revelation proclaim loud and clear that God is the true sovereign over all creation. The citizens of Rome might proclaim, “Caesar is Lord,” but the citizens of heaven instead declare, “Jesus is Lord.” Revelation demonstrates that God is the author of the destiny of the world. The pen is in His hand and He will not be yielding that pen to anyone else. God’s final chapter is already written and He will bring that chapter to pass as surely as eggs is eggs.
Revelation’s lifting the lid change of perspective would have been a game-changer for its first readers. They didn’t have to feel intimidated by the might of Rome; they knew the true ruler was on their side. This book, also, should be a game-changer for us. It can help us to see the world in a new way. It can help us to see our lives in a new way. And, most importantly, it can help us to see Jesus for who He really is: the Lion, the Lamb who was slain, the Alpha and Omega, the rider on the white horse who is faithful and true, the commander of heaven’s host and the judge of all the world. When we see Jesus more clearly, it will always help us face into life’s battles.
Revelation is too detailed a book for a series such as this to cover every detail. My approach has been to divide the book into 50 sections and identify one prominent encouraging lesson from each passage. For each daily section, you will be directed to read a passage from Revelation. There follows some teaching and reflection on that passage, based around a key verse or verses from the reading. The reflection aims to both foster understanding of the passage and direct our thoughts to apply its truth to our everyday lives. Each daily section ends with a themed prayer. By the end of the series, you will have completed the entire book of Revelation and received 50 messages of encouragement from its pages.
Revelation represents perhaps the most demanding of all biblical books to read and understand. That’s because it features a genre of literature that was well-known to its first readers but feels alien to us. Apocalyptic writing is dramatic, symbolic and metaphorical and needs to be read with attention to the historical context of its time. This series draws on insights gained through reading a number of excellent books and commentaries which I heartily commend. Where I have drawn on insights from others you will find these referenced in the footnotes of the daily sections. In particular, I have tapped into one of the most recently published commentaries on Revelation, written by a friend, Revd Dr Ian Paul. In addition to his commentary, Ian has written extensively on Revelation in other ways and you can catch a broad taste of his writings in this section of his award-winning online blog:
In publishing this series as part of the Mariners Bible Reading Notes project, a particular thank you needs to go to the Life Group at the South Harbour Vineyard, the church I currently pastor, who have travelled with me through this material. We’ve had a great journey together, pooling insights from this most remarkable book and the Spirit of God has encouraged our hearts afresh as we have studied each section. Thanks for your companionship, guys!
Jesus speaks a bold word to His people through Revelation. Fasten your seat belt, for we are in for quite a ride. But it will be well worth it. For when God lifts the lid on reality, He provides visions of hope to face our challenging times.
 Boring ME, Revelation, Interpretation Bible Commentary, John Knox Press, Louisville, 1989, p24