A lot of Bible readers avoid Revelation due to its bewildering complexity.
In it, readers often miss the forest for the trees, an easy thing to do given the amount of this book’s moving parts. One can fixate on a point that strikes them as interesting, and after spending an inordinate amount of time scrutinizing it, forgets how this newfound curiosity serves the overall schematic of the text. It is like someone finding a palm tree in Ohio, photographing it, studying it, climbing it, and then based upon their odd discovery, surmising they have wandered into a tropical rainforest (Imagine their surprise when January rolls around).
For instance, the preoccupation with the identity of Antichrist (Is it a present world leader, or a literal person at all), the number of the beast (will it be a tattoo, an ID chip, or is it figurative), the locusts in chapter 9 (are they demons, or do they symbolize military weapons). Folks who belabor many of these odd “trees” in the text will tend to treat Revelation as though it were a book of cryptic puzzles. Meanwhile, those of us not into Sudoku bail out of our New Testaments after Jude, which is tragic, because without the Apocalypse the Bible is left full of unresolved issues.
The best way to navigate Revelation is by first going to high ground and observing the forest.
We’ll see is that this book is a panoramic four-vision collective. How do we discern them in the text? Each of the visions are preempted by John saying he was in the Spirit and then saw something.
The first vision: The Man in the Middle—1:10-3:22. This deals with Christ in the midst of the lampstands (the seven churches) and all the divine dynamics here on the ground, in our midst, and the surprising dramatic struggles that go on among us. He is the glorious man at the center of it all, ministering with great care, ensuring that the light He has died to ignite will never go out, and that His Father should always be seen during this dark age.
The second vision: The Lamb at the center of God’s Heavenly Administration—4:1-16:20. This long scene deals with Christ as God’s executive authority, who opens the contents of the scroll that affects the flow of all history, both redemptive, and earthly. Jesus runs the universe, and as King of Kings and Lord of lords, He guarantees the progress of the entire time continuum toward the final glory of God.
The third vision: Christ’s triumph over the enemies of God—17:1-21:8. This vision initiates with great judgments upon religious and material Babylon, and terminates with Christ coming out of heaven with His saints to confront and destroy the godless forces of this world and its leader, Antichrist. His victory segues into the final judgment of Satan and unsaved humanity in the lake of fire. Christ is God’s glorious champion.
The fourth vision: Christ in the midst of eternity—21:9-22:17. This vision presents Christ as bridegroom to the bride (the New Jerusalem) and as the light, temple, and life supply of that glorified city. The wonders and glories of the eternal future are not specified here because of their sheer scope and unimaginable nature, but the relational setting is clear: we will exist in a worshipful life and love relationship with God in Christ, unhindered by anything old or sinful. This vision opens out into eternal existence where God’s best is realized, and our entrance into it was by the death of the Lamb.
Although the book of Revelation contains many edifying particulars that ought to rivet us to the text, its four great visions represent the summation of what we ought to be seeing, taking away, living by, and hoping for. It functions to reveal, not confuse. Hopefully, after each trip through it, we can come away with the exhilarated sense that, “I was in spirit, and I saw.”