One more aspect of the Book of Revelation that most aren’t aware of is that it is one long courtroom scene, minus Perry Mason or Bull. This concept is one that’s accepted by many theologians.
Chapter one begins with spelling out the credentials of the prosecutor and judge: Christ. John provides several “digs” at Zeus, who was considered the supreme god of the day. One such statement is in the phrase “. . . who was and who is and who is to come” (Rev 1:8), which is a riff on one of Zeus’s titles in that day. John makes it clear that Christ is God on an equal footing with God, the Father, and that He, and He alone, has the right to judge.
As we move into chapters two and three, the examinations of the seven churches fall in line with the scriptures that say that judgment begins in the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Seven represents Christ, as the church is the body of Christ. And the examination of each follows a specific pattern:
- To the angel of the church in a given city, write:
- Jesus is depicted in terms of His Glory, often using descriptions from chapter one
- He offers praise or encouragement—I know your . . .
- But this I have against you . . . offering some reproof or call for change
- The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says
- An eschatological promise
I believe these seven churches were chosen for specific faults. Some no longer evangelized. Some had given in to the culture, participating in sexual sin or at least looking the other way. Some preferred man’s leadership and wanted only an indirect relationship with God, not the direct relationship He seeks. Only two out of seven were found faultless, yet one of those, Smyrna, was about to go through tribulation.
I think these cities were also chosen for their unique characteristics. As an example, Laodicea, the only city for which Christ found nothing favorable, was known for its poor water. Both cold and hot water had to be imported via aqueducts, so that the water in both was lukewarm by the time it reached the city. Christ called them blind and offered an eye salve, and yet, they were known for their medical school and specifically for an eye salve. He offered them white garments while they were known for an especially luxurious black wool. For more on these churches, see my study guide, Still Here! The Apocalypse is Now.
The remainder of the Book of Revelation deals with the judgments of non-believers. Starting with what are called the Seven Seal Judgments, God begins to deal with mankind’s errant ways. These judgments are meant to get people’s attention and call them to turn to God’s ways, but few pay attention. Today, men call it “climate change,” but if you look back through the OT, you’ll see that His judgments throughout history started with natural “catastrophes” before inflicting judgment on humans directly. The Seven Seal Judgments have been going on since His ascension, trying to get man to turn to Him. But as man continues to look to himself, those judgments intensify in what are called the Seven Trumpet Judgments. Then, ultimately, we see the final judgments–the Seven Bowl Judgments.
Speaking of the OT, this pattern of judgments—four sets of seven judgments—was foreshadowed in Leviticus 26:14-33. Hey, wait a minute. There are only three sets of seven judgments in Revelation. Yes, well, Revelation also mentions the Seven Thunder Judgments, but John was told not to write them down. Perhaps skipping one set of judgments is how God shortens the End Times to favor the elect (Matt 24:22).
I’ve now laid down some foundational material: 1) that Revelation is understandable and edifying, 2) that it is sometimes symbolic in line with it’s being apocalyptic in the literary sense, 3) that we are to discern the season of His return, and 4) that the book’s structure follows the pattern of a courtroom case. With these concepts in mind, let’s begin to take a deeper look at Revelation and tie it to what’s happening in our world today.