Study the entire Book of Revelation starting with John's theology that teaches that Jesus, the exalted Christ, is the center of faith. Some of the major ideas explored are: personal religious experience; the living voice of God in the church today; advocating for what is right; distinguishing between good and evil; God's grace seeks to redeem; and covenant with God.
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This revision of the Abingdon classic Genesis to Revelation Series is a comprehensive, verse-by-verse, book-by-book study of the Bible based on the NIV. These studies help readers strengthen their understanding and appreciation of the Bible by enabling them to engage the Scripture on three levels:
- What does the Bible say? Questions to consider while reading the passage for each session.
- What does the passage mean? Unpacks key verses in the selected passage.
- How does the Scripture relate to my life? Provides three major ideas that have meaning for our lives today.
The meaning of the selected passages are made clear by considering such aspects as ancient customs, locations of places, and the meanings of words. The simple format makes the study easy to use.Updates will include:
- New cover designs.
- New interior designs.
- Leader Guide per matching Participant Book (rather than multiple volumes in one book).
- Updated to 2011 revision of the New International Version Translation (NIV).
- Updated references to New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible.
- Include biblical chapters on the contents page beside session lesson titles for at-a-glance overview of biblical structure.
The simple format makes the study easy to use. Each volume is 13 sessions and has a separate leader guide.
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IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD'S DAY
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Revelation 1
1. To whom did God give the revelation? (1:1a)
2. Why was the revelation given? (1:1a)
3. How did God make known this revelation given to Jesus Christ? (1:1b)
4. How is John described? (1:2)
5. What must those who are blessed do with John's account? (1:3)
6. Who is John's message for? (1:4a, 11)
7. Who is described as the one "who is, and who was, and who is to come"? (1:4b, 8)
8. Who else is the message from? (1:4b-5a)
9. How is Christ described? (1:5a)
10. How does John describe himself and his audience? (1:5b-6)
11. What does John say about Jesus Christ being seen again by the world? (1:7)
12. Who is speaking in 1:8?
13. How does John describe himself with reference to the members of the seven churches? (1:9)
14. Why was John on Patmos? (1:9)
15. As John describes his experience of being in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, what is he told to do? (1:11)
16. What are the first things John sees in his vision? (1:12-13)
17. What are the symbolic items of Christ's description? (1:13-16)
18. What is John's response to this dazzling vision of Christ? (1:17)
19. What two events in the life of Jesus are referred to by Christ in his first speech to John? (1:18b)
20. As a result of these events, what does Christ possess? (1:18c)
21. What does Christ command John to do? (1:19)
22. What does Christ tell John about the seven golden lampstands (1:12-13) and the seven stars (1:16) ? (1:20)
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
* Revelation 1:1-3. The New Revised Standard Version titles this book "The Revelation to John." The New King James Version calls it "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." The New International Version simply labels it "Revelation." The opening sentence, however, makes it clear that the revelation given by God is to and of Jesus Christ. The writer of this book, named John, is then given a share of the revelation by Jesus Christ. Is the writer just being humble? Probably not. As you read Revelation carefully, you will discover the central, key position that the exalted Christ plays in the book. Jesus Christ alone is high and lifted up as the One worthy to open the seven seals (5:6-14). Jesus Christ, the One who is "Faithful and True," conquers by the sharp sword of his mouth (19:11-16).
Yet the Christ of John's extraordinary vision is the same as the Jesus of the Gospels. From the beginning, John speaks about "the revelation from Jesus Christ" (1:1) and "the testimony of Jesus" (1:2, 9). While this phrase may seem odd, the words and acts of Jesus described in the Gospels could very well be summarized as "the testimony of Jesus." In the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we follow eagerly the narrative of Jesus' life. Jesus heals, confronts, teaches, has fellowship with saint and sinner alike, debates, encourages, rebukes, and weeps. He prays, sleeps, and eats. We find the testimony of Jesus in all that he does and says. This testimony is brought to full measure when Jesus endures an unjust and cruel death and is vindicated by God in resurrection from the dead. His whole life and death are "the testimony of Jesus."
What might it mean for us to "take to heart" (1:3) this testimony, as John claims he has done? The answer is explicitly given in John's Gospel. There, in his great prayer on behalf of his people, Jesus says to God, "For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me" (John 17:8).
To take to heart the testimony of Jesus means to dwell on the words of Jesus Christ as conveyed to us through the biblical tradition. However, we cannot merely read these words. Christians must seek to find the meaning of the testimony of Jesus for their lives in every place and in all times. This explains the emphasis, at the very outset of Revelation (1:3), on reading, hearing, and taking to heart the words of Jesus. Likely the function of prophecy in the time of John of Patmos was primarily that of making the words of Jesus fresh and powerful in the present moment. John is doing just that in his visionary report. The revelation belongs to Jesus, not to John. But the prophet is responsible for bringing the revelation to life for the churches.
John describes the revelation given to Jesus Christ as testimony. This word will be used many ways throughout the book. To give testimony is the same as to bear witness (1:5a). A witness is one who gives testimony. The Greek word for martyr is taken from the same family of words. To die for Jesus is to give testimony to Jesus. Jesus died, was raised, and then became the exalted testimony of God. John is saying here that his testimony is based on Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.
Why does John emphasize the death and resurrection of Jesus (repeated in 1:17-18)? In these two events we see most clearly the divine intention of the Christ event. In the death of Jesus we see the full extent of God's love for humankind. In the Resurrection we see the goal of redemption: the restoration of creation as God intended it to be and the renewal of life for the universe. The powers of evil will, throughout Revelation, seek to limit and control the salvation won by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.
Here, at the very beginning of this drama, the principle is established that, in the end, the love of God will triumph in the victory of Jesus Christ. As we will see, for John, the greatest good a Christian can achieve is to "hold to the testimony of Jesus" (19:10). We get just a hint of what this idea means here. John believes Jesus Christ is alive and continually sharing his message with his servants. To those who listen carefully, Christ still bears witness through his messengers.
* Revelation 1:4-7. The Book of Revelation starts out very much like other books in the New Testament called epistles or letters. John makes it clear that his message is meant to help local churches. Later, he will name these churches (1:11), and each will get a mini-letter. John begins, in verses 4-5 with a salute ("to the seven churches in the province of Asia"); a greeting ("Grace and peace to you"); and a tribute to Jesus Christ as the source of his message. John does not present himself as a "substitute Christ." Rather, John is the one to whom Christ has entrusted a vision of the revelation given to Christ by God.
* Revelation 1:9-11. John's encounter with "the testimony of Jesus" was strange and frightening. John was on an isolated island in the Mediterranean Sea, between presentday Greece and Turkey. He was probably banished to Patmos by a Roman emperor. John's life there was harsh, and he was fortunate even to survive. In his banishment, John continued to worship God. In the midst of worship, John's terrifying experience of prophecy took place.
This event should give us real pause for reflection about worship. For John, it was the source of learning. How can liturgy lead to understanding? John suggests here that some mysteries of life can be understood only by means of liturgical worship.
Many people talk about John's strange encounter as a vision. But the experience was more an audition, or hearing, according to John. Perhaps his experience was full of sound because of the pivotal role of "the word of God" in Revelation. Those who enjoy going into a comfortable, quiet room alone to listen to and be carried away by great music will understand how a vision could be mainly auditory. Throughout Revelation, sound, as much as sight, moves John.
* Revelation 1:12-16. These verses contain a beautiful word picture of the exalted Christ. The images used are meant to give the reader a sense of a dazzling appearance, totally unlike any human or earthly reality. The picture has many common symbols from some of the great visionary experiences of the Old Testament, especially those of Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. The difference is that all those partial experiences of the divine presence are exceeded by John's encounter with the Christ, the source of all revelation, whose face is "like the sun shining in all its brilliance" (1:16).
* Revelation 1:17-20. This section portrays a unity, seven being a perfect number. The seven churches are "seven golden lampstands" (1:20). Why does Christ call the churches lampstands? The most important task of the church is to shine like a light set on a lampstand, to bear witness faithfully to the testimony of Jesus. A lamp on a lampstand is a common biblical symbol for bearing witness (Matthew 5:15).
We may also be surprised to learn that an angel is in every church. Why? Many angels take part in the action of Revelation's drama. They carry out God's commands by action. The popular view of angels as harp-strumming choristers with little power to engage the real world does not fit here. In the mini-letters of chapters 2–3, Christ addresses the angels, not the congregations.
Some persons have suggested that human agents can be thought of as angels. Maybe the angels in the seven churches are really prophets like John. These messengers are expected to carry out the message being given to each congregation. When Christ speaks in heaven, his angels carry out his commands. When John tells of his encounter with "the First and the Last" (1:17), the angel-prophets of the seven churches are expected to affirm and proclaim the message.
This interpretation certainly provides us with an interesting viewpoint. The angels of Revelation are powerful, courageous agents of change. They are portrayed consistently in Revelation as being locked in fierce combat with the agents of evil. The angels of the seven churches are told to resist compromise, fear, and all weak-willed desires as a means of remaining faithful to the testimony of Jesus. So, too, are we.
DIMENSION THREE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN TO ME?
Can Jesus Christ be a present, living reality today? The most important impression one gets from a prayerful reading of the opening chapter of Revelation is of the profound encounter of John with the risen Christ.
Some people read this encounter with fear, some with envy, and some with skepticism. We do wrong to make quick judgments about the spirituality of those who have a practice of faith different from ours. We need to learn this important lesson well. Forgetting it can cause disaster for us and for others. Nothing divides people more firmly than religious prejudice.
The study of Revelation is often a study in religious intolerance and bias. No book in the New Testament has so sharply divided Christians. This division still exists in some places. Such division is truly ironic, since Revelation portrays a dynamic unity of the earth's people.
Can you study this book with an open mind?CHAPTER 2
"Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown." (2:10c)
SEVEN LETTERS TO SEVEN CHURCHES
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Revelation 2–3
1. Seven "mini-letters" are sent to seven churches in Asia. Identify the churches. (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14)
2. In each case, to whom is the letter addressed? (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14)
3. Which of these seven churches receives no praise? (3:14-22)
4. Which two churches receive only praise and no censure? (2:8- 11; 3:7-13)
5. What are some reasons that churches are praised? (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:8)
6. Each church receives a promise on the basis of doing what? (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21)
7. What are some of the good things promised to those who conquer? (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21)
8. Who provides the model of what it means to conquer? (3:21)
9. What exhortation closes all the mini-letters? (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)
10. Who are some of the people censured? (2:2, 6, 9, 14-15, 20; 3:9, 17)
11. What are some of the provocative images John uses to describe things Christ censures? (2:4; 3:2-4, 15, 17)
12. The church at Laodicea is asked to do several things to be acceptable to Christ. What are these things? (3:18-19)
13. How is Christ described in the opening words of the seven letters? (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14)
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
The two chapters of Revelation containing the seven mini-letters to the churches (2–3) are a family document. When we write close friends and relatives, we often write in a kind of shorthand. This shorthand is a way of writing that we use when the other person knows a great deal about us and our loved ones. We can imagine someone writing that "Uncle Bob is having his same old trouble again. We sure do wish he could get on his feet, once and for all." Anyone outside the family reading such a line would have no way of knowing what Uncle Bob's chronic problem is; nor could that person figure out just what it would mean for him to "get on his feet" permanently.
The same thing is true of this part of Revelation. Even the most knowledgeable scholars do not know for sure who the Jezebel in the letter to Thyatira might have been (2:20); and we cannot be certain what it means, spiritually, to soil one's clothes (3:4). Clearly, however, in these letters the risen Christ is calling his churches to faithful obedience.
As you answered the questions in Dimension One, you saw the rich variety of images used to describe the blessings Christ wants to give his people. To receive these gifts, we must conquer. But what do we conquer, and how? The answer is different in each case. These seven mini-letters make it clear that each situation is different. This fact should encourage anyone who wants to benefit from Revelation.
Christians are expected to see the dangers, temptations, and blind spots of their situations for what they are. Christians are also expected to overcome their situations. They are expected to be victorious in their circumstance, whatever they might be. When Christians are victorious, they receive blessings so great they can hardly be described.
* Revelation 2:1-7.The Church in Ephesus. This church gets a mixed message. Christ praises the Ephesians for resisting evil and for carrying on in difficult circumstances with patience. This church is especially recognized for being able to "keep on keeping on." But they have lost their first love. Perhaps the Ephesians have lost the spontaneous character of their faith. Perhaps prayer, witnessing, liturgy, and fellowship with other Christians have become a matter of habit.
Why would one abandon a first love? In the first days of being in Christ, many believers cannot get enough of that which draws them closer to Christ: prayer, Bible study, devoted service to the community and church. This early "love affair" was probably expressed in many ways by the Ephesians. Without doubt, their first love meant seeking to understand better the fullness of Christ. But the Ephesians might have become lackluster in their faithfulness. They need to go back to the freshness of their first love.
* Revelation 2:8-11.The Church in Smyrna. This church receives nothing but praise. Yet they are in danger from outside the church. Quite probably they are under continual threat from civil authorities. They are risking jail daily. They are poor as well. These Christians are portrayed as without adequate food, shelter, and protection from oppressive forces. Many will die. Yet they are encouraged to remain faithful, even in death. Verse 11 has a subtle reminder that, even if the enemies of Christ succeed in killing the Christians at Smyrna once, the Christians will not die again but share in Christ's resurrection (2:8). Jesus died but came to life. These Christians may also die. If they do, they will live again. In a parallel fashion, they may be economically poor, but they are rich. They have an inheritance. They will receive a royal crown; and with Christ, they will reign in life.
* Revelation 2:12-17.The Church in Pergamum. This church is both praised and rebuked. They have shown their spiritual insight and moral courage in the past by remaining loyal to Christ in hard times. A local Christian hero (Antipas) is recalled by name (2:13). Mentioning Antipas probably reminds the people receiving this letter of an entire history of pain, suffering, and death. Antipas is not mentioned elsewhere, but we can safely assume that he was a trusted Christian leader who stood up against evil and was killed for his witness.
The largest part of the message, however, is directed against Christians who are teaching the doctrines of "the Nicolaitans" (2:15). While we do not know much about this group, probably they taught a doctrine of compromise. This teaching may have included rationalizations for Christians taking part in pagan practices and rituals without feeling guilty. Their teaching may have concerned a matter as seemingly simple as shopping in the Roman marketplace for meat that had previously been ritually offered to pagan gods (2:14).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Genesis to Revelation: Revelation Participant Book"
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Table of Contents
1. In the Spirit on the Lord's Day (Revelation 1),
2. Seven Letters to Seven Churches (Revelation 2–3),
3. Worthy Is the Lamb (Revelation 4–5),
4. The Book of the Seven Seals (Revelation 6–7),
5. The Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8–9),
6. A Scroll Both Bitter and Sweet (Revelation 10–11),
7. The Woman Clothed With the Sun (Revelation 12–13),
8. Singing a New Song (Revelation 14),
9. Seven Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 15–16),
10. Babylon Is Fallen (Revelation 17–18),
11. The Sword of His Mouth (Revelation 19–20),
12. I Make All Things New (Revelation 21),
13. The Healing Stream (Revelation 22),