A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
If you’ve had trouble understanding the Book of Revelation, this summary and paraphrase is sure to help. Written as John might have told it today, the Revelation Story makes one of the most complex and controversial books of prophecy in the Bible so much easier to comprehend. Faithful to the literal interpretation with just enough background to make it a truly informative, even enjoyable, read.
I was living in exile on the Greek Isle of Patmos when He approached me to undertake the project. Today Patmos is a tourist stop on the sea route from Western Turkey to Athens. It’s visited daily by cruise ships and ferry boats crammed with visitors there to get a look at the huge monastery and over 300 little chapels all named after me. But in my time it was a Roman penal colony, a couple of square miles of rock and despair, bleak and lonely. I was there because I wouldn’t (couldn’t) stop preaching the Gospel. The authorities had tried all kinds of ways to shut me up but none of them worked so they finally shipped me off to Patmos where I couldn’t speak to anybody, or so they thought.
I heard His voice before I saw Him, and when I turned around I fell face down at His feet, knowing it was the Lord. Talk about being scared. Before, He had been more like one of the guys, but now He was King of the Universe. By the way He introduced Himself (as if He needed to) I knew that this was no casual drop-in but an official visit. Something big was in the works.
Although it had been over 50 years since I’d last seen Him, he wasted no time in chit-chat, but immediately instructed me to write a three part letter, a book actually, and send it off to the seven churches He named for me. The three parts were;
things that had been (His time on Earth before the Church was born),
the things that currently were (the church age as represented by the seven congregations He named), and
the things that would happen after the church age (the great tribulation, His 2nd Coming, and His 1000 year Kingdom.)
He then launched straight into a monologue on these seven churches. It was soon obvious that He had chosen them carefully because by their nature, and in the order He placed them, they chronicled what’s now become the history of the church. It would start off small and faithful but would soon grow into a formal organization in danger of forgetting its original purpose, worshiping Him (Ephesus). Its growth would frighten the world governments who would try to suppress it to no avail (Smyrna). Failing in that, they would embrace it and change it from within into a large and powerful government in and of itself, more attuned to the world’s ways than His (Pergamus). Near the end of its time the church would split into four components; Catholic (Thyatira), Protestant (Sardis), Evangelical (Philadelphia), and Liberal / New Age (Laodicea). These four would exist side by side until the rapture, when He would remove those faithful to Him from among all of them, bringing the Church Age to a close and leaving the rest to endure the end time judgments.
And then something happened that literally blew me away. I looked up and saw this door in the sky standing open and I heard His voice again, commanding me to “Come up here!” At once I was flung through space and time, landing in a flash before the Throne of God at the end of the Age. There’s no way to describe how that felt, one minute standing outside my cave in the 1st century and an instant later standing in heaven in the 21st, but apparently I was participating in the Rapture of the Church, just like He had promised to the Church at Philadelphia. There were millions of us there; singing praises to God along with all the host of heaven. We received the crowns we’d earned while on Earth and immediately gave them back to Him Who had empowered us to do the things for which we were being rewarded.
I looked at the Throne of the Almighty and saw Him sitting there holding a document that was no less than the title deed to Planet Earth. It was sealed with seven seals. I sobbed convulsively as I felt the pain God feels at seeing His Creation in terrible bondage, and realizing that no mere human nor even the entire angelic host could free it. But then I saw my Lord Jesus again, still bearing the awful scars of His crucifixion, and knew that He alone could free the earth and restore God’s creation to Him. By His sacrificial death He had paid its ransom along with yours and mine.
When He took the title deed from His Father, we all recognized that the time had come at last to begin the series of judgments that would rid the world of evil, restore the creation to its Creator, and usher in His thousand year reign of peace on Earth. We cheered and shouted and sang till the very heavens shook.
But the one who had stolen the creation was not about to let go with out a fight, and incredibly he had enlisted the support of some pretty powerful forces, both natural and supernatural. The biggest, nastiest war in history was spinning up and I had been given the seemingly impossible job of writing the eyewitness account.
I don’t know if you can appreciate just how big this job was. I’m nobody’s fool, but I was a 1st Century man with a 1st Century vocabulary and I was going to be describing things that were unheard of even at the beginning of the 20th Century. What’s more, all the millions of people who would read this account between the time I wrote it and the time the events actually took place would have to be able to understand it. Fortunately I had some supernatural help of my own. First, The Holy Spirit led me to write this account as if in a vision rich in symbolism. And second, of the 404 verses in my book, 278 of them are pretty much direct quotes from the Old Testament to help my readers keep things in their proper context and explain the symbolism. (Of course this presumes that you know your Old Testament.)
Now as I said, the title deed to planet Earth was sealed with seven seals and as the Lord opened them the Holy Spirit gave me visions of judgments being released on Earth. The first four seals were symbolized by horses and riders. In the first one a white horse appeared ridden by someone coming as a conqueror bent on conquest. He’s trying to look like the Christ but close inspection reveals that he’s an impostor, the anti-christ. For one thing he’s wearing the wrong crown. It’s a victor’s crown, not one for a king. Since he had a bow but no arrows, he wasn’t ready for war yet but that would soon change.
The second horse was fiery red and symbolized war. It was followed, as so often happens after wars begin, by a black horse symbolizing famine. Most people would now have to work all day just to buy a loaf of bread, but the rich would not be affected yet.
The fourth horse was a sickly green color and symbolized the death that follows war and famine. In fact more than 1/4th of the worlds population (that’s 1.5 billion people) will die in this series of judgments.
When He broke open the 5th seal, I saw all those who had been martyred for their faith. They cried out to God for vengeance, but He told them to be patient because still more would die and join them.
Seeing all the people who had been and would be slaughtered simply for believing in their Creator must have angered God because as the 6th seal was broken He unleashed a colossal earthquake on the earth. Smoke and dust rose into the sky until the sun and moon were blotted out. The mountains and islands shook from the power of the quake, and all mankind fled for cover, hiding in caves and among rocks, knowing that the time of God’s wrath had begun.