Imagine what it would be like if we travelled back in time, captured Hammurabi, the great emperor of the Ancient Babylonian Empire, and brought him to 2016 in Time Square in the middle of Manhattan, and then took him back to his ancient empire. If he hadn’t completely lost his mind yet, how do you think he would describe it to his fellow Babylonians? What words would an ancient Babylonian be able to muster to describe modern marvels like the automobile, airplanes, cellphones, light bulbs, skyscrapers, highways, air conditioning, and the football-field-sized digital billboard screen? The range of vocabulary in ancient Babylonia would never suffice the nuance of every object that he could see. A lack of understanding of how electricity, steel, internal combustion, condensers, and a myriad of other technological advances would leave him feeling as though he was in a mythical place of wonder and magic.
Now, imagine that you, a person who lives in 2016 were to travel to heaven. What would it look like? How would you describe it? What things would you compare it to? A place unmarred by sin and full of the glowing glory of God, how would you put into words the beings that you saw there? What words could you possibly muster? You certainly could never describe in full detail the things you were seeing. At best, you would have to use words that referenced things that you were familiar with or could imagine to describe the things with which you were unfamiliar.
When we come to the book of Revelation, we must understand that this is sort of what we are handling. The title of the book should give an indication as to the subject and body of the book, something is going to be revealed. The book is also known as the Apocalypse, and many who refer to the Apocalypse have something of the Book of Revelation in mind with the end of the world, destruction, and catastrophe. The word Apocalypse should not distract us from the purpose of the book however, because the word Apocalypse simply comes from the Greek word apokalypsis which means “revelation or unveiling.”
Here in the Book of Revelation we have the unveiling of future events not yet seen or experienced. The author is the Apostle John who followed Jesus and would help to establish the church after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension into heaven. From the time that Jesus came on the scene and began teaching of a future day when all wrongs would be made right and when sin would be undone, through the entire First Century, Christians heard of the great culmination of the redeeming work of Jesus. The majority of the New Testament books reference this great conclusion of sin and restoration of a holy and righteous creation. Now, through the revelation of God and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle John would pen down what this great conclusion would look like.
The promises of heaven and eternal rewards had been made, there had been a claim that God was in heaven and we had access to Him through Jesus, Christ had promised that we would one day be with Him in heaven, and now, through the Revelation of the Apostle John, the church could have a glimpse into the heavenlies and the final age. What would it look like? What would it be like? What sights and sounds and feelings would we feel in this wonderful place that we have been promised?
In verbal plenary inspiration, the Holy Spirit used John’s own vocabulary to describe John’s experience in heaven. As we read and study the Book of Revelation we must remember to take Scripture literally where it is meant to be literal and that we can understand that some other things merely reflect John’s personal vocabulary limitations. However, as you read, do not lose sight of the main point of Revelation, and as we study it know that John saw the things in heaven that exist and the things that will certainly come to pass in time.
Reflect: Why is it dangerous to take the John’s descriptions of heaven and future events in Revelation too literally?