Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. Revelation 1:3 (NIV)
I will confess to a certain amount of apprehension wading into the Book of Revelation on our chapter-a-day journey. I have read the book many times. I have studied it in depth and have taught classes on it on multiple occasions. Prophetic writing has a unique style and substance and it’s easy for inexperienced readers and spiritual seekers to get lost in the symbols, metaphors, and word pictures. Thus, my apprehension.
I will also confess to a certain amount of excitement, as well. It is a fascinating book. It even professes a blessing on everyone who reads it. Thus, my excitement. Here we go!
First, a little context and background. The book was written by John, Jesus’ disciple, who also wrote the Gospel of John and the three letters of that name. At the time of the writing he was an older man exiled to the Greek island of Patmos where it is believed the Roman Empire ran a penal colony. John had been sent there because of being an outspoken teacher of Jesus. It was the time of the Roman Empire. The number of people choosing to believe and follow Jesus were swelling rapidly. Rome saw this as a political and economic threat and so the persecution of Christians was beginning to grow. The Romans were demanding that everyone worship the Roman Emperor as God or face the death penalty.
The message of Revelation was addressed to seven churches in the region of Asia Minor who were facing this growing persecution. For many followers of Jesus around the world today, there is a strong identification with the seven churches. Persecution is a present reality for most followers of Jesus around the world. Just last night I saw a headline about North Korea condemning 33 Christians to death because of their faith and desire to share it.
Today I am reminded that while the Book of Revelation may seem strange and remote, its the context and overarching message are extremely relevant 2000 years later.