Revelation Introduction Part 3

In this third introductory sermon, in preparation for the text in St John’s Revelation, I’m going to pack as much in as possible in order to get to the text next Lord’s Day.  So this may be our last by way of introduction.  At the same time (even though we’re going to cover a lot of ground here), we have to strive to keep all of this as uncomplicated as the Word of God allows.  It’s not “simple”; and we’re not going to try to make it simple.  But what we really have to do here in our introductions is set some simple ground rules, and then, when we come to the text, read and explain the Scripture in its own context.

In introduction one, we saw the different methods of, or approaches to, reading and interpreting the Scripture.  And we covered the important ones, the first being the allegorical approach, which sees the text of Scripture as having a primary higher meaning.  The plain text itself is only the secondary meaning.

The second hermeneutic principle was that held by dispensationalists, who begin their approach with only a portion of the New Testament.  Since the Word is broken up into seven (or so) dispensations, none of the older Scripture is applicable now; and only certain parts of the newer.  And that, of course, has led to some very fanciful interpretations.

The third hermeneutic approach to Scripture was the moral.  This one seeks to find something in the text that can be used to help people live their lives better. 

And the fourth is somewhat similar to it.  It hurries through a superficial explanation of a particular passage in order to get to the primary part of teaching and preaching, which is “application” of Biblical principles.

Then the fifth method of hermeneutics was the “golden rule of hermeneutics” which says that the plain meaning of the text is the real meaning.  The mantra is, “if the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense”.

It should be quite evident to most anyone that in none of these is there any “continuity” of God’s Word in history.  The only one that observes and protects that continuity is the covenantal hermeneutic, which is the one used in this Church (as well as some other Reformed congregations).

In introductory sermon number two, we noticed the several approaches to the prophetic portions of Scripture (especially The Revelation of St. John).

          And the first that was mentioned was the “futurist” approach.  Put simply, futurists look at everything after Revelation chapter three as yet-to-come-to-pass.

          Then, secondly, we took a quick look at “idealists”, who see all of Church history (all the way to the end) in terms of a struggle between good and evil.  And the entire text of The Revelation of St John is a symbolic representation of that continuing struggle.

Thirdly, the “historicists” interpret The Revelation as specific events that have been occurring through Church history, and will continue to occur until judgment day.  So one can look at the events down through Church history and then go back to The Revelation and see the prophecy that culminated in those events.

And, lastly, there are “preterists”, those who interpret John as writing to the Churches primarily about the tumultuous events that were occurring and that would occur during the next few years.

As I give you these four primary views of “The Apocalypse” (The Revelation), it is for us to understand that they are the “primary” views; and they don’t take into consideration the various deviations within those views.  There are battles inside the scope of each of them.

Now.  This morning I want to spend all the rest of our time speaking to you about covenantal continuity!  It’s important that I explain more about this, because, at the beginning of Introductory Sermon 1, I gave you a quick outline of how I approach a Biblical text.  And the reason I do it the way I described is in order to protect this very important issue of continuity.

I spoke to you earlier about God and history; about God being “immanent” in history; about Revelation in history and the history of Revelation.  And we said that God doesn’t “break into history”, but that history is God’s history.  It belongs to Him.  It doesn’t exist apart from Him.

John’s Revelation was written in history; it belongs there.  And it, remarkably, is a part of the Bible!  Now that may startle some that that needs be said.  But it’s crucial, because some treat it as if it weren’t!

I’m sure they wouldn’t say that (not so anybody could hear them, anyway); but when they come to interpret it, they do so as if it weren’t connected to the rest of Scripture!  From what they say about it, it looks as if it was written completely separately from everything that came before it!  No history; no sequence; and certainly from some deity that had nothing to say about it in the other sixty five documents. It’s as if it’s just “out there by itself” with no historical sequence.  (Maybe they like it like that, because they can “make up” stuff; and sell books that predict ominous, doomsday events!).

But St John’s Revelation isn’t out there all by itself.  It was inspired and written in history, in sequence; and it is connected to all the other inspirations of Scripture.  And not only that, but it was inspired by the same Holy Spirit Who inspired Genesis, and Deuteronomy, and the Psalms, and Isaiah, and Ezekiel, and Hosea, and Matthew and the letters of Paul.

That fact seems almost universally neglected; for what purposes I’ll leave to your good senses.  But Scripture is not a collection of stories.  And the Bible isn’t a book about the great heroes of the past.  And it’s not an encyclopedia of spiritual thought.  And it’s not just a book about history (it is history…’s not about history).

As we’ve learned several times over, Scripture is God’s Revelation of Himself in history.  It is of Him; it is His Word; it is for Him; it is for His glory.  And it is the Revelation of His covenant!

Just for a minute let me set that stage for you, and then we’ll look at some pertinent portions of Scripture.

First, let’s see that God’s prophetic Word is not a series of predictions about what’s going to happen in the future!  Is that startling to you?  It shouldn’t be, because that’s not the purpose of God’s covenant.  Truly there are predictions in the Word; but “predictions” about the future isn’t the purpose.

Well, what’s the purpose?  The Bible is a continuous Revelation of God’s covenant with His creation; and a command for compliance from those to whom He has covenanted!

From the beginning, in history, God has said: here is My covenant with you.  Should you be “faithful” to Me, this is what the positive results will be.  However, should you not be faithful to Me, these are the negative sanctions!  And the continuity of all of the Bible exists in the culmination of those positive and negative sanctions!

In other words, the “predictions” made by our covenanting God and His prophets and His Only Son have to do with the promises made to man in history…… either blessings or curses.  His covenant lays out in great detail all the positive results of faithfulness; and, at the same time, what terrible wrath will come to those who are unfaithful.

And the beautiful thing is that they never change.  God is faithful to His Word – always.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Just to illustrate that from an older testament prophet, Jonah, who our Lord used as a “sign” to the Pharisees about God’s covenant going to the Gentiles should Israel not repent, Jonah preached to Nineveh (a Gentile city/state) about God’s coming wrath upon the city.  And he called them to repentance.  Well, Nineveh did repent; and the promises of wrath from God were averted!

On the other hand, Israel was called to repentance – over and over – but they would not.  And God’s covenantal promises of horrific destruction were not averted.

So you see that continual, prophetic activity through all the prophets of Scripture, including our Lord Jesus Christ, were not “predictive” in purpose.  In other words prophecies weren’t for the primary purpose of predicting what was going to happen in the future.  But the primary purpose was to require repentance and judge the response!

You see, God has the right to do that!  Since the earth belongs to Him; since the sun, moon and stars belong to Him; since all the angels belong to Him; since mankind belongs to Him……..He has the right to do with it as He wills.  All the rebellion comes about as men and women and children conclude (or act as if) He has no right to do that!

Looking at it from God’s perspective, any creature of His who concludes that he has rights of his own is in revolt against His creator!  How does the “pot” question the potters “potmaking” is Paul’s analogy.

And God has the right to judge any creature that responds to Him in rebellion.  That’s what His Revelation is about!  The covenant is about the promises that God made to His creation.  It reveals His intent to save it.  He loves it, and He reveals Himself to it; and any part of that creation that revolts against Him will receive no mercy.

This is evident from Genesis to Revelation; it is a continuous and uninterrupted narrative.  Should you obey Me, He says, these will be the blessings inherent in your faithfulness.  But should you seek your own way, these are the curses that adhere to your unfaithfulness.

And because of the curse upon all mankind due to the revolt against Him by the first man, He even provided His Own propitiatory blood sacrifice to pay the price for that cursed sin nature!  And He even revealed that to man in great detail.  And, then, in great faithfulness to His covenant promise, He sent the second Person of His own Triune Godhead to BE that sacrifice.

So you see that there is continuity in God’s revealed Word.  And the integrating factor in that continuity is God’s covenant.  It is the same Word from beginning to end, and it hasn’t changed…… because it’s the same GOD from beginning to end.  And He doesn’t change.  His Word stands in all of history.

In no part of the sixty six documents that have been preserved for us is there a “detour” (so to speak) in God’s dealing with His creation or his creatures.  And St John’s Revelation is certainly not an exception.  There are no exceptions.

The Revelation takes its place sequentially in history; and the scope and content of it, as to be expected, comes to us right after the other sixty five.  And it deals with the same thing:  God’s covenant.  His creatures either live in His covenant promises, or they seek to do whatever is right in their own eyes.  And the promised blessings accrue to those who “faith” in those promises, while the promised sanctions accrue to those who don’t.

Now.  Seeing things from God’s perspective (the covenantal perspective), through His revealed Word, has to be the integrating factor.  Any other mode of approach to The Revelation leaves everything wide open to the concoctions and imaginations of men. 

The mystics and the predictors and the doomsayers and the moralists and the newspaper exegetes aside, we want to briefly (very briefly) lay out a sequence for you from the perspective of our covenantal hermeneutic (God’s perspective).

“In the beginning God……” (we don’t have to do a whole lot more to indicate that this is all from His perspective, do we), “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Then He said, “Let us make man in our own image”.

Then One and Many, Alpha and Omega, revealed His gracious covenant with Adam and his wife.  I created you, He said. I created you in Our Own image.  You are “creature”. Now you be faithful to Me.  Should you obey, you will live.  But should you not obey My covenant, you shall die. (Positive and negative sanctions.)  Of course we all know that Adam and Eve wished to be “as God” and decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Having received the covenantal curse, all mankind proceeded to do the same:  what was right in their own eyes.  And please note that the curse upon Adam for his unfaithfulness also included a prophecy of One to come Who would extricate mankind from that curse.

Well, the curse upon depraved mankind continued all the way through the inundation of the earth, in which God “saved” mankind through the baptism of the flood.  Nine people, mankind, were covenantally and graciously saved by water, indicating the covenantal preservation of God’s promise to save man from his accursed estate.  There was One Coming, a New Beginning of mankind, Who would expiate the effects of the curse and propitiate the wrath of the Father.

Then we see God call one man from (what is now called) Iraq.  And by the grace of God Abram was given to see “the day” of the coming sacrifice for the sin of mankind.  God “established” His covenant with Abraham, positive blessings for his faithfulness and negative sanctions for revolt and rebellion.  Israel came from the loins of Abraham; and so did God’s covenant, through the Christ, for the Gentile nations.

And then, upon the release of Israel from captivity, God established His covenant with Israel.  What He gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai was an in-depth and thorough explication of His covenantal Law-word.   In it was a full revelation of His morality (in the Commandments and case law), and a comprehensive revelation of the coming sacrifice for the depravity of mankind.  And near his death this is what God told Moses to say to them before they went into the Promised Land (Deut. 29):

“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;

 16. in that I command thee this day to love Jehovah thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that thou mayest live and multiply, and that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in the land whither thou goest in to possess it.

 17. But if thy heart turn away, and thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them;

 18. I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish; ye shall not prolong your days in the land, whither thou passest over the Jordan to go in to possess it.

 19. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed;

 20. to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days………

Be faithful and the blessings will come forth; be unfaithful and receive the negative sanctions.  Moses went to great length to elaborate on the blessings, and to similar elaboration on the sanctions for disobedience.  This is God’s covenant with Israel.  And it is very similar to the analogy of marriage.  In fact, the Scripture describes marriage in the same terms that God uses in His covenant with Israel, and His covenant is a promise of faithfulness and a warning of covenantal divorce for unfaithfulness on Israel’s part.

Well, Israel did not obey.  She was unfaithful to God.  And the sanctions of His covenant were reiterated again and again all through the prophets.  Total destruction and removal from the land were threatened should Israel not repent.  (The marriage analogy is, of course, divorce and the death penalty for adultery.)

And the prophecy of Hosea is the clearest example of that, because the prophet was required of God to picture for Israel her continuous adultery from God.  He was to marry an already adulterous woman and covenant her to himself.  And she would continue in her adulterous ways no matter how faithful Hosea was to her.

Well, we don’t have time to go any further with this; but you get the idea of what covenantal continuity is.  And John’s Revelation is the culmination of God’s covenant decree – the “capstone” of the Scripture – as God executes the sanctions of His covenant with Israel.  John’s is a warning to the new Churches in the nations about what is shortly to occur.  And they are to take heart and be comforted; this is the King of Kings divorcing the harlot and bringing upon her the promised death penalty.  It is not the “end of the world”; it is the termination of a covenant relationship in which God has been absolutely faithful, patient and longsuffering with a people who despised Him, killed His prophets, killed His only Son, and then persecuted the Church of the resurrected Christ.

The Revelation is concerning the termination of the covenant.  It is the next event in the sequence of events called covenant continuity.