Surprised by Assurance: A Journey Through the Book of Revelation, Part 4
Preaching through the book of Revelation with a concentration on the message of the text has given me and my congregation four wonderful assurances. In my previous posts (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), I said that Revelation assures us of God’s vindication, his control, and his love. But Revelation also assures us of God’s promises, even though the church is still waiting for their fulfillment.
The Promise of the Lord’s “Soon” Return
If there is an elephant in the room in the book of Revelation, it is the promise of Jesus that he makes five times in the course of the prophecy: “I am coming soon” (Rev 2:16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). Or, as other translations have it, “I am coming quickly.” It’s awkward because anyone can read this promise coming from the end of the first Christian century and do the math. It’s been nearly two millennia!
We console any skepticism by realizing that the Greek word translated “soon” or “quickly” (ταχύ, tachu) does not necessarily mean “instantly,” or that only a brief time will pass before it happens. The word indicates that when it is time for something to happen it is going to happen without further delay, at the perfect time that God intended. It is a word that is actually used to give the reader assurance that, even though waiting is still involved, the promise of the coming will be fulfilled absolutely, in every way. There is no turning back.
But if we’re tempted to be impatient about the Lord’s return, we should realize that the apostle Peter addressed this concern three decades before John even wrote Revelation. Peter writes that “scoffers” will come in the last days, challenging, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:3–4). But Peter says these scoffers are not reckoning the fact that people could have said the same thing about the world before the flood! (3:5–7). Then Peter urges believers:
Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief … (3:8–10a).
The book of Revelation is graciously given by the Lord to a suffering people who may have been starting to wonder whether he was really returning for them. What is surprising about the book of Revelation is the assurance it gives the Lord’s people as the narrative draws them in, taking them close to the action of what is going down at the climax of human history. Time is still marching on. People can still do their time mathematics and count the fulfillment of the promise as “slow” (2 Pet 3:9). But when genuine believers read the book of Revelation, they start looking toward the sky. They compare the details of the prophecies with current events and realize the future could be any day now. They become more confident about the Lord’s return. They sense intuitively that it won’t be long. In other words, the prophecy has its intended effect.
The Promises to the Lord’s “Conquerors”
But beyond the overarching promise of the Lord’s return and all that is to happen in connection with that coming, the Lord offers specific promises to those who “conquer.” A “conqueror” in Revelation is not a person who escapes defeat or hardship in this life. In fact, most of the “conquerors” in Revelation are those who die as martyrs, persecuted by the beast who hunts them to destroy them. But they are “conquerors” because they remain faithful to Christ no matter what. In the end, therefore, they are united in eternal rest and joy with their Lord, who himself conquered Satan through his death and resurrection, while those who tried to destroyed them are cast forever into the lake of fire. So when you identify a conqueror in Revelation you have to ask the question, who is left standing in the end!
The promise to the “conqueror” is embodied in the Lord’s words of encouragement to the church at Smyrna, who suffered terrible persecution. Jesus says to them, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). That’s the motto of a conqueror. Faithful unto death, assured of eternal life. A loud voice from heaven in Revelation 12 declares that the Lord’s people have “conquered” Satan, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Rev 12:11).
So, when the Lord sends his specific messages to each of the seven churches, he offers an array of specific promises that will belong to all true believers, those who hold fast to him to the end. These promises would take several posts to explore, but they can be summarized into four sets of promises. Though they are made to various churches, all believers/conquerors will enjoy each of them.
1. To the churches at Ephesus and Smyrna, Jesus promises eternal life.
Positively, Jesus says, “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7b). Negatively, he promises, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev 2:11b), that is, he will not perish forever in the lake of fire.
2. To the church at Pergamum, Jesus promises eternal access.
This is the essence of the promise, “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev 2:17b). The significance of the hidden manna and the white stone is somewhat lost on us today, but they seem to speak of a special gathering open only to a privileged few.
3. To the churches at Thyatira and Laodicea, Jesus promises eternal dominion.
The promise to the conquerors in Thyatira is most stunning. “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (Rev 2:26–28). Here Jesus promises that those who follow him faithfully will share in his mighty reign over the earth. He even says to Laodicea, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21).
4. To the churches at Sardis and Philadelphia, Jesus promises eternal security.
The actions of Jesus in these promises, even though some, like the hidden manna and the white stone, are a little cryptic, indicate that those who cling to the Lord are kept safe by him forever. To Sardis he promises, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev 3:5). And to Philadelphia, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev 3:12).
All of these promises taken together are way over the top. For the Lord to take us home to be with him forever is all the hope we really need. But the Lord goes way beyond a single promise. He lavishes multiple promises on us through his messages to these churches, through this prophecy of Revelation. This is by design. The Lord desires to lovingly assure his suffering people, waiting and wondering, that he is surely coming and will bring such a glorious end that they can scarcely imagine it to be true. But it is true. It is surprisingly true, all that the Lord promises in this prophecy to give us the assurance that we need to live for him in hope today.
And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend:
“Even so, it is well with my soul!”
As discussed by Greg Stiekes on The Steve Noble Show on June 9