God’s Message goes to All Nations
John and the Book of Revelation
An EasyEnglish Study Unit (2800 word vocabulary) on the New Testament from Acts to Revelation
G. Barrie Wetherill and M. P. H. Stear
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
This commentary has yet to go through Advanced Theological Checking.
Later in the first century, the *Jews and the *Romans disagreed with each other more and more. This was from the year AD 60 and after. The disagreement caused war between them. We call this period the ‘wars of the *Jews’.
Christ himself had warned the Christians about this period. Some Christians went to live east of the river Jordan. They did not return to Judea until after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem. That happened in the year AD 70. (Later the Romans made all *Jews leave Israel.) This group of Christians probably still lived in the *Jewish way. They still had *Jewish customs and obeyed *Jewish laws.
Other Christians went to Asia. They went to the area where Paul had worked. Paul had good results there. Philip the *evangelist and his daughters, and the *apostle John, went there.
John had a very long life. He was the only *disciple to die a natural death. We believe that John lived in Ephesus. The early Christian writers tell us about him. When John was very old, his *disciples carried him about. Again and again, he told Christians to love one another.
The book of Revelation dates from the first century AD. It tells us about this command. The churches near Ephesus needed to learn to love one another (Revelation 2:4).
John’s letters are part of the *New Testament. They also date from this period. They mention many times the command for Christians to love each other, (1 John 3:11, 16-18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:2, 3).
It was very difficult to be a Christian at the end of the first century AD. The *Romans wanted everyone to *worship the *emperor. They said that those who did not do this were *rebels. *Jews had forced Christians to leave. Now they continued to make it difficult for them (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). In addition to this, there were many bad teachers. They tried to teach Christians wrong beliefs (1 John 2:26; 3:7; 4:1).
Gnosticism is one wrong belief that was growing at this time. Gnosticism said that spirit was good. Spirit is the part of man that you cannot see. They said that *matter was evil. Matter is the part of man that you can see. This means that the body also was evil. One result of this is that God could not have become man. That would be impossible. Therefore, Christ only seemed to have a body. It must have been an *illusion. Some people said that the Christ-Spirit came on Jesus at His *baptism. It left him before he died. Perhaps it left him before he suffered the pain of *crucifixion. Gnostics (people who believed gnosticism) had a problem. They could not understand how Jesus ever had a human body. It would be difficult for them to believe this.
There was another result of this philosophy. Gnostics thought that the body was evil. They lived a hard life. *Salvation was by special knowledge. It was only for a limited group - that is, for those who had become part of the group. Gnostics believed that *salvation did not depend on good behaviour. Their own behaviour therefore was not Christian. They thought that the cause of evil was matter itself. They did not think that they should obey God’s law. Therefore, what you did with your body did not matter.
Gnostic teachers believed that they were ‘beyond good and evil’. They thought that they did not have to say what was good or bad. They upset the Christians very much. Those who believed these ideas left the Christians. They met together to form their own group (1 John 2:19).
The Christians needed to be sure who Christ really was. They needed to be sure about the truth of the *gospel. They had to know that Christians must live a holy life. This is why John wrote his first *epistle, probably about AD 80 or 90. This is what he said: Those people who had left their group of *believers had never really belonged to it (1 John 2:18, 19). Here are the subjects of his letter:
1. Christ the man. He was a real person. This is essential for the true *faith. John writes about this often in his first letter.
2. What it really means to ‘know God’ and to live with him. How we can be sure about this.
3. The way we live every day tests our *faith. We must obey Christ. It is very important to show Christian love.
Christians believe that Jesus was the Christ. He was the ‘son of the God who is alive’ (Matthew 16:16). If we deny this, there would be a result. We would deny that, in the *crucifixion, Jesus paid for our *sins. Only someone without *sin could do that. Jesus is the Son of God. He did not do anything that was wrong. The Bible calls him the *spotless *Lamb of God. When the *Jews were sorry for what they had done, they gave God a *lamb. A *lamb is a young sheep. They took a perfect *lamb, and killed it for God. They asked God to forgive them. Jesus was a perfect man. He died on the cross. He asked God to blame him for our *sins. God forgives us because of Jesus. John therefore says that we must believe this (1 John 1:7). Jesus takes our place. He did nothing wrong, but God punished him for our *sins. Christians believe this. God does not punish them, because he punished Jesus instead.
John explains this in other words in chapter 4:
John says more than this. He warns us that there are many *spirits in the world. There is the spirit of *antichrist. God showed himself to us only in Jesus. *Antichrist denies this.
It is very easy to give people wrong ideas. Some people believe that any very unusual event is from God. They think that a very unusual event must be a *miracle. John warns us to test everything by the standard of God’s Word. God’s Word is the Bible. The most important belief for Christians is that Jesus Christ is God’s only Son. The first letter of John has three tests of truth:
1) doctrinal, which means what *Christianity teaches about *sin, *forgiveness, and the man Jesus Christ. He has done something that no other person can do. We have *salvation because Jesus died and lived again.
2) moral, which means that a person’s life should be a good life. Christians must try to live as Jesus lived.
3) social, which means that Christians should love one another.
These tests are still as vital today as they were in the first century. We should test what we teach. We should use the tests to discover if any event is a *miracle.
When Jesus died on the cross, he made *forgiveness possible. God forgives our *sins and we can belong to him. The result of this for a Christian is a good life. We can trust God. He gives us Christ to guide us. Christ leads us. He gives us strength to obey him. He gives us strength to follow him.
People who say that they know God must live by God’s standards (1 John 2:3-6; 2:29; 3:5-6, 24). John does not say that *believers can live a perfect life. He writes this: If we say that we are perfect, this is not true. We are not telling the truth (1 John 1:6). The Christian life is a life with God (1 John 1:7). We will become aware of our *sin. Then we will be sorry for our *sin. We will ask Christ to forgive us. We will ask him to help us to live in a new way. We can be sure that he will forgive us. We can be sure that he will give us *eternal life. John writes about this again and again in his letter (1 John 1:7, 8, 9; 2:1, 2; 5:12, 13).
A good example here is Abraham. He lived his life with God. When God told him to leave his home country, Abraham did that. He followed God completely as long as he lived. The Bible says that Abraham did wrong things several times. But his *faith in God was strong and lasted all his life. Also, the Bible tells us about Enoch. He lived his life as a ‘walk with God’ (Genesis 5:24). The life of the *apostle John was an excellent example for us. He shows us what it really means to know God. And he shows us what it means to live a life that pleases God.
When the Christian church began, the *Romans ruled the world. The *Romans believed that their *emperors were gods. For some time, at the very beginning of the church, the church was not in danger. The *Romans thought that *Christianity was a *Jewish *sect. They did not have to *worship the *emperor, (Acts 18:12-16).
In AD 70, enemies destroyed the *Temple in Jerusalem. After this, Christians were not safe. The *Emperor Nero searched for and attacked Christians. The *emperor Domitian said that everyone must *worship the *emperor. Romans gave the Christians much trouble. The *Jews gave them much trouble also. They troubled them whenever they could. The Christian church was small and Rome was very powerful. Christians had to encourage each other because it was a hard time for them. They had many difficulties.
The Book of Revelation was God’s answer to this situation. It emphasises that God alone is king of kings. God will certainly win in his own good time. To protect the Christians, John had to write the book in a special way. Christians would understand it. People who were not Christians would not understand the book. The book was a message for the people of that time, but Christians have always had trouble. All through the years, until now, this has happened. This is why Revelation is a strength and comfort to all who are in trouble.
Men forced John from his home. They made him live far away from family and friends on the island of Patmos. He stayed there until the *emperor Domitian died. While he was there, John had a series of *visions. God gave him the *visions. John wrote about them in the book of Revelation.
There are many details in the *visions that might confuse us. *Commentators do not agree about some parts of Revelation. Also, some important parts of Revelation are about the *Lord’s return. The *Lord Jesus will return with great honour and power. Our world will end. However, some very important subjects in the book are for any age. We must not miss these subjects. We must notice them when we read about the *visions. We might miss these subjects if we give too much attention to the details of the *visions.
These subjects are:
1. The *Lord rules (chapters 1, 4, 5). He has power over *evil. Later chapters show his total *victory.
The *Lord will have success. Nothing can stop his plan.
2. Christ and the cross are the most important (chapter 1 (twice), chapter 5, 7:14, and in other places).
3. God’s great plans for the world. The real enemy. We must be ready to fight (chapters 12, 13).
4. God’s *holiness means *judgement. There must be judgement before God can set up his *kingdom completely.
5. God makes his servants strong, and he protects them. He leads them when they suffer. Many of God’s servants die because they believe in Christ.
6. The great joy at the end of the book (chapters 21, 22).
Let us think for a brief time about some of these subjects.
In John’s time, many people thought that Rome and the *emperor had the greatest power. This was a wrong idea, which John had to correct. He does this from the very beginning of the book of Revelation. He writes very clearly about the *sovereignty of the one *eternal God all through the book.
In the first chapter, John describes God on his *throne. He writes that God is ‘the one who is. He was, and he is to come. He is the most powerful one’. Soon after, there is a powerful word picture. It is about the *glory and great power of Christ, who lives again after death (1:12-16). [Part 7 is about Christ.] John’s *vision is so great and powerful that he falls down. He is very afraid, because he has seen Jesus. Jesus himself comforts him. After this, Christ speaks about the church. He says what is good and what is bad in the church. This is in chapters 2 and 3.
Then in chapters 4 and 5 there is a wonderful *vision of the *throne room of heaven. There we can see the *glory, power and *holiness of God, who always lives. It is not any *emperor, but it is God who rules the world. John describes how God holds a *scroll in his right hand. This is a sign of power. The *scroll has words on the front and on the back. Usually there would be words on one side only. On God’s *scroll there was no room for anyone else to add their plans for the world.
God is the great God. He wants to find someone whom he can trust. This person will open God’s *scroll, with its 7 *seals. We want to know who can stand in front of the *throne. It is not a person with great military power. It is not even an animal with great strength and power. It is “The *Lamb”. Jesus, the *Lamb of God, is standing there. He is standing, and so he is alive. He still has the marks of his death on the *cross for us. He is the one who has perfect power and authority and knowledge.
In heaven, everyone *worships the *Lamb. Everyone knows that the *Lamb and God on his *throne have all power, authority and *glory. The *Lamb takes up a *scroll with its 7 *seals. He begins to open it. He controls human history and the events at the end of the *age. The last chapters of the Book of Revelation describe this wonderful time. During this time, God controls *evil powers. He keeps safe all those who trust him. Even those who trust him have many difficulties. At the end, God throws *Satan and those who follow *Satan into a ‘lake of fire’.
These *visions describe an impressive power. It is much greater than the power of Rome. Nothing whatever can stop the purposes of God. All through the book, we see God as he puts a limit on *evil. He protects his people and makes them strong. At the end, what God wants will certainly happen. During John’s life, people were attacking Christians because of the Christians’ beliefs. This powerful message would comfort those Christians very much. It has also comforted many more Christians, for many years.
Christ is the most important person in the Book of Revelation. We meet him in the first chapter:
a) Jesus is always loyal and true;
b) Jesus defeated death;
c) Jesus is king over all kings;
d) Jesus loves us;
e) Jesus gave himself for us;
f) Jesus will return in *glory.
John sees Jesus in all his *majesty. He is present with his people who are suffering. John sees Jesus next to *lampstands. John uses the *lampstands as a picture of the churches. Jesus stands next to the *lampstands, as he stands by the churches.
To see Jesus like this affected John very much. But the *Lord’s words comforted him. Remember when he wrote this book. The *Roman *Emperor was claiming absolute power and authority. But here is Jesus, who has defeated death. He has authority over life and death for everyone. Jesus is God of *eternity. He is not a temporary ruler like Caesar.
We must understand the importance of this first chapter of Revelation. Then we will understand the times when John wrote the book. We will understand what the book teaches about God. We will also understand what God wants.
Christ has the central place again in chapters 2 and 3. He gives his judgement on the state of the church. He speaks with love, emotion and absolute truth, but also he gives hope and advice.
We have already read in chapters 4 and 5 about the *throne room of heaven. There we see God the Father in all his *glory and the *Lamb, the *Lord Jesus. What Revelation says about the *Lamb is important. It reminds us that Jesus gave himself for us. He defeated death. No one else has authority as he has. His authority lasts for ever (not like Caesar’s weak authority). God the Father hands to Jesus the *scroll that contains the world’s future.
The *scroll has seven *seals. When Jesus opens the *seals, we read about the future. They tell how God will complete the story of his world. There will be a judgement at the end of time. New heavens and a new earth will come. Only Christ deserves to open this *scroll, because of his death for us on the cross. It is not because of his strong power, but because of who Christ is. The problem is this. The God of all the earth will do what is right. Now the *scroll will contain the principles of judgement, and God will be the judge. But no one has tempted God to do wrong. We do not understand how he can know the *temptations that human people have. That does not seem fair. Also, God shows himself to be *holy and a perfect judge. This is part of his *glory. But we do not understand how he can be holy and a perfect judge and forgive *sin.
There is only one answer. Someone who is from heaven must open the *scroll. This person must have power and strength from heaven. Only then can he do what God wants. This person also must know what tempts men to do wrong things. Also, God must punish someone because men have done wrong things. Jesus took the punishment, but he did not deserve punishment for himself. He was completely good, but he took the punishment for other people. So, Jesus had knowledge and power from heaven, and he also had the experience of being human. He offered himself to God, and took our punishment.
He is the only one who could do this. He is the perfect *Lamb. He is the one with no *sin, the *Lord Jesus Christ. And so all whom God has created praise Jesus. They praise him more than they praise anyone else. He deserves all *glory. And there is no problem for God, for he knew that this would happen. He knew this before he created the world. He had this plan to rescue men from *sin. At the end of chapter 5, we have a brief sight of the whole world. The world is praising God for his wonderful plan.
Through the rest of the book of Revelation, the writer mentions Christ and the *Lamb many times. The *saints are successful, only because ‘they have washed their clothes in the blood of the *Lamb’. There are many songs to praise God in this book. This song is especially important.
Any account of the Christian *faith which does not have Christ and the *cross in the centre is wrong. Paul would say that it is ‘another *gospel’. The *crucifixion and *resurrection of Christ is the centre of our belief. In the book of Revelation, it is even more important. It is the exact moment when the world’s history and future change.
God’s purpose is to bring in the new age. He promises many good things to those who trust in him. But he cannot do this without first dealing with all *evil. This is why the book of Revelation mentions *judgement again and again. Judgement starts with the church. Very soon, judgement is for the world, for people who do not believe.
There are three series of *judgements. First there are the *seal judgements, (chapters 6 and 7), and then the *trumpet judgements (chapters 8 and 9). These judgements warn those in the world who do not believe. They urge them to *repent. (They must not do wrong things again. They must obey God.) After that, we read about seven bowls of the anger of God (chapter 16). Then, in chapter 20, there is a *vision of a great white *throne. Both great and ordinary people, who are dead, stand before it. God judges them. There are only two possible results. One is that people fall into ‘the lake of fire’. But, if their names are in the *Lamb’s book of life, they escape. They will enter the new heaven and earth that chapters 21 and 22 tell us about.
The writer mentions judgement all through the book, but God does not have spite for men. The earlier judgements especially, the *seals and the *trumpets, are to help people to *repent. It is sad that not many people do this.
At last, the final bowls of God’s anger fall on the world. Still men are not sorry, but instead they curse God. It is not popular to speak about *judgement. But Jesus said a lot about it. Since we have a holy God, there must be judgement. In Revelation, because of judgements, God’s people praise him. They praise God because he is fair. He is good. He deals with every kind of *sin once and for all time. He has power and he rules.
God must judge like this before he can bring in the new heaven and earth. Chapter 21 describes them. It has a wonderful picture of the *glory of the new age which will come. These words are sufficient to show the *glory which will follow.
The book of Revelation encourages all Christians, but it is especially for certain people. It is especially for Christians who are having a very hard time. Other people want to hurt them. They want to destroy their belief. It ends in joy, with *Satan at last in the lake of fire. However, it is honest about the pain and struggle of Christians. Christians may have great difficulties all through their lives. *Evil and *Satan are real. *Satan is powerful but he is not all-powerful. Sometimes he uses world rulers for his plans. They may seem to be all-powerful. Revelation avoids two great dangers, which are common today.
One danger is triumphalism. People who are triumphalists (who believe in triumphalism) think like this: They think that Christ’s church will always win. Nothing can stop that. The church will have power and will defeat all the powers of darkness. But there have been defeats for the church. In the last century there have been many *martyrs. There have been more *martyrs in that century than there have been in the previous 19 centuries all together. The Church grows, but at a price. The price that some pay is death.
The second danger is that of dualism. This is the belief that God and *Satan are two equal powers. God is good and *Satan is *evil. They fight over the world’s future, and we cannot be certain about the result. Revelation is serious about *Satan and *evil, but the result is certain. The moment that settled the future is already past. Christ died on the *cross at *Calvary and then lived again.
Our reaction to these truths should be to be more urgent in our Christian work. We must tell everybody about Christ while there is still the opportunity. We all wait for the wonderful time when Christ will come again. We want him to come. After he comes, there will be no opportunity left. No more people can believe in him. Many will not belong to him. Therefore, we should each consider what we can do. We must do more to tell other people about *repentance. We must tell them more about love and *forgiveness through Christ.
G. Barrie Wetherill
Michael P.H. Stear
age ~ a measurement of years, until Jesus comes again.
almighty ~ very, very powerful: the most powerful.
amen ~ let it be so; a phrase often used at the end of a prayer.
antichrist ~ the spirit who opposes Christ.
apostle ~ one of the 12 men that Jesus chose to be his helpers; he chose them to teach people about him.
baptism ~ to put a person into water, or to put water on a person, to show that Christ has made him clean; a sign that a person has become a Christian.
believers ~ people who trust in Jesus Christ; Christians.
bronze ~ a metal made from copper and tin.
Calvary ~ the name of the place where Jesus died.
Christianity ~ what men teach and believe about Jesus.
commentators ~ wise men who give their opinion about something.
cross ~ two pieces of wood fixed together. Jesus died when they nailed him to a cross. The cross is now the sign of the church.
crucifixion ~ a cruel way to kill someone. Men make a large wooden cross, and fasten a man to it with nails. He must hang there until he dies.
demon ~ a devil who works for *Satan, the chief devil.
disciple ~ a person who believes in Jesus and obeys him.
emperor ~ a very important king, who rules over many lands.
epistle ~ a letter.
eternal ~ what has always been and always will be.
eternity ~ the state that lasts for ever.
evangelist ~ a person who tells people the good news about Jesus, because God is working in him.
evil ~ things or people that are very bad; there is no good in them.
faith ~ to believe and have confidence in someone or something; to do what God teaches, even if it is hard.
forgiveness ~ when God chooses to forget our *sins.
glory ~ the power and greatness of God.
golden ~ made from the metal gold, yellow in colour.
gospel ~ the good news for everybody that God saves people from *sin.
hell ~ the state of punishment for the wicked after death; God is not there.
holiness ~ God’s character, perfect, completely good.
holy ~ description of God, perfect, completely good.
idol ~ something that a person makes to *worship as a god.
illusion ~ a belief that you can see something that is not there.
Jew ~ a person from the same big family and country as Jesus.
Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything to do with a *Jew.
judgement ~ the decision about whether something or someone is good or bad; or punishment.
kingdom ~ land that a king rules.
Lamb ~ a special name for Jesus, who died for our *sins. The *Jews used to kill a perfect lamb (young sheep) as an offering to God. Then God would forgive their *sins. Jesus, who is perfect, died on the cross for us. That is why God can forgive our *sins.
lampstands ~ these hold lamps.
Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call them Lord when we do what they say.
majesty ~ the quality of being a king, different from other people.
martyrs ~ people that enemies kill, because they trust in Jesus.
matter ~ anything that you can see.
miracle ~ a wonderful event that shows that God is at work.
mourn ~ to be very sad, often because someone has died.
plagues ~ very bad illnesses.
prophets ~ people who can tell other people what God wants.
rebels ~ people who do not obey the rules.
repent ~ to be sorry for doing wrong things, and to come back to God.
repentance ~ you are sorry that you have done wrong things and you come back to God.
resurrection ~ a return to life, after death.
Roman ~ Romans were people from Rome. They ruled over Israel. Rome was a large city.
saints ~ holy people, who know Jesus Christ as *Lord; Christians.
salvation ~ when God saves us from the results of our wrong beliefs and actions.
Satan ~ another name for the evil one, the devil.
saviour ~ Jesus, who brings us to God.
scroll ~ a long piece of paper or animal’s skin; people write on scrolls.
seal ~ a small piece of material attached to something to fasten it.
sect ~ a group of people who have wrong beliefs.
sin ~ wrong things that we do or say; when people do not do what God wants.
snow ~ frozen rain, white in colour.
sovereignty ~ the power of the greatest king.
Spirit ~ the part of God who helps a person to follow Jesus. He helps him to do good things.
spirits ~ the part of a person which is alive, and which we cannot see.
spotless ~ completely clean.
temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the *Jews went to *worship God.
temptations ~ desires to do something that we should not do.
throne ~ a special chair, which a king sits on.
trumpet ~ a musical instrument, which a person breathes into to make music.
victory ~ winning in a fight.
vision ~ a dream, sometimes a dream that comes to a person who is awake.
worship ~ when people honour God. They often pray or praise him with songs.
Craig Keener ~ Bible Background *Commentary NT ~ IVP
B. M. Newman and E. A. Nida ~ A Translators Handbook on The Acts of The *Apostles ~ UBS
F. F. Bruce ~ The Book of The Acts ~ MMS
Donald Grey Barnhouse ~ Acts – An expositional commentary ~ Zondervan
In the Footsteps of Paul ~ CWR (Daily Bible Readings 1988)
I. Howard Marshall ~ Acts ~ Tyndale
Campbell Morgan ~ Acts of the *Apostles ~ Pickering and Inglis
Paul Barnett ~ ‘Bethlehem to Patmos’ ~ Biblical Classics Series ~ Paternoster ~ ISBN 0-85364-874-3
Werner Keller ~ ‘The Bible as History’ ~ Hodder and Stoughton
F. F. Bruce ~ ‘Israel and the Nations’ ~ Paternoster ~ ISBN 0-85364-762-3
Also: Personal notes and material from many other sources
© 1999-2003, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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