Revelation isn’t written to scare or confuse people, but to help them understand what God is doing. It’s written in a literary style called apocalyptic writing, a kind of writing characterized by symbolic language, visions, and larger-than-life symbolic characters. But all that doesn’t mean what’s in it isn’t true.
Even though Christians at the time (about 90 AD) were under great persecution, as Christians have been at other eras of history, and will again be so at the end, the book isn’t as much concerned about that as it is about giving us an accurate spiritual interpretation of life. It tells us that governments were designed to accomplish God’s purposes on earth, but they make mistakes, turn worldly, and mislead people. It lets us know that the church also makes mistakes, and some churches even have false teaching, but God is still going to use the true and faithful segments of the church to accomplish his mission.
Revelation is beneficial for at least three advantages: (1) to open our eyes, lives, and souls to the spectacular magnificence of the person of Jesus, (2) to prepare ourselves for the possibilities the end times may hold for us, and (3) to design our discipleship to prepare for the world as it really is and as it will inevitably become.
“Why all the weird stuff?” you may wonder, “And why so many scary images?” When the Babylonians came and conquered Jerusalem, it was not a pretty sight. Cities were reduced to rubble, people were slaughtered, and entire landscapes were burned. When the Romans came to Jerusalem in 70 AD, the scene was similar. The book of Revelation is the story of the end of history, when godlessness will have gotten out of control, people’s most depraved character traits come to the surface, when governments will be corrupt beyond imagination, and when economic abuse will be rampant. Hitler killed 6 million Jews and millions of Europeans. Stalin butchered up to 13 million of his own citizens. The Bible is prophesying that in the End it will be worse. So Revelation tells a scary tale because it’s telling the truth about what it will be like. It’s not written to scare us, but it does. There is no optimism about the future, except that when it gets its worst, Jesus will return to set it right again.
Revelation wants us to know that God didn’t slip up, and that “now things are too out of control for him to deal with.” No, nothing has slipped from God’s hands. It wants us to know that it’s possible for a believer to stay faithful, yes, even through this kind of awfulness. And it wants us to know that there will be Light at the end of this long dark tunnel of history.