(020) How to Understand the Book of Revelation – 5. Testing and Response

How did John know his Revelation was from God?

I wonder how the seven churches of Asia Minor felt when they first received John’s letter. Along with the rest of the early churches, they’d been instructed to ‘weigh up’ prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:29) and ‘test the spirits to see if they’re from God’ (1 John 4:1). Like today, there were many claims to divine revelation floating around. How did they know it was from God? And even more so, how did John know it was from God?

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We learn from history that the book of Revelation was received eagerly by the church – at first. By the third and fourth centuries, church leaders became sceptical. Some debated its source and you can probably guess why. The book of Revelation certainly has a chequered history. Even today eastern orthodox churches don’t use the book in their liturgies.

Like the seven churches of Asia Minor, we are called to test the revelations we receive. The question of course is, how? We can learn from the early church’s example, applying these 3 tests to our experiences:

1. Jesus in the Scriptures

This is the first and foundational test. Does the voice I’m hearing sound like the voice of Jesus? Does it sound like something Jesus would say? The “spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus,” the angel says (Revelation 19:10). God’s voice is consistent throughout the ages.

In the visions of Revelation, we see that the ‘testimony of Jesus’ clearly lines up with his life and teachings half a century earlier. Jesus is pictured as a sacrificial lamb, a judge clothed in righteous white robes and a leader who fights with the sword of his mouth. The message of Revelation is true to God’s character seen in Jesus. This is the same test we need to apply to our own revelations. We ask, Is what I’m hearing and seeing consistent with the testimony of Jesus?

2. Community

The second test is accessed through the community of believers. The Holy Spirit confirms his revelation through his people. We see this pattern operating in the early church. Since the Holy Spirit was given to John as well as the churches of Asia Minor, there is the possibility of agreement in the Spirit. This test is also used in the Jerusalem Council when the leaders were discussing Peter’s and Cornelius’ revelation about the Gentiles. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) they concluded.

Though we can’t get a glimpse of the discussions that took place when John’s letter was received, we do know that the early church found agreement with its message. History tells us that they heeded the call to lay their lives down as Jesus himself had done, with many testimonies of martyrdom in the early church. We see the church growing not by the sword but by a devotion to the lamb and his ways. We see them ‘clothing themselves with righteous acts’ of generosity and healing, such that in time even the Roman Empire stopped to take notice.

3. Signs

The final test is the test of signs. Signs are tangible supernatural indicators that show us that the message is from God. The Father did this for people when Jesus was on earth (signs ‘followed him’ in order to confirm his message (John 6:26)) and he still does this for us today. So God will often package his words with supernatural knowledge (sometimes called ‘words of knowledge’) – so that we can know it’s from him. He speaks to us in such a way that the ‘secrets of our hearts are laid bare’ so we know; ‘it’s really God!’ (1 Corinthians 14:25).

We see the possibility of this occurring in the first three chapters of the Revelation as John revealed the heart and motives of the churches he was writing to. God’s message was made personal with specific details – perhaps details that John would not have ordinarily known.

In the same way, God often sends a supernatural sign to back up what he is saying. It’s a confirmation of the source. His heart is to help us clearly identify his voice when he speaks.

What Did They Do with It?

Every word from God will come with a call to action. Our final section of the podcast looks at the application of John’s message, first in the lives of the seven churches and then to us in the 21st century. We talk a little of the misuse of this book over the years, focussing instead on the key messages that God intended to send.

History was changed because those early Christians took John’s words to heart and responded to what the Spirit was saying. May we too have the courage to follow where the Spirit leads!

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… (Revelation 1:3a)

Listen to the final message on How to Understand Revelation:

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How have you tested your revelations from God? What worked for you? How did you know it was God? Leave your comments below: