There is no book in the bible more intimidating for the average preacher than the book of Revelation. It is a little bit shy of 10,000 words and yet these words have the ability to confuse the faithful preacher, not to mention simply scare them away from working through the text. Sadly, in contemporary culture, the book has often been mishandled, and in doing so we have lost much of the intended meaning and purpose behind the book. Written to an early church that was undergoing intense persecution, and would yet undergo even more, the shape and purpose of the book reflects that context. It should be understood as an imminently helpful book for the contemporary preacher.
In a quite helpful manner, PreachingSource offers a number of helpful pieces that can assist you as you preach through the book of Revelation, including Preaching Revelation by Steven Smith, a video overview of Preaching through Revelation by Vern Charette, a lecture on Understanding the Book of Revelation by Craig Blaising, and a video Synopsis of Revelation.
Don’t make the mistake of missing the intended audience.
Too often, in contemporary culture, our eschatology dictates that we shift the focus of the book in an unhelpful manner. A dominant view among many in contemporary Evangelicalism is to treat Revelation as if it’s written almost entirely for a day that is yet to come. A smaller view argues that the entirety of Revelation has already been fulfilled. Both of these miss an important characteristic of the text. Revelation 1:19 helps us with this point. Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. The book is intended to have immediate meaning for the initial audience it was being written to (write what you have seen, what is) and it is also intended to have meaning for those who would receive it later (and what will take place after this). We make a tremendous mistake when we allow our eschatological construct to force the book into a shape that completely misses one or the other of the intended audiences.
Preach the book to build hope and confidence, not fear and retreat.
The book of Revelation is too often preached using a ‘doom and gloom’ delivery system. Make no mistake, Revelation offers some frightening glimpses of the future. The imagery is, at times, grotesque, and unquestionably fear-inducing. But to leave your hearers in a state of fear is to miss the overall point of the book. The Revelation was given by God to John with the intent that it be delivered to a church undergoing intense persecution. At a foundational stage, the book of Revelation is intended to remind a suffering church that, in the end, their King wins. Victory is theirs. We miss the point when, in an attempt to provide clarity and, at times, explain eschatology, leads us to prioritize the terrifying portions of the passage and minimize the overarching theme, that God wins. When this happens we do an injustice to the text. Consider Revelation 21:6-7,
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.
Understand the shifting genres.
Revelation is a book with a variety of genres – or forms – present. It features letters, visionary revelation, apocalyptic prophecy and more. We can often be so rigid in our understanding of the text, and in especially in our preaching forms, that we can fail to convey the full meaning and purpose of the text. The preacher should understand the variety present in the book of Revelation and interpret the text accordingly, and shape both the form and the delivery of their sermon, accordingly.
Hold interpretations loosely.
Revelation is a book that engenders a fair amount of disagreement. It fosters pretty strong disagreement among brothers and sisters who are faithful expositors and theologians, and it has since the first century. This is an important element in preaching Revelation. Understand the book. Have opinions – even strong opinions – about the interpretation of the book, but preach those with a level of humility. Be cautious about preaching speculative interpretations as if they are the only orthodox interpretations. In doing so you may actually obscure the point while trying to bring clarity.
Preach Revelation as the story of King Jesus.
Finally, consider the very beginning of Revelation, verse 1 as a matter of fact. The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. The book of Revelation is a book from God, about Jesus, given to John. The point of Revelation, and all of scripture, frankly, is to reveal to us Jesus – the hope of the world. When you preach Revelation, whether it be chapter 1 or chapter 22, your messages should revolve around how the book of Revelation reveals to us the person of Jesus. We don’t often understand the position of King in contemporary American society, but Revelation is a beautiful picture of a glorious King, King Jesus, and his ultimate rule and reign over all things. Because of this the book is a majestic, passionate and beautiful story of eventual conquest and dominion by the only one worthy to rule. Preach the book so that you leave your hearers echoing the words of Revelation 22:20, He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!