In the Revelation, the Apostle John is standing in the doorway.

What Is the Main Message of the Book of Revelation?

“Deep in our hearts, we know that the best things said come last,” said Alan Alda in his memoir entitled Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.  He’s right, of course.  We chat for hours of an evening, asking for and receiving updates on mutual friends, alternately bragging on and complaining about our kids; and then “linger at the door with words that come with a rush from the heart.  Doorways are where the truth is told.”

In The Revelation, the Apostle John is standing at the door on every level as he writes his “famous last words.”  He was not expecting ever to leave his prison island of Patmos.  He was the last of the surviving apostles, and in this recorded series of visions, he is being given a preview of last things, a glimpse through the doorway into “things which must shortly take place.”

A few years ago, I spent five months reading through this final New Testament book, reading one chapter a week, revisiting it every day, sometimes in different versions.  To be honest, even though I lingered over the chapters, consulted cross-references, notes, and the odd commentary, I would not be eager to face a classroom full of middle school students, hungry for details about beasts and bowls and hard facts about the rapture, with nothing but my Bible and my study notes. 

The Revelation is deep weeds:   deeply disturbing, but, at the same time deeply satisfying.  At the risk of appearing to think (naively) that I have grasped the essence of the book or that any number of bullet points could adequately capture the Apostle John’s letter, I offer five thoughts gleaned from standing in the doorway with God’s servant John.

1.  The Revelation was written to people who knew their Old Testament a lot better than I do.  The symbols and imagery that John uses, the numbers that repeat and resonate are all flaming arrows whose trajectories connect the dots to prophecies recorded in Ezekiel, Daniel, and elsewhere.  The trick is that you have to recognize the arrow, hear its twang, in order to follow it. 

In the 404 verses that comprise John’s final letter, there are 518 references to earlier Scripture — not quotes, but allusions.  He doesn’t say, “As it is written in Daniel’s prophecy about the male goat . . .” when he takes up his pen to write chapter thirteen, but his audience, raised on Hebrew scripture, would have recognized the source of the imagery.

2.  The Revelation was written by a pastor.  I had the advantage of teaching a Sunday school class on I, II, and III John during part of the time I was reading The Revelation, (which, now that I think of it, could have been called  “IV John.”)  I was surprised to find common elements, because in all the fervor of interpretation and application of Jesus’s message to the seven churches, it is easy to forget that John was writing a letter.  We also forget that the letter was intended for actual communities of believers that existed in a certain geographic, economic, and cultural context.  

Far from a mere catalog of future events, John’s role is to interpret what is to come in light of today’s challenges, to throw in a dash of what has already been, and to help the flock know how to live in the present.  Eugene Peterson defines the church as a group of “persons who dare to live by the great invisibles of grace, who accept forgiveness, who believe promises, who pray.” The fact that some churches do these things more faithfully than others would have been front and center for John the pastor as he began penning Jesus’s messages to the seven churches.

In the Revelation, the Apostle John is standing in the doorway.

3.  Listening can be a spiritual act. 

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The rhythm of this phrase thrums through the messages to the seven churches no matter what their circumstances or individual besetting sins.  Could selective hearing also be the root of my own failings? 

According to Annie Dillard, the greatest theological question of all times is this:  “What in the Sam Hill is going on here anyway?”  If she is correct, I may find the answer to that momentous question by opening my ears to what the Spirit is saying — through the Word, in response to my prayers, in the whisper-voice of my circumstances.

According to Annie Dillard, the greatest theological question of all times is this:  “What in the Sam Hill is going on here anyway?” I find the answer to that momentous question by opening my ears to what the Spirit is saying.

4.  Worship is the ultimate goal when God reveals Himself to man.  Twice John is rebuked for falling at the feet of a heavenly being in worship (19:10; 22:9).  We, too, fall on our faces — easily and in the wrong direction.  My journey through the Revelation reminds me that Jesus is the beginning and the ending, not only because He says so, but because the book literally puts his magnificence on display for twenty-two chapters, from beginning to end. 

When the letter is used as a reference book for our quibbling-matches about signs of the time and who’s right about the rapture, we become more of what we already are:  a distracted people.  Truly a hymnal in its own way, the Revelation reminds me that whenever I find my way into worship, I am joining with and adding to the praise that goes on continually in heavenly places.

5.  The God of Revelation invites.  The word is “come,” and the invitation goes out to all the thirsty.  Through desert times of the soul, there is an invitation to drink freely.  Here is comfort for the one who is tired of insincere offers; weary of eyes that scan the crowd in search of another more interesting companion; fed up with promises made but not fulfilled. 

Listen well, for “doorways are where the truth is told,” and this is God’s TRUE invitation to YOU:
Come to Him who comes, for He has said, “Behold, I come quickly.”

Standing in the doorway with you,

Are you fed up with promises made but not fulfilled? Hear and rejoice, for this is God’s promise and invitation: Come to him who comes, for he has said, “Behold, I come quickly.”

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52 thoughts on “What Is the Main Message of the Book of Revelation?”

  1. So true that it is often in the doorway that we share what is on our hearts and so apt for a reflection on Revelation where Jesus is pictured standing in the doorway. I will be reflecting on His invitation to intimacy – thank you.

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  2. I’m appreciating your clarification of certain themes of this book which I’ve always found daunting. Praise God for the depth of your spiritual observations that always always lead us back to Christ.

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    1. Daunting, yes, and to be honest, I get so tired of readers who turn the book into a secret treasure map or an item for item mysterious message to be solved.
      Thank you, Linda, for always thinking and saying good things about what you find here. It’s a huge encouragement.

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  3. I love how you compare John’s letter to a doorway. I struggle with understanding Revelation more than any book of the Bible, so I am thankful for your good thoughts here. I am drawn to your third point. Annie Dillard is my favorite writer and I have been focusing on listening during prayer. I believe I, like most people, could improve my listening skills, especially where the Spirit is concerned.

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    1. I imagine the Spirit of God communicating with us in so many ways: nature, the Bible, things we hear, other people. When we fail to pay attention, we miss out on so much, and what a disappointment!

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  4. Thinking about Revelation as a book that puts Jesus on display gives a fresh perspective for all those passages about beasts and bowls you mentioned! That would be a worthy focus for some journaling: recording what we learn about Jesus through the chapters, and our worshipful response. I’m putting that on my list of possible pursuits once my church Bible study group breaks for the summer.

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  5. Michele, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Revelation is indeed “deep weeds”, but so much treasure there. I never thought about it before, but you are right, it is written to those who truly know the Old Testament! And your thoughts on doorways are spot on! I love that imagery, remembering so many times I stood in the doorway saying “goodbye”, but so much more! Thank you!

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    1. I also can remember that feeling of standing in the doorway, taking an entire visit to warm up to what I really wanted to say. John’s words to us are written from his old age after a long, faithful following. I can’t imagine how he even survived the shock and intensity of what he saw at his advanced age!

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  6. Michele,
    I just finished a reread of The Revelation as well. I chuckled out loud when I read, “What in the Sam Hill is going on here anyway?” LOL. Yes, I still get that feeling when I read it, but like you, the word that jumped out at me was, “COME.” I know when a phrase is repeated in Scripture we are to take notice. The word “Come” offers comfort not judgment. I enjoyed your commentary here.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  7. Love this! As a new believer, the book of Revelation and especially its references to beasts and the numbers used, always scared me. I mean, for one thing, if only 144,000 people ever go to Heaven, why bother? I’m not that competitive!

    I love how you explain that the book has a lot of references to the Old Testament. I never even knew that Revelation is a letter to actual people. This puts things into perspective. I’m not sure I’m ready to actually study Revelation, but I’ll remember your words when I do get to it. Visiting from Grace and Truth.

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  8. Michele, love this post, especially this quote, “Eugene Peterson defines the church as a group of “persons who dare to live by the great invisibles of grace, who accept forgiveness, who believe promises, who pray.” Many blessings to you 💕

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  9. It’s sad that so many of us get tangled up in end-time timelines in revelation rather than getting these overarching truths. Thank you for laying them out for us. There’s so much that’s mysterious in the book, but the Lord of majesty shines in all His glory.

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  10. Thank you for your insightful post about The Revelation. Too many get caught up in trying to figure out the signs and symbols, but you have concentrated on what’s most important–that God invites us to come and to worship Christ!

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  11. Thanks Michele, I was amazed at “In the 404 verses that comprise John’s final letter, there are 518 references to earlier Scripture.” Things that those first readers would have understood so much better than us. I have been reading several references that advise ‘trying’ to look at Scripture through the eyes of those for who it was initially written.
    The last I can see is that Alan Alda is an Agnostic. He seems to come so close to the Truth, yet misses it. I pray he finds it before it is too late.
    We will feature your post in the next Blogger’s Pit Stop.
    Kathleen

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    1. Thanks for checking that detail on Alan Alda. So often people speak more truth than they know.
      And thank you for your regular encouragement over at your site, Kathleen. I do appreciate you.

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  12. Yes! Revelation always scared me. But last year — in December — I read it. I can’t pretend I understood all of it, but I am glad I read it.

    And your point: “Listening can be a spiritual act” — SOOOO GOOD!

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    1. I do wish more listening could happen in the rooms where Revelation is being read. With everyone shouting their own opinion about the timing of the rapture or the nature of judgment, I don’t think we accomplish much.

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  13. I reflect that I feel imprisoned in a home that is not mine and desperately wanting to walk through the doorway to an unknown but hopefully positive future. I need forgiveness and I need love. I feel I should book into a hotel for a week and just read your blog for guidance. #MischiefandMemories

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    1. Kate, I urge you to reach out to a trusted person to talk about your future plans. And know this: forgiveness and love are as near as your next breath. Rather than reading my blog, I suggest words from the Bible. God loves you, and he is on your side. It sounds as if he is coming after you. How wonderful! His love is relentless.
      I

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  14. Thanks for all your help here. My husband and I are, once again, reading Revelation in our morning devotions (having just recently finished it in December). Most often, I come away not only perplexed by discouraged. Your post has helped me to persevere.

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  15. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Please stay safe and healthy. Come party with us at Over The Moon! Catapult your content Over The Moon! @marilyn_lesniak @EclecticRedBarn

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  16. A stunning insight. And maybe strange, but somehow whispered truths and promises do seem to come more freely and received with more openness when on the verge of something, just like the doorway. Thank you for joining us for #MischiefAndMemories (and for the kind hearted words offered to one of our linkers that you left for her above).

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  17. I think most people are afraid of Revelation due to the dramatic concept of the future. Unpicking it verse by verse is revealing beautiful wisdom. Thanks for linking up with #MischiefAndMemories

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  18. First I was captured by the picture of the door–the same door I saw in a vision a couple of years ago. I failed to find any door that looked like it with 8 squares, opening in the center. Mine had no nobs and a huge skeleton key centered in the middle. I had to draw my door to get my vision out of my head. But here it is! Once it captured my attention, I went on to read what you wrote. So spot-on! I love how you pulled the focus of Jesus out of all the imagery. We do tend to get distracted by the images and what they mean and how it speaks to our future. But still, it all points back to him who is the first and last. So well written, thank you!

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