The Book of Revelation can intimidate many Christians. The Apostle John intended the book to propel us forward in godliness instead of paralyzing us. I pray these short messages (approximately 25 min each) will peak your interest in the final book of the Bible.
In life, the pressure is on. Trials, toils and snare abound for the believer. How will you fight against the intense temptations Satan will throw your way? Will you be able to endure until the end and be saved? Apocalyptic literature offers us some images to keep us in the faith.
Chapters 6-16 of Revelation contain many visions of judgment that are poured out upon the earth. The trumpet and bowl judgments are intense pictures of the wrath of God. While it is beyond the scope of this post to examine all the images in these chapters, this section will highlight a couple of images of Judgment and seek to apply them practically in counseling.
Revelation 16 can be used to provide powerful images in order to bring about repentance and to keep believers from falling into temptation. Revelation 16:2 says, “So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.” This verse gives a descriptive picture of what will happen to all of those who follow the way of Satan instead of the way of Christ. Every person who gives way to the persuasion of sin is described in this text. Those who have obtained the mark of the beast have given themselves over to sin and disobedience.
The image of a bowl that spreads sores and painful diseases is an unpleasant thought. This is an example of apocalyptic literature exposing the façade of sin. The bowls in Revelation are bowls of wrath. They are bowls filled with the fury of God. We do not want these bowls poured on our heads anymore than we want scalding hot water to be dumped on our backs. Romans 6:23 rightly says that “the wages of sin is death.” Revelation 16 gives readers a similar truth as in Romans 6:23 but it is delivered in a much more pungent manner. This passage communicates that the wages of sin is full of infected sores. Sin brings God’s wrath and in this text God’s wrath manifests itself in painful sores. Imagine green pus filled boils covering your skin. These sores are a direct cause of sin. These are wages for the wicked on their way to death. We want God to anoint our heads with smooth oil, not sour sores.
The judgments continue to pour and Revelation 16:8 describes another bowl of wrath that inflicts pain. “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.” This imagery involves a giant bowl being held over the earth by a massive angel. This bowl is filled with liquid that is poured out to ignite the sun. When the liquid touches the sun, the sun intensifies and explodes the solar system with heat and light. All the enemies of God feel the intense heat on their skin and every exposed area becomes burnt. This bowl is another picture of the consequences of sin. Instead of infected sores, God releases heat from hell. In this text, the wages of sin is sun poisoning. All the enemies of God are burned before they can even march into battle. These are the same people who are gearing up for the battle against God at armageddon and they already have a foretaste of their defeat (Revelation 16:14-16). How foolish is the battle of armageddon? Creatures are planning to attack their Creator and cannot even conquer the sun! Sin is foolishness and will only result in misery. This imagery of splotchy red soldiers with burning red boils should be brought to our minds before giving into temptation. This should cause us to pause before partaking in sin.
How should we respond to judgment?
The interesting twist in Revelation 16 comes from the response of those under judgment. Instead of crying out for mercy from the wrath of God, they actually do the extreme opposite. 16:9 says, “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power of these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.” This is instructive for counseling on two levels.
First, this gives some insight into the depravity of man. Wicked hearts are blind to logic and this passage reveals this reality. The most illogical act in response to the bowl judgments would be to curse God. Yet the unbelievers go to great lengths to mount an attack plan against their Creator and wage war against him in 16:16. Armageddon is the apex of human folly. The creatures are attempting to attack the very one who sustains their existence. The image of Armageddon should be a clear call for counselors that many people respond to correction in the worst possible manner. It shows that sin is blinding and causes people to operate in illogical ways.
Second, these passages come as a warning to believers and unbelievers. These are examples of how not to respond to the discipline of God. Revelation 16:9 and 11 indicate that the proper response to the wrath of God is repentance. When faced with the judgment of God, humans should fall to their knees and beg for mercy. Fleshy boils and burns should cause the believer to wince at the harmful results of disobedience. When the imagination brings to mind the clamor of thousands of sun scorched soldiers at the battle of Armageddon, the foolishness of sin should be brought to mind. These images, and the emotions they invoke, can be a means of grace for persevering believers in holiness. This fresh vision of judgment may become your salvation.
Lions, dragons and beasts – Oh my. Some parts of the Bible can be intimidating. Swirling wheels, ugly animals and books of judgement cracking open can be a bit overwhelming. All of these things can come to mind when a person thinks about apocalyptic literature (books of the Bible like Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation). Yet I have come to the conclusion that these books of the Bible are immensely practical. If Christians dive into these books of the Bible, then I believe their spiritual walk will be strengthened. I even think that these “frightening” texts can be used in counseling to fight against sin.
The Need for Apocalyptic Imagery in Counseling
Apocalyptic literature attempts the impossible. It attempts to process things that are inexpressible and full of glory and communicate them on paper (1 Peter 1:8). John Piper aptly tweeted that “Jesus is greater than I have ever portrayed him to be.” This is undoubtedly true for Dr. Piper and it is surprisingly true about biblical apocalyptic literature. The Scriptures are accurate and inerrant but even they fall short of the full manifestation of the glory of God.
The visions described in the book of Revelation will be even more glorious than they are portrayed by the Apostle John. The destruction of God’s enemies will be even more gruesome than how the prophet Zechariah has described them. Paul wrote about the message of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 2:9 saying that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” If this was true about the good news of the incarnation, how much more will this be the case when the return of Christ takes place along with the consummation of history? Paul also confirms this in 1 Corinthians 13:12 by writing, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Even with the flawless inspired Scriptures, believers are unable to fully imagine what it will be like when Christ returns. Currently believers walk by faith but soon they will walk by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Having noted the reality that God is ultimately indescribable, apocalyptic imagery is arguably the closest believers will come to seeing the throne room of God this side of eternity. Apocalyptic imagery equips and enables believers to better walk by faith and imagine what they cannot yet see. Although Jesus’ glory is more incredible and magnificent than the visions described by the author’s of Scripture, these descriptions are essential to believers and necessary for them to grow in godliness. If these texts are the closest believers can get to seeing Jesus fully arrayed in his glory, then it is imperative for believers to become immersed in the imagery and symbolism of apocalyptic literature.
Apocalyptic literature is an accurate attempt to describe the resurrected Christ in all of his glory. The dim glass of apocalyptic literature is one of the clearest pictures available to mankind of heavenly activity. In light of the need to see Jesus as clearly as possible, it should become the goal of the counselor to help others look through this glass with eyes of faith in order to be transformed from one degree of glory to another.
The Goal of Apocalyptic Imagery in Counseling
The goal of the Christian life is to be conformed into the image of Christ. One of the primary means of doing this is beholding the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” While remaining on earth, believers cannot see the glory of God face to face. However, God has graciously given his word to all believers and believers can truly encounter God through the Scriptures. Beholding the glory of God primarily includes understanding and applying the Scripture to life. 2 Corinthians 4:6 teaches that believers are able to see God through the message of the gospel. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Christians are enabled by the spirit to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus through the Scriptures. Since this is the case, believers should cling tightly to the entire Canon of Scripture and especially those passages which speak of Christ himself. The goal of beholding Christ in his glory is made possible through apocalyptic literature in a way that no other biblical genre communicates.
Images are powerful tools. As a person’s mind absorbs an image, it is digested in the heart and eventually bears fruit in the hands. Throughout history, people have been captivated by images and paintings. Artistic images have been used to change societies and impact nations. For instance, it is hard to measure the massive impact Norman Rockwell had on the American people during the Second World War against Adolf Hitler. Thousands of Americans were rallied to the cause of fighting due to his artwork that was published nationwide. Rockwell captured on canvas images of the core American beliefs of freedom. To this day, many Americans feel strong emotions upon seeing and pondering the well known paintings of Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The images Rockwell created were not simply for entertainment or artistic acknowledgement. “The paintings also toured the United States and raised in excess of $130 million toward the war effort.” (Biography of Rockwell) Rockwell intended to changed minds and lives with his imagery.
Just as Rockwell’s art was not neutral in its purpose, the imagery in biblical apocalyptic literature has an agenda. God has specifically chosen the language in the apocalyptic genre in order to stir affections for himself and to spur believer’s on in sanctification. 2 Timothy 3:16 means that all apocalyptic imagery is profitable for training in righteousness in order that the man of God may be equipped for every good work. The task of the biblical counselor is to learn how to properly harness this imagery for the growth of others. In the upcoming weeks, I will post a few practical ways apocalyptic imagery can be used in counseling and personal spiritual growth.