Session 1 Revelation 1.
1. Read Revelation 1:1-3. This is “revelation” – the greek word is Apocalypse – what does that mean to you, what other apocalyptic writings do you know?
2. v3 suggests this is also a letter (cp v11; made clearer in chapters 2 and 3). What do you know about the churches it is addressed to and their situation? What is similar to our situation, and what is different?
3. Read Revelation 1:4-8. Jesus is described in 3 ways in v5. What is significant about each?
4. v7 introduces us to John’s Old Testament allusions; he doesn’t “quote” but often reminds. Can you find 2 references in this verse (hint: check the footnote in many Bibles!).
5. Read Revelation 1:9-19. John seems to miss out some churches of this area, why?
6. What do you think is the significance of the seven golden lampstands?
7. The symbolism of the figure like “a son of man” is hard to picture together, so take each part and think about what it might mean.
8. v18 stresses the resurrection. To whom is this particularly important?
9. We can’t always give a certain meaning to every picture – but what is the overall impression?
Session 2 Revelation 2.
We now begin 2 chapters of letters to 7 churches in turn. Each refers to the figure in Rev 1:13-18, notes the good, and perhaps the failures, of the church, and offers a promise.
1. Read Rev 2:1-7. What is said in favour of this church? And against? And what is the promise?
2. Read Rev 2:8-11. Smyrna was a seaport destroyed c600BC and rebuilt later – can you see the relevance of v8? (You may like to look up and see what is particular to each place in the addresses to other churches).
3. What is good about Smyrna’s church? (“10 days” may refer to Daniel 1:12). Would you like to be a part of a church like this? What is their problem? And what does the promise mean?
4. Read Rev 2:12-17. Pergamum was governed by a proconsul, whose image was a sword; but might there be other symbolism in v12? What is praiseworthy about the church?
5. What do you understand of the failings detailed in vv14,15? Immorality may be just that, or refer to unfaithfulness to God – ie compromise and the mixing of ideas we call syncretism. In what way might it be wrong to be too much at home in the pagan world?
6. Contrast Ephesus and Pergamum. If we are right in suggesting one is correct doctrinally, but has grown hard and unloving, while the other is easygoing and compromised, close to selling out its faith – do you recognise the two extremes? How might a church today try to avoid both dangers?
7. Read Rev 2:18-29. Again, what is good, what is bad, what is promised? Is false leadership always a danger? (And what if, as Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab of Israel, this false prophet is the partner of a church leader?).
8. Look back over these 4 churches. What do you find encouraging about their successes? Is there anything you need to learn from their failures?
Next week, 3 more churches, and a spine-chilling warning!
Session 3 Revelation 3.
If you are reading this before the meeting (optional!), you might like to think back over what has struck you in our first two weeks, what you noted in the silence at the end of each week, and if there is anything you need to think or pray about – or do! – as a result.
1. Read Revelation 3:1-6. In what ways might a church die? Can you think of examples, and of churches which relocated, or found new life?
2. Look at what is said about Sardis: they have a name for being alive, but are dead. What does that mean? Is the reference to the seven spirits of God (v1) helpful? Does the end of v2 explain? Sardis had a stronghold never taken by force, but twice by stealth; does v 3 suggest lack of vigilance?
3. What is the promise here? Again, how much of the letter to Sardis is a letter to us?
4. Read Revelation 3:7-13. Do you find the commendations of v8 and v10 encouraging?
5. Clearly the Christians in Philadelphia faced opposition from members of the synagogue there – but reference to “an open door” v7,8 and verse 9 seem to suggest an evangelistic opportunity. Do churches “with little strength” v8 still have this potential?
6. v10 is the only reference in chapters 2 and 3 to the coming worldwide ordeal – more later! What is the promise to the faithful of this church?
7. Read Revelation 3:14-22. The only church with nothing good about it (!) is in a prosperous community of bankers, doctors and textile trade – but is “poor, blind and naked” v17. What has gone wrong? What wealth have they missed? (v18)
8. v19 “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” Is this a general statement; what other texts would you compare it with? How does our Christian life recognise this, or even welcome it?
9. v20 is often used evangelistically, but here is about Christ demanding admission to his own church! This is a more terrifying picture than the one Holman Hunt painted, yet still with promise. What would it mean “to sit with me on my throne” v21 ? How like Christ would we be, and how would our experience follow his?
10. Look back over these 3 churches. What is most encouraging, and what warnings are most important? What do you find relevant to your present situation?
11. If there is time, extend question 10 to the 7 churches.
Next week we have a (virtual) trip to heaven, with chapters 4 +5.
Session 4. Revelation 4 and 5
1. Think of heaven. How much of what you picture is a comparison with your life on earth?
2. What do you think of as powerful? What does it mean to have power? Do you want it, fear it, or find it irrelevant?
3. Read Revelation 4:1-11. What does this look like to you? If you have time you may want to compare Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 (both from times of trouble and oppression). What is the significance of the throne v2? What is the significance of the rainbow v3? (cp Genesis 9)
4. The God of creation has power, but also exercises mercy. This God is worshipped – who do the 24 elders represent?
5. For the Jews, the sea was a symbol of evil – dangerous and uncontrolled. Why is there sea in heaven, and what is it like? Does this suggest that this view of heaven reflects the situation on earth, or of the present time, rather than the “new heaven” (Revelation 21:1) which represents the future reality?
6. There are 2 songs (v8b and v11) in this chapter. What do they say? Are they words you might use in your prayers? (as the Church of England does).
7. Read Revelation 5:1-8. What is the scroll? It clearly relates to God’s purposes and promises – perhaps it is his plan for the universe?
8. Why does v5 speak of the Lion (compare Genesis 49:9) and v 6 of a Lamb? (cp Isaiah 53). How do they explain our understanding of Jesus?
9. What do the three songs that follow celebrate? What is being said about God’s plan?
10. John’s vision of heaven brings together Creation and Redemption, the figure on the throne and the Lion/Lamb. How would it have encouraged the listeners in the 7 churches? How does it help us now?
Session 5 Revelation 6:1 – 10:11
We now come to the central section of the book, and the sequences of 7 (seals, trumpets, thunders, bowls). We shall deal with this in less detail, partly because the details are debatable, while the important thrust of the argument is much clearer. If there are things you would like to follow up in more detail, please do – but beware being too sure of the interpretation of details, on which skilled commentators often disagree!
1. Read Revelation 6:1-17. The 4 horsemen look like Conquest, Warfare, Famine and Death. Do you see these as servants of God? If so, what does this say about the character of God?
2. Clearly we already experience some of these things. Could this part of the vision represent God allowing the consequences of human sin to come to a climax and be seen to fail?
3. Read Revelation 7:1-17. What do the 144,000 represent? And what is their relation to (v9) the innumerable multitude?
4. As we shall see in later chapters, John adds the support of the faithful to his account of the collapse of human pride and self-sufficiency. Compare Revelation 6:17 and 7:17.
5. Read Revelation 8:1-13. We might have expected the end of the sequence of 7 seals to bring a conclusion, but we move on to a sequence of 7 trumpets. The disasters of the seals sounded like much of human history (and also the predictions of Mark 13:1-27 and parallel passages); the 1st 4 trumpet woes can be compared with the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7:14 – 11end): hail, water turning to blood, darkness. What was the reason for the plagues of Egypt? Is there any similarity with Rev 9:20-21?
6. You may want to skim, or read silently, Revelation 9. It is not pleasant reading – but does it show you how Evil can darken the light (v2)? If we fall into compromised habits and ideas, truth is harder to find, understand and accept.
7. Read Revelation 10:1-4. Do you think it important that there are things (like what the 7 thunders said) that we as Christians know we do not know? Why?
8. In the rest of chapter 10, what sort of words do you think might be sweet “in the mouth”, but sour on reflection – they are words the prophet is told to prophesy about “many peoples, nations, languages and kings”? (There is reference here to Ezekiel 2:9-3:3)
9. However much, or little of chapters 6 – 10 you have been able to look at in detail, look back over the whole section. John is warning of great difficulty, hardship and evil – can you identify a cause or causes of this? At the same time, while not promising the Christian community will be unaffected by this, what encouragement does he offer them?
Session 6 Revelation 11:1 – 14:20
1. In the last session, we began to look at the “apocalyptic” central section of the book of Revelation. What do you remember about life on earth during this time? And what about the faithful Christian community?
2. Read Revelation 11:1-14. The two witnesses of the Old Testament were Moses and Elijah (v6), but here Zechariah 4 has influenced the picture, and the witnesses perhaps represent the testimony of the whole church. If that is correct, what does John expect of Christians before the final, universal and visible reign of the Messiah?
3. Read Revelation 12:1-6. This chapter has similarities to pagan myths, but is re-written to explain the experience of the Christian community, here represented by the woman. The dragon is Satan, but the birth seems to represent, not the Nativity but the Cross. The rest of the chapter seems to speak of a victory which has been won, but a continuing conflict – does this seem like Christian life today? What is past and gone, and what continues?
4. Chapter 13 describes 2 Beasts (you may like to read this beforehand, or skim it, there are similarities with Daniel 7). When do Christians uphold government (Romans 13:1-7) and when oppose it? Which situation do you think Revelation 13:8-10 describes? In what ways might our government be respected or opposed?
5. Again John turns from the trials of the faithful to their encouragement. Read Revelation 14:1-5. The redeemed (mentioned in chapter 7) sing a song only they can learn. Is this because it embodies the experience others do not share? The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a list of 144,000 names of their supporters destined for heaven– why do you think this might be a mistake?
6. Read Revelation 14:6-13. Even at this late stage an angel proclaims “the eternal gospel”. How does this fit with the message of the third angel? What is the significance of v12 – why do God’s people especially need endurance?
7. Skim through Revelation 14:14-20. This seems to be a picture of judgement – is Judgement inevitable if we believe in a holy God? One commentator wants to find significance in the two harvests (grain and grapes) as Christian and pagan – do you see anything in that?
8. Again, we may be left a little breathless by John’s vision of great events. What encouragements are we offered when we as a Christian community face difficult times?
Session 7 Revelation 15:1- 19:10
1. When we started to look at Revelation 6, we noted the sequences of 7 (seals, trumpets, thunders, bowls), and we now come to the final sequence. If you have time before we meet, read Revelation chapters 15 and 16 – in the meeting we shall only skim it. What can you remember of the sea (15:2) and the victorious who stand beside it?
2. The song (Revelation 15:5-6) has many Old Testament references. What in it helps you offer praise?
3. The seven angels come from the temple / tabernacle – and we are reminded of the Exodus, and the plagues are also similar to those recorded then. This is the judgement of God but Revelation 16:10 suggests this is judgement on the city, and its society, rather than on individuals (which comes later). Does God judge societies and cultures in our time? How might we experience that?
4. Read Revelation 17:1-6. How does this woman compare with the one in chapter 12?
5. Chapter 17 probably provides a “closeup” of the judgement seen in 15 and 16. Revelation 17:18 makes an identification with Rome – but Rome as the oppressor of God’s people, unjust and corrupt. How do you see Revelation 17:14 applying in our world?
6. Look through Revelation 18. It begins with a lament over the fall of “Babylon”. How does 18:3 explain this? Does Revelation 18:11-20 condemn luxury goods, trade, and profit?
7. Revelation 18:23,24 might suggest the seduction of materialism – but what is the difference between materialism and proper enjoyment of God’s creation?
8. Take a moment to reflect that Rome, rather than being destroyed, became a centre of Christianity – though the Roman Empire eventually fell. How does this affect your reading of Revelation? Is there still a judgement by God on oppressors and corrupt societies? Do we still look forward to a final judgement?
9. Read Revelation 19:1-10. In what way is it right for us to rejoice at God’s judgement? What is there to celebrate? What is there to regret?
Session 8 Revelation 19:11 – 22:21
1. As we come to the end of our skimming through the book of Revelation, ask what sort of end do you expect? A fairytale “and they all lived happily ever after”, or a punishment of the wicked, or a vision of justice and mercy coming together for all?
2. Read Revelation 19:11-21. Can you identify the rider of the white horse? (compare Rev 3:14). The robe dipped in blood is puzzling. Could it be the blood of his faithful followers, now in clean linen?
3. Though the imagery is of battle, why is the rider’s name “the Word of God”, and his sword coming from his mouth?
4. Skim (or read in advance of the meeting) Revelation 20:1-10, the only mention of the “millenium” in the Bible. Why do you think most Christians see this as the time between Jesus life and his return?
5. Read Revelation 20:11-15. The judgement of individuals is according to “what they had done” v13. How does this compare with a belief in salvation by grace? Can both be correct?
6. Skim Revelation 21. What are the signs that evil is banished from the new heaven and earth? There is both security and openness here, and the presence of God – what difference does that make?
7. Skim Revelation 22. Are you surprised that the servants of the Lamb “will serve him”? Perhaps not idle rest, but purposive activity?
8. John ends his book with more encouragement. How do you understand Rev 22:11? How does the message coming from our churches compare with Rev 22:12-16?
9. As we come to the end of this series of studies, make a note of anything you have learned, anything you need to go back to, and especially anything you need to do differently!