I had the privilege of attending the 2022 Christ-Centered Exposition Workshop last week with some men from my church. We attended the workshop to better understand the overall message of the Book of Revelation and how I, as a pastor, and our other attendees as lay leaders, can better handle Revelation in our teaching and preaching. Our expectations were exceeded as we were immensely blessed by the teaching of Drs. Benjamin Merkle, Ken Keathley, Dwayne Milioni, and Professor Ronjour Locke. The following are seven helpful takeaways we received from the workshop.
Helpful Takeaways From the Christ-Centered Exposition Workshop
1. Preachers and Teachers Should Not Avoid Revelation. Sadly, many pastors avoid preaching through Revelation. This avoidance is due mostly to the book being perceived as confusing. However, John did not write Revelation to confuse, terrify, or divide his readers. Rather, John proclaims a blessing on those who read it (Revelation 1:3). The blessing of hearing Revelation is at least twofold: believers receive encouragement to persevere in faith, and unbelievers receive a warning to repent and trust in the returning Christ. Thus, God is revealing needed truth to his church through Revelation, which is why we must not avoid it.
2. The Overall Message of Revelation Shapes Our Preaching and Teaching of It. Dr. Merkle helped us understand the overall message of Revelation by answering several key questions: Who wrote it? Where was it written? When was it written? To whom was it written? Why was it written? The answers to these questions are vital in discovering the book’s overall message, which Dr. Merkle described as: “The victory of the Lamb of God over the enemies of God so that the people of God can enjoy the presence of God.” The key verse that embodies this overall message is Revelation 17:14: “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called chosen and faithful.” This overall message should thus shape each individual message one preaches or teaches in Revelation.
3. We Will Not Understand Revelation apart from Understanding the Old Testament. John makes 676 distinct allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation. Approximately 128 of these allusions come from Isaiah alone. In other words, of the 404 verses in Revelation, 278 contain Old Testament allusions. Whether one is attempting to understand the vision of God’s throne in Revelation 4:1 (cf. Ezekiel 1:1, 13), the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6b-8a (cf. Ezekiel 1:5-6, 10-11), the sealing of the saints in Revelation 7:2-3 (cf. Ezekiel 9:4-5), or the eating of the scroll in Revelation 10:8-10 (cf. Ezekiel 3:1-3), the meaning of Revelation will never be discovered apart from a robust understanding of the Old Testament. Preachers and teachers must therefore root their exegesis of Revelation in the Old Testament.
4. Discovering the Main Idea of Passages Should Drive Our Preaching and Teaching of Revelation. The goal of preaching Revelation is not to interpret all its apocalyptic details. Rather, it is to proclaim its intended message to the glory of Christ. While Revelation contains multiple genres (including apocalyptic, prophecy, and epistle), it also includes narrative. Professor Locke helped us understand that the main idea of a passage in a narrative genre can be discovered by finding the plot and detecting the passage’s subject and complement. The plot is the narrator’s intentional arrangement of the story’s event and is made up of a goal, conflict, and resolution. The subject is what holds the text together. The complement is what is actually being held together. Once these elements are discovered, the main idea of a passage can be ascertained. Once the main idea is found, the preacher will be ready to develop a message instead of merely interpreting apocalyptic details to his listeners.
5. We Should Be Aware of Key Theological Issues in Revelation before Preaching and Teaching It. Dr. Keathley identified multiple theological issues that arise from Revelation. There are various interpretive approaches to Revelation (preterism, historicism, idealism, futurism). Is there an explicit mention of a rapture in the book? Are the series of judgments in Revelation 6; 8-9; 15-16 consecutive, concurrent, or telescopic? How much time should be given to competing views in sermons? How does one understand the millennium (amillennialism, postmillennialism, premillennialism)? Is Revelation 21-22 a renovation or a recreation? During the Q&A panel, Dr. Milioni explained that all of these issues must be studied well, and each pastor must know where he stands on these issues before preaching Revelation.
6. We Must Know What Revelation Meant to Its Original Audience Before Preaching and Teaching It to Our Audience. Any serious student of Revelation knows that the book is heavy with symbolism. Because John employs an apocalyptic genre in Revelation, he uses symbolic and metaphoric language, such as beast, dragon, lampstands, stars, etc. A trap to avoid is interpreting these symbols according to the time and culture in which we live. In other words, we must strive to interpret these symbols in such a way that the original audience would have understood. If our interpretation of any symbol in Revelation would not be recognized by the original recipients of the book, then it is highly unlikely that our interpretation is correct.
7. The Chapel Service Put It All Together. During his sermon in the chapel service, Ryan Hutchinson faithfully displayed the interpretive principles we learned during the workshop. His message on Revelation 17 was a masterful example of how to rightly read, interpret, and apply Revelation through expository preaching. His sermon is to be commended to anyone seeking to teach and preach the Book of Revelation.
The teaching the men from my church and I received at the Christ-Centered Exposition Workshop was challenging, formative, encouraging, and immediately applicable to our lives and ministries. One lay leader that was a part of our group noted particularly the helpfulness of how each talk was easy to understand, which made a path to application possible, especially for lay leaders. Our group had much to discuss during our three-hour trip back home, all of which was edifying for each of us. Because of how helpful the workshop was, we commend it to all preachers and teachers of the Word, and we cannot wait to attend the next one.