When a recent online biblical studies course experienced record international enrollment, Birmingham-area instructor Barry Cosper was confident he knew the reason: It focused on the Book of Revelation.
Christians around the world long to study Scripture’s final, mysterious book, Cosper said. Twenty-four international students from the Philippines to the United Kingdom enrolled in a class based at Grace Covenant Worship Center in Birmingham. The course is part of Samford University’s Ministry Training Institute offering non-degree ministry classes.
“The students previously viewed Revelation as a book of fear and judgment,” said Cosper, Bessemer regional director for Birmingham Metro Baptist Association. “When we got through with the study, they discovered God’s grace was still active and God’s love was still contagious. They had a far greater appreciation related to that.”
The class is part of a wave of curiosity about the Bible’s concluding book, notably focused on its main themes rather than speculation about the nuances of end-times events’ as has often been the case when Revelation is mentioned.
Without question, the study of Revelation has a rich and diverse past. For the first 500 years of church history, some early interpretations anticipated a bodily second coming of Christ followed by His 1,000-year reign on earth, known as the millennium. Later that view gave way to amillennialism, the belief that there will be no literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth following His return.
More recently, the premillennial view, though with conflicting takes on the rapture, gained popularity after books like Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” and the “Left Behind” series were published.
With so much disagreement about Revelation, some preachers and teachers have wondered if it’s a productive book to study with their congregations.
Brad McVay is among those who have answered recently with an emphatic “yes.” Pastor of Beulah Baptist Church in Muscadine, McVay sensed God’s leading in March to preach through Revelation. He started immediately and said it has been “a journey of faith.” He has found it striking how infrequently the contested points of interpretation arise and how frequently several main themes recur in the book.
“As I’m preaching through Revelation, there’s very little” talk of the millennium and the rapture’s timing, he noted. “The nuts and bolts of Revelation aren’t really in those things. It really is the story of God redeeming His good but broken creation.”
The book calls unbelievers to repentance and believers to faithfulness and gospel witness, he said.
Preaching through Revelation
Danny Akin agrees. President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, Akin arranged for this spring’s chapel speakers to preach through Revelation. Several potential preachers declined the invitation when they learned their sermon text would be from Revelation. Those who accepted presented a range of views on the rapture and the millennium. Yet the series formed a coherent whole.
Akin said his goal was for students to see in Revelation “what is essential for us to understand the book is saying and where there are areas for legitimate disagreement among faithful, Bible-believing brothers and sisters,” Akin explained. “And I think we accomplished that.”
He has preached through Revelation in three churches and authored the volume on the book in the Christ-Centered Exposition commentary series published by Lifeway Christian Resources. Akin offered two pointers for pastors and teachers considering a Revelation series: “Acknowledge consciously your own perspective” and “read widely” among commentators of various perspectives.
“The main thing about Revelation [is] the greatness and the glory of the King of kings and Lord of lords, who is Jesus Christ,” Akin declared.
Pre, mid, post or a-
Douglas Wilson, dean of the University of Mobile’s Center for Christian Calling, said preachers should not “get so caught up in discussing the timing of the rapture that we fail to consider the Master who calls us to Himself.”
“Discussions of pre-, post- and amillennial interpretations as well as pre-, mid- and post-tribulational (and pre-wrath) rapture approaches lead many to miss the point of Jesus Christ’s preeminence in the book of Revelation,” Wilson said. “Jesus is the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the Alpha and Omega. The seven churches are His churches. He alone is worthy to break the seals. He is the Lord of Hosts, with Michael and his angels defeating the accuser and his demonic army. His is the final victory.”
The current interest in Revelation, including the refocus on its Christ-exalting theme, ultimately is a work of God, Cosper said. He’s certain that was the case for his class.
“For them to want to study [Revelation] right now, to me was an interesting impact of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
For more about Samford University’s Ministry Training Institute, click here.
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