In the continuing challenge to keep our evening worship fresh, our congregation recently embarked on an unusual study of the book of Revelation. This book—full of dragon stories, horsemen, and angels—provided an intriguing series of nine worship services.
As a pastor, I’ve heard numerous requests for a sermon series on this book. Admittedly, I’ve been hesitant. So much is said from this book that I am not comfortable saying. So many of its passages are difficult to explain. I’ve rarely gone past preaching from the letters to the seven churches. In effect, I have let the last book of Scripture remain closed. This spring, after seventeen years in ministry, I felt compelled to try an overview study of this book, and I’m glad I did. In fact, I’d heartily recommend it to others!
Revelation is a book that in a certain sense needs to be reclaimed by Reformed Christians. John Calvin never wrote a commentary on the book, and many of us never preach from it. Too often we have left it to other groups to wax eloquently about the “hidden messages” in the book. And too often, as we’ve entered into our studies, we’ve followed the agenda set by Christians from a modern fundamentalist perspective. I prayerfully purposed to avoid such pitfalls. I sought to present a study of Revelation that took the text seriously, yet was willing to be silent on matters that require humble silence. I also committed myself to presenting a study that even a child could understand and profit from.
What I found in Revelation was a grand call to worship God. Our series of messages repeatedly echoed with the call to faith, confidence, and praise. As I planned the series, I wanted to avoid a twenty-two-part chapter-by-chapter study, yet I wanted to cover the entire book. So I decided to follow the theme of the “sevens” that John develops and present seven sermons on the “sevens” presented. (See the chart on p. 18 for a summary.) I couldn’t quite fit the entire book into this scheme of “sevens,” so I began with an introductory study from Revelation 5:8-9 and concluded with a study of the final four chapters, called “The End of It All.”
Two creative ideas were a great blessing for our evening series of services, and I heartily recommend them.
First, I discovered Unveiled Hope, a CD of Bible songs by contemporary musician Michael Card. The musical scores are available, and we incorporated four of the songs into our evening worship. Michael Card’s pastor, Rev. Scotty Smith, coauthored, with Michael, a book on Revelation by the same title. The book was an extremely helpful tool in my study. (Smith is a graduate of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and has a wonderfully ecumenical and Reformed approach to Revelation; and Michael Card is a biblical scholar in his own right.)
The second idea implemented in our worship was to encourage the children to create artwork that illustrated the passages we studied. I went so far as to put colored-pencil sets and paper on a table in the narthex, and I actively encouraged the children to draw a picture of what they were hearing the passage describe. I offered a prize for any child who turned in seven pictures by the end of the study, and I found that children came to worship with a higher than average degree of enthusiasm and attentiveness.
For our final study of the series we reviewed the entire book and then presented the picture of “the end” given by John in Revelation 19-22. The service included fourteen readings by children, illustrated by overhead visuals of fourteen select works of art the children had created. The rest of the artwork was displayed on the walls of the sanctuary, as the sanctuary became a “Revelation art gallery.” Musicians from the church prepared songs from Revelation that were inserted into the service at appropriate times. The truth is that we have a rich heritage of traditional hymns and Bible songs from Revelation.
These services were very well received by our congregation. I continually stressed that the book of Revelation is an art gallery—we ought to admire the pictures presented but not get caught up with anxiety over explaining every brush mark. It was wonderful to see God’s people studying Revelation with enjoyment rather than fear.
THE FINAL SERVICE
The Book of Revelation, especially Revelation 19-22
Message: “The End of It All”
Call to Worship: Revelation 19:4-5
God’s Greeting: Revelation 1:4b-5a
Hymn: “Alabaré” PsH 234, SFL 193
Reading: Revelation 19:5b-9
Anthem: “Hallelujah” by Michael Card
The Review of Our Revelation Study
(illustrated by children’s artwork)
Reading 1: Revelation 5:9-10
Reading 2: Revelation 1:4b-5a
Reading 3: Revelation 1:12-13
Reading 4: Revelation 4:1-3
Hymn: “You Are Worthy” PsH 232, TWC 116 (or anthem by Michael Card)
Reading 5: Revelation 5:6-8a
Reading 6: Revelation 6:2-5
Reading 7: Revelation 8:1-2
Reading 8: Revelation 12:1-4
Reading 9: Revelation 13:11-12a
Reading 10: Revelation 15:5-8
Hymn: “Holy, Holy, Holy” PsH 249, PH 138, RL 611, SFL 66, TH 100, TWC 2 (or anthem by Michael Card)
Reading 11: Revelation 17:3-4
Reading 12: Revelation 17:5-6
Reading 13: Revelation 19:11-13
Reading 14: Revelation 22:1-4
Hymn: “Here from All Nations” PsH 235, PH 582, TWC 680
The Conclusion of Our Revelation Study
Hymn: “Then I Saw a New Heaven and Earth” PsH 236
Reading and Reflection: Revelation 21:1-5; 22-27
Anthem: “The New Jerusalem” by Michael Card
Reading and Reflection: Revelation 22:8-9
Prayer of Application
Anthem: “The Holy City”
Litany of Response (based on Revelation 22:17, 20-21)
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”
And let him who hears say, “Come!”
Whoever is thirsty, let him come;
And whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen! Come Lord Jesus!
Hymn: “Jerusalem the Golden” PsH 618, RL 579, TH 539, TWC 754
God’s Parting Blessing: Revelation 22:21
Parting Hymn: “Unto God Almighty” (“By the Sea of Crystal,” stanza 3) PsH 620, TH 549
OVERVIEW OF OUR STUDY
Scripture: Revelation 5:9-10
Theme: “Heaven’s Hit Song”
Scripture: Revelation 1-3:
Seven Letters for Seven Churches
Theme: Meeting Jesus:
“Blessed are those who overcome.”
Scripture: Revelation 4-5:
Seven Lamps and Seven Spirits
Theme: Seeing the Throne:
“Trust me, worship me.”
Scripture: Revelation 5-8:5: Seven Seals
Theme: Witnessing Human History:
“Life is hard, but God is good.”
Scripture: Revelation 8:6-11:19:
Seven Angels with Seven Trumpets
Theme: Facing Disasters with Faith:
“Pain is real, but God is at work.”
Scripture: Revelation 12-14:
A Dragon with Seven Heads
Theme: History’s Main Players:
“God’s power will overcome.”
Scripture: Revelation 15-16:
Seven Angels with Seven Plagues
Theme: The Final Judgment:
“God’s judgments are just.”
Scripture: Revelation 17-18:
Seven Hills and Seven Kings
Theme: The City of Satan: “Satan will surely fall!”
Scripture: Revelation 19-22: The End of It All
Theme: The City of God:
“Christ will surely conquer.”
RECOMMENDED READING ON REVELATION
Hedrickson, William. More Than Conquerors.
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1939.
Lotz, Anne Graham. The Vision of His Glory.
Dallas Word Publishing, 1996.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1969.
Smith, Scotty, and Michael Card. Unveiled Hope.
Nashiville Nelson, 1997. (A companion to this book is a CD recording of music by Michael Card, with the same title. Four of these Bible songs were used during the course of our Revelation.)