Bible Text: Revelation 1:1–11; 21:1–4; 22
Lesson Focus: Revelation is a message of hope for all Christians, especially those who are persecuted or suffering.
Big Question: Does Revelation predict and describe the end of the world?
Key Words: REVELATION, CHRISTIAN, CONVERT, FAITHFUL, RAPTURE
• Revelation was likely written in A.D. 95, making it one of the youngest books in the Bible.
• John was probably a Jew who became a Christian. He was very familiar with both the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish traditions.
• John was aware that his listeners were Christians living in the pagan Roman world. They often suffered greatly for their faith.
• John offered his book as comfort and strength for the faithful people who suffered and as a wake-up call for those who were not living faithfully.
• He wanted people to see that the difficulty of the present would pass because God’s justice would triumph.
• John uses the image of a new Jerusalem to explain that the current separation between heaven (God) and earth (creation) will end. God will come to dwell with God’s people.
• People often use the book of Revelation to try to predict when Jesus will return. This is an incorrect use of the book.
The old adage “A little bit of knowledge can be dangerous” applies to the book of Revelation. Revelation is a complicated book filled with symbols and allusion. To interpret its pages, you need to be a theologian, historian, poet, and social critic; and if that isn’t enough, you also need an adventurous imagination. Fortunately, readers today can become part of a community of interpreters, listening in or reading in, on ideas about what this final book of the Bible has to say.
Historians tell us that Revelation was most likely written around A.D. 95, making it one of the youngest books in the Bible. “‘John’ is named as the author of Revelation. Legend claims that he was the beloved apostle of Jesus. The author of Revelation, however, identifies himself only as John. It was a common name, and he makes no claim to be an apostle or to have ever seen Jesus during his time on earth. This John likely was a leader of several Christian communities in what is now known as western Turkey” (Lutheran Study Bible, page 2026). He wrote from the island of Patmos in the western tip of present-day Turkey. He explains that God gave him a vision and he wrote it down. John was probably a Jew who became a Christian. He was very familiar with both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish traditions.
The first hearers of Revelation were probably converts to Christianity. Life was not easy for them. They faced the difficult dilemma of how to live as Christians in a largely non-Christian world. The Roman world that John’s first hearers lived in was centered on pagan religion. For example, if you were a government employee, you would have been expected to participate in specific religious rituals that were non-Christian. If you were a tradesperson, you would have been required to participate in the trade guild’s worship, seeking protection from the god of their trade. Not to do so would have greatly limited your opportunities. Some Christians were willing to bend the rules of their faith to gain economic, political, or social advantage. Other Christians were unwilling to make such compromises.
Christians who stood firmly often suffered greatly for their faith. Such choices are not totally foreign to us. Even though Christians living in North America today do not live as a minority in our culture, we are still faced with the choice of being faithful or being popular. Succumbing to idolatry or worshipping other gods is a very present temptation, even in the twenty-first century. To all the people who suffered and who still suffer for their faith in Christ, John offered his book as a source of comfort and strength. He also hoped to use his book as a wake-up call to those who were not living faithfully. John set before his hearers a powerful way of thinking about their future. He wanted them to see beyond the hardship of the present circumstances and to remember that God’s justice would triumph.
It was clear to John that the difficulty of the present time was very real. Oppressive evil abounded. For the world to be what God intended, this evil would have to pass away. John explained this passing by saying that the old heaven and the old earth would end. In their place would be a new heaven and a new earth. John’s hearers would have listened carefully at the mention of a new Jerusalem. Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, remained a symbolic center for Christianity. Much of Jesus’ ministry and his death and resurrection occurred in and around Jerusalem. This “city of peace” represented for them freedom from bondage as well as the freedom to worship as they chose. John also used marriage imagery to illustrate the coming together of God and the faithful. The faithful people who live in the new city are considered the beloved “bride” who will be joined to God and the Lamb who will dwell among them in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1–5).
Revelation tells us that a day will come when the separation between earth and heaven, of which sin is but a symptom, will be no more. It is not that the people will somehow escape the world to be with God, but that God will come to them to dwell with them. Creation often seems separated from God now, but in the future, creation will be reconnected to its Creator, because God’s way of “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might” will define all of life. Unfortunately, people often use the book of Revelation to try to predict the exact time and circumstances of Jesus’ second coming. This is an incorrect use of the book. Revelation is not so much a checklist for the end of the world as it is a symbolically rich description of the restoration of paradise, beginning with the apple trees of faith, hope, and love that we plant today!
Does Revelation predict and describe the end of the world?
Youth, like many of the adults around them, love a good mystery—scandal, conspiracy, suspense, catharsis, secrets, and the bad guys getting their due. For all of us, being insiders and having an omniscient point of view is desirable. It fills our need to be “in the know.”
The book of Revelation, on its surface, appeals to us at this level. It has its share of secret codes and symbolic language. It feels like a code to be cracked so that we can know God’s timeline for the terrifying and catastrophic end of the world. Certainly this is the point of view youth are usually hearing in their conversations about Revelation with other Christians.
Studying it here, however, is a prime opportunity to bring these youth into a more sophisticated, and even more compelling, understanding of the book. Its message is one of hope, not terror; of new beginnings, more so than bad endings. By seeing it first as a particular communication for a particular time for a particular audience, they begin to develop the tools that can help them get the most out of the entire Bible for the rest of their lives.
Welcome and Review
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
REVELATION: the act of revealing or disclosing; God’s disclosure of God’s own self to the creation.
CHRISTIAN: a person or description that pertains to or is derived from Jesus Christ or his teachings.
CONVERT: someone who has changed from disbelief or a different faith to a new faith, in this case, to faith in God and Jesus Christ.
FAITHFUL: to hold steady in allegiance and loyalty.
RAPTURE: miraculous removal of the faithful from the sufferings of this earth. Rapture is often said to be part of the end times.
Choose one of the following options to introduce the lesson. Then lead students in the Opening Prayer.
Option 2: Guest Speaker Option: Revealing Revelation’s Power
Invite your pastor or contact a local Lutheran college or seminary New Testament professor to come and talk to the class about the book of Revelation. Ask how his or her perspective on Jesus’ return has changed, if at all, since reading and studying the book of Revelation. Also, encourage your speaker to bring a reading guide and ideas on how to approach the reading of Revelation. If you can’t find someone to speak in person on this, you might want to search online for one of the multimedia interviews by Professor Barbara Rossing regarding her book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. One such example is with Tom Ashbrook of NPR’s On Point (March 2004).
As an alternative, invite someone who has suffered a physical injury in an accident or in a war. Ask him or her to talk about hope and how the struggle to survive and adjust has not been in vain. Even in extremely difficult times, it is good to know that God is with us and that God’s promises are for us. Our struggles to be faithful to God are not in vain either.
Debrief the presentation with these questions:
• What is the most important thing you heard from this speaker?
• How can you apply what the speaker said to your own life?
• How will you use the information that you have just received as you live out your daily life?
If possible, obtain a copy of Mercy Me’s song, “I Can Only Imagine.” It’s on the CD Almost There (Word/Curb, 2001) Explain to the students that this song is about the session’s topic. Turn the lights down low and ask students to close their eyes as they listen to the song. After the song, pray the following prayer.
Leader: Lord God, we can only imagine what heaven will be like. We can only imagine what it will be like to look into your face and to fall down on our knees and worship you. Help us to live in the hope and the promise that you will come again. And until you do come back, help us to live faithful lives that glorify and honor you. We pray this in your holy and precious name.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: Does Revelation predict and describe the end of the world?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about a time when you have felt pressure to change or give up on your faith.
The book of Revelation was written to bring comfort, strength, and joy to Christians. It was written to encourage Christians to live out their faith on a daily basis, despite the challenges of living in this world. Some early Christians struggled with persecution because they were thought of as traitors. Many were expected to participate in pagan worship, in particular sacrifices related to the cult of the Roman emperor, which was against the very core of their faith in Christ Jesus. When has it been difficult to live out your Christian faith? When has it been easy to live out your Christian faith? Have you ever struggled with the pressure to compromise your faith in Christ?
Open the Bible
Have students turn to Revelation 1:1–11.
• What do you know about the author of Revelation from this passage?
The author is John, a servant of God, exiled on the island of Patmos. He received a vision from God and was told to record what he saw and send it to the seven churches, etc.
• What are among the blessings received by those who “hear” and “keep” this “revelation of Jesus Christ”?
Grace, peace, love, freedom from sins, patient endurance.
• List some of the symbolism that you find difficult to understand in this passage.
“Seven spirits,” “throne,” “firstborn of the dead,” “Alpha and Omega,” etc. How does knowing that seven is a number of completion and perfection, that God’s authority is often connected to kingship, that passages like Colossians 1:18–20 help us to interpret “firstborn from the dead” as a reference to Jesus’ resurrection, and that alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet serve to illustrate the role of language, parallel passages, history, and numerology as being among the many lenses for interpreting scripture?
Have students turn to Matthew 24:36.
• What does this passage tell us about people’s attempts to date the end of the world?
Only the Father knows when Jesus is going to return for believers. There have been numerous instances throughout the years of people claiming to know when the world was going to end or when the rapture was going to take place. Knowing the time would make us equal to God, and we cannot be equal to God. God is God, and we are not. God is divine, and we are human.
• What advantages or disadvantages might come from not knowing when Jesus is going to return?
Have students turn to 1 Thessalonians 14:13–15:2.
• What is the message?
Jesus will come again. The living and the dead will rise to meet him. That is a source of hope and comfort for Christians. Note that this is one of the passages that cause some Christians to believe that Jesus will take them away before the last days of Revelation. They call this the “rapture.” The book of Revelation, however, is for Christians who are enduring hardship, and makes no mention of this kind of escape from trial.
• Why do you think the “thief in the night” imagery was used, and what benefit does a thief have in the night versus the day? Even though we can’t know exactly when this “thief” is coming, can we prepare?
Our faith and life in Christ should be a 24/7 relationship and not just a “ticket” to heaven.
Have students turn to Revelation 21:1–4.
• Choose two readers. Have one read verses 1–2 and the other verses 3–4. What things in these verses are hard to believe?
Because of our mortality, it’s difficult to imagine life without tears or pain or death. Yet that’s exactly what these verses talk about.
• How do you feel about a promise that there will be no more pain or tears?
For some, it might not mean much, because they may have had a fairly easy and pleasant life. For others, it could mean something entirely different, depending upon their childhood, so you could get a variety of answers. Be sure to affirm all thoughtful answers.
• This could be a good time to share some of your own life experiences or a time when you felt God wipe away your tears. For example, did you feel God near you after the death of a loved one or a friend?
• Hand out paper, pencils, and markers. Have students write “New Jerusalem” on the paper and then take five minutes to draw or write what they think heaven will look like based on chapters 21 and 22 in Revelation.
Open the Catechism
Here We Stand Student Book page 299: Have students read Luther’s Explanation to the Articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Give them time to write the letter R in the margin by each line they think is related to the book of Revelation.
Creation/new creation, the Father’s protection, the second coming and judgment of Jesus, the heavenly kingdom of “eternal righteousness, innocence and blessedness,” the catholic (universal) church, communion of saints (all Christians everywhere, living and departed), resurrection of the dead, etc., all speak to themes in the book of Revelation.
1. An important concept in today’s lesson is that Jesus will come . . .
b. during my lifetime.
c. again someday. (Correct)
d. with bells on his shoes to announce his arrival.
2. According to the book of Revelation, Christians were pressured into worshipping false . . .
b. confirmation mentors.
c. gods. (Correct)
d. none of the above.
3. John offered the book of Revelation as __________ and __________ to faithful Christians.
a. peanut butter and jelly.
b. joy and sorrow.
c. night and day.
d. comfort and strength. (Correct)
4. The last book of the New Testament is called Revelations because there are several revelations included within it. (False; it is called Revelation—because there is one revelation being described by John.)
5. The writer of Revelation says that he is the apostle John who is often called “the beloved disciple.” (False; the writer of Revelation never claims to be an apostle or to have met Jesus in person.)
6. The book of Revelation is about how Christians can live faithfully in a non-Christian world. (True)
7. Despite many people’s claims, we don’t know when Jesus will __________. (return)
8. The book of Revelation is about the past and the __________. (future)
Take a Break
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 1: Object Lesson Option: The Beauty of the Rose
Prepare for this activity prior to class. Bring to class a dead branch from a rosebush and a fresh new rose. Talk to the students about the beauty of the rose. When it blooms in the summer, it’s gorgeous. In the fall when cold weather comes, the bush needs to be pruned down to nothing, in essence killing it. Pass around the dead branch, reminding students to be careful of the thorns. In the spring, when new life begins to bud all around, the same rosebush that was “killed” the previous fall comes back even stronger and more beautiful than ever. Relate this to the fact that when Jesus was on earth, the message he brought was wonderful, but he had to die and rise to new life in order for that message to become even better. The message is that Jesus will return in glory and all of us will live in the wonderful presence of God for eternity.
Debrief the object lesson with these questions:
• Do you have other experiences with things that seem to die, only to become new at a later time?
• What do you imagine new life in heaven will be like?
Option 2: Science Connection Option: Presto—Perfectly Polished
Before the lesson, assemble the supplies, read through the experiment, and do a trial run.
• 1 cup of baking soda
• 6 cups of water
• Aluminum foil (cut into strips)
• Large, clear glass bowl for boiling water in microwave
• Large wooden spoon
• Assorted tarnished silver pieces
The participants will explore the effects of creating an electric current that can lift the tarnish off the silverware. The book of Revelation tells us that Jesus will be coming again. We can prepare by living faithfully. In this way, we will be ready and will recognize Jesus when he returns. Whether we die and are raised to new life or we are transformed when Jesus returns, he will “clean us up” so that we are ready for our life in heaven with God.
1. Boil six cups of water in the microwave.
2. Put a cupful of baking soda in the large glass bowl.
3. Carefully pour the boiling water into the large glass bowl.
4. Ask a volunteer to stir the mixture with the wooden spoon until the baking soda dissolves. Add some strips of aluminum foil.
5. Put some silver pieces in the mixture and observe what happens. The reaction should occur quickly.
6. The aluminum foil and baking soda create an electric current (like a car battery). The current lifts the tarnish off the silver and deposits it on the foil. Presto, you have perfectly polished silverware!
The book of Revelation can be a little hard to understand, and as a result there are some misconceptions about it. However, one message is clear: one day Jesus will be coming again. Like the silverware in the experiment, Jesus’ blood “washes us clean” of sin so that we are able to live for eternity with him.
Debrief the science experiment with these questions:
• We say that we are “washed” by the blood of Jesus. What does that mean to you?
• Can we “polish” ourselves for life in heaven? Why or why not?
Option 3: Learning in Motion Option: Any Minute Now
Tell the students that you have a special surprise for them and that a very famous actor is going to walk through the door and talk to them in 30 seconds. Watch as everyone anxiously waits for the door to open. After 30 seconds, when nobody comes walking in, step outside as if you are checking on the situation. Come back in and announce that the actor just pulled into the church parking lot and will walk through the doors in less than a minute. After a long minute passes and nobody comes in, tell them that the church is dealing with a similar dilemma as we talk about the return of Christ. There’s nobody more important who could walk through those doors than Jesus Christ, but we have no idea when he will come back. We simply need to always be ready for his return.
Debrief the activity with these questions:
• What does it mean to you to know that Jesus will be coming again?
•Matthew 25 has three parables about waiting for Jesus. Have the students split up into three groups, each charged with acting out the parable of the bridesmaids (verses 1–13), the parable of the talents (verses 14–30), or the parable of the sheep and goats (verses 31–46).
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
For today’s prayer have the students stand in a circle and join hands. Provide for silence between the prayer petitions by using a signal for the next person to pray. Open the prayer and pray for your prayer partner, then squeeze the hand of the person beside you. Instruct the students to pass the signal all the way around the circle in silence. When it returns to the student beside you, that student should pray for his or her prayer partner then send the signal all the way around the circle again. When it reaches the person beside that pray-er, he or she should pray for his or her prayer partner and send the signal around the circle again. The result is spoken prayer, silence as the signal passes around the circle, spoken prayer, silence as the signal passes around the circle, spoken prayer, and so on. When the prayer returns to you, close the prayer. Encourage the students to keep the silence between pray-ers and to imagine that Jesus is preparing to come again, calling them to be faithful and answering their prayers.
Holy God, you have told us to be prepared for the final day. Help us to be alert for the signs of Jesus’ return. (Insert prayer for your partner, then pass the signal to the next person. When the signal returns to you, close the prayer.) Fill us with your Spirit and help us to encourage others who are walking on the path that leads to you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• Have you ever faced persecution because of your faith? If so, what form did that persecution come in?
• Why do you think people want to predict the exact date when Jesus will return?
• Revelation does remind the faithful that there is a judgment day. Does that warning to remain strong in your faith, so that you are not condemned on Judgment Day, motivate you to make changes in your life?
• What will you do to prepare for Jesus’ return?
Turn to this week’s activity called “The Book of Revelation Word Search.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• How would you respond to someone who said the world was going to end tomorrow?
Answers may vary. Most of us would doubt that it is true. On the other hand, we really do need to be prepared for when Jesus does return—and it is possible that he will return within our lifetime. We just don’t know for certain whether or not he will. Martin Luther said that if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he would plant a tree today. We need to live fully in the present—for this day—because we do not know when the end will come. And, at the same time, we need to live and prepare ourselves in anticipation of meeting our Lord face-to-face.
• Have you heard about the “rapture”? What do you think about the idea of a rapture happening as the first step of before Jesus’ return?
The “rapture” is described as the faithful people being physically removed from earth just prior to the cataclysmic final battle between good and evil. The Left Behind series of novels and movies has made the idea of the rapture common knowledge in our culture. Students may have many ideas about what it is, what it means for us, and how or when it will happen. However, the rapture does not really have a biblical base. The book of Revelation never mentions it, and there are only hints in the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Revelation speaks more about the trials and tribulations that the faithful will deal with before the end of time arrives, not what they will be saved from by a “rapture.” Remind the students that we truly do not know what the final days will look like or when they will come. We only know that God helps us get through tough times and we always need to be ready to meet our Lord.
• Do you think it is important to prepare for Jesus’ return? Why or why not?
Answers may vary. It truly is important for us to be prepared. While we don’t want to use Revelation to scare the youth, it does remind us that God has expectations for the people of faith and that we need to work at living up to those expectations. We are not perfect, and we never will be. However, faith in God means responding to what God has asked the faithful to do.
Student Book Connection
Here We Stand Student Book page 83: Have students turn to “Top Five Misconceptions about the Book of Revelation.” Ask for five volunteers each to read one of the five points.
• Point 2 talks about the misconception that Revelation needs to be combined with other books to figure out God’s hidden plan for when Christ will return. Unfortunately, many people look at this like a puzzle and believe that they can figure it out. Why is this idea a misconception? Read Matthew 24:36 for help. Nobody knows when Christ will return. Even Jesus himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows, and when the appointed time for Christ to return arrives, the Father will tell Jesus and he will come back for us.
• Points 3 and 4 tell us that the book of Revelation is not just about the future, and it is not just about the past. In fact, it’s a book about remaining faithful in a faithless world and remaining hopeful in a world that is often without hope. What are two ways you can remain faithful and hopeful as Christians today? Have students write their answers in the margin beside point 4. Invite them to share their responses with the class.
• Point 5 talks about the weirdness of having to read Revelation aloud, which is another misconception. Why is this a misconception? It can turn people away from the Revelation’s call to faithfulness and hope.
• In what ways can the book of Revelation be used in worship? Much of our liturgy is based on words taken from the book of Revelation. When we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” during the communion liturgy, those words are taken directly from the book of Revelation.
• Have a volunteer read the Be Aware points on page 84. What is the most important message? (The return of Christ cannot be ignored.) Ask students to underline it.
Here We Stand Student Book page 58: Ask students to read “Top Five Scary Monsters in the Bible.” The first two are from the Book of Revelation. Ask students why they think John used such frightening images in Revelation. Talk about how John used symbolism in these descriptions and so many other vivid images in Revelation to communicate with his audience.
Here We Stand Student Book page 85: Revelation talks about the second coming of Christ. Read through “How to Tell When the Apocalypse Is Imminent” What did students find out about Christ’s second coming? How does this compare to what John says in Revelation? Look together at the illustration on page 86. What do students think Luther meant when he said that if he knew the end of the world was coming tomorrow he would plant a tree today? What are two ways students can remain faithful and hopeful as Christians today?
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
The persecution or pressure on Christians at the time when Revelation was written was predominantly about their refusal to worship other gods—the Roman gods and even the emperor himself. While we do not have idols or temples dedicated to other gods in most of our communities and our government does not require us to worship other gods, we face many pressures to put things other than God first in our lives.
Revelation 3:10–11 reminds us to keep God’s Word. During the week, challenge students to take note of things people say or do that push God out of first place in their lives. They can write down how they responded to the pressure. Ask students how they might be able to encourage others or bring them comfort and strength when they are faced with these challenges.
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• What comfort, joy, hope, or encouragement do you receive from knowing that Jesus will come again and that evil will end when he comes?
• Why do you think only the Father knows when Jesus will return?
• Although you do not know when Jesus will return, what can you do to be ready when the time comes?
• What is the significance of Jesus’ return for you personally?
Invite students to imagine what heaven will be like, and have them write one or two sentences in the form of a prayer for when Jesus returns. Begin the prayer, pass a prayer token (such as a hand-sized cross) to the student beside you as a sign that he or she should share his or her prayer. Continue passing the token until all students have had an opportunity to pray. When the token returns to you, close the prayer.
Jesus, you have promised to come again and to bring us home to our Father’s house. Help us to be ready for your coming. (Pass the prayer token for the students to share their prayers, then close the prayer.) Fill us with anticipation, Lord. Give us strength to overcome pressures to put other things first in our lives. We thank you that you have heard our prayers, and we trust you to answer us, for we have prayed in your name. Amen.
Before students leave, offer the following blessing.
Leader: Jesus was born to be the servant of all. Jesus died so we could live. Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us.
All: Jesus will come again. Jesus will come again.