Mission in the Book of Revelation

For the past two years I’ve been reading and writing on the missional nature of Revelation, specifically chapters 2&3. I loved the project and thought I’d share some of what I gleaned in a series of posts here. I started working on Revelation 2&3 initially because I loved that these letters gave insight into Jesus’ heart for the local church. In these letters Jesus makes his desires for the church explicit. And, as I studied these chapters and the book of Revelation as a whole, I was convinced that at the top of the list of Jesus’ concerns was that the church fulfill her missional mandate.

To some, it may seem counter-intuitive to speak of the “missional theology” of Revelation at all, let alone two chapters that seem so focused on the internal life of the church. Yet, Jesus’ words to the seven churches have a distinct missional character to them that ought to inform their interpretation and application. In fact, I don’t think you can apply the imperatives, issue the warnings, or proclaim the promises of these seven letters responsibly unless you connect them to Jesus’ concern for the mission of the church.

The mission of God and of his people is one of the central themes in the book of Revelation. While this theme is recognized by many commentators it has gone largely unexplored and unrecognized in the church. For many, the book is filled with puzzles to be pieced together, timelines to be hashed out, and symbolism to be debated. Unfortunately, when we approach the Apocalypse in this manner we overlook key themes, including the theme of mission.

Others are so overwhelmed by the “oddness” of Revelation that they ignore it altogether, thereby missing what Christ has to say to the church. In the end, both those who obsess about every detail in the book of Revelation and those who ignore it altogether need to be reminded of the sweeping storyline of John’s Apocalypse. It is within this storyline that the parts fit together with the whole and it is within this storyline that responsible applications can be made.

Somewhat ironically, the plot of Revelation’s story can be stated succinctly – God accomplishes his mission to redeem his world.
At the outset, it must be acknowledged that various ways of understanding the mission of God compete for prominence. One definition ties God’s mission solely to his redemptive activity. Köstenberger and O’Brein seem to tilt in this direction writing, “The notion of mission in intimately bound up with his saving plan which moves from creation to new creation, and has to do with his salvation reaching the ends of the earth.”[1] Yet, it is possible to conceive of God’s mission more broadly, defined as God’s plan and activity to glorify himself. John Piper is representative of those whose definition of God’s mission is broad, arguing that God’s mission is about worship and glory, asserting, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”[2]

Before getting into the mission in Revelation, I should end this post simply by defining the Missio Dei. As I understand it, the Missio Dei is God’s purpose to glorify himself by bringing the whole of his creation to its purposed end, its telos. Bringing his creation to its purposed end will, since the world has been marred by the fall, necessitate a great work of redemption by God in which God’s glory will be magnified.

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001), 25. [2] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad: the Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 15.