The common view is that the book of Revelation is a description of the events leading up to the second coming. This is a serious mistake. The book is primarily about coming of the Kingdom, explaining how this relates to the judgments of God, the collapse of human government and the calling of the Jews. This can be seen from the first chapter of the book, which summarises the events to be described.
The first verse of the book sets the theme.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place (Rev 1:1).
The key expression is "what must take place soon." These words parallel the words spoken by Daniel when interpreting Nebuchadnezzars dream.
God in heaven who reveals secrets. has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days (Daniel 2:28).
God showed Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the latter days. John describes the same events, but says that they will take place soon. Nebuchadnezzars dream described the empires of the world being destroyed and replaced by the Kingdom of God that begins as a rock and becomes a mountain that fills the entire earth. The major theme of the book of Revelation is the destruction of human political systems.
John's greeting from Jesus to the churches says Jesus as ruler of all kings.
Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5).
This is an important statement. Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. This means that the kings and political leaders have to choices. If they oppose Jesus, they will be swept away by judgement. If they acknowledge Jesus is Lord, they will have to step down from their role, as a kingdom cannot have two kings.
The main theme of Revelation is expanded out in Revelation 1:4-9. These seven main subthemes that are dealt with in the rest of the book: the kingdom of God, judgment, tribulation, the calling of the Jews, the sovereignty of Christ, and the collapse of political power.
Kingdom of God is the central theme in the book of Revelation. In verse 6, John writes,
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father
The Old Testament speaks in many places about the Kingdom of God. The New Testament says it is near. It also speaks of the time when the Jews will be restored to a place of blessing. And there are many warnings of terrible judgment in the Bible, which have not yet been fulfilled. The New Testament says that Jesus has come to bring the Kingdom. The book of Revelation explains how all these unfulfilled prophecies relate to each other. It also explains how the Kingdom relates to God's purpose for the church.
The Greek word translated dominion is "kratos", which is a very strong word. Jesus is the king and his dominion will last for ever. His dominion has already started. It is not something promised for the future.
Judgment is another important theme. In the process of bringing in the Kingdom, God brings judgment on those who oppose him. This is spoken of in verse 7.
Look he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
The expression "coming on the clouds" is not a description of the second coming. It is an Old Testament expression that refers to any manifestation in history of God's omnipotent power. It is especially used to describe God coming against the world in judgment. The word "coming" (erkomai) is rarely used of Jesus in the book of Revelation. And when it is used, it describes Jesus coming to the church for judgment and not to rescue it (Rev 2:5,16). The Greek word "parousia", which is used throughout the New Testament for the second coming of Jesus, is not used in the book of Revelation. The second coming is not a major theme in the book. It speaks more of Jesus coming in judgement.
The judgment described in Revelation is primarily directed at kings and governments, and not at people or the earth itself. Human political power and national government and empire will be swept away, so that the Holy Spirit is free to bring in the Kingdom of God.
The Calling of the Jews is also described in verse 7. It speaks of every eye seeing Jesus. Everyone in the world will have the eyes of their hearts opened to see Jesus, and accept him as their Saviour and Lord. It will be a spiritual revelation, not an actual seeing. In contrast with many other verses, which speak of people seeing Jesus, this one also includes "those who pierced him". As part of a worldwide revival, the Jews will be converted to faith in Christ. This is a key theme of the book.
Tribulation is another theme of the book of Revelation. John himself was going through a time of trouble when he received this vision.
John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Rev 1:9).
One of the purposes of the book is to encourage Christians to persevere and endure patiently, through the times of tribulation that will inevitably come their way.
Suffering brings in the kingdom.
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus (Rev 1:9).
The kingdom does not come through Christians gaining political power. Rather, as Christians follow Jesus example and take up the cross of suffering, the political powers will collapse, allowing the Kingdom to emerge.
Human Political Power will disappear. The coming of the kingdom of God means the disenfranchisement of kings (and democracies). This is the major theme in the Book of Revelation. John's vision describes a time when the governments of man will be replaced by the true government of God (not Jesus returning). Instead of strutting on the world stage, they will hide under the rocks and in the caves
Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:15-16)
God will do what he has promised, and the time is getting close. The empire of man is nearing its last gasp. The governments of men will collapse and evaporate. Christians must be ready for that time with an alternative government. When the governments of the world stop functioning, the people of the world will be ready for government by wise judges applying God's law. Then Jesus will truly be King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The Sovereignty of Jesus is emphasised from the beginning to the end of the book of Revelation. He makes this clear when he says to John,
I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. Rev 1:8
He has existed from the beginning, and he will be in control at the end. Because he is eternal, he knows all things. He is almighty, so he can do all things. He is working out his plan and purpose in the world. His authority and sovereignty are absolute and total.
The Book of Revelation describes a time when the governments of man will be replaced by the true government of God (not Jesus returning). The first five seals describe the birth pangs of this new age. The opening of the sixth seal describes the collapse of human government and democratic power.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place (Rev 6:13-14).
These events are not literal. The Old Testament prophets often described the collapse of a great nation in the same language. One example is found in Ezekiel 32:7,
When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light.
Ezekiel is speaking about the defeat of Egypt by the armies of Babylon. His words are a graphic description of the collapse of Egypt at the hand of a greater power. The sun continued to shine, but the prophecy fulfilled when Egypt collapsed.
Other prophets used similar language to describe the collapse of a nation or empire. They described the collapse of a human government as the sun and moon falling from the sky. Examples are Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4-5, where references to the sun, moon and starts turning to blood or falling from the sky describe the collapse of human government and political power.
Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:15-16).
The fact that many stars are falling confirms that all kings an rulers will lose their power. Instead of strutting on the world stage, politicians and kings will hide under the rocks and caves. Those who have trusted in politicl power will be filled with fear.
As the empire of man is nearing its last gasp, the governments of the world will collapse and evaporate. When human governments stop functioning, the people be ready for godly justice administered by wise judges applying God's law. Then Jesus will truly be King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The kingdom of the world
has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign for ever and ever (Rev 11:15).
The kingdoms of the world will disappear and been replaced by the Kingdom of God.
Plan for History
Jesus gives John a picture of his plan for history. And because he is sovereign, it will be fulfilled. His ascension is a sign of his power and authority. The church, which he has established has had some victories, but it is not yet totally victorious. The fullness of the Kingdom will begin with a time of troubles, which will be a judgment against those who have rejected Christ by trusing in human political power.
During this time the Jews will be converted. This will lead to a revival in the church, during which the kingdom of God will be established throughout the earth. History will end when Jesus returns for the last judgment. The book of Revelation covers the whole of the church age, but it concentrates specifically on the time when the Jews will be converted, and the kingdom of God established.
In Revelation 6, Jesus begins to open the seven seals. This sets in train the events which leads up to the fullness of the Jews and the time when the Kingdom is established. As each seal is opened, an event takes place on the earth.
See also God's Plan for History
and What is Going On.
Have a look at the book.