The book of Revelation is both fascinating and confusing. Written by the Apostle John while he was in exile on the island of Patmos, the Book of Revelation is written to seven local churches located in Asia minor.
This beautiful, yet daunting, book of the Bible tells the end of God’s divine plan, culminating in the judgment of the wicked, victory over Satan, the restoration of all creation, and the reunion of God and his people.
To prepare and guide you as you open up this book, let's try to explain the book of Revelation by looking at 5 specific key issues and facts.
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1. Revelation Is the Culmination and Closing of God’s Written Word
In his grace, God has seen fit to reveal to us his sovereign purpose and plan for all creation. From the opening pages of Genesis to the final verse of Revelation 22, God has given us his revealed word in entirety.
The collection of 66 books, referred to as the canon of Scripture, is now closed. No more Scripture will be written.
In fact, Revelation ends with a sober warning to anyone who seeks to add this final chapter of divine revelation:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. – Rev. 22:18-19
2. People Interpret Revelation 4 Different Ways
The book of Revelation presents significant challenges when it comes to its interpretation. Christians throughout the centuries and across denominations have viewed the book through different lenses. The four common approaches are:
The Preterist View: This view interprets Revelation as referring to the time of the first-century church, and therefore, all the events in Revelation refer to that time.
The Historicist View: This view interprets the events in Revelation as referring to the whole of church history, from the Apostles to the present. This approach seeks to identify moments in church history, such as the rise of Roman Catholicism, to events described in Revelation.
The Idealist View: This view sees Revelation as referring to the cosmic struggle of good versus evil, and therefore does not have any connection to real historical or future events.
The Futurist View: This view contends that Revelation is first and foremost a prophecy describing the culmination of God’s sovereign plan for the universe. The events described in Revelation 6 through 22 refer to the end times, when Jesus Christ executes judgment on the earth and restores all things.
This author holds to the Futurist view. This approach seems to be the most consistent with the events described in Revelation, but most convincingly, it agrees with Revelation’s own claim, repeated both at the beginning and the end of the book:
The book of Revelation was written to comfort the people of God by revealing the “end of the story.” The prophetic events described in Revelation are yet to occur.
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3. We Shouldn’t Make Hasty Connections between Revelation and Current Events
It’s to be expected that, when the world is in chaos, people wonder if we’re in the last days described in the book of Revelation.
However, Jesus told his disciples not to be troubled when they “hear of wars and rumors of wars…all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:6-8).
Although all creation “groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Rom 8:22), the increasing effects of the curse on creation that we see all around us today will be nothing compared to the divine judgment God unleashes on the wickedness of mankind.
I personally believe that the church will be raptured to heaven prior to the events described in Revelation, but even if the church remained, the divine judgment would be unmistakable.
God did not give us the book of Revelation to make us overanalyze every current event, wringing our hands and worrying if “the end is nigh.” On the contrary, Revelation is meant to give us certainty and peace, knowing that the end of the story has already been written. And God wins.
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4. Though Revelation Is Hard to Interpret, Symbolism and Imagery Can Help
No doubt, there are some strange things in the book of Revelation: locusts from a bottomless pit with women’s hair and lions’ teeth, a woman and child being chased by a red dragon, and a beast with seven heads and ten horns, just to name a few.
If you feel overwhelmed when you read Revelation, you’re not alone.
Although I can’t give all the answers or provide all the details regarding the descriptions found in Revelation, here are a couple strategies that might help you as you read the stranger parts of the book:
- Read Daniel 7-8 to understand how biblical visions are interpreted. Just like the book of Revelation, Daniel’s visions in Daniel 7-8 contain similar imagery: beasts, horns, etc. Visions described in these chapters are accompanied by the interpretations. The beasts and horns represent kingdoms and rulers.
Therefore, when you read about characters in the book of Revelation like the Beast and the Lamb, understand that it’s not referring to literal animals. Visions are highly symbolic.
- The Apostle John often lets you know when he’s using imagery or illustration. When John describes his visions, he is seeing things that almost defy description. Therefore, he incorporates similes frequently (using like or as to draw comparisons).
For example, look at how John describes the creatures in God’s throne room in Revelation 4:7: “The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf…” John did his best to describe what he saw by drawing comparisons to what he knew.
Since he uses these similes all throughout the book, the absence of these indicators might mean that literal interpretation is warranted.
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5. Revelation Was Primarily Written to Comfort Churches
The immediate recipients of the Apostle John’s letter were “the seven churches which are in Asia” (Rev. 1:4), but all churches throughout the centuries are called to read and head the teachings found in Revelation.
As Jesus addresses the seven churches individually in Revelation 2-3, he ends each address with an exhortation that extends to all who read Revelation: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, Rev. 2:11, Rev. 2:17, Rev. 2:29; Rev. 3:6, Rev. 3:13, Rev. 3:22).
For churches who were struggling under persecution from the outside and conflict from within, the words of Revelation provided bedrock confidence in the sovereign hand of Jesus Christ. In the opening pages of the book, we see Jesus Christ both as a conquering King and the sacrificial Lamb. He is the one who invokes fear yet tells us to “fear not” (Rev. 1:17).
Revelation gives a purpose and a plan to the suffering we face. Just as he will ultimately conquer sin and death, we too can “overcome by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11). Jesus reminds his followers that he will soon come again, and all things will be restored.
No, we may not fully comprehend the complicated prophecies and images contained in the book of Revelation, but we shouldn’t let that distract from the incredible warmth and reassurance this book provides.
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