No other part of Scripture has proved so fascinating to theologians as the Revelation. It is impossible to grasp the Revelation unless we allow the Bible to interpret it. If we do not use the Bible, we will find ourselves using today’s news as our interpretation guide. It is also impossible to grasp the Revelation without understanding Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks and the prophecy given by the Lord Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. We have included studies on both in this study volume.
THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST – The Stone Cometh
By Pastor Delbert Young
Introduction – Revelation Chapter 1 Beginning – 4 Great Visions – Shortly Come to Pass
Introduction – Revelation Chapter 1 Beginning – 4 Great Visions – Shortly Come to Pass
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A person does not need to be a theologian to recognize the Revelation is different from all other books of the Bible. Bizarre imagery, gruesome judgments, beasts of good and evil, angels, a city called a “whore,” another city called the “Lamb’s wife”— all these and other images arouse and confuse today’s reader.
It is impossible to grasp the Revelation unless we allow the Bible to interpret it. If we do not use the Bible, we will find ourselves using today’s newspaper as our interpretation guide. It is also impossible to grasp the Revelation without understanding Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks and the prophecy given by the Lord Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. We have included studies on both in this study volume.
No other part of Scripture has proved so fascinating to “theologians” as the Revelation. At the same time, no other part of scripture has suffered so much at their hands. To most people, The Revelation is a coded encrypted puzzle. They have decided the meaning will one day be understood, but for us today, no one can grasp the Revelation. Nothing is further from the truth.
If we simply interpret the Revelation in the exact way the apostles interpreted scriptures, the interpretation is satisfying and simple. This would be to use the Bible for its interpretation. No other book in our cannon depends upon Scriptures for its interpretation as does the Revelation. Therein lies a primary problem. If a person is not familiar with the Bible, the Revelation remains a mystery. In addition, most Christians are never taught the correct way to study the scriptures. Combine these two facts and the Revelation becomes a bizarre entanglement of riddles thrown into the air as chopsticks.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine . . .” (2Ti 3:16, 17).
According to this verse, the Revelation was given by inspiration of God for our doctrine. By properly interpreting scripture we can have a consistent interpretation not changing with the next newspaper headline or doctrinal breeze (Eph 4:14).
No other book of the Bible has the allusions to other Scriptures as does the Revelation. Literally hundreds of allusions are made which we will refer to and come to know as “allusion quotations.” Hundreds of times John makes unmistakable, obvious allusions to other scriptures. However, the scripture may not be exactly quoted, but obviously implied. We will see this is how the Revelation operates. Once the allusion quotation is located and applied to the passage, we are attempting to unlock, clarity follows.
One of the first necessities to understanding the Revelation (or any book of the Bible) is to understand it was not written to bewilder its readers. It was not written to frighten its readers. It was written to aid them in understanding God’s program (2Ti 3:16, 17). The symbols used were intended to be a vehicle to give the correct train of thought. The symbolisms give us portraits enhancing the events of which they speak. The candlesticks, the stars, the sealed book, the four horsemen, the locusts, Babylon, beasts, numerous numbers, etc. are keys of interpretation which, when understood, unlock the Revelation to anyone who will but take the time to study and search the Scriptures.
We live in the age of information. We have cassette tapes, television, radio, books, commentaries, sermons, the Internet, and on and on. Thank God for them, but they are not the final authority. They are, at best, tools to help us find the information we need. We rely too much on what someone else said and not enough on personal study. We become upset when someone tells us we are wrong and can prove through Scripture we are wrong. We all need to be pliable and teachable, especially if we truly want to understand the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Successful teaching of the Revelation would be teaching others how to find the keys to interpret Revelation for themselves. A person would then be able to interpret not only Revelation, but also any and all books of the Bible properly. We would become confident and even bold in what we know the Scriptures say.
This must to be discussed to understand why so many people interpret the Revelation different ways. The confusion is not meant by God, but rather by the enemy.
“Behind this, one has to perceive that the real author of confusion is Satan himself, exploiting, many times, the carnal minds of believers and the traditions of men. After all, the book of Revelation pronounces his final doom and eternal judgment in the lake of fire.”
The great red dragon lusts to bring confusion. Therefore, theologians have divided the various ways the Revelation is interpreted into five basic categories. Every person will adapt their personal view of the Revelation from these five categories, or from a mixture therein. Below is a list of the five categories and a short definition of each.
Preterist approach: A Preterist is a person who is primarily concerned with the past. Thus, this approach regards Revelation as a symbolic picture of first-century church conflicts being fulfilled. It denies the book as future prophecy for the contemporary church. The positive aspect of this approach is it would have given the persecuted Christians of the first century great hope and comfort. Its problems are in explaining the great white throne judgment, the absolute defeat of the dragon and evil, and the reality of the New Jerusalem (Chapters 21, 22).
Historical approach (or Continuous Historical): This approach views Revelation as a symbolic picture of the total church history from Christ’s first coming to His second coming, and then the establishing of the millennium and kingdom. It is a popular approach today finding its entrance into interpretation less than two centuries ago. It relates each event of the Revelation with an event of history and will do so until the second advent of Christ. The primary problem with this approach is each interpreter interprets the events for his or her generation. Each generation using this approach, interprets their generation as the last generation before the coming of Christ. For example, the beast of Revelation 13 was interpreted as Mikhail Gorbachev because of the birthmark on Gorbachev’s head. When Gorbachev was no longer in power, the interpretation had to change. The locusts of Revelation 9 are today’s helicopters. Atom bombs, guided missiles, space satellites, etc. could only be included in today’s generational interpretation. Sadly, many theologians have proven themselves fools by using this approach. The writers who follow this line of interpretation tend to frighten people with world disaster. Their concept is “get saved and avoid the great tribulation.” It excludes the drawing of Father (John 6:65) and allows salvation to be gained by works – a “sinner’s prayer.”
Presentist approach: This approach views the Revelation as “always” with a present reality. This approach was for the past when the past was the present. It is for the present as long as the present is today. It will be for the future generations when future generations are the present. It interprets Revelation as being one vision of time repeated again and again throughout all of history. Every generation has seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, conflict, victory, seven vials, etc. Every generation awaits the coming of Christ and the consummation. Though this view may sound attractive and does project there is truth for application for every generation, it meets tremendous interpretation problems. The seven churches were literal churches in Asia and most of those churches and cities are but ruins today. Must the Lamb be “rethroned” every forty years? Must every generation experience the wrath of the Lamb and the burning of Babylon? Also, the book is specifically called a prophecy (Rev 1:3; 22:7) and does contain prophetic information (Rev 11:6; 19:10).
Allegorical or “Spiritual” approach: This approach of interpretation was adopted in the third and fourth centuries from the school of Alexandria. It regards the entire Bible as allegories (a pictorial device in which characters and events stand for abstract ideas, principles, or forces, so the literal sense has or suggests a parallel, deeper symbolic sense). To those using this approach, the events of history mean little. It is the spiritual lesson that is important. Thus, any literal interpretation is useless. They do not bother with exegesis of every verse. The verse is not relevant until it becomes a spiritual lesson. This approach believes the Bible is the chronicle of the spiritual conflict between God and Satan. It considers Revelation simply as a symbolic presentation of God’s ultimate victory. As with the Presentist approach, this approach does away with the prophetic element of “things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev 1:1).
Futuristic approach: This approach states chapters 4-22 deal with events yet in the future. These events will begin with the “rapture” of the church. The seven churches are seven church eras leading to the rapture. Chapters 4-18 describe the seven years preceding the second coming of Christ and place tremendous emphasis on the Great Tribulation. This approach rebuilds the temple with a reinstitution of animal sacrifices and removes the church and power of the Holy Spirit from the earth as the great tribulation takes place upon the globe. Chapter 19 is the second coming. Chapter 20 is the millennial reign when the construction of the new temple takes place. God fulfills all His covenantal promises to the nation of Israel. Animal sacrifice will continue as the Lord sits upon the throne of David in the temple. Chapters 21-22 are eternity. This approach places great emphasis upon Revelation 1:19 and breaks down its interpretation into things which John “has seen,” things that “are,” and things that “shall be hereafter.” This approach places a few verses in the things which John “has seen.” It places about three chapters in the things which “are.” It gives 19 chapters to the things which “shall be hereafter.”
Finally, understand what we believe about the book of Revelation is based on what we have been told and taught by someone we respect. This is honorable and good, but do not allow this to hinder you from receiving new understanding. Hopefully soon, you will have your approach to interpreting the Revelation. Hopefully, we will see how to interpret the Revelation without having to change our interpretation when the next “antichrist” dies. For example, if a person was said to be the antichrist but died (Adolf Hitler), would we need to adjust or change our interpretation? Proper interpretations will alleviate this problem and all problems.
Although the exact date is disputed, all agree the Revelation was written some time during the last third of the First Century. This would put the date somewhere between A.D. 60 and A.D. 100. Personal preferences are acquired according to the interpretation approach described previously. There are two basic camps concerning the date issue. One camp is called the early date camp. The other camp is the late date camp.
The date one believes the Revelation was written is extremely important. The date decided will determine if one primarily views the Revelation as prophetic concerning an end (fulfillment) of the Law and Moses, or primarily prophetic concerning the end of the age of Christianity.
- HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
One vital requirement for proper Biblical interpretation is the study of the historical background of the book. The historical background helps answer the questions, “To whom was it written?” and more importantly, “Why was it written?” The “history” gives direction to proper interpretation. For example, to whom was the book of Ephesians written and what was its purpose for being written? Ephesians was clearly written to the church at Ephesus around the year A.D. 62. No one argues this point. Paul wrote, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph 1:1).
This is not the case with the Revelation. Though we are clearly told three times to whom it was written, many refuse to acknowledge it. First, we find it as John wrote, “John to the seven churches which are in Asia” (Rev 1:4). Next, the Son of man instructs John to “write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea” (1:11). The third time is at the end of the Revelation as the angel, in prophetic language, says, “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches”(22:16). We believe Ephesians was written to the church at Ephesus because the Bible says it was. However, people refuse to believe the Revelation was written to the seven churches in Asia even though the Bible says it was.
The purpose of the book of Ephesians was to address the issue of love and unity between Jew and Gentile believers. Ephesus was a Greek city experiencing Jewish influence. They needed to unite in their Jew and Gentile love. We know this because the Apostle Paul used the word “love” 107 times in Ephesians, discussing how we are all saved by grace.
What about the epistle of 1 Corinthians? Why was it written and what was its purpose? It was written to a specific church, the church at Corinth. It addressed many church problems existed both relational and doctrinal.
Every book of the Bible was written for a reason. When we locate the reason, we locate a key to the interpretation of the book.
We are clearly told why the book of Revelation was written, but again we refuse to believe it. John wrote, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev 1:1 ). Repeatedly, this is stated and even stated redundantly in chapter 22.
Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass
Revelation 1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
Revelation 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly
Revelation 2:16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly
Revelation 3:11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
Revelation 22:7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
Revelation 22:10 And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
Revelation 22:12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me
Revelation 22:20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
If the book was written around 66 A.D., then “shortly” would not mean two thousand years later in anyone’s definition.
Because Ephesians was written to the church at Ephesus around 62 A.D. does not mean we cannot gain understanding for our personal lives today. We learn today from the book much about love. Being a pastor of a local church, I learn much from 1 Corinthians about the problems faced and how to approach them. Because the Revelation was written prior to A.D. 67 and was written about things that were to shortly come to pass does not mean we cannot gain tremendous understanding for our lives today.
It will benefit our study to break down the historical background into three parts: (1) Social Historical Background, (2) Religious Historical Background, (3) Literary Historical Background. These were the actual settings at the time the Revelation was penned.
- Social Historical Background
The Roman Empire controlled the world. As we will see, this empire was the fourth, and more importantly, the last beast Daniel saw in Daniel 7. Rome was also the empire reigning when the stone was to be cut out of the mountain and began the kingdom of God spoke of in Daniel 2. This point is vital. The Roman emperor would have been Nero. Universal dominion seemed inevitable. All nations experienced the effects of Rome’s control. As Rome would conquer a nation, it would place the captives into slavery. If Revelation was written around A.D. 65, then Judah had already entered into rebellion against Rome. The times were very stressful. Also, a special tax was collected from the nation of Judah. This tax was paid to provide an exemption granting Judah the right not to be drafted into Rome’s military service. All taxes, including this one, were increasing to carry on the tremendous expenses of Rome. The claw-like grip of the government was giving less and less liberty to those of Judah. Christians were being persecuted around the known world, but especially in Rome and Jerusalem because of their refusal to bow to Caesar or worship Judaism.
- Religious Historical Background
The primary concern of the Revelation is not with social life. Its concern is with the spiritual life and with what happens to man or nations who rebel against God. Roman religion was idolatrous. In Rome and in every city, temples and shrines to all sorts of deities and gods were found (Rev. 2:13; Acts 19; Rev. 2:20). However, the most dangerous and most demanded idolatry was emperor worship, which functioned under state decree. The emperor was worshiped as the “living guardian of the people and giver of their welfare.” His abilities did seem almost superhuman to the common man. Judaism became weak as Christianity became stronger. Churches were beginning in every town and community throughout the empire. People were coming to Christ as the gospel of the kingdom was preached to all nations.
- Literary Historical Background
The Revelation belongs to a class of literature known as “apocalyptic” literature. This style of writing flourished during times of depression, exile, and defeat. Both Daniel and Ezekiel were written in times of exile. Both include this style of literature. Knowing this helps us understand what the times were like emotionally. Though the church was expanding, it was tremendously persecuted. Christians became “Roman candles” literally burned and giving light at the feasts of the Caesars. Christians provided the depraved and immoral Romans with entertainment as they were fed to beasts and killed by gladiators. It was a time needing an Apocalyptic writing. Apocalyptic writings always use phraseology being used at the current time of its writing. The meanings and symbols were not hidden to those for whom they were written. Neither was the writing meant to cause fear. Apocalyptic writings were meant to explain why events were happening and to give future assurance for victory and hope. The Revelation was written to people who understood exactly what it meant. It was written to bring assurance.
What is not told today is there were many apocalyptic writings around at this time. Among these were the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Apocalypse of Ezra, the Apocalypse of Elijah, the Apocalypse of Zechariah, and others. The Apocalypse of Peter was mentioned in early historical writings by Muratorian Fragment and by Eusebius. 3 It was a time needing hope. The Revelation of Jesus Christ written by John gave this hope and was added to the New Testament. The importance of knowing there were other apocalyptic writings helps us understand they were written, as was the Revelation, for those people needing this hope and future. It also shows us it was a literary style and not a weird vision of global destruction given to John.
To whom was the book of Revelation written? Us, you, me or “to the seven churches which are in Asia” (Rev. 1:4, 11)? The answer is as clear as it can be. The Lord Jesus instructed John saying, “What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea” (Rev. 1:11). Why was it written? What was its primary purpose? Was its purpose to predict the end of the earth for the last generation some two thousand years later? Or “to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1)? We must be Biblical to be accurate. The attempt made here will be to allow the Scriptures to interpret the Revelation. This removes anyone’s doctrine and adds validity to the interpretation.
- LITERARY STYLE
As already mentioned, the Revelation belongs to the class of literature known as apocalyptic. Revelation is the Apocalypse of the New Testament. Though many books of the Bible contain apocalyptic parts, no other book of the Bible is totally given to the apocalyptic style of writing found in the Revelation. Apocalypse simply refers to the type of literature style used to write the book. Other books in our Bible containing apocalyptic writing are Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah, etc.
Understanding a writing style helps the reader to understand the writing. For example, when we read poetry, we begin looking for and anticipating certain elements such as rhyme and a rhythm.
Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet.
And so are you.
I know this is a lame representation of a poem, but we get the idea. There is a rhythm and rhyme for which we look in poetic writings making poems work. What is the need of a poem if it does not rhyme and create rhythm? Apocalyptic writings are this way also. We begin to look for and anticipate the apocalyptic sign. It makes the writing work.
The word “apocalypse” means “revelation, prophecy, oracle, vision.” It does not mean “the end of the world” as we associate to the word’s meaning. Apocalyptic writings are simply writings including “revelation, prophecies, oracles, and visions.” The Revelation from beginning to end is given to apocalyptic style writing.
The author of the Revelation is John, an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was referred to in the gospels as John, the son of Zebedee, and is the author of the gospel of St. John. He is also the author of 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John as well as the Revelation.
Of course, there are some who deny John the Apostle actually wrote the Revelation, just as there are some who dispute he wrote the gospel bearing his name. Sadly, this is true with nearly every book of the New Testament. People have argued through the ages books of the Bible were not actually written by the person the books say wrote them. Critics say the books are fraudulent, and people used the name of a well-known person to gain acceptance for their writings. The Biblical position must be the Lord allowed the book into the Scriptures. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2Ti 3:16). Therefore, we agree with it; we do not argue against it. It is the Word of God.
However, we can be certain the Apostle John did, in fact, write the Revelation. Below are several solid proofs John did indeed write the Revelation.
Five times in this book, the author’s name is inserted (1:1, 4, 9; 21:2; 22:8).
As early as the first half of the second century, it was the conviction of the Church John was the author.
Wycliffe Commentary says,
“…the application of the term Logos to Jesus Christ. This term is undoubtedly Johannine; it is not elsewhere employed in Scripture, and yet it occurs in the Apocalypse: ‘He is arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood: and His name is called the Word of God’ (Rev 19:13). So also the word `the Lamb,’ as denoting not merely the emblem or symbol of Christ, but Christ Himself, is peculiar to John; as when in the Gospel it is said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God,’ and in the Apocalypse, ‘I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing as though it had been slain’ (5:6).”
There are numerous similar points in the gospel of John and the Revelation. The same person wrote both books.
The book is written in apostolic style. The early church had wonderful governmental workings. The church recognized its leaders, and its leaders were governmental. The leaders governed with authority. The apostles had no problems with identifying and pointing out false teachers and were, in fact, expected to do so. The church had definite structure. All things were to “be done decently and in order” (1Co 14:40). This is the style in which John writes to the seven churches. He specifically points out problems and expects the problems to be corrected.
This book, or much of it, is about the transitional generation. This means it will concern itself with the time between A.D. 30 and A.D. 70. Jesus Christ referred to this generation repeatedly during His ministry. He promised the events of Matthew 24 would come upon the generation to which He spoke.
Mat 23:36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
Mat 24:34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
This became the message of the apostles. Peter preached to the transitional generation, warning them of the wrath to come and exhorting them to save themselves from the doomed generation.
Act 2:40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
A very clear passage is in 1 Peter 2:9. Here the apostle Peter clearly showed the generation in which he lived and ministered was a chosen generation.
1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light
This was the transitional generation who would actually witness the termination of the age of Moses. They would see the days of Moses and the Old Covenant transition to the Church and New Testament. We have missed this extremely special time of Biblical history and do not understand the immenseness of this historic event, which took place during their generation. It is skipped over in today’s theology as though it never happened, when in fact it was and is the most important event (outside of Jesus Himself) to ever happen. The destruction of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was the sign God had made a transition from Judaism and now operated through His eternal purpose the church.
Eph 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGICAL VIEW
Naturally, most modern teachings interpret the Revelation using the Futuristic approach (see discussion under Interpretation(s). This means all of the Revelation, or at least from chapter 4 on, is yet to happen and will begin with the rapture of the church. Today’s view mostly says the first three chapters (teaching the seven churches) represent all of the ages up to the rapture of the church. After the Laodicean age and the rapture, most of the book (chapters 4-19) will be fulfilled in seven years after which time the millennium takes place, etc.
“For the futurists the letters to the churches represent successive periods of church history, beginning with Ephesus, the apostolic church, and continuing with Smyrna, the martyr church, Pergamum, the worldly church, Thyatira, the apostate church, Sardis, the church of the Reformation, Philadelphia, the live church, and Laodicea, the lukewarm church. Although certain broad parallels with the successive epochs of church history may be drawn, the letters to the seven churches do not call for such an alignment of periods, but seem to depict naturally seven contemporary churches of Asia Minor whose internal affairs were singularly well known to the writer. Their significance did not cease with the end of the apostolic age, for they are seven different types of churches that may be found in any period of the world’s history since Pentecost.”
At the end of every chapter, a brief discussion will be given to project the most accepted, contemporary, dispensational doctrine for today. The purpose of these discussions is to compare what is taught in the majority of churches and seminaries with an interpretation taken from Scriptures. This will allow the reader to better determine his or her personal belief.
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