Looking at the book of Revelation can be a very daunting task. This is a book that causes Christians to do one of three things; either they avoid it like the plague, turn it into charts and diagrams, or they share it in an incredibly confusing way, over-symbolizing it and making it entirely allegorical. It’s my passion in this series of chapters about the Revelation to open it up to you in a straightforward, easy to understand kind of way, and to extol this glorious book in the way that God intended it to be extolled.
The Church throughout history has added much extra-Biblical conversation around The Revelation because most people that are propagating this wrong information clearly understand that most Christians don’t read this book and are unfamiliar with it. Personally I struggle watching most television preachers who talk about the book of Revelation because when they get done with their explanations of the book and the Chapters, I remember that I have hardly heard the name of Jesus mentioned. Many television preachers can explain all the dates, nations and symbols within the Revelation, but they rarely preach about the beauty of Jesus Christ which is the central theme of the entire Revelation. It seems clear to me that the Church has left her first love when the primary book we have been given is utterly neglected or totally dismissed in most cases.
The Book of Revelation was never intended to be a giant 22-chapter crystal ball for us to look into. The Book of Revelation is not the book of Revelations; but The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This book is about Jesus Christ: His heart and His plan to take over all the governments of the earth, as He rules and reigns on this physical earth, sharing all things with His bride. When we read the Revelation there are many sub-themes that we will pick up and gain understanding of, but the overarching passion must be to read this book in order to encounter Jesus Christ. This book will fascinate our hearts in a powerful way if we read it with a devotional heart.
My challenge to you in the upcoming months is to read 3 chapters of the Revelation every day so that you can read it once a week. In doing this you will quickly become acquainted with the flow, structure, and purpose of the Revelation, and many parts which seem obscure and difficult will make sense. Make the reading of the Revelation something you do with a devotional spirit as opposed to a debating spirit and it will surely lead you into encounter with Jesus. Beloved, there is a treasure chest of revelation awaiting those that will search out the beauty of this grand book. In this chapter I am going to be covering the authorship/date and some practical tools to interpreting the Revelation.
Authorship and Date
The Book of Revelation was written by John the Beloved. John was one of the original 12 Apostles (Matthew 10:2), one of the three closest Apostles to Jesus (Mark 9:2) and the one who Jesus named the son of Thunder (Mark 3:17). The Revelation is believed to have been written around 96 A.D. from the Isle of Patmos. Patmos is on the Aegean Sea in Greece and is about 13 sq. miles or roughly the size of Alcatraz.
It’s very important we agree that the Revelation was written around 96 A.D. or somewhere between 90 A.D. – 96 A.D. The reason for this is because many fiercely debate that the book of Revelation was mostly fulfilled in 70 A.D. when God destroyed Herod’s Temple and drove the Jews to the four corners of the Earth. Kevin Conner in his book titled Interpreting the Revelation states that God landed the final death blow to that Mosaic economy in 70 A.D. in a loud declaration that He had done away with the sacrificial system as His Son became the better atonement. I agree with Kevin’s statements, and if the date of the Revelation is believed to have been written around 96 A.D. that is some 26 years after the destruction of the Temple meaning that the Revelation is speaking mainly of a yet coming season for human history. Some want to make the 70 A.D. destruction of the Temple either the fulfillment of the book of Revelation or nothing at all. What I believe it to be, along with many other events in history, is a foreshadowing of a much darker day that is yet ahead. Actually it’s John the Beloved who tells us that there have been many such antichrists (1st John 2:18) who were only a picture of the actual man who is yet coming.
When looking at the Revelation we can see three clear things about John. Firstly, it’s clear that though John is chained up on the Isle of Patmos, his head is in the Word of God. John was a Hebrew believer before he became a believer in Jesus, which means he was well equipped in the Old Testament scriptures. The Revelation has a total of 404 verses throughout this 22-chapter book and most commentators agree that there are somewhere between 200-300 illusions to the Old Testament. David Pawson, who is a wonderful British expositor preacher, believes that there are upwards of 400 illusions to the Old Testament. So it’s clear that John had his mind in the Old Testament. Secondly, we see that though John is locked up on the Isle of Patmos that His heart is with the Churches he has left behind only 150 miles away. John’s life had been given for these Churches. Recently Mark Driscoll in his series The Sevens stated that in John’s old age he had to be brought into the Church by other men because he was too frail to walk through the doors. This gives us a powerful picture of a man who laid down his life for the Gospel.
And thirdly, though John is locked up on the Isle of Patmos it’s clear that his spirit is with the Lord. It’s true that though our bodies are chained, our spirits are free to move throughout the vast universe of God’s creation. John traveled from this island of death, to the unspeakable glories of being with God in His throne room and seeing what nobody else throughout the entire Bible had the privilege to peer into, the fullness of God’s purpose. Imagine, one moment being locked up on the island for your faithfulness to Jesus, and the next to be caught up into the very center of God’s command station throughout world history, the throne room (Revelation 4).
John was banished to the Island of Patmos, not for a crime he committed but for his exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. In the time in which John lived there was much emperor worship taking place, where you were forced to worship only the one in charge and no one else. John was committed to not denying Christ and it cost him imprisonment on the Island of Patmos. Historical records tell us that John would be the only Apostle who would die from natural causes. At the time of the Revelation being written, all the other Apostle’s had died of martyrdom.
Interpreting the Book of Revelation
Something that I have found to be very helpful when looking at the prophetic scriptures is not about date setting, charts and diagrams as much as it to allow the eschatological consummation to fall on the present. All this phrase simply means is that we take the weight of that yet coming Kingdom and we work to live under that reality. It’s the same idea when it is said in Hebrews 8:9-10 that By faith he (Abraham) dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for a city whose Builder and Maker is God. Abraham found a way in the grace of God to allow the future of a coming city to bear down on him in the present, changing the way he lived his life. Many people struggle to live with something bigger than today. The crisis in that kind of living is that there is no rudder guiding the ship, so it stops here and there and everywhere in between. Proverbs 29:18 says Where there is no vision (prophetic revelation) the people cast off restraint. The power of prophetic revelation, or the prophetic scriptures, is that it gives us restraint in the present, to change the way we now live, in light of the future. Though it might be hard to believe, the book of Revelation has helped me change the way I live in the present, more than any other book in the Bible. Seeing what is yet ahead inhuman history causes us to hit rewind and start with the end in mind, as opposed to just traveling through life with no real direction. We want the end time reality of God’s global purpose to fall upon our shoulders now, and to help us change the way we live our lives so that we are fruitful in the present and also equipped for the future.
It is hard to read the New Testament, both the Gospels and the Epistles and not find something that speaks of the end of this age, the season of the Lord’s return, or the second coming. What this means is that the epistles, especially, have been written from an eschatological perspective. They are written from a foundation of understanding that God is coming with His Kingdom to establish it on the earth as it is in heaven. This is the Kingdom message in a nutshell. When we start looking through this lens in the reading of the Bible, we begin seeing that all these streams throughout the whole of the bible, are collectively flowing as one river and making their way into the ocean of the Revelation. All of the other books of the Bible find their happy ending in the book of Revelation.
Paul said it this way in Ephesians 1:9-10 …having made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensations of the fullness of times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both, which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him (Jesus Christ). Paul is telling us here that all things are heading to a giant reunion in which everything in heaven and everything on earth will be joined together in Christ. This means that Christ who hung between heaven and earth on the Cross will once again join that which is in heaven with that which is on earth, in Him. The Kingdom of God is the joining of these two realties into one. Heaven and earth dwelling, finally, in perfect harmony under the perfect leadership of Jesus Christ.
The same thing that Paul said above is also said in a different way by John in Revelation 11:15 when John said Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying The kingdoms of this world (natural) have become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ (spiritual) and He shall reign forever and ever. The reason I have included these passages is so that our framework of understanding is seeing the joining of heaven and earth together in Christ. This helps our understanding when we approach of the book of Revelation.
Nobody takes the book of Revelation as only literal, and nobody takes this book to be totally symbolic. I believe a proper way to view the Revelation is to see it as mostly literal with some symbolism. This means that the four horsemen of Revelation 6:1-8 are symbolic, but the wars, pestilence and famine that follow are literal. Another way to see it would be to say that the Lake of Fire mentioned in Revelation 20 is symbolic, but eternal torment that follows is literal. When you’re driving through a school zone and you see a yellow sign with a little kid on it crossing the road, you don’t immediately think Hey, there’s going to come a kid running across the street right now. What you say is Oh, there’s that sign, I should make sure to pay extra attention because students might be walking across the street.
It has helped me the most to view the book of Revelation with the thinking that it says what it means and it means what it says. It’s best to read this book with the plain meaning of the text, or looking at it from a literal perspective. When something is symbolic within the Revelation most every time it will tell us it’s symbolic and even give us the interpretation. It’s no wonder why so many commentators make most of the Revelation to be symbolic or allegorical. The reason why they do it is because the numbers, events and situations, when taken in their literal meaning are terrifying. But just because it challenges our humanistic thought process, doesn’t mean that we can or should change the text. And lastly, when looking at the rest of the Bible, we don’t make the other 65 books out to be symbolic, so why should we do it to this one. It would behoove us to take the same approach to the book of Revelation that we take the other 65 books; they are literal first and spiritual second.
Paul said in 1st Corinthians 15:44-46 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, the first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. Paul is saying that the spiritual doesn’t come first, but the natural and then the spiritual. This means that we must first look at the scriptures as being natural and literal before we work to make them spiritual. The Song of Songs is first a natural love story between Solomon and the Shulamite and after that we can look at it to gain some spiritual principles of the relationship between Jesus and His bride, the Church.
What is so powerful about Paul’s truth quoted above is that it plays out exactly in the Revelation. When you look at Genesis 1, 2 and 3 and then compare them with Revelation 20, 21 and 22 there are striking similarities. The first three chapters of the first book in the Bible are about a natural wedding and the last three chapters of the final book of the Bible are about a spiritual marriage between Christ and His Church. First the natural (Genesis 1, 2 and 3) and then the spiritual (Revelation 20, 21 and 22). Everything that begins in seed form in Genesis finds its full fruition in the Revelation. These two bookends of the Bible link Creation (Genesis) with Redemption (Revelation).
Genesis speaks of the creation of the sun, the entrance of sin into the world, the curse pronounced, satan’s triumph, and the exclusion from the Tree of Life. But in the Revelation it speaks of a place where there will be no need of the sun, sin is banished, there’s no more curse, satan is overthrown and there’s admission to the Tree of Life. Stunning how these two books create the context for what Paul was talking about, first the natural and then the spiritual.
Once again, my challenge to you as you walk through these chapters is that you begin to see the glory of God revealed in the beauty of Christ Jesus and that your heart becomes fascinated in the splendor of the Holy Spirit’s divine ability to inspire such a wonderful book called the Bible.