This is the final part of a series of posts based on the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. To see the previous posts in this series, click below:
Are You Reading the Bible Wrong?
How to Read: New Testament Letters
How to Read: Old Testament Narrative
How to Read: The Gospels
How to Read: Parables
How to Read: Jewish Law
How to Read: Prophetic Books
How to Read: Psalms
How to Read: Wisdom Literature
He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20
For modern readers, the book of Revelation feels like entering a science fiction novel. From the vivid imagery to the strange obsession with numbers, Revelation can definitively leave you puzzled when you read through it. Anyone who offers you “Three Keys to Revelation” and claims to have all of the details figured out, needs to return to reality. If you have an end-time chart that identifies everything in the book with modern occurrences, please quit spreading conspiracy theories and read Revelation as it is meant to be read!
The difficulty in interpreting Revelation is that it is an incredible mix of three types of literature: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter. In order to understand the book of Revelation as a whole, there are a few things to keep in mind. Remember, these three ideas are only bare essentials to having a proper understanding of Revelation. I highly recommend picking up the book this series is based on in order to gain a greater grasp on this puzzling book.
1. Remember John’s Original Purpose.
As with the other types of literature we have looked at, we need to remember this fact: The primary meaning and purpose of Revelation is how it was originally received by the church. The primary purpose of Revelation is not to offer clues for you to figure out dates on when the world is going to end. It is not for you to try to plug your patriotic feelings for the United States into the grand scheme of God’s story.
John wrote Revelation to churches that were facing severe persecution. John himself is writing from the island of Patmos which he was exiled to for his faith. It is into this deeply painful season that John offers words of hope that are found in Christ.
Revelation is about Jesus – his rule, reign, judgment, and hope He offers to the world.
Revelation was a prophetic word for the early church. That does not mean it does not apply today (as it does) but the primary purpose was for the immediate future of the churches in question. Now, this can be puzzling since Revelation ends with Christ returning to earth in order to demolish evil. That brings us to the next point.
2. Remember the “Already But Not Yet” Concept Discussed HERE.
Due to the interpretive difficulty of Revelation, we need to be sure to not press images beyond what they are meant to be. One of the reasons we do this is we want Revelation to follow a linear path so that it makes more sense to our minds. Unfortunately for us, this is not how God speaks through Revelation.
Many of the images and concepts mentioned have already happened but are yet to happen. For example, the fall of Rome in chapter 18 seems to coincide with the final return of Christ. As some of you may know, the last Roman emperor was killed in 476 A.D. and it is now 2016 A.D. – Was John wrong? No.
As you study the book of Revelation, you need to have a solid grasp on the temporal and eternal functions of Scripture. Rather than trying to map out every detail and attach certain dates to them, allow your mind to be caught up in the drama of Scripture. You will NOT figure out every detail. This does not mean you cannot have a solid understanding of how the book is structured which will give you the ability to figure out what Revelation is NOT saying.
3. Understand the Structure of Revelation
Whenever you are deeply studying a book or subject, it is best to write out the structure. The structure will serve you as a map and allow you to meditate upon the different truths throughout Revelation. As stated above, the structure will also give you the ability to dismiss wrong interpretations of Revelation.
- Setting the Stage (Revelation 1-3)
- The first three chapters set the stage for the reader. We are introduced to some of the main characters (John, Christ, and the Church).
- Setting the Heavenly Stage (Revelation 4-5)
- These two chapters continue to set the stage but in a different way. We get a glimpse of the beauty and power of God. As readers, we enter into the throne room of God and hear a vast multitude sing in worship of Him.
- Unfolding of the Drama (Revelation 6-7)
- These chapters unfold what is actually happening. Three times throughout the book, visions are presented in sets of 7. This works out in chapter 6 and 7 through the different horsemen that are mentioned.
- Judgments on Rome (Revelation 8-11)
- Here we are given a glimpse into the temporal judgments that God enacts on Rome. This culminate in a great war in which the kingdom of the world becomes the Kingdom of our God.
- Details of the Judgment (Revelation 12-22)
- Although we see the final judgment happening in chapter 11, John continues to provide specific details on the events in chapters 12-22. This is one of the reasons many readers get frustrated by the lack of linear progression in the book.
The book of Revelation is incredibly complex. With that being said, it is God’s Word to His Church and we should seek to understand it. As you study Revelation, ask the Spirit of God to lead you into all truth. Allow your heart to be in awe at the glory, power, and majesty of God revealed throughout the judgments and establishment of His Kingdom.
Although we do not understand how all the details will work out in our day, we know this: Jesus will return to earth to rescue His Church from death and destruction. There will be a final judgment and God will renew heaven and earth and we will dwell in his presence for all eternity. Come Lord Jesus, come!
Have you ever read the book of Revelation? What is the hardest thing for you to understand? Let me know by leaving a comment!