Interpreting the Book of Revelation

The book of the Revelation is a book that many Christians get fantastically wrong. The strange images are often molded by the “prophecy expert” to fit current events. But then world events change and stretch the model to the breaking point, when the so-called expert sees fit to revise his model to fit a new set of current events.

On January 27th, at Redeemer Church, we will begin a chapter by chapter, verse by verse study of the book of Revelation. Here is a preview of what we will cover in the first lesson, an examination of Rev 1:1-8, which gives us a strategy for interpreting the rest of the book.

1. Revelation is meant to reveal.

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it.” John wrote these words to the first century churches of Asia Minor. The implication is that they were able to understand the book, and apply it’s teachings to their lives. This means that the book of Revelation is not written in a code with the cipher of future events revealing its long hidden meaning. I am amazed that so many Christians seem to think that the meaning of Revelation was hidden until very modern times.

2. Revelation is meant to be seen/visualized.

Revelation is a book of symbols in motion. Oftentimes the symbols are explicitly identified. Sometimes we know what the symbol is by what it does. One thing should be clear: a “literal where possible” approach to this book defies common sense. A “symbolic where possible” approach is more on target. To understand the symbolism of Revelation, there are two prerequisites: 1) an understanding of the Gospels and Epistles, and the end times teaching they contain, and 2) familiarity with the Old Testament, since most of the symbolism can be traced back to the Prophets of Israel and Judah. If these prerequisites are met then interpreting the symbolism of Revelation is no big deal, and actually rather easy.

3. Revelation concerns “what must soon take place”

There is clearly a futuristic element in the book. It does tell us about the end of history. But it also tells us about things that have happened and things that characterize the present. Revelation presents to us the ordinary struggles of the church with symbols, revealing to us the meaning that lay behind the course of history.

4. Revelation reveals Jesus Christ, his second coming, and the end of the age

Yes, Revelation is about the final, visible, return of Jesus Christ, the King of kings, who will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. This return will not be “spiritual” or “symbolic” or “secret.” Christ’s return is not something that already happened in the first century. “Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” I must also add, however, that date-setters will be disappointed.

It is important that we keep our eyes on the big picture of the book of Revelation. That big picture message is that the victory belongs to God and to his Christ. Revelation is a book punctuated throughout with songs of praise and celebration. This worship is offered equally to God the Father and to God the Son. It celebrates God’s redemptive triumph through the Lamb that was slain. We celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over his enemies, and the final vindication of his persecuted Church, and the inauguration of the new heavens and earth. This hope motivates the suffering church to endure tribulation and the tempted church to remain as a pure bride for her groom.