Revelation Interpretive Difficulties

This book of Scripture is called “apocalyptic” writing, and it is a form of prophecy. Apocalyptic writing is a type of literature that warns us of future events but in which the full meaning is hidden to us for the time being. Apocalyptic writing is almost a secret, giving us glimpses through the use of symbols and imagery of what is to come. We may not know the meanings now, but time will reveal it.

The key to unlocking these imageries is seeking what they meant back then, to the early church, to the first century Jew and Christian and how the churches in Asia Minor would have understood them, not what they mean in a current newspaper, 2000 years removed, which also removes any cultural or language understandings.

Apocalyptic writing is found in Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Matthew as well as in Revelation. Prophecy, as literature and meaning for us today, contains past, present, and future events. Examples include the many prophecies concerning Jesus that already have been fulfilled, and parts of Daniel and Revelation, as well as Matthew 24 that will yet come to pass. Prophecy does not always follow a clear logical and systematic pattern, often jumping from thought to idea to another point and so forth. It also may jump over large periods of time. Thus, in Prophecy, we need to be aware of two essential forms of language.

First there is the Literal (Didactic). This is the simple and direct meaning, or in other words, what it says is what it means. It has a plain meaning. Zechariah, chapter seven is a good example, as are much of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The imagery had a clear meaning to the people to whom it was first presented, so don’t jump to conclusions or read in what is not there. If you get frustrated with it, put it aside. Most Bible scholars debate the meaning, so it is improbable that you will have a clear insight. Some people are not ready or able to comprehend this part of the Bible; if so, that is OK! Focus on the parts of Revelation that are crystal clear.

The second form of language is the Figurative (Predictive). This is the category into which most of prophecy and thus Revelation falls. We are to always view prophesy with the attitude that it has a plain meaning until we have clear and compelling reasons to place it in the figurative category.

Our task is to determine the points and ideas that apply today and point to tomorrow.

The bottom line is that it will happen at some point in history, and come to pass in a literal and plain way. We may not understand it until it is right on top of us. Daniel 7-12; Joel 2; Isaiah 11; and Zech. 4 are clear examples of figurative language. Furthermore, some of the language in Revelation is “word pictures” that John is trying to describe in their language and culture as well as technology, such as Daniel, chapter seven, and many parts of Revelation. For example, if he was describing events we might see in our lifetime, how would he describe a helicopter if he had never heard of or seen one? For most parts of Revelation, John was using imagery from Ezekiel, Daniel, and other Jewish literature that they would have known. Unfortunately, today few of some so called Bible scholars who write the popular books are even aware that there is an Old Testament, let alone how to inductively read it.

The key to the understanding of Revelation is in the Old Testament!

Apocalyptic writing can also be cryptic and symbolic such as the fish which was a secret greeting to see if another person was a Christian, too. When we come to words that seem peculiar to our modern minds such as stars, the first-century Jews would know that it meant “angels.” Lampstands meant “churches;” the phrase, wife of the Lamb meant “Jerusalem,” and the great prostitute was a covert slogan to refer to “Nero” or any corrupt leader in power. Babylon was referring to Rome (Rev. 1:20; 17:1-5, 18; 21:9-10). Consequently, the inscription key is understanding the Old Testament and Jewish customs and thought, not today’s newspaper headlines!

It is important to note that 28% of the Old Testament is prophecy, most of which came to pass in the life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament has over 20% prophecy too, of which most (although this is debated) have not yet come to pass. Thus, prophecy is important because God has dedicated a significant portion of His Word to it.

Again, do not read in what is not there!

Advertisements

Revelation Genre and Destination

Revelation is from the Greek title word apokalypsis. This means “discourser of events,” or “discourser of the apocalypse.” It also means an “uncovering” or “unveiling” or as we have it in the English, a “Revelation.” The other title that has been used is “The Apocalypse.”

Thus, Revelation is a book of disclosures of John’s seven visions and God’s exhortations. This is why sometimes it is rendered as a plural, “Revelations,” even though the Greek word is singular.

The proper name is Revelation. The disclosure for us is the unfolding of historical events – past, present, and future, with God’s plan and purpose being the ultimate goal. Many people have feared Revelation and have thought it too mysterious to understand. But, Revelation was actually written to make things for us clearer—to expose and not conceal what God has for us.

Revelation is apocalyptic literature written in symbolism, poetry ,and imageries, as well as Old Testament Prophecy style (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21; Rev. 1:2-3; 19:9; 22:7-19), all woven as a tapestry describing literal events (Rev. 1:1-4). John also uses the language in his current Greco-Roman figures of speech. Revelation has three main sections – a greeting and theme (Rev.1:1-4), then the main body (Rev. 1:4-22:21) which contains the succession of visions of spiritual warfare, warnings, and judgments, climaxing with the Second Coming of Christ, and finally a farewell (Rev. 22:21). Yet, the figurative speech and images, although borrowed from the Old Testament, would have been clear to an educated First Century Jew. It may not be a style we are familiar with in our contemporary culture, but it was very popular from 200 BC to 200 AD. Consider that describing our modern life with cars, freeways, electronics, and computers to a first century person would be unrecognizable and incomprehensible imageries.

What we take for granted, in what we know and what they knew, does not measure up in understanding one another. Revelation and its imagery were real and had application for them as they are real and have application for us, too. Much of the imagery was given to have a response from his readers, to evoke them from complacency on to spiritual activity. These images can be literal events as well as symbols. They can apply to the Church of Asia Minor and be reapplied to us. Sometimes John explains them; sometimes they are vague and we may not know what they mean until that day is upon us (Rev. 1:20).

Thus, there are no real mysteries other than when these events will happen or which ones had happened and the sequence of these events. However, time and sequence were not important to a Jewish mind or to our God who wants us focused upon Him as Lord. What we learn in our preparations is far more valuable than what will come about.

Much of what is spoken of in the Old Testament for Israel and the tribulation are found in Revelation 6-19. Its principle purpose is to reveal Christ as Lord and the end of the age. It also gives us firm instructions on how to live our lives being faithful to Christ and receiving His promise as well as His warnings. Revelation brings a lot of controversy because it is interpreted so varyingly.

We need to come to Revelation without a specific view, because each prophecy and image can have multiple meanings and multiple fulfillments.

Most of the Bible is very precise, but apocalyptic literature is difficult because God has not given us the final key. In addition, Revelation is about relationships and events in an Oriental logic form that does not have Western philosophical chronology in mind. Therefore, we must beware not to read into it our current idealistic