Viewing the book of Revelation

We need to come to Revelation without a specific view, as each prophecy can have multiple applications, meanings, and fulfillments that can be true. We must come to Revelation with patience and humility, seeking dialog and cooperation not disagreements and strife, for that is what is clearly in err.

We are to interpret in light of the historical context and what it meant then because John’s readers did not have a modern newspaper or CNN. And, for us to think that Revelation meant nothing for 2000 years until our generation came is extremely arrogant and dismissive to the countless Christians who came before us, upon whose shoulders we stand.

Revelation is for all generations, not just ours or one to come! Also, we must never seek to be dogmatic with our feeble opinions and limited understandings. In addition, the applications in Revelation are for us now, as they were also active in the early Church and will have further meaning and fulfillment in the time to come. Revelation is not just about the first Christians, nor is it just about what will happen in some distant future. These precepts are for us today, for us to know, for us to use, and for us to deploy deeply in our lives and walk in Christ. What we do know is Christ is coming back! When Satan will be finally be defeated is not known, but God will comfort and take care of us!

Revelation‘s purpose is not to satisfy our dogmatic assertions and speculations. Let us not bother with unwarranted calculations, to which we have no idea or call to do. Rather, let us seek His precepts so we can grow further in our spiritual formation and make Him known to others!

Revelation is about our genuine discipleship and growth in Christ and how He impacts us so we can impact others. In His time, it will be clear without dispute (Acts 1:7). Revelation continues to add to our spiritual growth and faithfulness and encourage the Church through persecutions and the daily stresses of life. What we have to know is what we need to know. We do not need to know what He has not yet revealed, as our duty is to our spiritual formation and the expansion of the Kingdom, not idle speculations and argumentations.

The purpose for our lives here is to learn and grow in Him over any theological agenda.

What we learn in our preparations is far more valuable than what will come about. To live in a sin-infused world is difficult and we need the Savior and Lord to guide us through it. Our lives, circumstances, and experiences will bring us trials and testing before we learn the lessons we are taught. What we learn from Him will help us be vigorous, victorious, and able to overcome anything life or Satan can throw at us.

This article series also serves as the introduction to our Bible Study in the Book of Revelation.

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Revelation Open view

A fifth view is Biblical Eschatology, or the Open or Pan view (it will pan out). This means we engage the text with careful exegesis, uninhibited by theological prejudice, with an inductive process and come with open minds to discover God’s lessons for us. What does the original language, genre, cultural analysis to the original hearers of this work. What did that term mean to John and those seven churches, not just what we may think they mean today.

If not, our preconceived ideas will form our opinions and not what the Word actually says. This is how the Reformers, Calvin and Luther, did their studies (although they subscribed to the Historicist view), as well as Augustine (who was mostly a Futurist) and other great men. They were seeking His revealed truth inductively, applying literal interpretation (if the genre allows), historical and grammatical exegesis and not mere human speculations and traditions. This is what we seek to do at Into Thy Word.

Will There Be a Rapture?

Yes and no! Yes, Christ is coming back and we will meet Him and it will be spectacular and no words or speculations could ever describe it effectively, especially not in the way most books and TV preachers have sensationalized it. There has been a lot of debate over what the rapture is all about. Most Christians today think it is fact and only seek to argue its particulars or just go by feelings. However in fact, it is not a biblical idea or even a word in the Bible. In fact, even the concept is not in the Bible although it seems so from a simple English reading of the 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 passage.

Do you believe in the rapture? “What’s that,” he said? …that we are all going to rise up in the air and be taken to heaven? “Really? Where is that in the Bible,” my professor responded. A seminary professor told me this years ago and I thought he was nuts! At the same time, I was the deer in front of the headlights. So, I did my research and tried for months to prove him wrong—to no avail. After all, most of my mentors on this subject, like Ray Steadman and Walter Martin, were confident and assured that a seven year tribulation and a Rapture would occur; the only debate, as they and I saw it, was what the order and timing was. My other main mentor, Francis Schaeffer, did not consider this a worthy subject; he was an Amillenialist and Reformed and left it there for more effectual pursuits. Perhaps I should have done the same, but I could not leave this alone. It has to be true; if not, why are so many good people teaching this?

So I engaged this subject enthusiastically and aggressively. I wanted to see for myself. I read all the passages and the books on the Rapture I could. I could not find where in the Bible we could get a Rapture.

Yes, I know the passages that Hal Lindsey and others like Scofield used, the ones taught by so many preachers as dogmatic and even essential. The passages used to support a Rapture and a seven year tribulation said nothing to support this. “Why,” I asked, “were they teaching this? How can they rationalize it?” I came to the conclusion, after a lot of homework, that they just did not do their homework well. I found that the only way to come up with a Rapture was to read it into the Bible, because it just is not there. Yes, I was disturbed and confused.

So I spent months in the Fuller Library pouring over all the books—original Greek, scholarly references, and all that anyone had ever said of it. I hunted what is clearly said in God’s Word, using the Inductive techniques I taught in seminars at that time. I wanted to find not what was popular in my theological tradition, but what was biblical and effectual for our faith. Yes, this was tough; a lot of sleepless nights and struggle were spent to look at what I thought I already knew so well. And, this did not stop as a paper; I then spent another ten years carefully researching all the popular end-times scenarios.

Apocalyptic Literature is Not a Secret Code?

Remember, the Apostles and most of the early Christians were fluent in Greek as well as Aramaic and some Hebrew; they fully knew the Old Testament and were immersed in that culture. Paul, John, and others used a good amount of borrowed material for illustration sake, which they knew but that we may not know so well.

Consequently, the inscription key is the understanding of the Old Testament and Jewish customs and thought, not today’s newspaper headlines! So, you use a concordance and look up that word, such as lampstand, and see what it meant in Exodus and then in Zechariah, and you have your key to unlock the “code” of the word.

Remember, the Bible interprets itself, too. For more in-depth research, you can do what we do at Into Thy Word; we use the Old Testament first and foremost and then look in the other first century literature that John and his reader would be very aware of and have borrowed from, such as the other apocryphal Jewish Books. But, keep in mind that these are hints and helps that give us insights to this type of genre and metaphors and their usage to a first-century Jewish understanding, but are not recognized or inspired as Scripture! These works include the apocalyptic books, 4 Ezra, 1 Enoch, 2 Esdras, Profetes, Sibylline Oracles, Petronius, 4 Maccabees, Joseph and Asenath, Jubilees, Simititudes of Enoch, and the Qumran Texts, to name the main ones (there are many more). They are available on CD and online that makes searching them easy (www.ccel.org).

We also need to keep in mind that many of these images are metaphors with meanings that a first century Jew or Greek would clearly have known and understood; we today, two thousand years hence, may not. In conjunction we need to seek the context and word meanings of the passage and image in question, and seek what they meant to the people at the time as well as comparing it to other passages. Thus, we look to the underlying meanings in the Greek, and study Jewish apocalyptic literature and the Old Testament. Our big clue is the Old Testament where most of it resides, but not just in Daniel.

What we do not do is seek what they mean two thousand years later in someone’s fantasy or speculations. For example, in Revelation chapter seven, the 144,000, the context and word meanings tell us that there is no ethnicity, as all in Him are His, and the numbers are beyond measure. The O.T is our code breaker and will help us unveil the clues. God’s Word clearly tells us what the meanings are. It is not today’s newspapers and popular trends that give us the meanings; it is the understanding of God’s Word and the context that does.

Images such as the beast, the mark, or 666 are not to be taken literally; rather, they are symbolic depictions of dire warnings meant to strike terror. These were most terrifying images to an ancient person. They are meant to be a wake-up call to heed the Lord, Sovereign of the universe, and get our lives lined up to His, or else. And, the or else is that you will be judged, not just in eternity, but in this life, too. What does it take to get you lined up to His precepts and yielded to His Lordship? God wants us to make a real, passionate effort to repent, get right with Him, and not lead misguided and harmful lives by trying to serve other things, idols, desires, or trying to choose between two contradictory paths in life (Prov. 24:3-4; Is. 45:7; Jer. 29:11-14; Phil. 2:3-4; James 1:6-8; 4:7-10). God is far more concerned about how we lead our Christian lives, knowing Him, and making Him known than replacing or covering our speculations over our faith.

Let us not get caught up and stuck in meaningless speculations; rather, do as the passages tell us. Be caught up in Christ by your faith. Good exegesis means God has control of what He says; we do not. We are to dig out His precepts, not interject ours. We are to accept what it actually means for us, not what we want it to mean.

More In-depth Information

When we come to an apocalyptic word or book, we need to realize it is not esoteric (meaningless or obscure or too deep and hidden); it also has a meaning for us today, as it contains past, present, and future events. Examples include the many prophecies concerning Jesus in Matthew 24 most likely already have been fulfilled, and there are parts of Daniel and Revelation that will yet come to pass. Prophecy does not always follow a clear, logical, systematic pattern; rather, it often jumps 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” where 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, there are few of some so called Bible scholars who write the popular books of today who 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!