The Book of the Revelation Part 1 – Interpretation

There is probably no other book in history that has invited more speculation than the book of the Revelation.  This may be because no other book has worked so hard to invite speculation more than the book of the Revelation.  Just consider the title alone.  THE Revelation.  How many times have you have heard people refer to the book as “revelations”.

Make no mistake though.  There is good reason for this book to invite speculation.  Given the persecution the first readers of this book were facing, speculation may very well have distracted the persecutors from learning the truth about the Christ who these first century Christians worshiped.

With this said, there are five major views of the book of the Revelation. These views are –

1. Dispensational
2. Futurist
3. Historical
4. Hyper Preterist
5. Idealist (sometimes called the Spiritual view)

Four of these five views are the result of everything from sincere speculation to far flung fancy.  One of them is historically and grammatically correct.   To discover which one that is, let us begin by examining the first paragraph of this book for clues.

Revelation 1:1-3
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

In the first paragraph we discover a number of things about this book right from the start. First, this book is a revelation of Jesus Christ.  Now, that may sound rather obvious, but consider that four of the five major views all see this book as a revelation of something else; namely, either the end of time or some other future event.

However, the very first verse states that the revelation is nothing less than the revelation of Jesus Christ Himself.  Therefore, this is the revelation of Jesus Christ.  The reason why God gave it was to show His servants what must soon take place.

A second thing we discover about this book is that God made this revelation known by sending His angel to His servant John.  “Angel” though, is not the best translation.  The word in Greek is aggelos, meaning messenger.  Aggelos is often translated angel, but it is also sometimes indicates a human messenger.  In fact, James 2:25 uses it to denote the twelve spies who Israel had sent into Canaan to spy out the land.

However, if we know our Old Testament well, then we should know the words “His angel” often indicates the preincarnate Christ.  Consider, for example, the birth of Samson in Judges 13:3-22.   Here in verse 1 of the book of the Revelation then, we discover God sending another message via the same messenger – a revelation of Jesus Christ communicated by Jesus Christ Himself.

Note how Christ reveals Himself to John. “. . . who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ reveals Himself by bearing witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Himself.   The Word of God; that is, the Old Testament; and the testimony; that is, the testimony of the apostles or the New Testament.    In other words, “He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the Old and New Testament testimony of Jesus Christ.”

Right from the start, this can sound rather disappointing if you are one of those folks who are certain this book is about the end of time.   After all, here in the very first paragraph of the book we are told that the revelation of this book is none other than revelation we have already received in the Old and New Testaments.   Who wants that, right?

Well, when you are facing and enduring the stress of the very first constant persecution of your young faith, hearing again repeated the same testimony you have already heard and believed can be encouraging.  Especially if it’s coming from the Lord of Glory Himself.

And that is what we have in this book.   The repetition of a message that we have already received from the 65 books which precede it, but this time condensed into one book consisting of a series of visions that invite the most ridiculous speculation from even the most level headed of self righteous pagans.

Every one of the images John is going to see are signs.  They are signs that echo and allude to identical images found elsewhere in the Bible.  Were you surprised to find a dragon in Revelation, standing on the shore of the sea?   Well, you shouldn’t have been, because that same dragon has been seen already in Isaiah 27:1 “In that day the Lord with His hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Find out what the dragon in Isaiah 27 means, and you will know what the dragon in Revelation 13 is pointing to.

Let me summarize and repeat this one last time.  To reiterate, God sent Jesus Christ to reveal Himself to John. He did this by bearing witness to the Old Testament and New Testaments.  He bore that witness through fantastical imagery designed to fool pagans even while directing Christians to earlier parts of the Old and New Testament.  This isn’t difficult.  You only have to keep your twenty-first century opinions out of the text.  Then again, maybe this is easier said than done.

The next thing we should notice from the paragraph is unique blessing revealed in it.   This book has a blessing that no other book promises.  “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

Place yourself into the shoes of the people who first read this book. These people were under severe persecution. In many territories of the Roman state, Christians were barred from employment, because they refused to join the local pagan temple cult. Rome considered these temple cults to be the social glue which kept the empire together. They were akin to trade unions today, except that they were devoted to a local temple. If you were unwilling to join one of these temple cults, then you could not be employed, nor would you be considered loyal to the Caesar and to the Roman government.

In other areas of Rome, Christians were simply rounded up and then put to death. They were counted as Atheists, because they refused to worship the Roman gods. Since Rome considered its temple cults to be the social glue that held the empire together, Christians were viewed as potential troublemakers. Rather than devoting an office to the work of discovering just what the Christians were really about, and whether they really were liable to start trouble, local governors often just opted to cut the head off before any hint of trouble could arise.

Still in other areas, Christians were simply forbidden to buy or sell at the local market, because, here again, in order to sell their wares, Roman merchants had to join a local cult. This was one way Rome collected taxes. When the Apostle Paul spoke about meat offered to idols, he was talking about all the meat sold at the local market. Today, when you buy a pound of hamburger, you find it stamped somewhere with a Grade A or Grade B FDA stamp which guarantees its quality. In the days of the first century church you would find a similar guarantee at the public market, only the meat would be stamped with a signet informing you the meat had been offered to XYZ god.

In still other areas of Rome, Christians had no rights of any kind. The fact that you were a Roman citizen meant nothing if you were a Christian. You had no right to private ownership, no right as a private citizen. If your neighbors wanted to come into your home and steal everything you have, the local authorities would make no attempt to stop it.

So here you are then, a first century Christian, you cannot work, you cannot buy, you cannot sell, you’ve come home from a long day of fruitlessly searching for employment only to find your neighbors have ransacked your home and taken everything you own, and perhaps tomorrow the local authorities will arrive at your doorstep to arrest you and drag you off to your death. Into this miserable situation comes word from a brother. John has received a word from the Lord. The brother delivers into your hand a scroll containing John’s message from the Lord. After unrolling it you begin to read –

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

Oh yes.  Praise God.  You need a word of encouragement, don’t you.  After the kind of day, kind of week, kind of year you’ve had, you need a word of encouragement.  Just a little something to keep you going.

Except as you continue to read the message from the Lord, you eventually discover that it’s about something that is going to happen two-thousand years from now, long after you have been murdered for your faith and buried.  How in the world is that supposed to bless you?

Of all the rotten, stinking, dirty tricks anyone could ever . . . .

But wait a minute.  Just hold up there.  Maybe this book isn’t about something that’s going to happen two-thousand years from now?  Maybe instead it’s about something that has already happened.

If that’s the case, here stand the brothers being persecuted in the year 1400, reading this book for the first time and crying, of all the rotten, stinking, dirty . . . .

Hold up there.  Maybe you’re both wrong.  Maybe the book isn’t about any particular time at all.  Maybe what it’s about is what it told you in the first paragraph it’s about.  The Lord Jesus Christ.

The blessing attached to this book is a direct promise from the Lord. It says blessed is the one who reads aloud and keeps the word of this prophecy.   Notice that it does not say blessed are the first century Christians only, or blessed only are those Christians born after the first century.

The point is that in whatever time the believer finds himself in, be that the first century, the tenth century, or even the twenty-first century, they are going to be blessed out of their skin by reading this book and keeping all that is written in it.

It must be asked then.  If this book is about the end of time, then how on earth are you going to be blessed by it if what happens in it is all about something that is going to happen long after you are dead? Either God mocks His people when He promises they will blessed by reading this book, or this book is not about the end of time.

Right away then, we should see a very serious problem with four of the five major views, because the first four of them insist that this book is  about the end of time. Consider Dispensationalism, for instance.

Dispensationalism is the idea that redemptive history is revealed in periods of administration called dispensations. This means, for instance, that God has a plan for national Israel that is separate from His plan for the salvation of Gentiles. He put His plan for national Israel on hold so that He could start His plan for the salvation of Gentiles, but once this plan is completed, then He will return to finish His plan for national Israel. Dispensationalism sees the book of Revelation as partly about God’s plan for Gentiles, and partly about God’s plan for national Israel.

Not only is Dispensationalism a thoroughly false, unbiblical idea wholly antithetical to the gospel, but it also falters in the face of the blessing that is attached to this book. Dispensationalism simply cannot explain how this book is supposed to be a blessing to anyone when the promises Dispensationalism makes are all about something that is going to happen long after the majority of the people who have read this book have died.

Hyper preterism fares no better, for hyper preterism maintains that all the promises in Christ, including His second coming and the resurrection of the saints, were spiritual indicators that actually spoke to the events which occurred in AD 70. This is why hyper preterists insist this book was written just prior to AD 70, because the words in verse 1 “which must soon take place” indicate the events of AD 70. Yet this too fails in the face of this book’s blessing, because there are no blessings to be gained from discovering a promise that will be fulfilled a mere four years after I’ve been murdered rather than an exhausting four-thousand. Dead is still dead. If I am going to be blessed, then I must be blessed now, before I am murdered.

This historical and futurist views both encounter the same problem. They cannot account for the unique blessing that is attached to this book.

The only view that can fully account for the words of this prophecy is the idealistic view.  What on earth though, does idealistic mean?

The idealist view of this book simply sees this book as the revelation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But because the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ encapsulates His second coming and the final judgment of the wicked; therefore, the book of Revelation must also necessarily encapsulate this as well, but never without the good news of the cross as its center and focus.  (More about this in a moment).

The idealistic view holds that the book does this work of encapsulation through the use of analogies and illustrations which are first found elsewhere in Scripture.  What, for instance, must immediately follow the preaching of the gospel every time the gospel is preached?  Conversion, followed by persecution and plague.  The world does not want to hear that the Lord Jesus Christ reigns.  Therefore, wherever this gospel is preached, there follows hard on the heels persecution and then disaster, war and disease as the kingdoms of men suffer punishment for their refusal to repent (say hello to my little friend, the analogy of the four horsemen).

Christians in this world suffer right along with the wicked in this world.  Not for lack of repentance, but rather as a consequence of still living yet in a fallen world.  They suffer from the diseases, they suffer from the wars, and they suffer from the disasters that befall all men, including the non-elect.   This suffering is what must soon take place.

All the book is doing is reminding believers that the Lord Jesus Christ is still very much in control of all that suffering. Even though it sometimes looks as if the Devil has won and the world has spun out of control, be comforted believer, be encouraged, because the Lord Jesus Christ is still very much in control.

Now, in no matter what century you find yourself, no matter what sort of persecution or plague you face, the reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ reigns is a huge blessing. And that is the very blessing which the book promises to all believers who read or hear this book being read; a reminder that the Lord Jesus Christ reigns.

Why disguise this message though? And why invite such wild speculation?

The answer is simple really. If God had a word for His people, then it would make sense He cloak it from the minds of those who were persecuting His people. After all, things would be even worse for the Christians were their persecutors to discover the book said some pretty bad things about them. This is why that when even the most self righteous pagan reads the book, he discovers fantastical images so bizarre that he becomes certain Christians are merely simple minded buffoons. He can’t understand any of it. It makes no sense to him.

With all this in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into the book.

Click here for Part 2 –>

About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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