The Book of the Revelation Part 1 – Interpretation

Perhaps there is no other book in history that has elicited more bewilderment, and has invited more speculation than the book of the Revelation. This is probably because no other book has done so thorough a job of inviting speculation. And make no mistake the book does indeed invite wild speculation. However, it does so for good reason.

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 the views are the result of wild speculation with some being less wild than others.

To discover why this book invites wild speculation we need to begin by examining the contents of the book. With that in mind, let us begin with chapter 1, verse 1.

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.

We discover a number of things about this book right from the start. First, this book is a revelation of Jesus Christ. That may sound rather obvious, but consider that four of the five major views all see this book as a revelation of some past or future event. However, the very first verse states that the revelation is nothing less than the revelation of Jesus Christ Himself. 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” is not the best translation.  The word is aggelos, meaning messenger. Aggelos is often translated angel, but it is also sometimes translated messenger. In fact, James 2:25 uses it to denote the twelve spies who Israel had sent into Canaan to spy out the land.  If we know our Old Testament then the words “His angel” should quickly resonate. Several times in the Old Testament we are greeted with the preincarnate Christ who is described as appearing in the form of an angel. Consider, for example, the birth of Samson in Judges 13:3-22.   The point in verse 1 of the book of the Revelation is that God had sent His messenger to communicate the revelation of Jesus Christ to John, and as the rest of the chapter reveals, that messenger is none other than 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. We must keep in mind that no New Testament Christian had a copy of the New Testament when this book was first written; therefore, the testimony of Jesus Christ is referring not the written testimony of Jesus Christ, but rather to the verbal testimony of Him. That is, the testimony of Jesus Christ which the New Testament Christians had received by way of word of mouth was the gospel that had been preached to them. That gospel was itself a verbal communication of the apostles’ eyewitness account. The apostles had preached the good news they had seen, touched and felt. Those people who had believed their testimony went on to communicate this testimony to other people by word of mouth. Those other people communicated this testimony to still more people and so forth.

However, though these people did not yet have a New Testament, they did have an Old Testament. As they understood it then their Word of God was the Old Testament. It was only much later, after the apostles jotted down their testimony on paper, that they would then have the New Testament as part of the Word of God. They did not yet have this though, at the first writing of this book. The word of God which Jesus bore witness to then was the Old Testament, and the testimony He bore witness to was the New Testament. In other words, “. . . who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” is simply saying “who bore witness to the Old Testament and to the New Testament.” He is, after all, who both testaments bear witness to.

What we discover then is that God sent Christ to reveal Himself to John by bearing witness to the Old Testament and to the New Testament. Now, this can be rather disappointing if you are one of those folks who were certain this book was about the end of time, because we discover rather quickly in just the first two verses of this book that there is going to be no new revelation in this book. Instead, this book is simply going to repeat the same message we have already encountered in the sixty-five books which have preceded it. And that is exactly what we do find, because every one of the images John is going to see are echoes and allusion to identical images found elsewhere in the Bible. Were you surprised to find a dragon 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 that dragon is in Isaiah 27, and you will know what it is in Revelation 13.

To reiterate then, God sent Jesus Christ to reveal Himself to John. He did this by bearing witness to the Old Testament and to the New Testament.

The next thing we should notice is that there is a unique blessing attached to this book that is nowhere attached to any other book. “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 . . . and read these words –
“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.”

Sounds good, right? Except that by the time you finish the book you discover that it is about something which is going to happen two-thousand years from now, long after you have been murdered for your faith in Christ. Here now is the obvious question – how on earth is that supposed to bless you?
The verse is a direct promise from the Lord. It says blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy. And notice that it doesn’t say blessed are the first century Christians, so we cannot say this blessing is only for them. Rather, in no matter what century you find yourself, under no matter what persecution you suffer, God promises that reading or hearing this book being read will be a blessing to you.

Now I ask, 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 that 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 are insistent that this book is indeed 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. Only the idealistic view can account for it. What do I mean by idealistic?

The idealist view of this book simply sees this book as the revelation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which necessarily entails all that must immediately follow the preaching of the gospel every time the gospel is preached.  The idealistic view holds that the book does this through the use of analogies and illustrations which are first found elsewhere in Scripture.  And what 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, and so 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.  The Christian suffers right along with those kingdoms as well, not for lack of repentance, but rather as a consequence of living yet in a fallen world.  They suffer from the diseases, they suffer from the wars, and they suffer from the disasters. These are the things “which must soon take place”. All the book is doing is reminding believers that the Lord Jesus Christ is still very much in control. Even though it sometimes looks as if the Devil has won and the world has spun out of control, be comforted believer, be encouraged, 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 –>   https://cornbreadandbourbon.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/the-book-of-the-revelation-part-2-visions/

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About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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