The book of Revelation unveils the spiritual war in which the Church of Jesus is engaged; that cosmic conflict between God with Jesus Christ and Satan with his evil allies (demonic and human). In this conflict, the Lamb of God Jesus has already won the decisive victory through His finished and sufficient work on the cross. The Church today continues to be assaulted by Satan, the dragon, in its death-roes through persecution, false teaching, and the allure of material affluence and cultural approval. John reveals the spiritual realities lying behind the church’s trials and temptations during the time between Christ’s first and second comings. He also affirms the certainty of the triumph of Christ in the New Heavens and Earth, those visions which both warn the Church and fortify it to endure suffering, and to purify it from the defiling enticements of the present world order.
The Book of Revelation
Revelation opens with a prologue (Revelation 1:1-8), a body (1:9-22), and an epilogue (22:6-21). The prologue and epilogue are linked by an angel sent to show the servants of the Lord what must soon take place (Revelation 1:1; 22:6, 16). Additionally, Revelation gives blessings on those who read and keep the prophecy (1:3; 22:7, 9), John’s self-identification (1:1-4; 22:8), and the designation of God as Alpha and Omega (1:8; 22:13). The body of Revelation contains four series of seven messages or visions: Letters to churches (Revelation 2-3), seals on a scroll (4:1-8:1), trumpets (8:2-11:19), and bowls of wrath (Revelation 15-16).
Revelation moves from “things that are” the seven churches (chapters 2-3) to “things that are to take place after this” climaxing in the enemies of God being destroyed and the church presented as the Lamb’s bride in a New Heaven and Earth (1:19; 4:1). In Revelation 12:1-6, John portrays the defeat of the dragon in its desire to destroy the child of the heavenly woman (Revelation 12:1-5), followed by her flight for safety into the wilderness (Revelation 12:6). Revelation 12:7-17 describes the defeat of the dragon in its desire to accuse Christians (Revelation 12:7-12), followed by the heavenly woman’s flight for safety into the wilderness (Revelation 12:13-17).
Earlier visions sometimes portray later events, and later visions describe earlier conditions. Revelation 6:12-17 shows the shaking of the earth and sky so that the stars are cast to earth by a great wind. Then, in Revelation 7:1-8, John explains the angels restraining the winds of woe until the people of God are sealed. Still, later, John sees the sun, moon, and stars in the sky and only partially darkened (Revelation 8:12). The principle of repetition or recapitulation is given to elaborate on God’s purposes and to confirm their certainty as seen in Scripture (Genesis 1:1-2:25; 37:5-11; 41:1-32; Daniel 2:1-45; Acts 10:10-16). In Revelation, recapitulation means that the order in which John received visions does not necessarily indicate the order of the events that they symbolize.
When we come to the book of Revelation, we come to one of, if not the hardest book of the Bible to read and interpret. The key to reading Revelation is to have a consistent understanding and application of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation.
A normal hermeneutic means that unless the Bible passage under consideration clearly indicates that the author was using figurative language, it should be interpreted normally. In other words, Bible readers are not to look for other meanings than the natural meaning of the sentence, nor are they to spiritualize Scripture to assign meanings that aren’t there. The clarity of Scripture teaches us that all Scripture is given by God and therefore is sufficient and authoritative for the people of God. When applied to our hermeneutic, this means that the meaning of the biblical text is to be understood as it is written normally.
Revelation is full of colorful descriptions of visions which proclaim the last days before the return of Christ and the ushering in of the New Heavens and New Earth. The book of Revelation is full of prophecies that find their fulfillment about the end times rooted in the Old Testament. The mention of the antichrist mentioned in Daniel 9:27 is developed fully in Revelation. Other examples of this include Daniel 7-12, Isaiah 24-27, Ezekiel 37-41, and Zechariah 9-14, which contain prophecies that find their fulfillment in Revelation.
John uses the technique of symbolism from the start of his letter to the end of Revelation. Instead of portraying characters and events directly, John describes them indirectly by means of symbols. Jesus is described as a lamb, and churches are represented as lamps on lampstands, and Satan is pictured as a dragon with seven heads and 10 horns. The symbols are sometimes familiar and sometimes original and strange.
Whenever a work of literature presents a bunch of symbols instead of realistic details, readers should recognize the technique of symbolic reality, meaning that as they enter the work in their imaginations, information is presented primarily through symbols. The Book of Revelation is one of the most sustained examples of symbolic reality in existence.
The main interpretative question is what do the symbols refer to? In many cases, historical background studies can help in understanding how the symbols were understandable to John’s audience. One cannot go wrong by relating the strange symbolic details to familiar New Testament images of the end times, including the following:
- Moral degeneration; Cataclysmic natural and military disasters
- Tribulation, including the persecution of Christians; The Second Coming of Jesus; The Millennium
- The intermediate and final judgments; The final dissolution of the earth
- The glorification of Christians in heaven
Revelation and the End Times
Revelation contains a compelling message of faithfulness to Christ amid the spiritual war against Satan and sin as the people of God wait for the Second Coming of Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus changed the course of the history of the world. The return of Jesus will bring about as dramatic of a change in the history of man. When Jesus returns, He will destroy all His enemies with a word out of His mouth then establish His Kingdom with the New Jerusalem. History is not moving about willy-nilly in the mind of God. History is moving forward to the glorious conclusion of Christ returning and establishing His Kingdom forever and always. Revelation tells the glorious story of the return of Christ and is vital for Christians to read and study, so they grow in their understanding of the person and work of Christ and the end of history.
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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.