In my opinion, the Book of Revelation is one of the most abused books of the New Testament. Theologians, conspiracy mongers, and self-made prophets have destroyed the message of the book, and made it seem mysterious and complex. So much so that many Christians won’t even read it. They may read books about it but assume that there is little in it for ordinary readers. Yet the book is the only one in our Bible that offers a specific blessing on those who read it.
The book of Revelation includes various indicators telling us how to view it. But nowhere does it indicate that it is to be understood as a timeline of the last days. So, how is to be understood?
I am going to assume, for the sake of this writing, that the author of the book was the Apostle John, since that seems to be the prevailing opinion of the early church. I am also assuming that he wrote it, or at least had the vision it is based on, while he banished to the salt mines. Any discussion beyond that might be interesting but not helpful in looking at the content and meaning of the book.
It is important to note that the book is written in the fashion of ancient apocalyptic literature. This would have been immediately apparent to his audience. Unfortunately, this isn’t always apparent to modern readers, especially readers from the west. Most of us have been taught that we need to take the Bible literally where ever that makes sense. Apocalyptic literature wasn’t written from that perspective. Typically, it was only taken literally when it had to be, in order to make sense.
The book seems to have been written as a series of snapshots, and that is how I think it makes the most sense. It isn’t a timeline for future events, though it includes future events. It isn’t a historical documentary either, though it includes events that are obviously in the past.
John states at the very beginning that this book is Revelation of Jesus Christ which God had given to Jesus to show his servants. Jesus then sent an angel to pass this on to John, though Jesus speaks as well in different parts of the book.
The book is the only one in the Bible that starts with a blessing on those who read it, those who hear it, and those who keep [or obey—NLT] what it says. This blessing guides us to a purpose for this book much different from what most people assume. We will come back to this.
This book is also the only one in the Bible that ends with a curse on those who change its teaching. That should make us hesitant in being too secure in our personal interpretation.
I also seems evident that another purpose for the book is to illustrate the victory of good over evil, and Christ over Satan.
Interpreting the Book…
These concepts are my own opinions, and I’m sure that some readers will disagree. However, I feel that the snapshots in Revelation are best interpreted as if they were parables. When you interpret a parable you look for a main idea. Details beyond that are given to carry the story-line, but not necessarily to aid in interpreting the parable. In fact, trying to work the details of the parable into the interpretation will inevitably lead to a false interpretation.
That same is true of many Bible prophecies, especially those in the Apocalyptic books like Daniel and Revelation.
As an illustration of what can happen, look at Revelation 20:9 – 27. The angel tells John that he is going to show John the Bride. When the bride appears, she looks like the Holy City, Jerusalem. For years I have heard this interpreted as a literal city in which we will live once we get to heaven. And this might be the case. However, the angel said that this was the Bride. So it is just as likely that the vision was comparing the Bride to a city. In this case the splendour of the city was describing the splendour of the Church, the Bride of Christ.
A Brief Overview
So what does this book show us about Christ? In chapter one, we see a picture of the glorified Christ. In chapters two and three, we see how Christ views the church. He promises them glory, but only if they overcome. Throughout the book, you see Christ’s burning desire for a pure Bride and the lengths to which He is willing to go in order to purify her.
In the main body of the book you also see Christ judging sin and the hatred that He has for sin. It also clarifies that God judges deliberate sin. But even in the middle of judgment, the opportunity for repentance is still available until the very end of the book.
In the end we see the victory of Christ over evil. And in the last chapters we see the beauty of the union of Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Time in God’s Eyes
God views time from a much different perspective then we do. We see time from within the boundaries of time, but God dwells outside time. God has no past and no future, because in eternity it is always now. This can make it very hard for us to understand a book like Revelation since it is written using God’s perspective rather than ours.
Imagine yourself standing at the end of a large pipe or tube and looking into it. Any items in the tube are transparent so that you can see all of them at the same time. Then think of these items as being history, some in the past and some in the future. That is somewhat like the way the God views time. From his perspective a thousand years is the same as a day, and a day is the same as a thousand years. The future is just history that hasn’t happened yet.
The Revelation is written from God’s perspective of history and you can see that many times in the book. For instance, in the last chapter, you have the picture of the bride represented by a city. It is given in present tense, with sinners outside the walls and the Bride within. Yet at the same time a few verses earlier, we see future tense, which is obviously after the following verses. That is how God sees time, and that is one reason that Revelation is confusing to human readers. We are used to books with chronologies, because we are locked into time. To God, time is much more subjective.
In the last chapter of Revelation, the angel told John twice that the time for its fulfillment was near and these things would soon take place. Then in verses 12 – 19 Jesus told John that He is coming soon but that there was still time for sinners to repent and enter the city to become part of the Bride. The Bride is within the walls while those who practice sin are outside, but Jesus is still inviting those outside to enter the city. The water of life is within the city. So is the tree of life. Sinners can gain access to them by leaving their sins behind and joining the Bride.
But don’t put it off because Jesus is returning and that will be the end of the opportunity.
John could hardly wait. How about you?