A Fresh Look at the Book of Revelation
This study was motivated by a number of reasons. Firstly someone from Norway called Haldis was on one of the Intensive Discipleship groups that we ran, and she asked me to give an introduction to the book of revelation. In some ways this is a delayed answer to that question. Secondly a book called ‘Are we living in the End Times?’ By Tim Lahaye caught my attention because he gives 20 reasons why Jesus could come back in our generation. (That is the rapture before the second coming). Thirdly for a number of years I have come to doubt the supposed two stage second coming that many Christians hold as a precious doctrine. I absolutely believe in the second coming, but that Christ will come once and all the descriptions of his coming (Including 1 Thessalonians chapter 4) all describe the one event. Fourthly was because I was recommended a commentary by a man called Hendrickson on Revelation called, ‘More Than Conquerors’. I had wanted to read this for a long time.
Let us look at the book as a whole.
Before we get lost in the details of this book I think we need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions that will help us to have a right understanding. Let us give some insight to these questions before we look at parts of the book.
1. What was the purpose of this book?
· To encourage and correct the 7 churches in Asia Minor.
· To give them strength during difficult times.
2. What were the conditions of the early church that received this letter/revelation?
· Persecution including being fed to lions among, a dark pagan idolatrous world with generally small congregations scattered around in a world controlled by the Roman Empire.
3. Is there a main theme that we must not lose sight of as we work through this book?
· The main theme is Jesus Christ (See Rev 1v1), not end times the anti-Christ etc. This affects the way you interpret the book. If I was to give a one line summary of the theme it would be, ‘The victory of Christ and His church over Satan and all the enemies of the gospel’. Two key words are overcome and wrath!
4. Who wrote the book and where?
· John the apostle while banished to the Isle of Patmos and he received these visions towards the end of his life.
5. What is the Old Testament foundation for these visions? (Note, it is not just the book of Daniel)
· Note the OT quotations through the book. Here are some examples. Compare Rev 4v8 with Isaiah 6, Rev 6v16 with Hosea 10v8, Rev 18v2 with Isaiah 21v9 etc.
There are seven parts to the book of Revelation
As I understand this book there are seven sections to this book that basically explain what will happen between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. With this in mind we do not need to keep changing or updating our interpretation in the light of world events. This would be an orthodox view from the Reformation and church history. However you need to know that Tim Lahaye, many denominations and bible teachers do not see the book of Revelation this way.
They believe Chapter 4-19 is the time of a seven year great tribulation and that the church is raptured (Caught up to heaven) before this because of the wrath of God being poured out. Multitudes are saved during this period and then the church comes back with Christ in Revelation 19. They say that God will not subject his wrath on Christians? I have a number of questions on this line of interpretation.
I do not believe the visions of revelation can just be interpreted as single literal events. For example in chapter 16v13, it speaks of three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon. This is symbolic language.
The seven-year period of tribulation and God’s wrath has very little evidence except a verse in Daniel 9 and there is no evidence to say most of Revelation must take place during this 7 year period.
If this interpretation was true then almost all of the book of Revelation was irrelevant and of no comfort to Christians through the ages if it is almost all to be fulfilled at least 2000 years later. Jesus spoke nothing of a 7 year Great Tribulation. Note Tribulation means pressure and Christ said there would be a time of great Tribulation (Matthew 24) but he did not call it The Great Tribulation.
These people claim that it would not be righteous for God to pour out his wrath on the church but then Tim Lahaye says there could be billions of people saved in what he calls the Great Trib???? Then this contradicts the interpretation because God’s wrath (As they see it) is still poured out on the righteous anyway.
Finally whatever we believe will affect the way we live our life. Apart from the fact that I do not believe the scriptures teach a two stage second coming, this rapture/ escape teaching reminds me of prosperity teaching. Suffering free Christianity with an attitude of who cares about the world anyway because we are leaving before it gets difficult, rather than a sober longer term view where we are prepared to be salt and light in every area of society in every generation and be prepared for a single sudden coming!!!!
The Seven sections revealed in the book of Revelation.
These seven sections give different summaries of the time between the first and second coming, but remember to keep in mind the big picture and do not get lost in the details.
Section 1: The Revelation of Christ to the church. (1v1-3v22)
The seven churches represent 7 literal but different churches and these are examples of 7 different types of congregations through the ages to the second coming. The letter was written primarily to these congregations in modern day Turkey. Some people say that each church represents what happened to the church up to the rapture. I would say the bible does not teach this for a number of reasons.
Firstly this is what is called Eisegesis (Reading into the text what is not there) and secondly the Chinese would greatly disagree that we are living in the lukewarm church age before the second coming. Here we see the common danger of interpreting world events from a western perspective. I think sometimes these bible teachers could do with 2 years on the Doulos to show them that the world exists outside of Europe and America.
Section 2: The throne of God and the Seven Seals (4v1- 8v5)
The key to understanding the seven seals is to examine who the rider is on the first white horse in 6v2-4. After closely looking at this over many years I have come to the conclusion that I believe this is Jesus (Compare Revelation 19) going forth with his gospel into the nations. Many teach this is the anti Christ but I do not agree with this interpretation. If we remind ourselves about the introduction and purpose of the book, it is all about Christ and his sovereignty not about the Antichrist taking center stage.
First seal =Christ
Second seal = Persecution of God’s people
Third seal = Injustice and economic hardship suffered by believers because of their testimony of Jesus and the Word of God.
Fourth seal = Universal death for all humanity (Christians and the world)
Fifth Seal = A fixed number of saints to be martyred in the history of the church
Sixth seal = the second coming of Christ as a day of vengeance and wrath. The language is found in Matthew 24v29-30 and this is categorically the second coming after a time of tribulation (pressure) in those days.
· A great earthquake
· The sun becomes as black as sackcloth of hair
· The moon becomes as blood
· The stars of the heaven fall to the earth
· The heaven departs as a scroll (See Psalm 102v26)
· People hide themselves from the wrath of the lamb. (Second coming)
Seventh Seal = Fire cast to the earth (8v5) and this is the destruction of earth by fire as prophesied by Peter in 2 Peter 3v10-12.
Section 3: The Seven angels blowing the seven Trumpets (8v5-11v19)
Trumpet 1 = A judgment upon trees and grass of the earth
Trumpet 2 = Judgment upon the sea that becomes blood with sea creatures and ships destroyed ( A modern example would be the 2004 Tsunami)
Trumpet 3 = Judgment upon the rivers and fountains of waters (A modern example would be the floods in New Orleans). Waters also become bitter and many men die because of this.
Trumpet 4 = Sun moon and stars are effected.
Trumpet 5 =Torment and death on all those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (These are true Christians. It is interesting that in the Tsunami in Sri Lanka they told me that Christians were not so affected). Men will seek and desire death. Linked to Apollyon (Literally a destroyer)
Trumpet 6 = war, armies and the judgment of seven thunders in chapter 10 (Compare Psalm 29). The two witnesses and a great earthquake in Jerusalem (Compare Zechariah 14)
Trumpet 7 = the second coming where in 11v15, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms or our Lord and of His Christ. This is followed by worship before the throne where they declare the ruler ship of God and the time of wrath through final judgment.
Section 4: Christ versus the dragon and his allies (12v1-14v20)
Chapter12: Christ’s birth, death, resurrection and coronation with Satan hurled down from heaven. This whole chapter gives an excellent exposition of Genesis 3v15 (And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.) of the war between Christ and His seed with Satan and his seed.
Chapter 13: This reveals the two main enemies of the gospel.
A. The Beast out of the sea, possibly symbolizes anti-Christian government through the ages and will culminate in the Anti-Christ, the man of sin. 13v1-10, note especially the horns and crowns in 13v1=government
B. The beast out of the earth probably symbolizes Anti Christian religions, wisdom and philosophies between the first and second coming. Examples are Islam, Buddhism, Communism, Evolutionism etc.
· The 3 angels declaring in verse 6 the world wide preaching of the gospel (Compare Matthew 24v14) in verse 8 the fall of Babylon and in verse 10-11 the second coming as wrath and judgment on the unrighteous.
· Verse 14-20 records the second coming of Christ as a day of wrath when the door of salvation closes. Christ returns as judge!
Section 5: The Seven bowls of the Wrath of God 15-16
Bowl 1: Grievous sores on those who did not have the mark of the beast
Bowl 2: Judgment on the sea where it becomes as blood and every living thing in the sea died.
Bowl 3: Judgment on the rivers and fountains of waters. Judgment on those who have killed Christians with the voice of the martyrs rejoicing
Bowl 4: The sun scorches men with fire and heat. God has power over the plagues
Bowl 5: Judgment on the seat of the beast and his kingdom. The people blaspheme God and will not repent (16v11)
Bowl 6: The Euphrates dries and armies come with a gathering of the battle of Armageddon in Israel before the second coming.
Bowl 7: The second coming with the fierceness of wrath and the end of the world
It is very interesting to note the similarities with the seven seals and the seven trumpets and how they all end with second coming of Christ in wrath and the end of the world. Again with one and only one second coming!!
Section 6: The fall of the Dragon’s allies 17-19
The judgment of Babylon (the woman and the beast)
The marriage is prepared before the second coming 19v1-10
The one and only second coming of Christ who defeats the antichristian forces (See Zechariah 14v1-9)
The beast and false prophet were finally judged and cast into the lake of fire (19v20)
Section 7: Victory through Christ.
· I still want to think through more concerning the millennium however when we consider the main part of this book deals with the time and events between the first and second coming this probably represents in 20v1-6 a time when Satan’s authority is limited to enable the spread of the gospel through the world (See Malachi 1v11)
· For the third time this book teaches there will be a final war before the second coming, this time it reveals Satan is involved in 20v7-10 but he is defeated and cast into the lake of fire.
· The end of the age again is recorded as final judgment and here is a detailed view of the great white throne.
· The book of revelation finishes with the last two chapters describing our eternal dwelling place, The New Jerusalem on the New Earth in the New Heaven. Our dwelling is with God and the lamb!!! Meditate on these 2 chapters often.
In the light of what I have outlined please search the scriptures because we none of us have the whole picture and we are all on a pilgrimage towards what Bunyan called in The Pilgrim’s progress, ‘The Celestial City’. However what we believe, affects the way we live and we must be watching, working and waiting eagerly for the second coming, knowing that Christ may not come back for another 500 years or he could come today!
A lot of what I have outlined would be what most of the church have believed regarding the second coming through the ages with the detailed rapture ideas really only promoted from around the 1850’s. These ideas are mainstream evangelical thinking today but let not the traditions of man hide the truth of God from any us on any biblical subject.
Yours in pursuit of the whole counsel of God and in need of your prayer for this,