Reading “Revelation” (#3) Keeping the purposes in mind

POST OVERVIEW. One ofa series of posts giving principles for reading and interpreting Revelation chapters 4-20, which is the most difficult section of the book. This third post of the series deals with the importance of keeping the purposes of the book of Revelation in mind as you approach the interpretation of the book.

Previous posts in series: Post #590 (11/21), Post #592 (11/26)

SERIES DESCRIPTION. The book of Revelation is probably the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret correctly, and the main difficulties of the book are in chapters 4-20. Because of these interpretive difficulties and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation 4-20 mean, many earnest believers know just enough about the book of Revelation to be confused and intimidated by it. To clear up some of this confusion, in October 2021, I published my book, The Last Act of the Drama: a guide to the end times.

Now, a year later and before the 2nd edition of that book, I want to offer to readers of this beautiful prophecy a series of posts giving principles and guidelines for how to understand and interpret Revelation so that the book becomes a delight instead of a burden.


“Where do you begin?” There are so many images and ideas circling around in Revelation 4-20 that it is hard to know where to begin trying to interpret this series of prophecies. And this becomes even more daunting if these ideas and images represent new concepts and characters which we have not seen before in the Bible. So again, where do we begin?

This very important question is made much more manageable when the reader understands the purposes for the book of Revelation and then is able to keep those purposes in mind as he navigates his way through the text. There are also principles regarding Revelation which place limitations and boundaries on the reader’s interpretive options. These are KEY CONCEPTS for understanding Revelation which we will explain and then will illustrate with examples.


There are four primary purposes for Revelation 4-20: To fill in some blanks, to connect some dots, to present the ultimate example of ideas or characters, and to highlight or emphasize biblical ideas.

  • Fill in some blanks. By the time we reach Revelation, the Bible has already presented the course of history and has told how things are going to proceed all the way to the new heavens and the new earth. We know that, toward the end of the age, lawlessness and persecution of believers will increase. We know that all believers, living and dead, will be resurrected on the last day. We know that Jesus will return in power and glory to gather His saints and to judge the living and the dead. But there are many questions about how all this takes place that Revelation answers. The whole story is already complete, but Revelation fills in many of the missing details. These details again demonstrate that God has ordained all the events of history even until the last event of the last day, and He will surely bring these events to pass. Some examples of “details” include: the 42 months as a separate short time period at the very end of the age; the binding and release of Satan; the battle of Armageddon; the idea of trumpet warnings; and a clearer picture of the intermediate state with the “souls” in heaven in Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4-6. KEY CONCEPT: Filling in missing details.
  • Connect some dots. Another challenge in considering the events of the end of the age is that it feels like there is a lot going on at once. In previous Scripture, we have read about “that day” and “the day of the LORD” but we have not been told the order of the events of the last day. Revelation connects some of those dots so that the student of eschatology can assemble the sequence of events. During the 42 months we hear the blasts of the trumpet warnings and we see stars falling from heaven, we witness the dragon (Satan) thrown down to earth and the beast rising to power while the false prophet (“another beast” in Revelation 13:11ff) proclaims the wonders of the beast. But how do these fit together? How does this “dot” connect with that “dot”? KEY CONCEPT: The text of Revelation helps us connect the dots.
  • Present ultimate (final) examples. One of the purposes of Revelation is to present to us the full and final example of characters and events we have seen before. For instance, in Revelation 13 we meet the beast coming out of the sea. This is the ultimate example of the human antichrist, whom we have seen in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11; in Ezekiel 38-39; and in 2 Thessalonians 2. In Revelation we also see the final awesome pictures of the last day (6:12-17; 11:13-18; 14:17-20; 16:1-11, 17-21; 18:1-24; 20:10-15), the day that has been foreshadowed since the flood (Genesis 6-8) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Thus, Revelation presents some final examples.
  • Highlight or emphasize biblical ideas. Revelation also has the purpose of highlighting biblical ideas. The church will undergo tribulation throughout the age. Man is a rebel and, without the Lord, will continue to blaspheme and do evil. There is certainly coming a last day when Jesus Christ will return to pour out the wrath of God. Jesus Christ is the victorious Lamb of glory, the King of kings and the Lord of lords and He will reign forever and ever. Pay close attention to what Revelation highlights.

The student of Revelation will be well-served by keeping these purposes in mind as he makes his way through the text. Remember that Revelation does not introduce major new events or new characters. Rather, Revelation is filling in details to the existing structure of redemptive history. The thought to keep in mind is that this last book of the canon is summing up the teaching and concluding the story. This perspective makes interpreting Revelation less intimidating. Revelation is not building a new house but is laying the flooring in one room and is putting up drywall in another room. Filling in details and connecting dots. Giving the final examples and highlighting key points. These are the purposes of Revelation.

Since that is the case, the best way to prepare to study Revelation is to be crystal clear on what the Bible has already presented. The more you know about the existing geography of Scripture, the more readily you will recognize Revelation’s additional details and the more accurately you will be able to place them on the biblical map.

This post has focused on the purposes of Revelation. The next post will discuss key principles regarding Revelation which place limitations and boundaries on the reader’s interpretive options.

SDG                 rmb                 11/28/2022                 #593

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