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 fourth post of the series deals with general principles to keep in mind as you approach the interpretation of the book. Previous posts in series: Post #590 (11/21), Post #592 (11/26), Post #593 (11/28)
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.
Interpreting the complex visions of Revelation 4-20 is made more manageable when the reader understands both the purposes for the book of Revelation and principles for navigating the text. Purposes and principles are KEY CONCEPTS which place much-needed limitations on the reader’s options for interpretation and thus reduce the feeling of intimidation. In the last post (#593, 11/28/2022), we had explored four purposes for Revelation. In this post, we will go on to look at general principles about the book.
These principles are really just general ideas or truths about Revelation that help the reader understand where the boundaries of interpretation lie.
PRINCIPLE. Because Revelation is the last book in the inspired canon, it is the book in the Bible that is most “dependent” on the rest of Scripture. By that I mean that the events and actions and characters in Revelation must harmonize with and be consistent with all the other teaching of the Bible. There cannot be a conflict between the timing of an event in Revelation and the timing of that same event in other books of the Bible. For example, we know from Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of John that the general resurrection of all believers occurs on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; also, 11:24). Therefore, in Revelation, the general resurrection of all believers must occur on the last day.
Because of this principle, a given interpretation of a passage in Revelation must be examined to see if it conflicts with an existing text of Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture. If a conflict is discovered, the interpretation must be rejected and replaced by one that removes the conflict. All Scripture is God-breathed and the Holy Spirit does not breathe out conflict.
PRINCIPLE. There is nothing profoundly new in Revelation. Remember that Revelation is the last book of the Bible and so it functions as the last book of the Bible. This means that, in this book, we are “landing the plane.” We are pulling together all the threads of the tapestry to show that the masterpiece was always an integrated and cohesive and intricate whole. Revelation is drawing the story to its intended ending and resolving all the plots. Many references and allusions are made to the Old Testament to reveal how these prophetic foreshadows are now fulfilled in the glorious return of the Lord Jesus, in the glorification of all His saints, and in the terrible judgment of all the reprobate. Therefore, in Revelation the persistent question is, “Where have we seen this before?” and is not, “What does this new teaching mean?” Again, there is nothing profoundly new in Revelation.
PRINCIPLE. Revelation presents no new biblical doctrine. This flows as a corollary from the previous statement. The last book of the Bible is not the place to put new doctrinal teaching.
PRINCIPLE. The book of Revelation presents no new major events. All of human history has already been presented in other biblical books. There is no major new event or era which was excluded from the previous sixty-five books of inspired Scripture that suddenly appears in Revelation. But, when I say that Revelation presents no new major events, I do not mean that it presents no new events at all. Remember from our previous study that one of the purposes of Revelation is “to fill in the blanks.” There are many details of the 42 months and even of the last day that require the introduction of minor events. The trumpet warnings (Rev. 8-9), the casting of Satan into the abyss (Rev. 20:3) and then down to the earth (Rev. 12:9, etc.), the persecution of the church by the beast (Rev. 11:7; 13:7), the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16; 19:19; 20:9), even the period of the 42 months itself (Rev. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5) are all details that fill in blanks, but these minor events fit into what we already know of history without requiring an entirely new timeline.
Human history between the advents is already set: the risen Jesus ascended after commissioning the church and now sits at the Father’s right hand (Psalm 110:1) awaiting the time of His return. The church is gathering in the elect as she perseveres as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16). The church is proclaiming the gospel, baptizing those who believe, and teaching them to obey Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20). This will continue until the last day when the general resurrection occurs and Jesus returns and the reprobate are judged. Then comes the new heavens and the new earth. That is the flow of biblical history and has been the flow of the grand drama since human history began. Revelation, as the last book of the Bible, is not the place to introduce some new history.
PRINCIPLE. There are no major characters in Revelation whom we have not met before in Scripture. We have known the dragon (Satan, the devil, the serpent) since he tempted Adam in the garden. Of course, we have known about the Lord Jesus ever since we were told about the serpent-crusher in Genesis 3:15. Jesus has been foretold, He has been Incarnate, He has accomplished His work by dying on the cross for His people, He has been raised from the dead, and He has ascended. In Revelation 5, He enters heaven as the returning, victorious Lamb and in Revelation 19:11-16, He returns to earth on a white horse to tread out the wine press of the wrath of God the Almighty. So, we know the Lamb.
In Revelation 13, we meet the beast, but he is simply the final and most vivid manifestation of the antichrist, the human embodiment of wickedness and evil. We have met him several times before. He is the little horn (Daniel 7:21-26), the small horn (Daniel 8), the prince who is to come (Daniel 9:26-27), and the despicable person (Daniel 11:21-45). We have seen him as Gog, the chief prince of Meshech in the land of Magog (Ezekiel 38-39) and we encountered him in 2 Thess. 2:3-12 where he appears as the man of lawlessness.
The point here is that there are no new major characters in Revelation.
This consideration of principles will be continued in the next post.
SDG rmb 11/29/2022 #594