POST OVERVIEW. The first in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This post discusses the purposes for which Revelation was written and how understanding these purposes can help in reading the book.
INTRODUCTION. Reading the book of Revelation is a challenging task for any disciple of Jesus. The visions the apostle John relates to us in Revelation are strange and spectacular, and trying to make sense of the visions and then put them into some coherent picture is difficult work. But, while acknowledging the difficulties involved, I believe the challenge of understanding the book of Revelation is eased considerably when we understand how to read the book. In these posts I hope to offer some principles for approaching Revelation that will make the book much less intimidating.
PURPOSES OF REVELATION
When approaching the book of Revelation, it is important to keep in mind the purpose of the book. That is, what is the book’s function in the God-breathed Scriptures? More than perhaps any other biblical book, Revelation performs a specific function and has a specific purpose. Revelation is obviously the last book of the Bible, and it is last for a reason. As the last book of the Bible, Revelation is intended to summarize and to wrap up what was written previously. But not only is it the last book of the Bible, but Revelation is also the final book. This writing concludes God’s recorded communication to man. In fact, unlike any other biblical book, there are specific curses associated with adding any words to the prophecy of this book (22:18). So, Revelation is intended to summarize and conclude the writing of Scripture.
There are, however, other purposes for this book.
Revelation was written:
- To fill in the blanks in minor areas where Scripture has previously been (largely) silent. This filling in of blanks left by other Scripture is restricted to areas which do not affect the flow of redemptive history or any doctrines of Scripture. An example would be the appearance of “another beast” (13:11ff), also known as “the false prophet” (16:13), who promotes and magnifies the beast so that he is worshiped. His appearance, though previously unmentioned in Scripture, changes nothing about the flow of the end times or the events of the last day. It is simply a blank which Revelation fills in. So, Revelation fills in some blanks in the picture of Scripture.
- To add more detail to select portions of Scripture which were previously foggy or vague. Many portions of Scripture have pointed ahead to the events of the end of the age, the very events that Revelation now describes in detail. Some of the previously written prophecies were short on details and so left us with hazy images about what really occurs. Others supplied details that seemed confusing to interpret. Revelation adds some detail to some of these to clarify them. An example would be the binding of the strong man that Jesus mentions in Matthew 12:29. This somewhat vague reference during Jesus’ earthly ministry is made more concrete in Revelation 20:1-3 when “an angel coming down from heaven” (the resurrected Jesus Christ) binds the dragon (Satan) in the abyss for the thousand years. So, Revelation adds some detail to certain events of the end times.
- To provide information that allows the events of the last days to be placed in order and to “connect the dots.” As presented by Revelation, there are many events that occur in rapid succession in the days just before the return of Christ and on the last day. While many of these events have been presented in the word of God before Revelation, the order of their occurrence and how one event connects or relates to another event has been unknown or uncertain. The visions of Revelation gives information about these end times events that allows the diligent student to discern a sequence to these events that fits them together into a cohesive picture. So, Revelation supplies information to structure the order of the events of the end times.
As stated before, Revelation is intended to summarize the rest of the Bible and to bring the entire story of the Bible to a close. Revelation finishes the project. After this, nothing more needs to be added or done.
AN ILLUSTRATION. Imagine that you are permitted to enter the work room of a master weaver of tapestries. The day you visit, the master is nearing completion of a beautiful and intricate weaving that has taken him months to create. The brilliant colors of the threads blend and interact together to form a breathtaking whole, but you notice that there are some places where there are no threads at all and other places where the weaving appears incomplete and the image in that part of the tapestry is indistinct. Oh, you would gladly pay a fortune for this just as it is, but there is something just a little incomplete about the work. With a tone of utmost respect, you mention your observations to the master weaver. He turns to you and says, “Thank you for your observations, but the tapestry is not yet finished. The places that you mentioned are the very places where I am going to fill in the blanks and where I will add more threads to enhance the detail. When I am finished with those final threads, the tapestry will be beautifully complete and its message and meaning will be clear.”
That is the purpose of Revelation. The masterpiece that is God’s word is almost complete, but there are a few things that need to be summarized and clarified and wrapped up. There are a few select blanks that need to be filled in and some features that require a little more detail. But once Revelation is written, the project is complete.
SUMMARY. Therefore, when you set out to read the book of Revelation, realize that you are not heading off into new and uncharted waters. Quite the contrary. You are not seeking wild and fascinating new doctrines and events and characters, but, instead, you are looking for the final threads from the master weaver that will complete the tapestry that you began sixty-five books ago as you started “In the beginning . . .” In Revelation you will find clarification of some details and the enhancement of some of what was fuzzy, and you will find a Rider on a white horse who is Faithful and True and who is coming from heaven to redeem His blood-bought bride, the church, and take her to the new heavens and the new earth. That’s how to read Revelation.
SDG rmb 9/9/2022 #568