Reading “Revelation” #4 – Principles to consider

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.

PRINCIPLES

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

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.

THE PRINCIPLES AND PURPOSES OF “REVELATION”

“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.

PURPOSES

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

Reading “Revelation” #2 – Where does this event fit?

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 second post of the series will address the question of where a given event fits in terms of what happens before that event and what happens after it.

Previous posts in series: #590 (11/21)

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 of the book and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation 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.

In the previous post on reading Revelation 4-20, post #590, we had discussed two main ideas. First, we made the statement that Revelation, like almost all biblical prophecy, is not written in chronological order and it is a mistake to read Revelation 4-20 as if these events were arranged chronologically. Second, we suggested that the reader of Revelation must repeatedly ask the question, “WHEN DOES THIS EVENT TAKE PLACE?” and must use keen observation of the text and thorough knowledge of Scripture to supply answers to that question. An interpretation of Revelation 6 was given as an example of this technique.

WHAT EVENT(S) ARE BEFORE THIS AND WHAT EVENT(S) ARE AFTER?

Another important question to answer when reading Revelation, is, “WHAT IS THE SEQUENCE OF THESE EVENTS?” That is, “WHAT OCCURS BEFORE THIS EVENT AND WHAT OCCURS AFTER?” For example, we know that the general resurrection of all believers, the living and the dead, occurs on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24). The logical conclusion from this fact means that all events that do not occur on the last day necessarily occur before the general resurrection of all believers. Thus, “the thousand years” (Rev. 20:1-6), all the events of the 42 months (Rev. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), the great tribulation (Daniel 12:1; Matt. 24:21), the rise of the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 13), the trumpet warnings (Rev. 8, 9), the first through fifth seals (Rev. 6), and the binding of Satan in the abyss (Rev. 20:1-3) all occur before the general resurrection.

Notice what was done in this example. First, a significant known fact was presented: Jesus declared that the resurrection will occur on the last day. Then logic was applied: if the resurrection occurs on the last day, then all the events of the end times that do not occur on the last day occur before the resurrection. Then we listed some specific end-times events which occurred before the resurrection.  

Another example of this arranging of events is the understanding that Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16) occurs just before the coming of Jesus Christ (παρουσία) in Rev. 19:11-16. This understanding is based on the interpretation that Jesus returns from heaven just in time to rescue his bride, the church, from annihilation due to persecution (Rev. 11:7; 13:7). In the Armageddon passage, we observe that all three members of the unholy trinity, Satan (the dragon), the beast, and the false prophet (Rev. 16:13), are active in gathering the kings of the whole world together for “the war of the great day of God” (Rev. 16:14). Since Satan is active in gathering the kings, it is apparent that he has been released from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7), and since Satan has been released from the abyss, it means that “the thousand years” have ended (again, Rev. 20:3, 7). Also, in this scene of Armageddon, the beast has obviously appeared (see Rev. 13:1-10), as has the false prophet (“another beast” in Rev. 13:11ff). Notice that, according to Rev. 13:5, the beast appears during the forty-two months. Finally, since Satan (the dragon) is active after “the thousand years” are completed (Rev. 20:7) and the beast is active during the 42 months, we can conclude that the period of the 42 months occurs after “the thousand years.” These observations and conclusions constitute a significant collection of facts about the sequencing of the events of the end times which can be applied to other passages of the book.

Notice again what was done in this example. We made observations of the details of the passage (Rev. 16:13-16). From those observations we made logical conclusions. We discovered that, for the battle of Armageddon, Satan has been released from the abyss, the period of “the thousand years” has ended, the 42 months is coming to a close, and the last day is imminent.

One more observation should be made about this four-verse section of Rev. 16. As stated above, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet are gathering the kings of the earth for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) and they are gathering them at the place called Armageddon (16:16). This “great day of God” must certainly be the last day and it is obvious from the text that this day will occur in the very near future. What is the precise sequence? My personal interpretation of these events is that the gathering together of the kings and their armies (Rev. 19:19) takes place at the very end of the 42 months and that Armageddon is the war that occurs on the last day.

SUMMARY

Once again, we have seen that careful observation of details coupled with reasoned logic and knowledge of the Scripture allows the student of Revelation not only to discover when these events occur, but also to postulate a sequence of those events.

SDG                 rmb                 11/26/2022                 #592

Reading “Revelation” #1 – When does this event occur?

POST OVERVIEW. One of a series of posts giving principles for reading and interpreting Revelation chapters 4-20, which is the most difficult section of the book. This first post of the series will address the crucial question of when events in Revelation occur.

[NOTE: This post was edited on November 27.]

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 of the book and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation 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.

IS REVELATION WRITTEN IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER?

We begin with a fundamental question: “Is Revelation 4-20 to be understood as written in chronological order?” To state this question another way, “Is Revelation 4-20 one continuous series of events with chapter 4 beginning the events and chapter 20 ending the events, and all the events in between occurring one after the other in sequence?” Many readers of Revelation claim that chapters 4-20 should be read chronologically, assuming that John is writing of these events in the order in which they occur. This would mean that chapter 4 occurs before chapter 5 and chapter 7 occurs before chapter 8, chapter 11 occurs before chapter 12 and chapter 20 occurs after chapter 19. But while it is true that the events of historical narrative like 1 Kings or the gospel of Matthew or the book of Acts or Exodus are presented in chronological order, the ordering of the events of biblical prophecy is not necessarily presented this way. Rather, the timing of the events of prophecy like Revelation must be determined by carefully evaluating the details of the prophecy itself and then connecting those details with the timing of known events. (See examples of this in Revelation 6 below.)

This means that, while John’s visions in Revelation are assumed to be recorded in the order the visions were received, they are not necessarily written in the order they will occur. In fact, it is this requirement to accurately determine the timing of these future events that makes reading and interpreting Revelation so difficult. It means that each scene in chapters 4-20 must be examined for details and then those details must be compared to known scenes so that a time of occurrence can thus be determined. All of this necessitates patience, persistence, and skill on the part of the reader or interpreter, but the net result of this effort will be a coherent picture of the events of the end of the age.

AN EXERCISE USING REVELATION 6

So, as an illustration, let’s try to identify when the events of Revelation 6 occur.

Before we begin with this exercise, we need to acknowledge that the last days, which is the time between Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:9) and His return at the end of the age, contain three categories when events occur: “the thousand years,” the 42 months, and the last day. In my view, “the thousand years” represents a very long period of time that begins at Christ’s ascension and that ends when Satan is released from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7). The “42 months” begins when Satan (or the dragon) is released from the abyss and extends until the last day (the day of the LORD, that day, the end of the age, etc.). Finally, “the last day” is exactly what its name implies, the last day of the age. The last day is followed immediately by the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth.

As one last comment, you will observe that it is not always possible to be certain about the precise occurrence of an event, either because there is not enough evidence to give certainty or because the precise order or timing is not crucial. We will see, for example, that the precise placement of the second, third, and fourth seals (Rev. 6:3-8) has some ambiguity, but the ambiguity does not affect the interpretation of the passage.

So, let’s begin.

The timing of the breaking of the first seal (Rev. 6:1-2) is significant and this significance makes the timing certain. (For a more detailed treatment of this first seal, see my book Last Act of the Drama.) The rider with a crown seated on the white horse (6:2) represents the church, which is riding out with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) and with the charge of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), conquering and to conquer with the bow of the gospel. Thus, the first seal is broken immediately after Christ’s ascension (or perhaps symbolically on the day of Pentecost) so that the church can begin her work of gathering the elect into the church. This occurs at the very start of “the thousand years.”

My understanding of the second, third, and fourth seals (Rev. 6:3-8) is that these seals are also broken during “the thousand years” and represent what life will be like during that period. Although not as tumultuous as the 42 months, “the thousand years” will definitely reflect a fallen world filled with wars and famines and the ever-presence of death. These miseries will be part of the routine during “the thousand years.” [NOTE: I do not consider these seals to be part of the 42 months because there does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary about these seals and their results.]

The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) reveals the souls of those slain because of the word of God and because of their testimony. As we compare these martyrs with those who are slain in Rev. 20:4-6, we see that there are many similarities. Notice that the scene of those who had been beheaded in Rev. 20 explicitly occurs during “the thousand years” (20:4, 5, 6), but when does this event with the souls under the altar take place? I believe that, as there are martyrs throughout “the thousand years” (20:4-6), so there will be martyrs who will be able “to rest for a little while” (Rev. 6:11) during the 42 months. In other words, as Rev. 20:4-6 pictures for us the martyrs that are killed during “the thousand years” (explicitly stated), so Rev. 6:9-11 pictures for us the martyrs who are killed during the great tribulation of the church during the 42 months. Thus, the fifth seal is broken during the 42 months.

The sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-17) is broken during the last day and shows us the catastrophic events that will terrorize the unsaved on the last day. It is obvious that Rev. 6:12-17 occurs on the last day, for all these events that take place are last-day events. The last verse, Rev. 6:17 is conclusive: “The great day of their wrath (the wrath of Him who sits on the throne and the wrath of the Lamb) has come, and who is able to stand?” We know that the Lord’s full wrath will be poured out on the earth on the last day, so we know that these events take place on the last day. [NOTE: Since we now know that these events take place on the last day, when we see these same events and catastrophes mentioned somewhere else in Revelation, we know that we are probably looking at a last-day event. For example, an earthquake, the kings of the earth are terrified, the sky rolled up like a scroll, and every mountain and island removed from its place. These can be helpful clues when trying to determine the timing of other passages.]

SUMMARY

In summary, then, we can see that, just in the seventeen verses of Revelation 6, we journey from the time just after Christ’s ascension at the very beginning of “the thousand years” to the events of the last day as Christ is coming to judge the earth (Psalm 96:13).

The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how knowledge of the basic structure of Revelation and some logical deductions can be used to establish the sequence of events in Revelation.

SDG                 rmb                 11/21/2022                 #590

Edited 11/27/2022.

Reading Revelation (Part 3): Nothing significant and new

POST OVERVIEW. The third in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This third post discusses the fact that Revelation introduces no significant new characters or events into end times prophecy. Everything significant has already been mentioned in the previous text of Scripture.  (Also, see previous posts: #568 on the purposes of Revelation and #569 about the constraints that are on the book of Revelation.)

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.

CONSIDER THE FICTION NOVEL

Imagine for a moment that you are reading a classic novel by a skilled author, perhaps Dostoyevsky or Victor Hugo. You have been fascinated as you have seen the author create the main characters in the book, the protagonist and the antagonist and their supporting casts. What initially appeared to be unrelated stories about random people and events were gradually woven into the plot as the movement of the novel steadily picked up steam. Then, at precisely the right moment, the drama reached its climax and the complexities and perplexities of the story were resolved as the hero emerged victorious and the villain was trounced into disgrace. The entire reading has been a satisfying journey into realistic adventure, and now you are turning the final pages to see how the tensions are resolved and the loose ends are tied up.

Then unexpectedly, out of nowhere, a mere fifteen pages from THE END, three new characters appear and a brand new context is introduced which seems disconnected with anything in the previous 500 pages. You were, figuratively speaking, expecting the wheels of the plane to settle softly onto the tarmac and suddenly the nose of the jet was wrenched upward. “Will this flight never end?” Where did this come from? Why are these characters being introduced now at the end of the book? The fact is that a well-written, classic novel does not introduce new characters or plot twists in the last chapter of the novel. The last chapter is where the action is concluded and the plot of the novel is summarized. The last chapter is for landing softly on the tarmac, pulling into the arrival gate, and maybe even picking up your luggage at Baggage Claim. It is not for introducing new characters and plot twists.

CONSIDER THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION

In the same way as the novel, the word of God, the Bible, has as its final book, its final “chapter,” the book of Revelation. As we have already said in the previous post (#568) on the purposes of Revelation, this final book serves as the instrument of conclusion and summary, as the book of the Bible that ties together the loose ends and reveals how our Hero, the Lord Jesus, ultimately triumphs over His adversary, the devil, as He simultaneously gathers all His glorified saints around the throne to worship Him forever. Revelation is written to resolve the mysteries which have been created in the previous sixty-five books, not introduce new characters and events never before encountered.

SIGNIFICANT BUT NOT NEW, OR NEW BUT NOT SIGNIFICANT

Since that is the case, it follows that the book of Revelation introduces no significant new characters or events into the biblical story. Both adjectives are important. Revelation may introduce new characters who play minor roles, but who do not influence the plot. These would be new characters but not significant characters. An example would be “another beast” of chapter 13:11ff (who is also the “false prophet” of 16:13, etc.). This other beast has not appeared before in other biblical prophecy, but he is not significant in the events of the end times. Another example would be “the beast,” who appears in 11:7 and then again in 13:1-10, etc. This is a significant character whom we have seen before in Scripture with different names. This is the little horn (Dan. 7:11, 25), the small horn (Dan. 8:9, 23-25), the prince who is to come (Dan. 9:26), the despicable person (Dan. 11:21-45), and the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3ff). He is the human embodiment of evil, often referred to as the antichrist. So, “the beast” is significant but not new.

Thus, Revelation may give new labels to old major characters, but it does not introduce major new characters. So, “the thousand years” is a new label, but not a new concept, “the beast” is not a new character, and Babylon” is not a new city. These are examples of things that have appeared before in the Scriptures but now are being brought to a conclusion in Revelation.

AN EXCEPTION – THE 42 MONTHS

One concept that could be an exception to the rule is the time period of the 42 months. Mentioned five times in Rev. 11-13 (11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), this is a time of upheaval and dramatic activity that occurs immediately before the return of Jesus on the last day. The period of the 42 months has not been mentioned before in Scripture, so it is definitely new. The question is, “Is it ‘significant’?” I think the answer has to be ‘yes,’ for it is during this time that the fifth seal is opened (6:9-11), the trumpet warnings are sounded (8-9), the two witnesses appear (11:3-10), Satan is thrown to the earth (12:7-17), and the beast and the false prophet rise up to persecute the church (11:7; 13; 16:13f; 19:17f).

SUMMARY

What I am saying in this post is that understanding most of Revelation does not depend on a vivid imagination but depends, instead, on a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and particularly of the Old Testament prophets. There is very little new in the text of Revelation. A careful reading will reveal that the book concludes God’s inspired Word by pulling from much of the Old Testament to draw the story of Scripture to a close. The better that the disciple of Jesus knows the whole word of God, the better they will understand the difficult passages in Revelation.

A second attribute is also required to grapple with the book of Revelation. Scriptural knowledge must be accompanied by an ability to see patterns and to recognize allusions to previous scriptural books.

So, approach Revelation as a review of the entire Bible and a book that draws things to a close, and you will enjoy the book much more.

SDG                 rmb                 9/13/2022                   #571

Reading Revelation (Part 2): The constraints

POST OVERVIEW. The second in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This post discusses the constraints that are on Revelation which limit its possible interpretations. (Also, see previous post #568 which was on the purposes of the book of Revelation.)

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.

CONSTRAINTS ON REVELATION

Having discussed the purposes of Revelation in our previous post (#568), we now turn our attention to the constraints that are placed on this last book of the Bible. It is probably unusual to think about a biblical book as being “constrained.” Of course, in a sense all sixty-six books of the Bible are constrained, because they all must harmonize with each other and agree with each other, particular in terms of doctrine. In that sense, each successive book of the Bible is more “constrained” than the one before it. But Revelation is constrained not only by the fact that it is the last book of the Bible and must harmonize with the sixty-five books that preceded it, but also because the book functions as a summary and a conclusion to the entire story line of the Bible, tying up loose ends and filling in blanks to make the entire scriptural masterpiece complete. This places constraints on Revelation that restrict (“constrain”) the way we can interpret the contents of the book, as we will see.

Some readers seem to approach Revelation as if it existed independent of the rest of Scripture and is filled with wild new ideas and events never before encountered in the Bible and disconnected from the rest of the God-breathed books which precede it. This approach, however, is exactly the opposite of what is the case. A significant portion of Revelation consists of quotes of previous Scripture or of obvious allusions to characters and events and prophecies from the Old Testament. Revelation could serve as a final exam, testing disciples of Jesus to see how well they know their Bibles. “Can you recognize the allusions to the Old Testament in this chapter (whatever chapter that is)? Having recognized the allusions, can you identify their Old Testament reference? Book, chapter, and verse?” And this characteristic of Revelation, that it is packed with Old Testament allusions, is the very thing that “constrains” Revelation in what it can say.

Let me try to give an example. Consider the concept of the last day. Revelation is constrained in its teaching about the last day. Why? Because the last day, “the day of the LORD,” “that day,” the day of judgment, etc. has been part of biblical revelation, in explicit prophecy or in implicit “types,” in virtually every book of the Bible. The flood in Genesis 6-8 foreshadows the last day. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 foreshadows the last day. In uncountable places in the Old Testament the last day is mentioned or implied. Then finally in Malachi 4, the last chapter in the Old Testament, the prophet teaches more about the last day. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 4:1). In the New Testament, Jesus talks about the last day many times during His earthly ministry, and Paul and Peter and John and the author of Hebrews also write about the last day in their inspired writings. So, when John receives his visions in Revelation, the events of the last day and the characters involved in the last day are very well known and our interpretations of these visions is constrained by all the writing about the last day that preceded them.

SUMMARY. So, when reading Revelation, remember that this last book of the Bible is constrained by its requirement to harmonize with all the inspired writing that has preceded it. Therefore, it is best to read the book with an eye to seeing which previous events are being concluded here. “Armageddon,” foreshadowed in Ezekiel 38-39, is concluded in Revelation 16, 19, and 20. The evil man (antichrist), whom we meet in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11, and in the man of lawlessness of 2 Thessalonians 2, is consummated and concluded in the beast of Revelation 13. The persecution of the church, sent out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16), is culminated in the tribulation we see in Revelation 6:9, 20:4, 11:7, 13:7, etc. Most significantly, the return of the Lord Jesus in power and glory, mentioned and implied many times throughout the Scriptures, is completed in the Rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:11-16. Remember, Revelation is constrained, so we read the book with the eye for seeking conclusions and consummations.

SDG                 rmb                 9/10/2022                   #569

Reading Revelation (Part 1): The purposes of Revelation

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

The thousand years, the forty-two months, and Satan (Part 1)

SUMMARY. This short study of “the thousand years” and the “forty-two months” comes from the book of Revelation and serves as a refresher for understanding the flow of the events which occur at the end of the age. In this study we also see how the devil fits into the timing of these events. (See my book, “The Last Act of the Drama” (Amazon, 2021) for a more detailed treatment.)

MINI-SERIES OVERVIEW. A good understanding of the book of Revelation is needed to have a proper grasp of the end times. The problem is that it is very difficult to understand the book of Revelation and especially to follow the flow of events in the section of the book from chapter 4 through chapter 20. This series of posts serves as a teaching session to define the events that take place and to explain the order in which they occur. We will also see that Satan appears in the flow of events in Revelation.

THE LOCATION OF THE DEVIL IN HISTORY. Most people would say that the devil spends most of redemptive history on earth, but the Bible tells a slightly different story. The book of Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible, and in Job, Satan presents himself before the LORD (Job 1:6). This must mean that Satan is in heaven, for “the LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’s throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:4). Thus it seems that, during the Old Testament period, in some sense, Satan is in heaven.

When we jump forward to the time just before the Incarnation, in Revelation 12:3 we see the devil as the red dragon in heaven ready to devour the Messiah (12:3-4). Thus, just before Christ’s Incarnation, again we see that Satan is in heaven.

Revelation 12:5 describes the Incarnation and the Ascension of Jesus but is silent about what is happening with the devil during this time. To find out what happens with the devil next, we need to turn over to Revelation 20 and see how Satan is removed from heaven.

A PAUSE FOR SOME INFORMATION

AN OVERVIEW OF THE FLOW OF REVELATION. It is necessary to pause here and turn aside to supply key information about what is happening in Revelation. Therefore, we will take a moment, first, to give an overview of how the pieces fit together and then how the events flow through the chapters of Revelation.

FITTING THE PIECES TOGETHER. First, then, we will address how the pieces or components fit together. Chapters 4 through 20 of the book of Revelation describe three distinct periods of time: “the thousand years,” the “forty-two months,” and the last day.

THE THOUSAND YEARS. “The thousand years” is the name or the label for the period of time in redemptive history that occurs between the binding of Satan in the abyss (Rev. 20:1-3) and the release of Satan from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7). It will shown that “the thousand years” begins during the ascension of Jesus from earth to heaven following His resurrection. Thus, “the thousand years” was inaugurated around AD 30. The term “a thousand years” in Revelation 20 is a figurative expression for the duration of the period of time named “the thousand years.” In Revelation, a thousand of anything does not communicate an exact number but tells of a very large number too big to count. Thus, a thousand years is a really long period of time. So, “the thousand years” began with the binding of Satan in the abyss in about AD 30 and will continue for a really long period of time until the release of Satan from the abyss.

THE FORTY-TWO MONTHS. The period of “the thousand years” is followed immediately by the period of the “forty-two months.” “Forty-two months” (Rev. 11:2; 13:5), “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Rev. 11:3; 12:6), and “a time and times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14) are names or labels for this relatively short period of intense eschatological activity that occurs between Satan’s release from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7) and the beginning of the last day. As a thousand years was a figurative expression for the duration of “the thousand years,” so “forty-two months” is a figurative expression for the duration of this period. While “thousand years” conveys the idea of a very long, indefinite period of time, “forty-two months” conveys the idea of a much shorter, more defined period of time, not literally forty-months, but a brief time, like less than a decade.

THE LAST DAY. Although this series of blog posts will not touch on the last day, we will define it here. The expression “the last day” is to be understood literally, meaning it is literally the last day of human existence on the fallen earth. You may ask, “If ‘thousand years’ and ‘forty-two months’ are figurative, why do you claim that ‘the last day’ is literal?” The expressions “thousand years” and “forty-two months” are unique to the book of Revelation, both in actual textual appearance and in concept. Since these two concepts are unique to Revelation, they must be understood within the context of the book of Revelation. It is apparent in reading Revelation that these expressions are not required to be literal, nor are they intended to be taken as literal. It is clear from the text that these expressions are conveying a concept, not a precise period of time. By contrast, the concept and expression of “the last day” have been part of redemptive history since the very beginning. For example, in the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). In the Old Testament prophets, we read often of “that day.” Ever since the fall of man in Eden, there has been a coming day of recompense when the unrighteous will be judged. As we examine this biblical concept of a last day, it is also evident that the last day is literally the last day. That is, all of biblical revelation presents the last day or “that day” as a regular, literal day. Since throughout God’s inspired word, the last day is presented as literal, we assume that the book of Revelation presents it the same way.

SUMMARY. So far, we have fit some of the pieces together. According to our understanding of these components, then, “the thousand years” began around AD 30 with the dragon (Satan, the devil, the serpent of old) being bond in the abyss. The end of “the thousand years” is marked by Satan’s release from the abyss, which simultaneously inaugurates “the forty-two months.” Once the events of “the forty-months” are completed, the final events of the last day occur, which closes human history.

Where are we in our study, then? Remember that, in the Overview section above, we stated that we were first going to see how the pieces fit together and then were going to consider how the events flow through the chapters of Revelation.

So, now that we see how the pieces fit together, the next post will explore how “the thousand years” and “forty-two months” appear in the text of Revelation so that we can see how Satan journeys from heaven just before the Incarnation (Rev. 12:3-4) to the lake of fire on the last day (Rev. 20:10).            

SDG                 rmb                 7/13/2022                   #553

Eschatological Detective and Interpretive Clues

This post is an excerpt from an upcoming book called, “The Last Act in the Drama: A Guide to the End-Times.” The blog is teaching the skills needed to interpret eschatological passages in the Scripture by acute observation, finding “interpretive clues,” and weaving the observations and clues into a cohesive whole. rmb 4/21/2021.

Sherlock Holmes is probably the most well-known detective of all time. He is a master of solving with apparent ease mysteries that completely baffled others and that seemed to have no solution. What was it that made Sherlock Holmes so remarkably successful? I would suggest that his brilliance was attributed to three specific skills: 1) Acute powers of observation that allow him to see details which others have missed or ignored; 2) the skill to turn observations into meaningful clues; and 3) the ability to put the clues together to create a cohesive picture that reveals the solution to the mystery.

As we are considering the study of biblical eschatology and are attempting to solve the “mysteries” of difficult texts, we will discover that there are parallels between the way Sherlock Holmes solved nefarious mysteries and the way we will interpret the meaning of end-times passages.

THREE SPECIFIC SKILLS

Like our friend Sherlock, we, too, will need three specific skills.

ACUTE OBSERVATION

First, the eschatological detective needs acute powers of observation. We should look high and low in the text for possible clues that might reveal interpretation and meaning. No detail should be ignored, at least initially, as we dig into the passage. If we have training in the original languages, the Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic texts should be examined. Our observation must be unbiased as we approach the text. This is especially critical in eschatology. We should not come to the text with a preconceived idea of what it means or of what clues we are going to find there. Instead, we approach it like a detective coming to a fresh crime scene.

INTERPRETIVE CLUES

You might ask, “What are we looking for?” I am glad you asked! We are looking for “interpretive clues.” In breathing out the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit has written into the text a variety of clues that allow the meaning of these end-times passages to be discerned. The following are some examples of “interpretive clues:”

  • Identical words and especially identical phrases that appear in two different places in a book. There are many examples of this type of interpretive clue, especially in Revelation, and these clues are vital to understanding how one section of the book relates to another. “A short time” is in Rev. 12:12, and also in 20:3. The same idea is in Revelation 6:11, “a little while.” This common phrase connects these passages. Another example is the phrase “gather them together for the war” in Rev. 16:14, and the identical phrase appears in Rev. 20:8, while “assembled (their armies) to make war” is in Rev. 19:19. This clue reveals that these passages are describing the same event. These are probably the most powerful interpretive clues, so be alert for these.
  • Symbolic use of colors and numbers in the book of Revelation. The color white is always used to indicate purity and righteousness and is identified with Jesus Christ. Red is associated with Satan. The number “thousand” is not used literally but is symbolic for a large number. Twelve is symbolic for the Old Testament people of God (the twelve tribes) and for the New Testament people of God, the faithful church (the twelve apostles). Seven is the number of completion or perfection (seven lampstands, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, etc.). Be alert, then, for symbolic use of numbers.
  • Similar characteristics used to describe different characters. This type of clue may be the most subtle, but it is also powerful. When you are reading a passage in, say, Daniel chapter 7, and the character described sounds very similar to the character from, say, 2 Thessalonians, the radar should go up and you should think, “interpretive clue!” These similar characteristics are probably not describing multiple characters but are probably describing the same figure. In this way, we get multiple “snapshots” of this end-times’ figure so he is easier to identify when he appears.

CONNECT THE CLUES TO FORM A COHESIVE WHOLE

So, those are some of the interpretive clues to look for, but what do we do with these interpretive clues once we have gathered them? This introduces the third skill, which is the art of connecting the interpretive clues to create a cohesive picture of a passage or an entire book. Having gathered our clues, we now need to assign meaning to the clues so that we can understand the end-times passage. Some questions to ponder during this part of the investigation are these:    

  • What is the best understanding of the symbols in this passage? What do these symbols mean?
  • When will the events in this passage occur? Or have they already occurred? Discerning the correct sequence of events is critical to end-times study, particularly in Revelation.
  • What are all the clues and texts about this subject and how do they fit together? If you are trying to figure out the meaning of some figure in the end-times, like, for example, the 144,000 (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5), it is important to locate all the texts about that subject.
  • Is this passage continuous, or are there time-gaps in the passage?
  • Is this passage written in chronological order, or does it jump forward or backward in time?
  • Are these numbers to be understood literally or figuratively? What do these numbers mean?

There are many other questions that we could ask, but the point is that by asking these types of questions, gradually, like a doctor developing a diagnosis, we develop an interpretation of the passage or the section or the book. “This is what this means based on my understanding of the meaning of these interpretive clues.” Then, before we reveal our solution to others, we must test our solution to be sure it does not have inconsistencies. Like a jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces need to fit together.

PUTTING THESE SKILLS TO WORK

This, then, is the work of the end-times detective. We enter the text with our most concentrated observation, and we search for interpretive clues. Then we weave these clues and observations together into a cohesive whole that gives us a picture of how God is going to glorify Himself through the bodily return of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ and through the people that Christ has purchased with His blood on the cross. The Bible’s end-times passages give ample opportunity to put these skills to profitable use so that we are edified, and Christ is exalted.

SDG                 rmb                 4/21/2021

Eschatology: Entering a new culture

Reading biblical eschatology, especially in books like Revelation and Daniel, is like being a stranger in a foreign country. The Bible student is suddenly immersed in a confusing culture of strange language and unfamiliar customs and alien sights and sounds. All that they have learned and experienced in their native country is of little value as they try to make sense of the new environment.

What is the student of eschatology to do? The student must study end-times literature (“eschatology” = study of last things) with the humility of a traveler going to a foreign land, having the attitude of an observant learner. Here is what this looks like:

“Oh, wait! I have heard that phrase before. That seems to be an important phrase. I wonder what that means.”

“Now, wait a minute. When my host said this word, that happened. So, that word must mean this.” And so on, through countless iterations, the learning continues.

As time goes on, the traveler develops theories about the language and the culture, and then begins testing those theories to see if they are true. “Let me see. I think this means that. Does this mean that? Oops! Awkward moment! No, maybe this doesn’t mean that.” Gradually, step by step the culture begins to make sense. Words that were once strange become familiar and useful. Sights and sounds that were once alien and confusing become normal.

Time and humble observation are the keys. Couple humble observation with a system for capturing and connecting your observations and, over time, you will understand the culture. If you are humble and patient and diligent, you may eventually be mistaken for a native.

But notice that with eschatology, as with a foreign culture, you are required to adopt it. You do not impose your views on it, but you patiently and humbly conform to this unusual, unfamiliar, God-breathed Scripture, as you adopt it as your own. In other words, you do not conform the inspired Word to your ideas, but rather you allow the Word to teach you its ideas. In our analogy, the Word is the native, and we are the foreigners.

To give a personal example, I moved to Russia in January of 1997 to begin what turned out to be three years of “missionary” work with the Navigators, a US-based parachurch organization. I lived in a small town called Pushkin outside of St. Petersburg. I immediately entered a foreign culture where I could not talk (I did not speak Russian at the time) and where I had difficulty walking, since the streets were covered with ice and snow. If I had entered that environment resolved to teach the people of Pushkin how to speak English and to convey to them the pleasures of peanut butter, I think that I would have been frustrated. A better approach was to resolve to learn Russian and to try to walk on ice and to eat what they eat and to adopt their culture as my own. By God’s grace, that is what happened.

You can see the analogy with eschatology. Perhaps one of the reasons why Americans have difficulty with understanding eschatology is that most Americans have never had to adopt a foreign culture. That means most Americans have never been through the process of humble observation needed to change their perspective and to see things through a different lens. But eschatology is not like gospel or like narrative history or like Psalm or Proverbs. When studying eschatology, you must adopt the culture of eschatology or you will remain a foreigner and the culture of eschatology will be forever confusing.

SDG                 rmb                 2/17/2021