Interpreting Revelation

The final book of the Bible is full of glorious promises and yet significant challenges.  While the entire Bible has interpretive challenges, none is so difficult as the Book of Revelation.  In our last session of hermeneutics, let us focus on how to be unashamed in our accurate study of this final book.

The Rules of Revelation

  • The book is one Revelation.
  • Revelation is symbolic.
  • Just because the content is difficult to understand does not mean it should be avoided.
  • The primary meaning of Revelation is what John intended it to mean.
  • Our interpretation must be guided by the interpretation of the original audience.
    • Don’t ignore the first century Christians and simply interpret the message for us.
  • Don’t allegorize the symbolic details.

The Genre of Revelation

  • The Revelation as Apocalypse – it speaks of the end times
  • The Revelation as Prophecy – it spoke to the church’s present situation
  • The Revelation as Epistle – it was written in the form of a letter

The Context of Revelation

  • The Apostle John was the only surviving member of the original Twelve Disciples when he was exiled on the island of Patmos.
  • John had previously survived an attempted execution by burning him in oil.
  • As he awaits his death, he receives a Revelation from Jesus speaking to the current issues and the future hope.
  • The Church and the state are on a collision course and initial victory appears to belong to the state.
  • Christians who refused to worship Caesar as Lord were considered rebellious to the state and suffered persecution.
  • Tribulation of the Church was being experienced at that time and promised to continue.

The Outline of Revelation

  • 1-3 – Introduces John, Jesus, and the seven churches to whom Christ is addressing
  • 4-5 – Displays facedown worship of the Lamb of God who reigns in heaven
  • 6-7 – Presents the conflict
  • 8-11 – Reveals the content of God’s judgment
  • 12-22 – Provides details regarding the judgment and Christ’s triumph

The Reminders for Interpreting Revelation

  • Not every detail in the picture presented has to be literally fulfilled.
  • Revelation includes both veiled predictions of the future and abstract yet sure interpretations of the present.
  • Information provided indicates the reality of the coming events and not the actual details of the events themselves.
    • E.g., Satan knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12 – that means limited, not necessarily soon)
  • Don’t expect to comprehend fully what events have already taken place and what events have not yet taken place.
  • Revelation has more Old Testament references than any other New Testament book.
  • Unfulfilled prophecies are not always accompanied by specific details.
    • E.g., the antichrist is ambiguous in the New Testament
  • Read this book as God’s culmination at what was started in the beginning.
  • The main point of this book is this simple truth: Jesus wins!