How Should We Interpret Apocalyptic Literature?

While the entire Bible has interpretive challenges, none is so difficult to navigate as the Book of Revelation. Despite the debated details, the main point of the book is full of glorious and guaranteed promises.

The Rules of Revelation

  • The book is one Revelation.
  • Revelation is symbolic.
  • Just because the content is difficult to understand does not mean one should avoid studying it.
  • The primary meaning of Revelation is what the author intended it to mean.
  • The understanding of the original audience must guide our interpretation.
  • 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 current 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.
  • 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 circumstances have not yet occurred.
  • Revelation has more Old Testament references than any other New Testament book.
  • Specific details do not always accompany unfulfilled prophecies.
  • E.g., the antichrist is ambiguous in the New Testament
  • Read this book as God’s culmination at what He started in the beginning.
  • The main point of this book is this simple truth: Jesus wins!