It has been on my heart for a while to put out some notes on the book of Revelations. Because of my lack of understanding some of the intimate details, I’ve been rather reluctant. That, and there always seems to be something more current to discuss (can we say, Passover?). So today I’ll start the conversation, and it will probably take me years to actually get through the book with the amount of dedication that I have towards this.
To start off, I want to give an overview. What is the point of Revelations? What is it that we’re reading and needing to understand? Many have taken the book of Revelations as pertaining to the end times solely, and this seems scary, so lets not read it or study it. The problem with this approach is that there is a blessing given at the beginning and the end to those who take the time to read the book (1:3, 22:7) and obey the words of the prophecy. There is something intrinsic that is being taught, though it is prophetic, that will give us guide to how to live. And when we back up and look at the whole of the book, we find quite quickly what that is.
The author is John the apostle. How do I know? There are some hints theologically, such as John’s focus upon Jesus being the Lamb, but what really convinces me of this is his style of writing. True, the Greek seems vastly different than the Gospel or epistles, but not true that the differences are too vast to reconcile. The differences are simply found in that the language is being stretched beyond what language can convey. What catches me as similarity is John’s tendency toward contrast. In order to explain what he is talking about, he gives these contrasts: Babylon vs New Jerusalem, Throne in Heaven vs throne of the beast on earth, seven churches vs seven kingdoms of the beast (17:9-10), the Lamb vs the dragon, the seal of God vs the mark of the beast, the One who comes down out of heaven vs the one who comes up out of the abyss, etc.
It becomes incredibly clear as to what it means to live according to the prophecies of this book. We live like they who are in New Jerusalem, as compared to the contrast of the Babylon system. What exactly that means and looks like is explained in better detail throughout the book.
One of the reasons that the book of Revelations is difficult to understand is that it seems like a continual story. The truth is that it is one vision, with many components, granted, but the story relapses several times. The way I’ve heard one man explain it is that it is like a panorama. You see one scene, and when John has finished explaining that scene, he moves on to the next scene. But every scene is connected together – a panorama. To do this, John uses the word ‘meta’, which means “after” or “with”. I believe that John uses meta to say both after and with. In the chronology of the vision, John sees this scene after he gets done with that scene, but it is connected with the previous scenes in that they are both the same event.
So, for example, we see what appears to be the same event in 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18. The exact same language is used each time. This seems to be the same event. Notice that this comes at the seventh seal, seventh trumpet, and seventh bowl of wrath. Interspersed throughout the book are ‘heavenly visions’. Notice in these heavenly visions the fall of Babylon (14:8, 18:3). This is the same event – both times happening just before the coming of Christ. In chapter 14, it happens before the “harvest of the earth”; in 18 it happens before the second coming in 19:11. Thus, we see that Jesus’ return is at the end, or at least toward the end, of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath, and that the coming of Jesus is at the end of the scene that spans from chapters 12-14, and the other vision that spans from 17-20.
This would mean that we have an issue of figuring out the timeline. We assume from Daniel 9:27 that the Tribulation (Revelation 7:14) is seven years. The recycles in the vision should somehow all fit into that timespan. We’ll dive into these concerns when we actually get to these various points through the vision.
It is also important to notice that the book is one vision. This is not several visions put together into one chronology, such as in the book of Zechariah. From chapter 1:10 through 22:7 is all one vision. It starts with the statement “I, John, your brother and companion… was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet… I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me… and I saw…” It ends with the statement, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.” In both cases we see the author give his name, speak of the things he heard, and speak of the things he saw. In between those two statements is the whole of one vision. Therefore, when we see certain things take place in a certain order, we need to pay attention to that order. Why does John tell us of the seals before the trumpets? Why does he tell us of the two witnesses specifically in chapter 11? Why does the vision progress from the trumpets directly to the vision of the woman and the dragon? The details are laid out and given in a certain order because they will later be concluded in another vision. We need to attempt to catch those details.
We see the number seven repeated. We see the number twelve repeated. The 144,000 appear a couple times. The seven spirits show up a few times. The concept of the Lamb is repeated throughout the book. We find the altar multiple times with multiple descriptions. There are angelic announcements of the Kingdom coming upon the earth multiple times. We find the symbolic description of Christ repeated several times throughout the book. There are seven beatitudes dispersed throughout the book. The mention of the tree of life appears at the beginning and the end. Servants are mentioned numerous times – specifically in reference to the servants of God. In Revelation 1:2, we have the bearing witness to the words of the prophecy, and in Revelation 22:18, we have the bearing witness to the words of the prophecy.
Among all of the cycles and repetitions are details that are stated only one time. The book is written in a manner that causes us to wonder if a man wrote it or God Himself. Whoever penned it – the book claims John the apostle – they have so profound a knowledge of the Old Testament that he constantly uses its phraseology, not only consciously, but also even unconsciously. The Greek is difficult because it doesn’t seem as though the one who penned it is proficient in Greek. Often they use their own syntax and grammar. Many times the syntax is deliberately wrong to preserve a certain phrase that would be a Hebraicism or Hebrew idiom. Sometimes they translate directly from the Hebrew into the Greek. Multiple times the Greek reflects passages in the New Testament. The author of the book of Revelations is in all respects a profound student of the Hebrew Bible.
In our digestion of the book of Revelations, we are going to be examining some texts and passages that are extremely difficult and controversial. They are difficult because they are written in apocalyptic symbolism and hyperbole. They are controversial because the true understanding of these texts are the last thing that many professed Christians want to hear. This is an end time stratagem given by God. We find in Revelation 22:18 a warning for anyone who would add or subtract from the words of this prophecy. Though the words given to Daniel have been unsealed (see Daniel 12:9 and Revelation 22:10), those words are only unsealed to the disciple that is not going to take them for selfish gain. Those who mishandle the words of this prophecy will find themselves opposing God. Thus, because the stakes are so high, the plan of God has been hidden from many of us for centuries. It is not what we would choose, and therefore we are unable to receive the words contained in this book.
Lastly, lets discuss the issue of rapture. The book of Revelations in no way indicates that there will be a rapture. The idea of the pre-trib rapture comes from a misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. Paul is quoting Jesus (compare it with Matthew 24:29-31), and there is no possible way that Jesus is saying that he is coming to rapture the people. For example, he quotes Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4, which is the day of the Lord and His coming to punish the nations. Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of man on the clouds – a direct quote from Daniel 7:13 where the coming of the Messiah is to set up his kingdom upon the earth, where “all peoples, nations, and men of every language worship him”. But most convincingly, directly after this Jesus explains it will be like the days of Noah where one will be left in the field and the other take; one grinding at the mill and the other taken. But in the days of Noah, the flood took them away. To be taken is the negative, not the positive. That is the whole point Jesus is making – those who remain are they who will inherit the kingdom.
Therefore, because the book of Revelations doesn’t address the issue of the rapture, I simply won’t be speaking of it. We’ll examine the text for what it says, and try to understand it on that basis without bias.