I know that numerous people over the past two millennia have claimed that Christ would return in their generation. For several reasons, I believe we’re that generation. Am I just another overzealous believer hoping to usher in His return? I don’t think so, and I hope to use this blog to present my case. I hope you’ll tag along as I dig into the End Times.
So . . . the Book of Revelation . . . daunting, confusing, unknowable. Or is it?
John’s prophecies from the 1st century form the Bible’s only book of apocalyptic literature. For most, they’ve been taught that these prophecies are not understandable. They shy away from the book despite its claim that those who read it aloud, those who hear it, and those who keep what is written in it will be blessed. It’s the book that the vast majority of pastors shy away from, and yet, it’s the book that surveys show most Christians want taught.
So, what makes this book so confusing to people? In a nutshell, it has to do with one’s viewpoint on the End Times. In the U.S., the Dispensational viewpoint is the most common among evangelicals. (More on that in another blog post.) This viewpoint teaches that the words of Revelation are to be interpreted literally. So naturally, when John describes demons being released from the abyss and looking like locusts with faces like men, hair like women, and tails that shoot fire, we’re left scratching our heads and wondering what in blue tarnation is he seeing?
And that brings me to my first point about Revelation. It’s not to be considered literal. The apocalyptic literature of John’s day was full of imagery of dragons, demons, mystical beasts, and more. John, as well as his contemporaries, were likely well familiar with that type of literature, so we can expect his writing to fall in line with the style of the day.
As such, much of what he wrote is symbolic. The numbers used throughout the book are a good example of that. The numbers three, four, seven, ten, and twelve—plus their ordinals—are used extensively. Before three represented the Trinity, it pointed to the vertical “axis” of the cosmos: the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. Four is representative of the created order, or the horizontal “axis”: the four corners of the earth, the four winds, etc. Seven, which is three plus four, is a number for perfection and completion. It’s the number representing Christ (as in His seven churches, seven judgments, etc.) and is used the most within the book. Ten is the number of law and government, as in the Ten Commandments and ten horns representing ten rulers. Twelve is another number for perfection, which represents our Lord. It is three times four. We see it in the 12 tribes, the 12 apostles, and the 144,000 (12x12x1000). And that brings me to 1,000, which is ten to the third power. The thousand-year period mentioned in Revelation symbolizes a long time, not a literal 1,000 years.
My second point is that to understand Revelation, we must understand the Old Testament roots of it. After all, John’s only Bible was the Jewish scripture he was raised with. He had that and the firsthand teachings of Jesus on which to base the theology he presented in the book. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Psalms and others are referenced in many places. Yet, John used these references in unique ways. Often, he would take a prophecy for Israel and generalize it for all of us. At other times, he would use incorrect Greek grammar. In those sections he phrased things as they would have been stated under Jewish grammar rules. It wasn’t that he didn’t know Greek, but rather that he wanted to bring emphasis to the concept he was presenting.
My third and final point in this post is that if the Book of Revelation is confusing and not understandable, why is it in the Bible at all? How could those who read it aloud, hear it, and keep to its teachings be blessed if they can’t understand it? Were the people of the 1st century more intelligent? To say that it’s not understandable flies in the face of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
And that includes the Book of Revelation, right? We need to accept that Revelation is indeed understandable and will edify us.
Before looking into current events and how they might relate to the prophecies in this book, as well as in other books in the Bible, I want to lay down some additional groundwork. I hope you’ll stick with me.