Revelation series, post #9

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Ask God to open greater understanding of Revelation’s message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Choose a coloured pencil and draw a line under the commencement of each of the 7 trumpets. See if you can find the Intermission of the “Act” and mark its commencement, too.
  3. Interpretation. Consider as you read the Act: Are these final judgement (or some of them)? What is the purpose of the judgements of the trumpets?

Division 1 = creation’s view

Act I looked at man judging man; now looking at creation judging man.

Act II The 7 Trumpets; Revelation 8:2-11:18

Setting

From Revelation 8:3, we see this vision taking place at the altar, and that the angel has a golden censer. In 8:4 we see that the censer is offering up incense to God with the prayers of the saints. Again, we see how comforting this would be for the original readers – the prayers of the saints rise before God as a fragrant offering, even as God‘s fiery judgements are about to descend on the Church’s foes. What an amazing encouragement to pray during times of injustice and persecution! God hears our cries and He is storing up justice against the persecutors of His people.

In Revelation 8:6 we see that 7 angels now prepare to blow 7 trumpets. Remember that the number 7 is God’s number of perfection and completion. Meanwhile,  trumpets in the Old Testament were used for the announcement of war. We know what is about to happen -> judgement and war are coming.

7 Trumpets

You will see that the 7 trumpets link to creation judging man. The first four are connected together and all feature an aspect of creation; for example, trees, grass, the sea etc. These could be literal future events, or could be referring to natural disasters occurring on our earth throughout the church age.

The question from “Try getting into the method”: are these complete, final judgement? 

No. These creation judgements talk about the destruction of 1/3. 

So then what is their purpose (see also Revelation 9:20-21)?

They are a call for REPENTANCE! We see this throughout the prophet books of the Old Testament when, in His great love and mercy, God constantly calls Israel and Judah to repent of their sins. God’s heart is always that people will turn and be saved. This needs to be our heart, too. Jesus calls us to bless those who persecute us. We are to continue in intercession and evangelism for those who are turned from God.

The last three trumpets consist of three proclaimed woes and all link to man’s life with pain, death, and hell. Woe in the Old Testament is always linked to a warning of God’s coming judgement. So again, God is using these judgements to call sinners to repentance.

You’ll also notice that the 7 trumpets use language linking the original readers mind’s back to the plagues of Egypt – God’s judgement on the enemies of His people. The Egyptian plagues were also creation plagues of natural disasters.

In the 5th trumpet (9:1-12) we have some funky locust-type creatures. Good literary context from the Old Testament is Joel 1-2. There are different opinions regarding the locusts and what they are. Popular interpretations include:

  1. Actual funky locusts (many believe they are literal)
  2. Helicopters
  3. Demons, as they come from the pit (what I believe to be most likely)
  4. Literal army of the anti-Christ

The big question: Should these judgements cause fear in the hearts of the original reader? Read Revelation 9:4.

They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

The original readers would not fear these locusts – they are sealed in Christ, just as we are! Ephesians 1 tells us that believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit and our position is above everything as we rest seated with Christ; do not fear. The book of Revelation should bring COMFORT to God’s people.

We see also in this trumpet that the locusts have the angel of the bottomless pit as their king. 

Apollyon literally means “destroyer”

Abaddon is the Hebrew word for “destruction”

So one translation is personified, whilst the other is conceptual. Abaddon/Apollyon is often interpreted as another name for Satan; however, Scripture seems to distinguish the two. Abaddon/Apollyon is likely one of Satan’s underlings, a destroying demon and one of the “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers” mentioned in Ephesians 6:12.

What is the Bottomless pit?

  • Apollyon and the locusts come out of it in this chapter.
  • The beast who makes war against the two witnesses in Revelation 11:7-8 comes out of it.
  • At the beginning of the millennial kingdom Satan is bound in it (Revelation 20:1-3).

It may be associated with a place called Tartarus. This Greek word is translated as “hell” and is used only once in Scripture, in 2 Peter 2:4. It refers to the place where “angels who sinned” are reserved in chains of darkness for judgement. If Tartarus is the same as the Abyss, then the inhabitants of the bottomless pit are the same angels who sinned and left their first habitation.

Then the 6th trumpet (9:13-21) brings 200,000,000 cavalry. Revelation 9:14 tells us they are coming from the great river Euphrates, which is in the middle of modern-day Iraq. This was the edge of the Roman Empire. The population of Rome at this time (also the largest city in their known world at this time) was 1 million. The cavalry of 200 million was bigger than the earth’s entire population at this time. We see that they do not kill with a frontal attack but be fire, smoke and sulphur. 

There are two main views: (1) Anti-Christ battle to conquer the world (literal view); or (2) Spiritual warfare (amilleniumist) -> e.g. by drugs, suicide etc. Regardless, remember that God is in control of this. He is the One that released the four angels, and He is the One who had bound them for the specific time of their release.

Intermission

Again we have a pause in the release of the trumpets for an intermission. In this intermission:

  • (10:4) John is told to seal up the 7 thunders

This is a bit like Paul being taken up to 3rd heaven, but isn’t allowed to say what he saw. Try not to speculate; it is probably for our good John didn’t write it down.

  • (10:8-11) Then John is given a scroll to eat that tastes sweet but becomes bitter

There is a link here with Ezekiel 3, who also had to eat a bitter-sweet scroll. The Gospel is also often described as bitter sweet news -> bitter to those who reject Him and sweet, sweet news to those who receive Him.

  • (11:1-2)The Temple, but not its courts, is measured

God did the exact same thing in Zachariah 2:1 where the measuring of Jerusalem was a demonstration of God’s protection over His people. Note that He is measuring inside, but not the courts. In the physical temple, the courts were for Gentiles, so here it is representing unbelievers. The implication? God is saying: “I am protecting my people”. 

  • During this time of protection, we see that unbelievers are given free reign outside the Temple, in the city. But the time they are allowed is set -> 42 months which = 3 ½ years. And believers are protected, they are safe in God – again, no fear.  And then (11:3-13), after the 42 months, the 2 witnesses come to earth and prophesy for 1,260 days, which is also = 3 ½ years

Symbolically 3 ½ = part of time but add together = 7, which = perfect amount of time, God’s perfect time

Many interpretations for this period of two 3 ½ years. One interpretation = church time -> Age of Tension. The Age of Tension is where we live now. It is the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming.

Two main interpretations for the two witnesses: (1) Literal witnesses. Actual people who demonstrate amazing amounts of power and testifying to God. Favoured interpretations are Moses (plagues) and Elijah (shutting the sky). (2) Lampstands earlier = church, so referring to the church. Witnesses amongst lampstands and olive trees are also seen in Zachariah 4.

  • Come back to the big picture of this intermission: 

The saints are protected in the Temple of God. The two witnesses, the Church, testify and then are martyred. Yet they only die for 3 ½ days = small amount of time. Then God’s very breath resurrects them to life and they go up to heaven to God.

7,000 unbelievers are killed in God’s judgement of the city = God’s perfect number. And then the remainder give GLORY to GOD; the remnant come to God!This is an encouragement towards evangelism in the face of persecution, and even martyrdom! We need to accept the idea that we will be hated by the world, but by witnessing we can save some. Are we witnessing? Are we experiencing God’s power as we witness?

7th Trumpet

What happens with the blowing of the 7th trumpetJudgement for unbelievers, reward for God’s people, and complete rulership of Christ.

 WHO WINS? 

CHRIST!

AND?

The saints

What is our response as saints?

Worship!

This brings us to the end of Man’s view of judgement

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23)

 

Next post we will get into the Third “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

Revelation series, post #8

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Revelation is a visual book. It is told as an unfolding drama. It has been referred to as the message of the rest of Scripture, in 3D. As such, it is REALLY helpful to picture each scene. It is thus helpful to sketch each Act before studying it. This also helps you to connect with what the text ACTUALLY says, not what you have heard people say about Revelation. Take time now to draw Revelation 4 and then Revelation 5 – the setting of Act 1. Don’t worry if you aren’t an artist – this is for your understanding of the chapter!

Division 1 = man’s view

The book of Revelation can be divided into two main sections. The first section looks at man’s view of the judgement of God and the people of God, and the second division looks at events from God’s perspective. We’re in division one at the moment.

Act I The 7 Seals; 4:1-8:1

Remember, too, that I said we would be studying Revelation from now on like an unfolding drama. Today’s blog will look at the first “Act” of the play, with each act containing a “setting” and “7 scenes”; a couple of the acts also have “intermissions”.

Setting; 4:1-5:14

Setting, Act 1 – My sketch of the setting as per your activity. You can see that it isn’t the prettiest, but it really helps me “see” the setting!

Where does this vision take place (4:2)? The setting of this act is the very throne room of heaven.

Let’s look at some of the characters in the throne room and what they might represent, starting with the four living creatures, full of eyes. Firstly, the number four is representative of the created world. There was a Rabbi teaching at this time that said: “the mightiest among birds = eagle, mightiest amongst domesticated animals = ox, mightiest amongst beasts = lion, mightiest of all = man”. Thus we see in the four living creatures that the mightiest of everything is worshiping Him. The most accepted interpretation = all creation worships the Lord (because this would makes sense to the original readers). This is supported by Rev 5:13 (still the same setting) that says every creature in heaven and earth and in the sea worships Him.

The throne room also contains 24 elders. So who are they? 12 is the number for the church and God’s people (12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles). 2 is the number for companionship, strength and power. So some say that the 24 elders represent the 12 apostles and 12 patriarchs, whilst others say they are symbolic of the whole people of God (Old Testament and New Testament people of God; Jews and Gentiles). I tend towards the second interpretation and will be following through with this interpretation for the rest of Revelation. Notice that they are wearing crowns of victory and robes of purity; they are encouraging the original readers to hold fast to their faith and overcome their temporary trials.

In chapter 5 the setting continues to evolve with an angel asking the question in vs2: “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” Take note of the emotions in the book of Revelation; it is an emotive book. John weeps, because no one in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth was able to open the scroll.

But then who is found worthy in Revelation 5:5?

The Lion who conquered. As you go through Revelation, keep the big picture in mind. Keep asking: “Who wins?” Here, the lion wins. Jesus, the Lion of Judah is found worthy.

Once again the Trinity has now been depicted in this scene: the Father on the throne; the 7 torches equal the 7 spirits which are symbolic of the Holy Spirit; and now the Lion, Jesus, appears on the scene.

Now consider: what did John see Revelation 5:6?

The Lamb who was slain. Consider the significance of this image. The lion and the lamb are both symbolic of Jesus, but it is in His sacrifice that He appears worthy to take the scroll. Imagine what this would mean to the original readers; their steadfastness amidst persecution finds them worthy!

The image of the lamb may seem a bit intimidating, so let’s consider the symbolism. Why the 7 horns of the lamb? 7 is the number of divine perfection and completion and horns are symbolic of power. The lamb has complete power. Revelation tells us that the 7 eyes of the lamb are the 7 spirits of God, which represent the Holy Spirit.

So who wins? The Lamb who was slain.

Revelation tells us that the golden bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints, encouraging the original readers by showing that their prayers are right there in this scene of the Lamb’s triumph and the Father’s glory. Their prayers (and ours) go up before God as part of His worship. Revelation 5:9-14 continues the theme of worshiping the Lamb, who reigns over all the earth. He is worthy of all praise, honour, and glory and might – forever! The original readers needed to see that, if their God died for them, then He is also worthy of their deaths; God is worthy of their worship, despite earthly circumstances.

This book should make us want to worship God. We need to consider: Do our fears outweigh God’s worthiness and what He has called us to do? Do we put our fears for family, food, marriage, comfort etc before God’s calling in our life? Do you keep listening to excuses to run away from where God is leading you? Are your fears holding you back?

Worship Christ!

That said, living for God doesn’t always = suffering. Many are willing to hold firm to Christ in a split second to die the death of a martyr. But even harder is laying down all our life and rights to LIVE daily for Christ. We are called to lay down our dreams, hopes, comforts, rights, and security for Him.

So ask: Is He worthy of your life?

7 Scenes

Now we move into the 7 scenes of the Act – we’re getting into the action of the play!

Christ opens the 7 seals, one by one. These seals represent mans judgement upon man.

The first 4 seals = horseman

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the 4 horseman of the apocalypse! There are different views on who these horsemen are. Some people think they are literal horsemen who will come in judgement; whilst others feel they are representative of things happening in the world; seals representing different things that are happening during the church age (this is part of the amilleniumist belief). Regardless of your belief, stay big picture with what they do.

They seem to represent: war, peace being removed, oppression and judgment. Let’s consider them one by one:

White horseman (6:1-2). Some think it is Jesus because it is white, but this doesn’t seem to flow with the rest of the Act. Also, Jesus is opening the seals as these horseman appear. The white horseman is a picture of destruction and conquering; men conquering men. Many will seem him as symbolic of the wars of man happening throughout the church age (the time between Christ’s first and second coming).

Red horse (6:3-4). He takes the peace away, yet he doesn’t slay people – the people slay one another. This seems to be representative of continued violence occurring in the world. Some say this could be referring to persecution of the church, but this does not seem to fit in with Christ opening scrolls of judgement.

Black horse (6:5-6). We need to explain some terms and measures that might not be immediately understood today. A denarius was equivalent to one day’s wage, and a quart of wheat was the minimum amount of wheat to feed one person for one day. Essentially, it is estimated to be about 16 x more expensive then should be = economic oppression or famine going on. The economic persecution is due to the oil and wine not being removed; the luxuries are not taken, thus the rich people seem to still be eating well.

Scales represent justice, so this rider is bringing a lack of justice; unfaithful scales, weighing unevenly between rich and poor. Men practising injustice against other men. The original readers of Smyrna were experiencing such persecution, and in many nations today believers continue to face economic persecution.

Pale (yellowish/ green like a corpse) horse (6:7-8). The rider’s name is Death and brings death in all its forms -> diseases, pestilence, sword, wild beasts etc. A quarter is a partial measurement, so many are being killed, but not the majority. This is not final judgement.

In the 5th seal the slain souls told to rest awhile until their full number comes in (6:9). So what has happened to the friends of the original readers who died in Christ?

REST whilst waiting for them! Again, Jesus gives no promise of protection from martyrdom, but He does give the promise of rest after their temporal trials. This book focus on eternity.

In the 6th seal we see the wrath of the Lamb (6:16). Verse 17 calls it “the Great Day of their Wrath”. In the Old Testament this is always a reference to Final Judgement. Evidence of this is furthered by the sky vanishing and every mountain being removed. But isn’t this Act about man judging man? We see that God is in control; He will bring the final judgement.

So who wins? GOD – Him on the throne (Father) and the Lamb

7:1-17 Interlude

Next we would expect a vision of heaven for the 7th scene in the cycle, but instead we have an interlude. “Interlude” means a break, or a pause, in the main event or story. In this interlude, we have the first mark of Revelation.

When you hear of a mark related to Revelation, what comes to mind?

Usually “666” is what people know: the number of the beast.

Read Revelation 7:3 and ask: Who is marked first in the book?

GOD’s SERVANTS!

Let’s unpack this further. What does John hear in Revelation 7:4?

John HEARS the number of the sealed 144 000.

Then what does John SEE in Revelation 7:9?

He SEES a great multitude that NONE COULD NUMBER.

All ages; all nations; all races

All ages; all nations; all racesSo who are the 144,000? Some say this is a literal number (for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses think they will make it up). Others look at the symbolism of the number. So what would 144,000 relate to as a symbolic number?  1000 is the number of perfection. 12 (the number of God’s people) squared (12×12) equals 144. Thus 144,000 is God’s perfect number of people; the saints; the saved of Christ; the Bride of Christ.

In the case of the one worthy to open the seal, John first HEARS that it is the Lion, and then SEES the Lamb -> with both a reference to Jesus. So here, John hears the number 144,000, but sees a great multitude = many. It is not a literal 144 000, but rather refers to all believers throughout all time.

One other view: Some say the 144,000 is a reference to Jewish Christians, and the Gentile Christians are the great multitude.

Again, this interlude seems to supports the “Acts” of Revelation being cyclical, not chronological. We’ve just read of angels given power to harm, but then God calls them not to do harm until God’s people are sealed and safe. This gives our original readers further encouragement – they are sealed, they are safe from God’s judgement of the unrighteous.

Big picture of Act 1 until now

God has just shown the judgement that is coming on man. But then He shows the image of all the believers sealed and worshipping God. The original readers were surrounded by evil, they’d lost loved ones to martyrdom, but God shows them that His judgement is coming against those who persecute them, and that they are perfectly safe from His wrath and judgement.

They are to persevere in the faith. They are to continue to worship. They were to rest assured that they were sealed servants of the King. The application is the same for us today. We can spend our lives unafraid and in worship of the King of kings, the Lamb who was slain.

7th Seal

Finally we open the 7th seal and . . . there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. The seventh seal, to the original readers, would depict their entering into the very presence of God.

Up until now the seals have shown chaos and destruction. Now the original readers get to step out of their current situation of turmoil to reflect on the complete peace that they will come into. They are confronted with the glory of God and the silence it brings.

This ½ hour also implies a short period of time. It is almost like God is giving them a chance to catch their breath before bringing in the 7 trumpets in Act 2.

Application

So how should we respond to this first Act? Persecution of believers is a reality in the present time, not just the early church. We can expect to be hated by the world, but we have comfort that God won’t allow it to continue forever.

We can have comfort:

  • Knowing that our prayers rise before Him
  • knowing that God has sealed us
  • knowing that He sees what is happening
  • knowing that the time will come when we will all come before His throne and behold His glory

 

Next post we will get into the Second “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

Revelation series, post #7

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. As you look at the seven churches, you’ll see a pattern emerge in the format of Christ’s words to them – again the number 7 is seen (remember it is the number of completion).See if you can observe the following in each church’s message:
    1. Christ’s summon of the church
    2. Christ’s character
    3. Christ’s commendation: “I know”
    4. Christ’s complaint: “I know”
    5. Christ’s challenge
    6. Christ’s threat
    7. Christ’s covenant promise -> each gets promise of eternal life

The 7 Churches; 1:9-3:22

Consider 1:12-16. What is the first thing that John sees in his vision?

7 golden lampstands, and between them one like the son of man clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

We see from v18 that this Son of Man is Jesus – the one who died and is alive. 

Then we go on in v20 that: The 7 stars are the 7 angels of the 7 churches, and the 7 lampstands are the 7 churches. There are two main views about the angels of the churches; angel literally meaning “messenger”. The first view is that it is referring to the eldership of the church (pastors). Alternatively that it refers to an actual angel standing in protection over the church.

So the  first thing John sees = Jesus is standing in the midst of them.

WHAT AN INCREDIBLE IMAGE FOR THE ORIGINAL READERS! Jesus knows what they are going through, and He is right in their midst as they endure it. He was also killed, but now He lives forever. What’s more, He lives in power and in glory.

And what encouragement for us too. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He sent us His Spirit to dwell within us, and He walks amongst us.We have a God:

  • who died for us
  • who rose to life again
  • who lives forevermore
  • who brought us into life with Him
  • and who has not deserted us, but continues to walk us through any trial or suffering that we endure on His behalf.

We read Jesus’ words in John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So if Christ standing with the 7 churches was the first thing that John saw, what is the first thing that Jesus speaks to John in v17?

. . .

FEAR NOT!

Why? Because Jesus defeated death and holds the keys of Death and Hades. They are SAFE in HIM. What scares you most about following Christ? Where are you prepared to go for Him? What are you prepared to do for Him? What are you willing to sacrifice for Him? Challenging, yes, but this book shows us that Christ is sufficient!

Report cards

Now we are going to see Jesus address each of the 7 churches individually as they get their report card from Jesus. Remember the pattern mentioned in the “Activity” section at the start (we won’t be going through it here as it is all observation, but I recommend you write it out for yourself in table form):

  1. Christ’s summon of the church
  2. Christ’s character
  3. Christ’s commendation: “I know”
  4. Christ’s complaint: “I know”
  5. Christ’s challenge
  6. Christ’s threat
  7. Christ’s covenant promise -> each gets promise of eternal life

There are two main  streams for how to interpret the churches. Firstly, as literal churches in Asia Minor at the time of Christ. They have symbolism thrown in, but most of Christ’s words to the churches can be literally interpreted. John is commanded by Christ is 1:11 to send these words to these 7 churches so this seems the best interpretation to me. Alternatively some will see each church as representing a different periods of history. One of the problems with this is to set the exact time frame of history when each “church” starts and ends.

The big picture is simple: the churches are messed up, but Jesus stands in the middle of them, in the middle of his people (Jesus stands amongst the lampstands).

Map of the churches

Let’s look at each church’s report card. As we do, imagine how each church would feel as they received their report card from Jesus.

Ephesus

This is the church you probably know most of from Paul’s epistle to them. Paul’s letter was all about emphasising who they are in Christ, and how to walk worthy of their position in Christ. Now we read that they are doing that well! They are toiling and enduring. They are holding up against evil influences. BUT what does Jesus have against them in v4?

. . .

They have abandoned the love they had at first.

What are the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us?

. . .

Love God, and love others. The Ephesian church began to let works come before love for God and love for others. We need to be sure we do not fall into this same trap – getting too caught up in good works and taking our focus off God. Everything must flow out of intimacy with God.

You may also wonder who the Nicolaitans refer to. The simple answer = we don’t know. Some suggest they were a first-century sect claiming apostolic authority. Others suggest it is an untranslated word(nika = conquer, rule; lao = laity) and say that certain leaders were using their clerical stature or position to rule over the laity (when Christ commanded that those who will lead will be the servant; John 13).

Again, there is no clear interpretation for Christ’s threat to “come and remove your lampstand” unless they repent. There have been many opinions offered. Perhaps the interpretation is as simple as that they will lose their prominence, losing their influence as a church (not salvation). Remember John, himself, was based in Ephesus so it would have been a very prominent church. Another common suggestion is linking it back to the lampstands at the start of Revelation, and that Christ will remove His presence from the church as a body.

Smyrna

You’ll see when you make your observations that a couple of the churches have a few things missing. The churches of Sardis and Laodicea have no commendation given to them. Jesus had nothing good to say about them! On the other hand, Smyrna and Philadelphia have no complaint made against them; not that they were perfect churches, but Christ was content with their hearts in the midst of their situations.

Smyrna became the centre of Emperor worship from 23AD. When believers stopped falling under the protection of Judaism (that was allowed to be monotheistic, and not thus not required to worship Caesar), the Jews would often inform the Roman authorities of the Jewish Christians who had been cut off from their synagogues. Christians then had the choice to worship Caesar or be persecuted under Roman law.

Smyrna was known at this time as a rich city, and yet we read these believers were poor. Participation in emperor worship and pagan cults was expected in all areas of life and to abstain from such was to put yourself at a disadvantage in business and occupational dealings.

Believers in Smyrna were suffering financially for their faith, and remaining strong in their testimony despite the personal cost, and so Jesus lays no complaint upon them. He gives them warning of more woes to come, but reminds them that their eternal state is assured and safe in Him.

Revelation 2:10 says they will have tribulation for 10 days. Some will give this to mean a literal period of 10 days; others, a short time; or alternatively, looking at 10 as a symbolic number = worldly power, they will give it as the period of  complete human time of their suffering. The application is that Jesus does not promise us safety in this life!

I have been told by well meaning, Christian friends many times that if Jesus has told me to do something then He will keep me safe in it. This just doesn’t align with the New Testament! Some of us will face persecutions; in fact, the New Testament promises it! Revelation is a book of comfort for the security we have in Christ – that we are in the book of Life; our hope is an eternal hope.

What is your report card – as a church, and as an individual?

Pergamum

What description does Christ give of Himself in V 12?

. . .

Jesus is the One with the 2-edged sword. Pergamum had the Roman governor living there, who held “jus gladii”, “the right of the sword”.This meant that “the governor had the power to determine if someone was deserving of capital punishment. Jesus is making a play on words: “You think you have the right to determine life and death, but you don’t; I DO.”

Another potentially difficult verse is 2:13, which says they dwell where Satan’s throne is, where Satan dwells. Again, there are a few different  opinions: 1) In reference to them dwelling in the location that was the centre of Zeus worship; 2) A lot of evil they are in the midst of; or 3) Referring to things occurring within the church, although this is less likely because they are believers.

What we see is overall is that the Pergamum Christians are holding fast to His name, but some hold to the teachings of Balaam. So what are these teachings? In the Old Testament, Balaam was paid to curse the Israelites. Three times he tried to curse them, but could only bless them. Revelation tells us that he understood Jews weakness was sexual immorality and, since he couldn’t curse them, he told the king how to weaken them and this was through intermarriage and immorality. So the wrong teaching in this church is related to sexual immorality.

One final question you might have is around their promise: hidden manna, and a white stone. What might the hidden manna refer to? Manna is what the Israelites were fed in the wilderness, so the Pergamum church will receive their sustenance in Jesus. The white stone has many interpretations. One that I think likely is the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet.Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven.

Thyatira

What is their positive report, as per 3:19?

. . .

They’re doing well in love, faith, service and endurance. That sounds pretty good!

But they tolerate Jezebel. So what does this mean? It is unlikely that the reference is to an actual woman. There is a ton of theology on Jezebel in existence, and 99% of it has no Biblical reference! When we look to the Bible, we go to the book of Kings. She was an evil woman (and queen of Israel) who turned Israel to the worship of Baal and idols, and killed God’s prophets. Baal worship involved abhorrent practices including a lot of sexual immorality. So Jesus is saying that they tolerate a lot of sexual immorality and idol worship (similar to the church of Corinth).

Finally, what about their rebuke about eating food to idols? Paul told the Corinthians that they had the right to eat it, but not if it hurts others. So it is likely that some in the church are weakening the faith of others by eating these foods, or they are going to the temple to be involved in festival and cult rites. Food and sex was often mixed in the pagan rites.

Sardis

Sardis is the first church that gets no positive report from Jesus. Imagine waiting for your report card from Christ . . . only to find that you are failing in all areas!

Jesus gives them some strong words! Consider Rev 3:1a-2 “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

They think they are doing well, they look good on the outside, but in reality they are a living corpse. And they are close to losing their salvation! Yet there are a few who are holding firm to Christ. This is a call to seek God, before works. He is to be our first priority. It is His praise we are to seek, not man’s praise.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the second of the two churches that only get commendation from Jesus. This does not necessarily mean all A’s  on their report card, as we all have room to grow, but no failing marks!

How does Jesus refer to Himself in 3:7?

. . .

Jesus calls Himself the One who holds the Key of David, and hold the doors. The Jews had a practise of putting people outside of the synagogue, but Christ reminds them not to fear Jewish persecution, there is nothing they can do to you. God holds the keys to life; only He can determine who is in Him and who is not.

The one who conquers is promised to become a “pillar in the temple of my God“. We know from the end of Revelation that there is no Temple in eternity, because God dwells in our midst. So what does this mean? God is saying they will have a place of prominence and significance in the Kingdom of God; they will be upheld before His people. What an encouragement to the original readers that they will be pillars for God, and have His name upon them. This is a call to endurance.

Laodicea

The final church also receives no positive report from Jesus.

What is Jesus’ complaint in 3:15-17?

. . .

They are called lukewarm, although they claim to be rich.

Laodicea was a very rich city from industry, banking and commerce. It lay on an important cross-roads and was surrounded by fertile land. When many cities in the area were destroyed by an earthquake, they were the only ones that did not have to appeal to Rome for help. They rebuilt on their own, and their self-sufficiency was a source of pride for them. However the city had no permanent water supply and thus had to pipe water from hot springs, which arrived lukewarm as was not pleasant to drink.

Jesus reminds them that physical gold is not what they are to take pride in. He is the one that gives refined gold and pure garments. He is the One they are to seek if they will be truly rich – like the Smyrnan church. Jesus reminds them that He disciplines and reproves those He loves, and He expects them to welcome the refining. We, too, need to welcome His refining and allow the Spirit to transform us.

Jesus tells them that He stands at the door and knocks. Remember that this is being spoken to the church, not to unbelievers, so it is not in reference to salvation. The Laodiceans are living lives of hypocrisy, self-sufficiency and pride. Christ is saying “I’m standing here waiting for you; let me in, let me fellowship with you”. They thought they didn’t need God; Jesus is reminding them that they do, and desperately!

This church reminds us to check our source. Are you doing this on your own? Are you relying on Christ, or your own strength? Are you walking in self sufficient, or complete reliance on Christ?

Are you earnestly pursuing God every day?

Comparing the Churches

The ones God goes after the most are: pride, self-sufficiency, not pursuing God, and  being spiritually dead. The messed up churches don’t get as great of a rebuke because they are growing, they are enduring, and there is passion remaining as they strive to know Him more. He is most concerned about dead people. He isn’t demanding perfection; He wants growth as we seek Him. He wants people who pursue Him. He is knocking on the doors of the churches who are dead to Him, and calling them back to pursuit of Him above all else.

Application from the churches

The churches call us to evaluate how we are walking. 

  • Are we seeking Him in Scripture, or Knowledge?
  • Do we care about His approval, or man’s?
  • Are we walking in love of God and others, or relying on works
  • Are we willing to suffer loss for Him – of name, job, opportunities, respect, finance . . . ?
  • Are we willing to endure persecutions, and even martyrdom, whilst holding to the promise of eternal life in Christ?
  • Are we counting all as loss except the upward call of Christ? (Phil 3:13-14)
  • Are we counting it all joy when we meet trials (James 1:2)?
  • Are we content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for Christ’s strength (2Co 12:10)?

As you study Revelation, you will see that it is not a book that promises us temporal relief, physical blessings, or reprieve from trials. But it is a book that puts eternal comfort and hope into our hearts, and strengthens us to live for Christ in this life so that we might win our reward in the next.

 

Next blog, we will get into the unfolding drama of Revelation as we start to look at the acts.

Revelation series, post #6

Firstly, let me apologise for the delay between posts – trying to prepare teachings whilst looking after a toddler is hard work and I had to put the post series on hold until the teachings were finished!

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Then practise some observation skills. You have already read through the book out-loud, hopefully in one sitting. You could now read through it again in a different translation, to renew the text in your mind as we open it up.
    Observe: Another great observation tool to help you really “see” what is going on in the text is to use colouring. I can be hard to start drawing on your Bible if it is new to you, so you can always print out a copy of the book from online and colour that to start with. Two great starts with colour coding Revelation are: the character, nature or names used for God (I colour mine yellow); and “who” words, for example: “church in Ephesus,” “servants,” “beast from the sea,” and so on (I draw a purple triangle for my colour code).

Setting the stage

Revelation can be seen as a drama play being acted out before us. Just like a play (for those of you who did drama at school), it can be helpful to break the book into different “Acts”, each Act having different “Scenes”. This is how I am going to walk through the book. Remember that I mentioned in a previous post that Apocalyptic literature is usually highly structured. There are different ways of studying it, but this is a way that I have found really helpful to see its structure. It is the one that is used in YWAM’s School of Biblical Studies.

So in the coming posts we are going to go through the book like a play, breaking it into 7 Acts, plus Jesus’ words to the 7 churches.

Big Picture:

The book starts with Jesus giving words of encouragement and reproof to the 7 churches. We then see God give the OR the same picture of the world’s coming judgement, but from three different angles:

  • The 7 seals: man judging man
  • The 7 trumpets: creation judging man
  • The 7 bowls: God judging man

These all move us towards the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.

The book is not random in its progression -> it has a purpose. The same message is proclaimed throughout the book: “God wins, God wins, God wins . . . and so do we as His saints!”

Into the text

Salutation; 1:1-4  

Remember who was the true author of this Revelation.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, (Revelation 1:1).

In this book John in not the author!  God is the author. When we consider why the author wrote something – we are asking about God’s reason!

 Remember also what we saw of the original readers of this book. God gave this revelation to his hurting, fearful, persecuted church. They were asking “Where’s God in our circumstances? Is he worth holding on to?” As we get to God’s message to each of the 7 churches, we will see that some of them are choosing to compromise in their faith for a comfortable life now.

This revelation came as a message direct from God especially for them in the trials. This isn’t another epistle from an apostle. This is an epistle (letter) for them that came directly from God and His Son! This is a letter that they are going to understand. This is a letter that they would have found hope and joy and comfort in.

It is also such a beautiful thing that God entrusted John with this message when we remember what he had been through in his life. John knew persecution: he was literally thrown in a boiling pot of oil. He understood what it meant to watch the death of loved ones: he saw Jesus die and was the only apostle not to  die the death of a martyr. He knew hardship: having been sent into exile on the Island of Patmos. And He had seen the Christ’s flock suffer through trials and tribulations.

Prologue; 1:5-8

The purpose of a prologue is to establish the context and give background details for the main story. So what is in the prologue of Revelation? If you turn to Rev 1:5-8 you will see the focus is JESUS: Who He is; what He did for them; and that He is coming soon. We learn from the prologue that this Revelation is going to be about JESUS.

What else do we see of Jesus from the start that would be so critical to the OR?

Jesus suffered! The words that are translated in most texts as “faithful witness” can also can be translated as “faithful martyr”. Jesus went through what they are going through, and he endured faithfully, becoming the firstborn of the dead. He was killed, but now He rules over all. If Jesus suffered, they will suffer (John15:18), but God will show them their hope through the rest of the book: that they will also conquer with Him.

We also see the Trinity again, right from the start. Consider 1:4-5 and see who sends the original readers greetings.

him who is and who was and who is to come, (Father)

seven spirits who are before his throne, (Holy Spirit; the number 7 is symbolic of perfection, and Isaiah 11:2 with the 7 characteristics of God usually being interpreted as the Spirit further supports this interpretation.)

and from Jesus Christ (Son)

Then in 1:8 we see clear evidence of the divinity of Christ. Reading from 1:5, no one would deny v7 refers to Jesus . . . so when you follow with:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

And again:

Rev 22:12-13 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

You can’t deny the connection of these verses to Jesus being God, and being eternal.

So if you were the original readers, facing financial, social and physical persecution for your faith, would it be worth enduring, and even dying for Jesus?

YES – He is everything; He is completely sovereign so they have nothing to fear. They can faithfully endure knowing Him who suffered first to bring them eternal life. The book of Revelation is all about enduring seasons of trial, persecution and suffering in order to win Christ and to enter into His eternal rest.

Worship Christ!

Let us also think of what Christ is worth to us so that we can grow to declare as Paul does in Philippians:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11).

 

Next post we will look at the message of God to the 7 churches.

Revelation series, post #5

Main interpretative schools

At the end of last post we noted that there are different views on how Revelation should be interpreted. Each school has different views on what is and isn’t literal in the book of Revelation. They also have different beliefs as to when and how the symbols, images and prophesies in Revelation are or were fulfilled.

How people interpret the symbols and images depends on their general Bible hermeneutics and approach to eschatology. Biblical hermeneutics is simply the style and principles behind how someone interprets the books of the Bible. It is part of the broader field of hermeneutics which involves the study of principles of interpretation for all forms of communication, non-verbal and verbal.

What is eschatology?

Eschatos = things of the end

Ology = study of

Question for you to consider: In light of all the theology out there about the end times, does it really matter what you think about it?

As Christians, the truth is that we all have an opinion about the end times. Studying what Scripture says about the end is important because it determines whether our opinion has a firm or sandy foundation! It can give us a security in Christ, or apprehension and fear. It can bring reverent fear of the Lord, or a distorted view of God.

The views we are going to look at today: all hold Jesus Christ to be Lord and Saviour; they all hold that He has conquered over death through His work on the cross and resurrection; and they all believe firmly in the Second Coming of Christ (also called the Second Advent or the Parousia).

Can you think of anything that poor eschatology might produce?

Here are a few thoughts, but by no means an exhaustive list: Poor eschatology can lead to a wrong evangelistic style, a focus on condemnation rather than grace; twisted view of Scripture; poor stewardship of what God has given us in this world, e.g. long term planning; superstitions, such as not wanting to have things with the number 666 on it; etc. We see a few of the above addressed by Paul to the early church, such as in his epistles to the Thessalonians who feared Christ has already returned, but only in the spiritual realm and thus they had missed His coming.

On the other hand, good eschatology leads to hope, fear of the Lord, worship of God Almighty, and joyous evangelism rather than fear-based evangelism.

Scripture makes it clear that we do not know the time of Christ’s return. We need to believe He could come back at any time. This will lead to faithful stewardship of our time, possessions and the world around us. Even whilst remembering that countless generations before us have walked in the same belief. Each generation since Christ has believed, or at least hoped, He will come back in their life time. Don’t let it come about us, but how God calls us to live faithfully and with eager expectation of His return.

Back to the main views

This all said, let us look at the main ways people interpret Revelation. I am going to look at the four main views, plus a fifth emerging view that combines a few of the traditional ones. Keep in mind that there is diversity of belief even within these schools. There is also likely to be a large range of beliefs amidst your Christian network. We need to walk in love and humility. Remember the teachings of John’s first epistle – love one another!

You also do not need to fit into a view. Personally, I don’t fit nicely into one of these four views. In fact, good inductive Bible study says that we should throw off any previously held beliefs and study Scripture to see what it says, not what others before us have come to believe. You might also find that your view changes and shifts the more you dig into Scripture; again, I’ve found this to be the case for myself. The main priority is that we are regularly searching the Scripture with the Holy Spirit in order to apply its truths to our life, and allowing it to transform us into the image of God.

Grow through the Word and Spirit***

Four main ways people have used to interpret the book:

1. Spiritual/ Idealist

The idealist holds that God intended no historical reference in the giving of His revelation; all the truths in the book are held to be spiritual. The following two quotes summarise the idealist view: 

“While the Apocalypse thus embraces the whole period of the Christian dispensation, it sets before us within this period the action of great principles and not special incidents; we are not to look in the Apocalypse for special events, both for the exhibition of the principles which govern the history of both the world and the Church.” (William Milligan; 1889*).

“Revelation is a theological poem presenting the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a philosophy of history wherein Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil.” (Robert Mounce; 1977**).

Some pros of this view:

  • It avoids the problem of harmonizing passages with events in history.
  • It also makes the book of Revelation applicable and relevant for all periods of church history.

Some cons of this view:

  • This view denies the book of Revelation any specific historical fulfilment, whereas 1:1 states that the events will come to pass shortly, giving the impression that John is prophesying future historical events.

2. Preterist/Past

The word “preterist”is from the Latin “praeteritus” meaning “before” or “already fulfilled”. Preterists believe the book has already been fulfilled with the exception the last few chapters. Some scholars of this view even hold the final chapters to already have been fulfilled. They place the events in the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the Roman empire at that time. Preterism is the school that holds Revelation to have been written before 70AD.

Preterists come to their stand point by by the repeated admonitions that the: “time is at hand/ near/ short”. They also lean heavily on Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:34: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”. As the time frame of “generation” usually refers to forty years, the fall of Jerusalem would fit the time Jesus predicted.

Some pros of this view:

  • Very relevant for John’s original readers, the seven churches of Asia Minor mentioned.

Some cons of this view:

  • Only works if early dating of the book is  prior to 70AD, where most scholars through history place it in the 90sAD.
  • There would then be a huge gap in time between the majority of the book’s events and those of the last few chapters.

3. Historical

The historicist’s view, as the name suggestions, looks at periods of history for the book’s fulfilment. This view teaches that Revelation presents the course of history from the apostle’s life through the end of the age.

Some pros of this view:

  • It can be applied throughout all history.
  • It is the historical protestant view – While this interpretation is not widely in use today, most of the classic commentaries from a century or more ago are written from a historicist viewpoint.

Some cons of this view:

  • No consensus on specific details, with people tending to interpret events based on their period of history.
  • This view focuses mostly on the events of the church in Western Europe and says very little about the church in the East. Thus, it fails to account for God’s activity throughout the rest of the world.
  • Finally, this view would have little significance for the church of the first century, to whom John addressed the revelation.

4. Futurist/Dispensationalist

Futurists see the book as chronological, not cyclical, and nearly all still coming. They divide the book of Revelation into three sections as indicated in 1:19: “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Thus, chapter 1 describes the past (“what you have seen”), chapters 2-3 describe the present (“what is now”), and the rest of the book describes future events (“what will take place later”).

Futurists also believe in the rapture of believers at Rev 4:1 (resurrection into heaven, before the millennial reign of Christ), and they interpret Daniel 7 and the 70th week to be a seven year tribulation of the church. They believe in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ (more on this when we get to chapter 20).

This view takes many passages literally. They make it clear that literal interpretation does not discount figurative or symbolic language. Futurists teach that prophecies using symbolic language are also to be normally interpreted according to the laws of language. They also hold a distinction between Israel and the Church, and God’s purposes for them.

(It must be noted that a secondary interpretative view has come out of the Traditional Dispenationalist view, called the Progressive Dispensationalist view. Progressive Dispensationalists believe in partial fulfilment of events in John’s times, with complete fulfilment at the Second Coming of Christ. They hold to the “now, but not yet”principle of hermeneutics – that the Kingdom of God was brought partially by Christ’s First Coming, but will come in its full glory at the time of His return.)

Some pros of this view:

  • Futurists contend that the literal interpretation of Revelation finds its roots in the ancient church fathers.
  • They know their Bibles really well because they examine it so thoroughly to make connections and webs, particularly of prophesies in the Old and New Testaments.

Some cons of this view:

  • Makes the book irrelevant to the original readers of the first century.
  • Also makes 90% of it irrelevant for Christians as it applies to those left after Christians taken out of the world.
  • So many people get excited about the wrath that will come on the unbelievers (because they are out of it), which does not lead us to follow in Christ’s love and compassion, or practise evangelism.
  • Some of Revelation isn’t chronological

Resources:

Some good books if interested in seeing more about these views:

  • Revelation: Four views; a parallel commentary. Edited by Steve Gregg. This book goes through Revelation verse by verse according to each of the above four views. The editor gives no preference to any of the views.

  • Four views on the Book of Revelation. Edited by Stanley N. Gundrey, and C. Marvin Pate. This book gives a big picture overview of the beliefs of Idealisms, Preterism, Progressive Dispensationalism and Classical Dispensationalism. It leaves out the Historical view.

Moving Ahead

LAY DOWN PRE-CONCEIVED IDEAS!

As we move ahead, we must lay down our preconceived ideas. This is one of books where we most-need to do this, but also one of the hardest books to lay our ideas down. Be open! Not uncritical, but open. The focus  of our interpretation must be on what it meant to John and the original readers, for this is good inductive study.

We also must not forget context! There are 404 verses in Revelations and it has been suggested that there are over 500 references to other parts of Scripture. This book can’t be read in isolation! Many of the images are defined in other parts of the Bible, such as Daniel. Revelation is not new information; it’s the same story as the rest of the Bible, just in 3D.

 

Next post, we will enter into the text at last!

 

* William Milligan, The Book of Revelation (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889), 153-4.

** Robert Mounce, The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: William Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1977), 43.

*** Image by Lucky Gumbo, curtsey of The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word ©2015

Revelation series, post #4

Review

So far in this series we have looked at:

  • The steps of Inductive Bible Study;
  • Historical background relevant to the book;
  • The themes of the book, its main idea and reason written.

In this post we will consider the literary styles contained in Revelation and some interpretive helps.

Literary styles in Revelation

To further help with our understanding of the original reader, and thus our interpretation, we need to understand a bit about the literature styles that John wrote in and their understanding of them.

Types of literature in Revelation:

  • Epistle (letter)
  • A little narrative
  • Apocalyptic literature
  • Prophecy

Prophecy comes in two types (Revelation contains both):

  • Foretelling: speaking out things of the future.
  • Forth-telling: speaking God’s view of what is actually occurring, speaking into current situations (this is seen much more in the Old Testament than the New Testament).

Apocalyptic Literature

Let’s consider what is apocalyptic literature. John was not using a new literary style. We find it elsewhere in the Bible, and outside of the Bible. Apocalyptic literature is first found in the book of Daniel; there is some in books such as Ezekiel, too, but Daniel is seen as the founding work of this style. It is found in the following books of the Bible:

  • Daniel
  • Ezekiel
  • Isaiah
  • Zechariah
  • Joel
  • Revelation

Furthermore, was a very common style inside and outside of the Bible during John’s period of history (200BC-100AD).

Apocalyptic literature deals with coming judgement and salvation (again in and out of Bible) and was written during times of persecution and hardship. It uses  dreams, visions and symbols with set meanings.

This style also has an amazing amount of structure. Its structure usually includes repetition, and thus is not always chronological or linear in its telling. Furthermore, apocalyptic literature is dualistic in nature (two sides are compared). For example, in Revelation:

  • good vs evil,
  • dragon vs Lamb,
  • mother vs whore,
  • marriage supper of Lamb vs great supper of God
  • etc

Many non-Christian versions of apocalyptic literature tend to be much more secretive in nature, and wrath and judgement are the focus. The Biblical texts are more positive in message, with the focus on salvation and the triumph of good over evil.

Symbolism in Revelation

We have seen that John was using a type of literature that was familiar at the time. Also familiar to the original readers was the symbolism that was included. There is a significant amount of symbolism in the book and it is important to realise that the original readers had insight into a large portion of it. Revelation also tells us what some of the symbols or images mean!

Just as symbolism was familiar to the original readers, symbolism is nothing new to us today. For example:

  • What does the #13 mean to you? It is considered bad luck in Western culture. Some people avoid the number when choosing sport’s jerseys or aeroplane seats!
  • What does the #4 mean to you? In some Asian countries, it is associated with death.
  • How are the colours black and white used in Hollywood? Look at what the good guys vs bad guys are wearing in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars . . .
  • In Zulu culturefrogs are feared because they “carry lightening“.

What is something with symbolism in your culture?

As we go through the text of Revelation, we will note what we know of certain symbols. For example, occurring regularly are the numbers 7 and 3 ½. The number 7 is the number for perfection or completion, whereas the figure 3 ½ is the figure for incompleteness.

Cycles in Revelation

You also need to be aware that Revelation, and apocalyptic literature in general, are written in cycles. This means that the book tells the same event from different angles as it progresses. There is debate by scholars as to whether Revelation is cyclical or linear in nature.

Some interpreters hold Revelation to be chronological in nature (that everything progresses in line with historical time). They hold that the seals lead to the trumpets and the trumpets to the bowls, and that judgement language intensifies through these. With the bowls, it is also said that “God’s wrath is finished”.

However, other interpreters note certain events recorded in Revelation that make it hard to think it is strictly chronological.

What happens to the mountains and sky? (see below)

The following examples seem to look at the same event, but from different perspectives, supporting a cyclical nature:

  1. When looking at End Times:
    • Rev 6:12-14 Appears to be end times;
    • Rev 11:15-19 Is and was, but no “is to come”;
    • Rev 14:14-20 Angel with sickle and the great wine press = final judgement of God;
    • Rev 16:17-21 End as well!
  2. What happens with the sky?
    • Rev 6:14 The sky vanishes:The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
    • Rev 11:6 Witnesses have power to shut the sky: They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
    • Rev 20:11 The sky vanishes again: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.
  3. What happens with the mountains and islands?
    • Rev 6:14 Mountain and islands removed: The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
    • Rev 16:20 Mountain and islands removed again: And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.
    • Rev 21:10 John taken to a high mountain: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,

Interpretative schools 

Also note that people have different views on what is and isn’t literal in the book of Revelation, as well as their fulfilment. How people interpret the symbols and images depends on their general Bible hermeneutics and approach to eschatology. More about this next post when we consider the main interpretive views of Revelation. 

Remember when looking at the different views and opinions to keep the big picture in mind:

Jesus wins and so do we!!!

Revelation series, post #3

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to explore a little about the original readers of Revelation, by considering the 7 churches to whom the book was addressed. In this post we are going to consider the original readers, and dig into the book’s big picture.

Revelation for the Original Readers  

In the first post in this series, we considered how the book of Revelation has been maligned, and that many see it as too difficult to read and understand. It has even created fear amongst many – fear they won’t understand, fear of causing division, fear of the number 666, fear of the imagery . . .

Now consider our original readers. They have faced persecution to the point of martyrdom under Emperor Nero, and it seems that persecution is only going to continue. Believers need to decide if Christ is worth their lives, and the lives of their families. Are they willing to face more persecution, and martyrdom, for Christ?

Remember this Revelation was given by the Father to the Son through an angel to John. Considering the situation of the original readers, would Christ send a message of fear?  Is the main reason for God telling John to write this book to scare the early, persecuted church half to death because worse is coming?

These are God’s words to His hurting and persecuted church! People have made Revelation a book of fear, but it was given as a book of HOPE! It is to proclaim final victory of Jesus Christ, and His people. It is a book of great COMFORT!

As we look into this book, remember the Original Reader. Ask the question: “What would this mean to the early, persecuted church?” They’ve already suffered, and more is coming! They need to see that their lives matter, their choices matter, and their deaths matter. They need to know that Jesus sees their suffering, but that they will one day stand victorious with Him!

Worship Christ!

Themes

Unsurprisingly, the themes hinge around persecution, hope and why God is worthy of their worship in the midst of suffering. Themes to look at when you read Revelation include:

  • Persecution/ endurance
  • Justice/ wrath of God
  • God’s character/ worship of Him in all circumstances
  • Conquering Christ (& His saints)

Some key words and ideas that feed into the themes: True/truth; Know (chapters 2-3); Faith/ belief/ evangelism; Eternal life; Godly vs ungodly.

Main Idea and Reason Written

What do you think is the main idea of the book? Has your thought on this changed since starting to dig deeper into the Historical Background of the book?

The main idea of Revelation is truly glorious:

Jesus wins and so do we!!!

Main idea = Jesus, the conquering Lamb!

Main idea = Jesus is victorious, and believers achieve victory in Christ!

Main idea = Be comforted; be very, very comforted!

More of the big picture:

  • God’s heart for the churches
  • God’s character
  • Book of comfort and hope
  • Call to endurance

I hope you are beginning to see that this book should bring comfort and rejoicing. It should not bring a moment of fear to the hearts of believers! Yes, there is some uncertain imagery, but the big picture is very clear and we are going to see that it is one of HOPE.

Don’t forget that John is worshipping God for the message of this book. He saw it as a message that would bring hope and encouragement for those to whom he was writing.

As we go through the book, ASK:

WHO WINS/ is winning?
How would the original readers respond?

 

Next blog we are going to take a look at apocalyptic literature to gain insight into how we should interpret this book.