Studying the Book of Revelation is intimidating and it does take some intentional work to understand it. But, it’s no where near as intimidating as you think if you keep three rules in mind (covered in detail below). My goal with this blog is to make complex things simple in regards to end-times theology and understanding. I think most people are intimidated by the subject and many have decided that it’s too complex to figure out anyway, so they retreat to a position of just being okay with the basics — that Jesus is coming back somehow, some way, at some point.
I used to be there too. But then I read verses that say things like, “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33), and “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), or “not one jot or tittle (the smallest marks in the Hebrew language) shall pass from the law until all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). Even the book of Revelation itself says that whoever reads and keeps the prophecies found in Revelation will be blessed (Revelation 1:3, Revelation 22:7). It’s the capstone of the canon, the grand finale of the fireworks show, the crescendo of the symphony, the best part of the love letter, and the climax of the movie, but somehow the enemy has convinced most believers that it’s too convoluted to understand. How did this happen?
First of all, I think it’s because of spiritual warfare. Yes, it’s real. Yes, there is a real Satan and in his twisted mind, he still thinks he can usurp God’s plan and take his place. Satan lusts after the worship that only God deserves and the more he can confuse people about end-time prophecy, the more it plays to his advantage — even though we already know who wins. The enemy knows Bible prophecy. He has studied it for thousands of years. He wants to rewrite the playbook and get our eyes off of the incredible victory that is coming for Christ and for us. If the enemy can take away the biggest motivation factor for expectant living and sharing our faith (Jesus’ soon return/Rev. 22:7) then he will do just that. The enemy does not want God’s people living with the sense of purpose, clarity, and urgency that a proper understanding of end-times events provides.
Second, I think some well meaning but unwise Christians have done unnecessary damage to how people view Bible prophecy. There is never a shortage of date-setters even though Jesus himself said that, “no one knows the day or the hour…” (Matthew 24:36). That doesn’t mean we can’t know the season or general time frame however, but that’s another post for another day.
Third, considering the fact that there are a few different methods of interpretation (Idealist, Preterist, Historicist, and Futurist views) when approaching Revelation, this adds another layer of confusion. If you have 3 or 4 super intelligent authors or seminary professors who say vastly different things about how to interpret the book of Revelation, then how in the world are we supposed to know which view is accurate? Am I reading your mail? If so, please keep reading!
I should note here that the various views of the end-times is an in-house debate. It’s not a salvation issue. Some truly Godly people who love the Lord and love the word of God disagree on the order of end-time events. Through MUCH study and a great amount of conviction, I fall firmly into the futurist, pre-trib, pre-mill camp (If you don’t know what that means stay tuned for future posts on that topic), but I would never berate a brother or sister in Christ who held another view. Sadly, I see this happen way too often when Christians disagree. For some reason these believers forget all about John 13:35 that says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
There is a famous quote attributed to an early church leader that says, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” Let’s unite around the essentials, allow for differing views in the non-essentials, and demonstrate true Christian love toward each other, even if we disagree on how the end-time pieces fall into place. But, don’t let the term “non-essential” make you think you don’t need to study and form your own convictions. Have the courage to pursue truth wherever it leads.
So, to bring it back to where we started…making complex things simple. Here are three very important rules to follow when studying prophecy and attempting to form your own conviction about the nature of Bible prophecy and of end-time events.
I. STUDY THE TOTALITY OF SCRIPTURE
If scripture is without error and of divine origin we should see a harmony and cohesiveness within it’s pages, and we do. The more I study it, the more I know that only a sovereign God could have put it together. We see lines of theology introduced in Genesis and progressively revealed throughout the Old and New Testaments. We see a divine harmonization of passages written at different times by different writers. For those who want to take the time, you’ll find that the internal and external evidence for the reliability of scripture is overwhelming.
With those facts in view as we study prophecy, we can confidently interpret scripture with scripture and take every world literally unless it’s clearly a figure of speech. It is very easy to take verses out of context or brush them off if we don’t understand that we should let scripture shed light on other parts of scripture. When symbols are used in the book of Revelation for example, we can’t use contemporary concepts to understand them. We have to search the Old Testament for instances of those symbols. This unlocks the meaning of the symbol and harmonizes it with scripture. I’ve seen some Christians treat the Old Testament like it is obsolete and only study the New Testament in depth. This does them a disservice because, “ALL SCRIPTURE is God-breathed and useful for teaching…” (2 Timothy 3:16). You cannot fully understand Eschatology without understanding the progression of theology from Genesis to Revelation.
II. DON’T SPIRITUALIZE
Too often, students of the Bible tend to “spiritualize” the meaning of prophecies even though they don’t do this with any other areas of scripture. For example, when the Bible talks about various people groups, we understand they are talking about specific countries, areas, or groups of people. In most cases, we can trace the history back to those people. But some prophecy teachers use “replacement theology” and replace Israel with the Church and that God is done with Israel (even though Paul spends 3 chapters in Romans [Ch. 9-11] clearly showing God is NOT done w/ Israel or the Jewish people).
Another example is with the Millennium (the 1000 year period of Christ’s rule on earth after the Tribulation period). Even though the Old Testament prophets say over and over again that the Lord will rule on a literal throne from Jerusalem, and Revelation chapter 20 says six times that there will be a 1000 year reign of Christ, many prophecy teachers say this is figurative for the Church age. The problem is no other scripture sheds light on this being figurative. No where in scripture does it say the church has replaced the Jews, nor is there any precedent for spiritualizing the meaning of the 1000 years. Everywhere else where God uses a number, that number is to be taken literally. When the Gospels tell us Jesus chose 12 disciples, it meant exactly that. Precision and accuracy are hallmarks of God’s nature.
III. USE LOGIC
We need to use our God-given ability to apply logic to compare and contrast passages of scripture to develop a framework of understanding of end-time events. For example. If the rapture where we “meet the Lord in the air” is imminent (meaning it can happen at any time with no preconditions) as taught by Paul, and if the tribulation begins with the confirming of a covenant by the anti-christ, and if the anti-Christ cannot be revealed until after the rapture occurs, then logic demands that the rapture must occur before the tribulation. Here’s another example. If the anti-Christ stands in the temple in the middle of the seven-year tribulation period and there is not currently a temple in Jerusalem, then it stands to reason that sometime between now and the middle of the tribulation, a third Jewish temple will be constructed. (BTW, did you know there’s an organization called The Temple Institute that has already constructed all of the instruments, trained priests who’s DNA traces back to the Levitical line of the Old Testament, has the building plans, and funding for the third temple?)
As you read prophetic passages without spiritualizing the meaning and recalling other related passages, you can use logic to connect the dots and develop clearer convictions and a better understanding about the nature of end-time events.
By following those rules, I have found that studying Bible prophecy and the book of Revelation to be the most exciting Bible study I’ve ever taken on — mainly because these three rules clear the fog and unlock God’s word. I am 100% convinced that God means what he says and says what he means, that the totality of scripture completely harmonizes, and that our God-given ability to use logic connects the dots.
When studying scripture with that approach and with the attitude that you will follow truth wherever it will lead, I believe you will come to the same conclusions I have (Pre-trib, Pre-Mil, Futurist Positions). But even if you don’t, you will still have a much better understanding of scripture. I hope this post will help encourage you to study prophecy with a sense of clarity and expectancy. God’s word was never meant to be boring or convoluted.
For further reading, be sure to check out the previous posts on the 5 Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation.