5 Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation: KEY# 3

5keystoRev_K3

KEY#3: THE SYMBOLS ARE EASIER TO UNDERSTAND THAN YOU THINK

In the last post we looked at the importance of using a literal interpretation when studying the book of Revelation. We highlighted the important adage, “If the plain sense makes sense, then seek no other sense, or you will end up in nonsense.” The logical question then is, “What if the plain sense doesn’t make sense?”

Sometimes we find clear figures of speech in scripture. It’s obvious they should not be interpreted literally. For example, Jesus frequently used hyperbole in his parables as he talked about things like; camels fitting through the eye of a needle, or pointing out a spec of dirt in someone’s eye while we have a plank in our own eye, etc.

Other confusing passages can be better understood simply by studying the larger context. What do the surrounding verses and chapters say? What is the historical context? How can the context of the entire Bible shed light on a specific passage? And still other passages can be better understood by looking for earlier uses of the word or symbol. This is known as “interpreting scripture with scripture” and it this method helps us understand the symbolism found in some of the prophetic passages of the Bible. Such is the case with most of the symbolism in Revelation.

All of the symbols in Revelation first appear somewhere else in scripture, OR the meaning of the symbol is given in the immediate context. This is very important. We look for earlier precedents of a word or symbol and allow them to inform our understanding of symbols found in Revelation. People get into trouble when they bring their own ideas into what the symbols mean. We need to let scripture, logic, and the Holy Spirit be our guide.

One caveat. Notice I didn’t title this post, “The Symbols Are EASY to Understand”. They are not easy to understand, they are just EASIER to understand than most people think. It takes some time, effort, and prayer to understand the symbols Biblically. Helpful commentaries by trusted experts — who believe God’s word is inerrant and who interpret it literally — are greatly helpful as well. Their commentaries help connect the dots to the symbol’s Biblical origin.

There are seven basic categories of symbols that show up in Revelation; animals, colors, objects of nature, man made objects, people and numbers. We read about symbols such as the seven lamp stands, the beast rising out of the sea, a beast with seven heads and ten horns, a woman riding a beast, the seven seals, the seven scrolls, the seven bowls, the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” (no, not the 1980’s professional wrestling version), and the lamb seen in heaven’s throne room? Those are just a few examples.

We’ll unpack some of the symbolism found in Revelation in future posts, but the main purpose of this post is to help those who have been intimidated or confused by the symbolism in Revelation. You can have confidence that the symbols have clear meaning. It is well worth the effort to uncover their meaning. They just take some study and prayer to understand. Once a symbol is understood it brings fresh meaning to the text and practical insight into how these symbols effect us today!

Up next is KEY#4: REVELATION IS WRITTEN CHRONOLOGICALLY

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

Here are a few GREAT books to get if you would like to dig deeper.

40 Days Through Revelation: Uncovering the Mystery of the End Times (Rhodes)

Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Understanding Bible Prophecy (LaHaye/Ice)

Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (Walvoord)

The End Times in Chronological Order, Rhodes

Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation, LaHaye/Hindson

 

5 Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation: KEY #2

5keystoRev_K2

KEY#2: INTERPRET THE BOOK OF REVELATION LITERALLY

Many people over the centuries since John wrote the book of Revelation (around 95 AD) have allegorized various aspects of the book to mean a host of different things. This history and approach to the book confuses people because if we allegorize the book of Revelation it loses it’s meaning.  People can put any meaning they want into the Book of Revelation and other prophetic texts if allegory is allowed. We need to use the same interpretation method for Daniel and Revelation that we do for the rest of the Bible. As it’s been said, “If the plain sense makes sense, then seek no other sense, or you will end up in nonsense.”

In other words, take God’s word at face value. If Revelation says multiple times that after the tribulation period, Jesus will set up a 1000 year kingdom on Earth, then it means that he will literally set up a 1000 year reign on Earth. If it says 144,000 Jewish witnesses will receive Christ and become evangelists during the tribulation period than there will literally be 144,000 Jewish evangelists (and many more Jewish believers) in Christ. The number 144,000 is not symbolic for anything. The book of Revelation definitely contains some symbolism. However, the symbols are understood from the context of the chapter or from other books in the Bible. When studying scripture we have to careful to interpret scripture with scripture instead of our own ideas.

One very unfortunate outcome resulting from the failure of using a literal interpretation of prophecy is what’s known as “Replacement Theology”. In replacement theology, Bible teachers replace the Jewish people with the Church. Anywhere the text refers to Israel, Jerusalem, or the Jewish people, adherents to replacement theology teach that these passages are really talking about the Church. To be blunt, this is bad theology leading to clearly unbiblical consequences, but more on that in once we get to Key #5 in a few posts.

One reason a literal interpretation is so important is that it puts prophecy into a real context. Before I understood this, I used to gloss over prophetic passages. I viewed them as having meaning to their immediate audience but not to me personally. I wouldn’t have said it that way, but that’s the effect it had when I came across Old Testament prophecies.

The great thing is that the literal interpretation method can be tested. God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”. If past fulfilled prophecies were fulfilled literally, we can be sure that future yet-unfulfilled  prophecies will be fulfilled in like manner. In short, fulfilled prophecy verifies the literal interpretation method.

For example, many Old Testament prophets predicted Israel would become a nation again and that she would control Jerusalem again. For centuries theologians (beginning with St. Augustine and carrying over into the Catholic church and into Protestant churches) allegorized all of these verses because Israel had been destroyed in 70AD. If they would have applied a literal interpretation they would have understood from many passages that Israel would one day become a nation again.  Every detail regarding Israel’s rebirth as a nation happened literally and was fulfilled to the exact detail.

Another example would be the succession of world empires detailed in Daniel chapter 2 before any of them came to pass. These major world empire prophecies were also fulfilled literally…in every detail. The specific prophecies surrounding the birth of Christ were all fulfilled literally…to the detail. You get the point. Over and over again Bible prophecy makes unbelievable claims. Over and over again they are fulfilled literally. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” All scripture, including every single prophecy was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We need to trust that God says what He means and means what He says. A literal interpretation of scripture honors God and His word. There’s nothing Satan would like more than to get us to doubt scripture. That’s been his M.O. from the beginning and it’s what he craftily continues to do. If the enemy can’t get us to reject God’s word, he’ll do anything he can to make scripture seem murky and confusing. A literal interpretation of scripture opposes this tactic and gives us very clear insight into God’s faithfulness to his word. It also gives us greater clarity as we study end-time Bible prophecy.

Up next is KEY#3: THE SYMBOLS ARE EASIER TO UNDERSTAND THAN YOU THINK

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

Here are a few GREAT books to get if you would like to dig deeper.

The End Times in Chronological Order, Rhodes

Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation, LaHaye and Hindson

The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy, Rhodes

 

5 Keys to Understanding the Book of Revelation: KEY# 1

5keystoRev_K1

The Book of Revelation can be intimidating and unfamiliar even for Christians if they haven’t had the opportunity to study it. As Dr. Henry Morris and other prophecy experts have said, “The book of Revelation is not hard to understand. It’s just hard to believe.” If we believe the first verse of the Bible, than approaching the book of Revelation with that same mindset of belief sets us on a path to discover truth about the things to come.

This series of posts will unpack five keys that will help remove the intimidation factor and help people get excited about studying the Book of Revelation. After all, it is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) and includes a blessing (1:3) to anyone who reads or hears the “words of this prophecy”. Revelation 19:10 even tells us that “…the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.” Jesus was the ultimate prophet and the book of Revelation is all about His future return to set everything straight. Well worth the time to study this amazing book of the Bible. Here is Key #1!

KEY#1: START WITH THE BOOK OF DANIEL

Daniel is the “Revelation” of the Old Testament so to speak. It details Daniel’s captivity in Babylon and how He and other Jewish captives adjusted to living in a completely pagan culture. Daniel was a bright light in a dark place. Most are familiar with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den and the account of the fiery furnace faced by three of his friends. The narrative of the book of Daniel gives us insight into how to live in an increasingly pagan culture in our day. Most Christians are familiar with those stories from the book of Daniel but many are surprised to learn that a full 1/2 of the book of Daniel is consists of very detailed prophecies given to Daniel which predict major historical events from just after Daniel’s time all the way through the future tribulation period.

Daniel’s visions establish the basic framework for end-time events and John’s Book of Revelation adds more detail and ties up all of the loose ends. Revelation is where all the Old Testament lines of prophecy converge, but a good understanding of the initial framework set forth in Daniel is critical. John’s immediate audience would have been people familiar with the book of Daniel. References and symbolism used in Revelation are understood when viewing them through he lens of Daniel. John assumes his readers had knowledge of the book of Daniel. Think of it like this. If the book of Daniel is viewed as the foundation and frame of a house, then Revelation  the drywall and finishing. We don’t know the specific details of all of the fixtures, paint colors, and tile choices, but we know enough from these two books (and other Biblical passages) to understand the key events, players, and the basic chronology…so much so that we can clearly see the stage being set in our day for these end time events.

Daniel chapter 2 provides the basic framework. Then Daniel chapters 7-9, 11, 12 give us more of the key details. Daniel chapter 9 in particular (the 70 “weeks” of years) points to 69 “weeks” of years that begin with the command to rebuild Jerusalem (command by Artaxerxes in 457BC, Ezra 7:12-26) and end with the “Messiah the Prince” entering Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) 490 years years later. This prophecy was literally fulfilled, some experts even say it was fulfilled not just to the year but to the exact day. Next, Daniel chapter 9 tells us that the messiah is “cut off, but not for himself.” This was strange and cryptic language until the cross. Now we understand this was a reference to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross to save us from our sins.

After 69 “weeks” (of years) we notice an indefinite period of time exists before the final “week” of 7 years. Logic necessitates this mysterious gap (what we now know as the Church Age/Age of Grace) before the future 7 year tribulation period.  The reason logic demands a gap is because verse 26 tells us that the temple will be destroyed (this was literally fulfilled in 70AD by the Romans), but then in verse 27 it says another future ruler will “put an end to sacrifices”. This necessitates the rebuilding of an end-time temple (currently in development by The Temple Institute of Jerusalem). So, somewhere between 70AD and the final week of 7 years, another temple has to be built. This gap is where the mystery of the Church age was hidden in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament. Revelation gives us more detail indicating the new temple must be rebuilt by the middle of the tribulation period.

An understanding of these six chapters from the book of Daniel will help make the book of Revelation much easier to understand for the student of prophecy. The books of Daniel and Revelation work in tandem and help us understand the key end-time players,  events, and conditions.

Up next is KEY#2: INTERPRET THE BOOK OF REVELATION LITERALLY

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY

Here are a few GREAT books to get if you would like to dig deeper.

Agents of Babylon: What the Prophecies of Daniel Tell Us about the End of Days (Jeremiah)

40 Days Through Daniel: Revealing God’s Plan for the Future (Rhodes)

40 Days Through Revelation: Uncovering the Mystery of the End Times (Rhodes)

Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Understanding Bible Prophecy (LaHaye/Ice)

Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (Walvoord)