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Plain Talk About
the Book of Revelation
One of the more difficult problems in attempting to
understand the Scriptures is to try to make some sense out of the Book of
Revelation Martin Luther paid
scant attention to the book; John Calvin would not comment on it.
In contrast to this, others (Hal Lindsey for example) have made it the
center of their ministry. But we can’t just throw up our hands as the two great
reformers have done, because God gave it for a purpose.
On the other hand we needn’t fall helpless prey to those who have many
far out ideas about the book. I am
forever grateful to Jim McGuiggan and his work, “The Book of Revelation”.
What is the purpose of the Revelation given through the
The book was written to the seven churches of Asia, to
provide comfort and support and assurance of the ultimate victory and triumph of
our Lord and His church. The book
pronounces a judgment on Rome and its institutions both civil and religious.
The church would endure about two centuries of persecution but in the
end, Jesus and His bride (the church) would prevail.
What is the greatest difficulty in understanding the
book of Revelation?
The language! The language! The language!
I don’t know why, perhaps other do, it was written in this highly
imaginative, symbolic language we call “apocalyptic speech.”
But I do know it is not that unusual, the prophets are replete with this
language and we find it elsewhere also in the New Testament.
The question is, Should it be taken literally or interpreted
language is not to be taken literally. It
is symbolic. If it weren’t we
would live in a new heavens and earth awaiting another because the Prophet
Isaiah, among others, used this language to describe God’s judgment centuries
Isaiah 65: 17; 66: 22
This means that when you read someone who want to take the
millennium or the 144,000 Jews literally, for example, have your saltshaker
close-by because you are going to need several grains of salt.
What is perhaps the second greatest problem?
The time! The time! If you read commentaries on Revelation, you find they describe themselves as being preterist, hyper-preterist, futurist, premillennialist, amillennialist, post -millennialist and on and on. Any explanation that is worth consideration must take into account the time element given in the book. Jim McGuiggan does this as good as any and better than most. Please notice the time element within the book itself
If words have meaning, and they do, then we need to pay
attention. This book was written to
believers in the first century and the highly symbolic events within it, were
played out in their lives. This
book has meaning for them, first, and then for us.
They knew nothing of helicopters and nuclear war and confederations.
If we want to understand the message then we need to get real about the
time. This is not easy to do.
Especially if you are like me heard all your life that Chapters 21 and 22
refer to the end time.
A Brief Sketch of the Book of Revelation
Chapter 1 John, the writer, introduces himself and
states that this work is a revelation of Jesus Christ to the seven churches of
Asia. The glorious Jesus is
described as the one who was dead, but now lives forevermore, having the keys
(control and authority) over death and Hades.
Jesus gives an individual assessment of the seven (completeness)
churches, that which they must do; He gives words of encouragement and warning
Chapters 4-5 The holy, almighty and worthy God is on His glorious throne and worshipped by the four living creatures (cherubim) and the twenty-four elders (the royal priesthood, the church). God rules.
A book with seven seals (revealing the persecutions) is
opened by the “as if slain Lamb” (Christ) who is exalted.
Only the Lamb is worthy to open the seals.
Chapter 6 The Seven Seals (judgments)- white horse
with the conquering Christ (even the content of the seals are under His
control), red horse that is war, a black horse, which is famine, the pale horse
that is death, the fifth seal revealing the martyrs of the word God, the sixth
seal with its physical terror and judgment is revealed.
Chapter 7 God’s people, the church, the 144, 000
are sealed and protected from the great tribulations. This is a message of comfort.
The great multitude, the church in a different figure, rejoices having
endured the great tribulation.
Chapter 8-9 The seventh seal introduces the seven trumpets (warnings).
The trumpets are warnings of danger and judgment on the ungodly but they
refuse to repent
The seven thunders speak of judgments. Here we find the angel and the
little book; the message is both sweet, regards to the final outcome, and bitter
because more persecutions are coming. The
temple is measured, indicating holiness; the church as portrayed by the city and
the two witnesses will have hard times but will be protected also.
God’s people, the woman, bring forth the seed (Christ) that ascends to
heaven. The devil is defeated and
cast down to the earth were he attempt to destroy God’s people
Chapter 13 The three enemies of the church are
identified; the Dragon (Devil), the sea beast Rome with its civil power) and the
earth beast (Rome with its religious power).
Chapter 14-15 The Lamb stands on Mount Zion with
144, 000 (the church) who are singing a new song (a song of deliverance), the
righteous are gathered in and the wicked trampled in the winepress.
A message of assurance. The
144,000 are victorious.
This chapter brings us to the seven bowls (complete wrath of God), which
are under the seventh trumpet. Details
are dealt with in later chapters.
These chapters speaks of the fall of Rome. The later part of Chapter 17 deals with how she falls;
Chapter 18 gives a description of that fall.
This chapter tells of the joy of the saints at the fall of their enemy at
the hands of Jesus Christ. Christ is described in His power and grandeur.
The beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire.
Chapter 20 This
chapter details the complete defeat of Satan in using Rome against the church.
It speaks of the victory of the saints in terms of a resurrection of martyred
saints to a thousand year reign on thrones.
Satan is bound 1000 years, then loosed, amasses a great army but is
totally defeated. The defeat of the
servants of Rome is described in terms of a resurrection, only to be cast into.
The lake of fire.
Chapters 21-22 New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, the church, is gloriously
described and vindicated. John sees
the river from the throne of God and the tree of life. The book closes with Jesus promise to come quickly and with a
warning not to add to or subtract from the book.
What have I concluded about Revelation?
The most significant conclusion is that the book is not about some futuristic interpretation whether is be of the premillennial, amillennial or post-millennial variety. It is about the victory of Christ and His church over Satan who uses the civil and religious power of Rome. It is a message of comfort and hope to the saints who endured the persecutions of the early centuries. The scenes are not set in eternity but in the first centuries.
What makes for difficulty in this interpretation?
If the last chapters of Revelation were set in eternity,
the language and images, especially of the last two chapters would be quite
suitable to that situation.
What convinced you that this is the story of the church
in the first centuries?
First: we have the logic that tells us the images must have had meaning to those to whom it was addressed.
Second: we have the general agreement that Rome is under discussion.
Third: we have the language that indicates proximity in time.
Fourth: we have the phrases that indicate the book is in time not eternity.
What is the 1,000 years found in Revelation 20?
Prior to chapter 20 we recognize the symbolic nature of the
language. The red dragon is
recognized as a symbol; the earth beast is a symbol; the sea beast is a symbol;
but when we get to the 1,000 years many want to take that literally.
Wouldn’t it be more consistent to see the 1,000 as a symbol also?
When it is applied to Satan it means he is perfectly and altogether
bound. When it is applied to the
saints it speaks to their perfect and total victory and triumph.
The Scripture says God own the cattle on 1,000 hills.
What does that mean? Is God
counting…998, 999, and 1,000? I
don’t think so. It means His ownership is total and complete
We find that God keeps “covenant and lovingkindness with
them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.”
Is that a literal number? How
about 1,001. No, it means there is no limit; He is totally and completely
The Scriptures speak of God’s word, which He “commanded
to 1,000 generations.” To
how many? Totality is the correct
What is your opinion in regard to premillennialism
(coming of Christ before the 1,000 reign)?
This view is fraught with many difficulties, not the least
of which is the truth that the kingdom of God was established in the first
century, within the life time of some of those who saw Jesus.
More is coming about the kingdom later.
The idea that God postponed the establishment of the
kingdom because the Jews rejected Christ, is preposterous.
This is only a sketch. For a fuller presentation of this perspective, I recommend, “Revelation” by Jim McGuiggan; International Biblical Resources; Lubbock, Texas
PO Box 1182
Oakdale, CA 95361
Last Update 09/26/12