Introduction to Revelation

Overview of the structure

The Four Approaches to Interpretation of Revelation

  1. Preterist
    • The prophecies were entirely fulfilled in the first century
    • Plus: It would have been intelligible to John’s readers
    • Minus: It is not massively relevant for us
    • Minus: To be consistent, it means that Jesus must have already returned 1900 years ago
  2. Historicist
    • The book is a description of European history over 2000 years
    • Plus: It is interesting for us
    • Minus: Every age has had a different interpretation, relevant to themselves
    • Minus: Everyone disagrees what it means
    • Minus: It would not have been intelligible to John’s readers
  3. Futurist (Dispensational)
    • Apart from the first few chapters the book is exclusively concerned with events right at the end of the age
    • Christians will not even be on earth for most of it (raptured)
    • Minus: The book is not very relevant for us
    • Minus: Much of the detail will not be understood till it happens, so it would not have been very intelligible to John’s readers (or to us)
    • Minus: The Dispensational view makes the 7 churches = 7 ages
      • The last age (Laodicea) is a total failure and then Christ returns
      • Very pessimistic about the Kingdom and demotivating for the church
  4. Idealist
    • The book is not about specific events, but patterns of events that occur right through the age
    • It sets out principles for how God works in human history
    • Plus: It would have been intelligible to John’s readers
    • Plus: It is relevant for us and for Christians in all ages
    • Plus: There are examples of “repeated fulfillment” in O.T. prophecy
      • e.g. some of Daniel’s prophecies which are already fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes are repeated by Jesus with future application
    • Minus: The meaning can end up being so vague and general that the value of the book is much reduced
    • Minus: This would make it different to all other “apocalyptic” literature in the Scriptures which tends to be more specific

Good Principles for Interpreting the Book

  1. Allow the simple and straightforward parts of Scripture to interpret the complex and difficult
    • Jesus’ teaching on the events preceding his coming in Matt 24
    • Paul also gave similar teaching in II Thessalonians
  2. Understand the language of symbols from other similar literature in the Bible
    • Symbols can be understood from other prophetic (apocalyptic) literature in the Scriptures (e.g. Daniel)
    • e.g. dragon/serpent → Satan
    • e.g. Sun darkened & stars fall → collapsing of earthly powers
      Ez 32:1-10 (Pharoah), especially v.7 & 8
      Daniel 8 (Macedonian empire), see v.10
      Joel 2:1-11 (Great army), see v.10

The language of Symbols

Analysis of the Structure of the book

  1. All in sequence:
    • Christ’s first coming — 1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7 — eternity
  2. All in parallel:
Christ’s first coming —1—
  1. Some combination, e.g. telescope all of 2 inside the last 7th of 1
  2. We are going to see four parts to the book:
Vision Division of Book
—1— Part 1. Letters to the Seven Churches [1-3]
Part 2. The First Scroll: The Seven Seals and the Seven Trumpets [4-11]
Part 3. The Second Scroll: Warfare (Seven Visions, Seven Plagues and Seven Visions of Victory) [12-19]
—7— Part 4. The Second Scroll: The End of the Age and the New Creation [20-22]

Updated on 2011-05-27 by Andrew Fountain -