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Introduction to Revelation

Lesson 12

Comments

The book of Revelation may be likened to a fuse box in your house.  As all wires meet and end in the fuse box, so all books of the Bible meet and end in Revelation.  Revelation can only be understood with the help of other scripture.  One authority states that Revelation makes more than 500 allusions to the Old Testament!

Because Revelation’s story is connected to all the books in the Bible and because we have to understand certain things before we can interpret Revelation, we have had to spend time exploring these five essential doctrines:

1.      The second coming of Jesus

2.      Salvation by faith

3.      The work of Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary

4.      The state of the dead

5.      The truth about worship.

Revelation predicts that the entire world will worship the Antichrist that shall appear on earth, “except those whose names are written in the book of life! “  Why the world will worship the Antichrist will be explored in this study.

For now, we need to begin looking into Revelation’s story and learning the meaning of the things written there.  Notice that Revelation offers a reward to all that study the book:

“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”  Revelation 1:3 Remember from lesson 2, when a prophecy becomes applicable, its language becomes applicable.  A special blessing now belongs to those who study Revelation because the appointed time is near!

A very logical sequence

 

Revelation follows a very decided progression in its story.  Notice the outline:

 

Story                                                 Chapter

 

Introduction                                                 1

 

7 Churches                                               2-3

 

Jesus given the book with 7 seals            4-5

Jesus opens 7 seals                                 6-8

 

Great multitude is redeemed                     7

 

7 Trumpets                                           8-11

 

2 Witnesses                                              11

 

Satan’s origin and work                           12

 

Rise of Babylon                                       13

 

Personal appearance of Satan                  13

 

3 Warning messages                                14

 

7 Last plagues                                     15-16

 

Last moments of Babylon                        17

 

Collapse of Babylon                                18

 

Second Coming                                       19

 

End of 1,000 years                                   20

 

New Jerusalem                                         21

 

Eternal life                                               22

 

As you already know, the gospel story is not hard to understand (After all, 6+ billion people must hear it and understand it!)  The basic issues within Revelation are not hard to comprehend either.  The hardest part of understanding Revelation is getting a handle on the cryptic language.  These are:

1.      Symbolic or spiritual language

2.      Analogue or analogous language

3.      Literal language and terms

These three language types are mixed throughout the book and discerning whether language is literal, symbolic or analogous can be difficult.  Let’s observe samples of each language type:

  1. “…There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns… This title was written on her forehead:  Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and the Abominations of the Earth.”  Revelation 17:3,5

Who is the woman wearing the title Babylon?  The Bible says, “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”  Revelation 17:18

Very important point:  If the student suspects the language to be symbolic, a relevant text must clearly define the symbol.  The key word here is “relevant.”  A symbol can have different meanings at different times!  (Compare Revelation 12:9 with Numbers 21:9 & John 3:14)

Another example of symbolic language: “There bodies (2 witnesses) will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”  Revelation 11:8

It is a historical fact that Jesus was not crucified in Sodom or in Egypt.  He was crucified outside Jerusalem.  Revelation predicts the two witnesses will lie in the street of “the great city.”  From Revelation 17:18 we teach who the great city is.  It is the harlot, Babylon.

Babylon will be just like Sodom and Egypt.  Sodom represents unrestrained evil passions and Egypt represents hardness of heart (as manifested by Pharaoh).  Both Sodom and Egypt passed the point of no return, they committed the unpardonable sin.  Babylon will do the same.  Babylon will war against the saints, kill the two witnesses and think they have done God a favor.  The Jews and Romans crucified Jesus in this same state of mind!

  1. Analogous language

“The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle.  On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces.”  Revelation 9:7 The important point to notice here, is the comparison or analogy.

The locusts looked like horses, but they aren’t horses!  They don’t symbolize horses either, for if they did, the scripture would clearly define the meaning of the symbol with relevant scripture.

 

  1. Literal language

“And I saw a beast coming out of the sea.  He had ten horns and seven heads… and on each head a blasphemous name.”  Revelation 13:1

The number 10 and the number 7 are literal.  The horns and heads are symbolic for they are discussed and explained in Revelation 17.  Numbers in Bible prophecy are always literal and real.  What they refer to may be symbolic.  In this case the heads and horns are symbolic because the symbols are later explained.

Sometimes mixed up

One thing that makes interpretation difficult is that language types are sometimes mixed in the same sentence!  Notice this one:

“The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed…” Revelation 16:19 Remember the verse used earlier?  “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”  Revelation 17:3-6

From 17:18 we learned that “great city” is the woman called Babylon.  In 16:19, we learned that the great city (symbolically Babylon) is split into three parts at the second coming of Jesus while the (literal) cities of the nations collapsed.

How can we tell which type of language is being used?  How can we know if a term is literal, symbolic or analogous?  Since mixing or using terms can result in bizarre interpretations, we must be very careful.  We need a set of rules to govern our methods of interpretation.

Rules of interpretation

The rules we use for interpretation of Revelation naturally affect our conclusions.  Anytime we change the rules, we change the conclusions.  Since the Bible does not specifically state the rules of interpretation, we must scan the Bible to discover certain principles of prophetic interpretation that are trustworthy.  The first step in this process is to identify the various types of prophecy:

Five types of prophecy

The Bible presents a minimum of five types of prophecy.  These include:

1.  Messianic prophecies

These prophecies specifically relate to the person of Jesus in either His first or Second coming.  Two examples of Messianic prophecy are found in Isaiah 53 Psalm 22.

 

2. Judaic prophecies

These prophecies predicted the prosperity or destruction of Israel.  Promises and threatening is alike included.  These prophecies have conditional elements in them most of the time.  A good example of this type of prophecy is found in Deuteronomy 28.  These prophecies contain object lessons for all generations of people, for God’s beneficent relationship with man is clearly revealed.

 

3. Day of the Lord prophecies

These prophecies are scattered throughout scripture and relate to the vindication of God and/or His people.  These prophecies have parallel applications for they demonstrate of God and /or the vindication of His people in a contemporary setting as well as a future time.  For example, Isaiah 24 and Ezekiel 7 can be seen as parallels of final days of Israel’s history and the earth’s history.  Sometimes, “Day of the Lord” prophecies have conditional elements embedded in them. Matthew 24 is also considered to be a “Day of the Lord” prophecy. The Prophecy concerning the end of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the end of the world mingled together because there are ominous parallels.

 

4. Local prophecies

Local prophecies apply to specific people, places and times.  For example, the prophecy concerning Nineveh is a local prophecy.  Local prophesies usually require a “local prophet” or messenger to explain or proclaim the prophecy.  In the case of Nineveh, Jonah was the local prophet.

5. Apocalyptic prophecies

Apocalyptic prophecy is defined as structural prophecy; that is, prophecy that that outlines a specific sequence of events that relates to or culminates with the end of the world.  Both the fulfillment and sequence of apocalyptic prophecy are unconditional.  A clear example of this type prophecy can be found in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream outlined a sequence of kingdoms.  In Revelation, sequence and structure are defined by numeric order; i.e., trumpets 2 occurs after after trumpet 1.

             Apocalyptic prophecies sometimes have conditional elements within there structure relating to fulfillment.  For example, the winds of destruction are held back in revelation 7:3 until the servants of God are sealed.  That the winds will blow in unconditional; when they blow is conditional.

 

Distinctive treatment necessary

 

Each of the five prophecy types deserve distinctive treatment.  Mixing the prophecies or merging their respective rules of interpretation renders interpretation impossible. Since we are studying apocalyptic prophecy, we will focus on the rules that apply to this type of prophecy.

 

  1. Apocalyptic prophecy always has a beginning and ending point in time they cannot have multiple fulfillments.  An apocalyptic sequence can only occur once.  Apocalyptic prophecy often contains events within the beginning and ending points whereby progression towards consummation can be determined.  These intermediate events must happen in order in which they are presented.
  2. All prophecies of the Bible are subordinate to apocalyptic structure.  This means that apocalyptic prophecy holds greater weight in terms of chronology than non-apocalyptic prophecies.  No one prophet has been shown everything that God intends to bring about.  Each time God speaks to a prophet about the end of time, more detail is provided.  By first understanding apocalyptic structure, the visions of the prophets can then be organized chronologically.  An apocalyptic prophecy is not fulfilled until all the specifications and the chronology of the prophecy are both met.
  3. When a prophecy becomes applicable, the language of the prophecy becomes applicable.  For example, John begins Revelation by saying, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place…” Revelation 1:1 The words “must soon take place” cannot mean 2,000 years.  Reason requires that words mean what they say.  The point is that when a prophecy becomes present truth, the language of the prophecy must be taken as literal or analogous unless it is clearly symbolic.  If the language is symbolic, relevant scripture must explain the meaning of the symbol.  Students cannot makeup their own interpretation of symbols.  The Bible must interpret itself.

The first point warrants some discussion.  As stated before, apocalyptic prophecy is prophecy that lays out a sequence of events.  According to rule 1, there are only a few apocalyptic prophecies in the Bible.  For example, in Revelation we have the seven seals, seven trumpets and the seven last plagues.

It is very important to understand the primacy of apocalyptic structure.  For example, the seven trumpets of Revelation are numbered, and follow a consecutive order.  If a student demonstrates an interpretation of trumpet 5, that interpretation must recognize the chronological timing of trumpet 4 because trumpet 4 must occur before trumpet 5 does!  If we apply rule 2 to the interpretation of trumpet 5, all details regarding trumpet 1-4 must be met too since all aspects of the trumpet prophecy have to be met in order to have a true fulfillment.  Since there is only one second coming of Jesus, prophecies having sequences that lead up to that event can only have one fulfillment. Said another way, if trumpets 1 through 5 occur, trumpet 3 can’t happen again because trumpet 6 is next sequentially.

Historical applications

Through the centuries, a number of so-called “fulfillments” have been demonstrated from Revelation.  The problem with these fulfillments is they cannot satisfy rule 2, which calls for fulfillments of all details relevant to the prophecy!  Since God gives the detail to the prophets, a fulfillment can only occur when all the specifications are met.  Read Revelation 9:13-21 in your Bible and then read this story:

In the 19th century, Dr. Josiah Litch, a Methodist minister, concluded that trumpets 5 and 6 in Revelation 9 concerned Mohammedanism.  He was convinced that the 6th trumpet described in Revelation 9 predicted the fall of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.  Dr. Litch wrote a book in 1838 titled, “The Probability of the Second Coming of Christ about A.D. 1843” and in it he wrote, “But the duration of their dominion (the Moslems) over the Greek empire…(is) 541 years and 15 days… If the time for commencing the periods was at the time of the onset of the Ottomans upon the Greeks, July 27, 1299, then the whole period will end in August, 1840.” Ibed, page 134.  As August 1840, drew near, Litch predicted the actual date to be August 11.

Casual students of world history are aware of the powerful Ottoman Turkish Empire.  Those fierce Moslems were undisputed rulers of the Middle East for several centuries. But the kingdoms of man come and go.  Ottoman glory faded due to a number of humiliating wars.  In 1774, Turkey signed a treaty with Christian Russia allowing Russia the right of approval in certain Turkish internal affairs.  In 1833 Turkey signed another treaty with Russia, which made the ruler of Turkey subject to the Russian tsar.  In exchange, Turkey was given protection from Egypt.  But in 1839, Egypt seized the Turkish navy as well as a great deal of land.  Turkey quickly appealed for help.  Four Christian powers (England, Russia, Austria and Prussia) forced a treaty between Turkey and Egypt, and it was signed in London in July of 1840.  Egypt released the Turkish navy, reduced the size of its army, withdrew from Syria and resumed paying tribute to Turkey.

On August 11, 1840, Turkey accepted the treaty!  Did this fulfill the prophecy of the 6th trumpet?  The fact that something of political importance happened on the anticipated day of August 11,1840 sent shivers among prophetic students of that day.  They were convinced that the 6th trumpet had been fulfilled!  But was the prophecy fulfilled?  Were all the details of the prophecy met?  A number of problems prevent this conclusion from being regarded as a fulfillment.  Four distinct problems stand out:

1.      There is no question that the sixth trumpet is a great war.  But, this trumpet does not identify which political power rises or falls as a result of the war.  Litch thought that the war between Egypt and Turkey qualified but the Ottoman Empire did not fall or collapse in August of 1840. In fact, Turkey is today a sovereign state.

2.      In October of 1582, ten days were eliminated from the calendar to correct the calendar with respect to earth’s position with the sun.  Dr. Litch did not adjust the timing of his conclusions to compensate, thus the August 11 date is invalid even if we follow his rules or concepts of interpretation.

3.      Dr. Litch assumed that the phrase, “an hour, a day, a month and a year” represented a quantity of 391 years, 15 days.  He arrived at this conclusion by assuming the phrase was cumulative and then he applied the day/year principle. It is now known that the phrase is translated incorrectly in the KJV. The phrase actually represents a specific moment in time rather than a sum of years.  Most translations of the Bible in this century support this corrected understanding.

4.      The final and greatest obstacle to Dr.Litch application is that fulfillment of the first 5 trumpets has not been clearly demonstrated.  If we follow the sequence of the seven trumpets, trumpet 6 can only occur after the first five trumpets!

 

To his credit, Dr. Litch later withdrew his announcement that the sixth trumpet had been fulfilled in August 1840.  He became convinced that what appeared to be a fulfillment, was not a fulfillment.  Dr.Litch later concluded, “the trumpets are yet future and will occur shortly before the second coming of Christ.”

 

This story is told to point out a very important issue.  Throughout the centuries, people have attempted to explain Revelation’s story and show that some piece or part has been fulfilled.  However, unless we maintain fidelity to the rules mentioned earlier, we don’t have fulfillment!  In this study, I believe that even though many have attempted to explain Revelation’s story through the centuries, the story belongs exclusively to the last generation.  Because they live at the end of time, they alone have this opportunity.

 

Revelation’s timing

 

In order to appreciate and understand Revelation’s story, the student has to determine a place in time where the story begins.  Most Bible students assumed the story began with the ascension of Christ (31 A.D.).  After all, there is no specific date mentioned in Revelation.

 

Remember, there is a demonstrated prophetic mechanism:  Prophetic things are understood on or about the time of fulfillment.  We will see in the next lesson that Revelation story has two parts.  The first part applies to the seven churches and the second part begins in 1844.  For now, you need to know a little more about 1844.  This year did not come and go unnoticed.

 

As the year 1840 approached, people in Europe and America came to understand the importance of the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:14.  In America they were known as Millerites or followers of William Miller.  Miller, a licensed Baptist minister, set northeastern America astir with the prophetic message that Jesus was returning to earth “about 1844.”

Miller understood the “cleansing” of the sanctuary to be the cleansing of the earth from sin – thus, he concluded, the second coming must occur sometime during 1843 or 1844.

At the height of his popularity about 100,000 people of various denominations subscribed to his general conclusions that Jesus was about to return!

 

Miller was not a single voice preaching on the second coming of Jesus.  Other great preachers of this era include Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday.  These and many others contributed to the great spiritual revival of America during the 19th century.  Thousands in the eastern half of America gave their lives to the Lord.  Camp meetings were held and thousands attended.  A large number of Americans were “spiritually revived” and then disappointed.

Because Jesus didn’t come (as anticipated), the revival died.  Protestant churches in general became disillusioned with prophetic study.  General skepticism about prophecy characterized Protestantism for more than a century.  Then, in the early 1970’s, prophetic interest began to come alive.  Suddenly, Hal Lindsey’s book, “The Late Great Planet Earth” became a best seller.  And today, prophetic study continues to grow into a topic of considerable interest.

 

So when does Revelation’s story begin?

 

There are two answers to this question.  Notice what John is told; “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”  Revelation 1:19 Just like Daniel’s vision (Daniel 8-12).  John’s vision had information for “his day” and information for “our day.”  Because some of the information given to the seven churches related to immediate problems, John was clearly told to, “ Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”  Revelation 1:11 

 

The messages to the seven churches initially belonged to them at the time they were sent to them.  But in a larger sense, the messages to the seven churches are timeless and universal because the seven churches still exist  - not in the same place, nor with the same people.  People come and go.  Times change, but the seven churches of Jesus remain.  The point is that the seven churches represent the body of believers in Christ!  The problems with sin haven’t changed and the promises and threatenings Jesus gave each church still stands.  In fact, Jesus concluded his message to each church saying, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.”

 

The seven churches are not numbered 1 through 7.  They are not sequential.  They are not apocalyptic.  They simultaneous existed in John’s day and they simultaneous exist now.

 

Something old, something new

 

We need to observe three things from the messages to the seven churches and see if they apply to ourselves.  We need to comprehend the description of Jesus as He is represented to each church; we need to understand the things said to each church and we need to notice the promise given to each church.  Notice:

  1. Ephesus:  Jesus holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lamp stands.  {1:20-2:1}
  2. Smyrna:  Jesus is the First and Last, who died and came to life again.  {2:8}
  3. Pergamum:  Jesus has the sharp, double-edged sword.  {2:12}
  4. Thyatira:  Jesus is the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.  {2:18}
  5. Sardis:  Jesus holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  {3:1}
  6. Philadelphia:  Jesus has the key of David.  What he shuts – no one can open.  What he opens – no one can shut.  He sets before us an open door that no one can shut. (3:7,8}
  7. Laodicea:  Jesus is the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. {3:14}

A promise is a promise

 

Notice what the victors receive:

 

  1. Ephesus:  Those overcoming will have the right to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.  {2:7}
  2. Smyrna:  Those overcoming will not be hurt by the second death.  {2:11}
  3. Pergamum:  Those overcoming will receive some of the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name on it.  {2:17}
  4. Thyatira:  Those overcoming will have authority over the nations.  {2:26}
  5. Sardis:  Those overcoming will be dressed in white and their names will never be erased from the Book of Life.  {3:5}
  6. Philadelphia:  Those overcoming will be a pillar in the temple of God.  {3:12}
  7. Laodicea:  Those overcoming will have the right to sit with Jesus on His throne.  {3:21}

 

To the sincere in all churches

 

Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  The messages to the seven churches are timeless.  As the number seven denotes fullness or wholeness, the seven churches represent all the children of God – scattered over the face of the earth.  Which church describes your experience in the Lord?  The glory of Jesus is not dimmed by time.  Even though He clearly sees the frailty and weakness of His people, He blends encouragement with divine warning.  The promised rewards far surpass any price we have to pay.  To God is the glory!

 

 

Summary

 

Revelation follows a very careful outline.  The story is designed to do two things:  First, prepare God’s people for the things He is about to do and secondly, provide credibility to the message that God’s people will give just before the second coming.  The story, the language and the meaning combine in an integral way to reveal the glory of Jesus, hence the book is called “The Revelation of Jesus.”

 

Rules of interpretation are vitally important.  Rules are directly connected to conclusions and good rules are no respecter of persons or denominations.

 

Revelation had information for the seven churches that existed in John’s day, and Revelation contains information for the final and last generation upon earth.  The core message to each of the seven churches is still applicable today.  Which church do you belong to?

 

 

 

Quiz

 

  1. What three types of language make up Revelation?

 

 

  1. Name three of the five types of prophecy.

 

 

  1. Name two of the 3 rules of interpretation.

 

 

  1. Which descriptions of Jesus given to the churches do you like best?

 

 

  1. In which of the seven churches do you find yourself?

 

 

 

Memory Verse:  Revelation 2:11  “”He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

 

 

 

Notes:


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