Can We Understand the Book of Revelation?

Question from a Site Viewer
Sir, in my seventy-four years I have learned to never argue with someone who is always right. In my younger days I devoted ten years to the theological study of the book of Revelation and when I stopped, I concluded that at that time I found no one who could rightly interpret the book, and I am still looking. As for Matthew 24 and the use of all those self imposed titles put upon men of interpretive diversity, they are meaningless. Who really cares if you are pre-mill or pre-trib or whatever. I find little truth in the argument of both sides of the issue and I wonder if perhaps God should have authored a chronological time chart for all people itching for Mr. 666.

Just as interpreters of centuries gone by before you thought they lived in the time of the second advent, so do people of today; they labor foolishly over signs. Why can you not simply say, “I believe Jesus is coming back someday for his bride, the church,” and leave it alone. At least you will be right, but as it is you are part right, and part wrong. Do you know which part is right? No living person can interpret Revelation, no more so than they can Matthew 24. If John could have interpreted the vision’s true meaning in Revelation, there is no evidence he did, so it was left for men to confuse their minds, and it has worked. If you or anyone you know ever gets it right I would be interested in reading what you or they have to say. Neither side of the issue are thinking clearly and both sides jump to false conclusions (you have a lot of false conclusions). You need to embark upon a few years of study (I do eight to ten hours a day, every day) on prophets and apocalyptic literature; forget about what they wrote and seek first to understand them. Then perhaps, just perhaps, you might qualify as an authority on Daniel, Matthew 24-25, and Revelation.

My pastor is teaching through Revelation and he did not correctly identify the rider of the first white horse. Can you? Please don’t say it is Jesus or the antichrist. Your use of the word “scoffers” marks you as one who is only guessing about apocalyptic writing and are of a mind that unless others agree with you, they are wrong, and they may be, but then you may too be wrong. No, I didn’t think so.

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your comments on the book of Revelation. I think none of us are completely correct in all our theology. We are on a journey in this life. As we live out the Christ life, help our neighbors, and serve one another as He taught us, we are conformed by His Spirit into the image of His Son. The point of Scripture is to draw us into His Son, to the perfection that is the image of God living in us.

You question my interpretation of Revelation and Matthew 24, stating that you do not think any living person can rightly interpret these texts. The question of right interpretation arises from startling realization that two different people can read the same words and come to different conclusions. Communication is sometimes a mysterious process. The point of communication is to convey from the mind of one person to the mind of another the thoughts of the first person. In the case of sacred Scripture, the point is to convey from the mind of God into the mind of His people the truths about Himself. God uses words to communicate His truth. He provides additional assistance to that understanding by giving us His Holy Spirit who is sent to guide us into truth (John 16:13). John goes so far as to tell the readers of 1 John that the Holy Spirit guides them into all truth (1 John 2:27).

I do not profess to have the final word on the meaning of the book. And I commend you for studying the book. I hope you have seen Christ in the book (Revelation 1:1).

Nevertheless, I am nervous about your statement that you have found no one who understands the book. That statement seemingly indicts God. God gave the book of Revelation to the churches back in 95-96 A.D. The churches have had the book for 1900 years. The book was written to be read, to be heard, and to be kept (Revelation 1:3). It is not a sealed book like Daniel was (compare Revelation 22:10 with Daniel 12:4). And God gave His Holy Spirit to guide the church into truth (John 16:13). If the Holy Spirit is so selective in His guidance or so stingy in His revelation to His church that He would conceal His truth from His church, then the book has been an empty gift to the seven churches and to the church as a whole. I do not view God as acting in this way or His gift as being hidden or forbidden fruit.

I say this knowing full well that there has been a great deal of division and discussion in the church about the book of Revelation. And godly people have existed on various sides of the debate. I think the differences in views of the book can be helpful to the church, especially to the extent that such differences do not divide but rather enrich the church.

And I believe that Scripture was written to be understood by ordinary people. These letters of Scripture were to be read in the churches for the edification of the hearers. Though rich in depth, they are not intended to be mysterious or unknowable. They are letters written from a gracious God to His beloved sheep, with the goal of edification of His church.

Others have extensively studied the book. Others have drawn conclusions about the book. And they all cannot be right. You believe your conclusions are right and that is why you believe them. Your note indicates that you have drawn some definite conclusions from your study. I also have studied and taught the book. What I teach on the book is what I think to be correct. I do not teach and the site does not promote positions that we do not think are right. Our position is derived from our reading of the words of the book. Our position is also the position of many others within the church. It is also the earliest expressed views of the church. People like Papias, a disciple of John the Apostle, Ireneous, the 2nd century bishop of Lyons, France who in his youth listened to Polycarp, and others read the same book and arrived at conclusions that we hold. There is both antiquity to our position and an effort to give the words of Scripture a meaning that ordinary people would understand that supports our position.

Yet, I know that others hold positions and teach them because they believe them to be right. All of us cannot be right. While I disagree with other positions, I do so respectfully. The positions of others give me insight into their thinking. We all read the same text. The difference in interpretation comes from within us, not from the text. There have been theologians who have studied the book of Revelation in depth for all of their lives and come out with different interpretations. Is the Spirit speaking differently to each one? I think the better conclusion is that the difference is not in what the Spirit is saying, but in what each of us brings to the text. We are not as open to the Spirit’s leading as we might like to think ourselves to be.

I approach the text with a certain hermeneutic. You have your hermeneutic. Others have theirs. If we think the text is an allegory, we are going to come to a certain conclusion. If we think the text is all about 1st century Rome, we will arrive at certain conclusions. If we think the text is to be interpreted differently than rest of the New Testament, or the other writings of John, then we will reach an interpretation in line with the values we bring to the text.

I bring to the text my own presuppositions that I readily admit. I can state them for you. I believe the text was intended to be read by common, ordinary Christians and was meant to be understood in that context. I believe that the text is largely chronological, following the many repetitions of the phrase “after this” in the book and given that the book ends with the new heaven and earth. I believe that the language given is descriptive of Jesus Christ, His love for the church, and His destruction of the world. I do not claim to know how each of the descriptors will ultimately be fulfilled, but I think the overall view is fairly straightforward. I believe that prophecy should be given a literal interpretation, at least as much as is possible. I find the Old Testament prophecies to have an overall literal interpretation, even with those that we might otherwise think would have been figurative or allegorical. Christ was literally pierced, they literally divided His garments, literally not one bone was broken, He was literally born in Bethlehem, He literally came from Galilee of the Gentiles, He literally came out of Egypt – and there are many more such prophecies. These are my presuppositions that I bring to the book. Based on them, I am led to the interpretation I provide.

I know that if I had other presuppositions, I would reach other conclusions. This I readily admit. Nevertheless, I believe my presuppositions to be the right ones for the proper interpretation of the text.

I happen to agree with you that the “looking for signs” that is prevalent in some parts of Christianity is not necessarily helpful to the church. I do not believe that there will necessarily be any signs before Christ comes as a thief, as Matthew 24 discusses; although I believe that there will be many signs before His coming in power and great glory, as Jesus Himself sets forth in Matthew 24.

And I fully support your position that the overall focus is that Jesus is coming again. I think if you will read the many articles on the site, you will see that the focus of the site is not to look for signs of His coming, but rather to draw people to see Jesus in life here and now and fix their hope on His return.

May the Lord Jesus enable you to be a blessing to His church and to enjoy His presence and joy as you seek faithfully to serve Him.

a seeker of the truth,

tim

Related:
Outline of the Book of Revelation

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