Key verses for understanding the Book of Revelation

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. (Revelation 1:1-3)

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;(Revelation 1:19)

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.1 (Revelation 20:4)

Three rules for the interpretation of Scripture are context, context and context. The Book of Revelation is no exception. We can learn from these few verses that: -

1. God gave the prophecy to Christ who signified it to John via his angel. That the prophecy was given by 'sign' means that it was revealed in symbolic form, so, in general, it is not to be interpreted in a literal sense.

2. The prophecy is given to Christ's servants, of whom John was one, not to the world at large. John was faithful to his charge and recorded all he heard and saw in his visions (except where expressly told not to - e.g. 10:4). He was also told to write 'the things which are' which sets the scene, so to speak, and is the subject of the first three chapters.

3. This prophecy tells the faithful what to expect in the future, starting shortly after the prophecy was given; therefore it is invalid to seek to apply interpretations that fall outside this timeframe. E.g. the 'war in heaven' of 12: 7 was not a pre-creation event.

4. Revelation 20:4 proves that the time period of 'the beast' and its 'image' fall into the period after the giving of the prophecy but before the judgment and redemption of those who had remained steadfast. Therefore the majority of the vision pertains to the last 1900 years or so plus the time yet remaining until Christ's return. Thus the information therein is for the edification of the faithful of all these generations.

5. It is as well to remember also that, as in much of Scripture, the chapters of Revelation are not necessarily in chronological order. In particular; a summary covering a long period is often given, followed by a more detailed description of various aspects of the unfolding of events - and these also may pertain to different geographical areas at different times. Note also that the word 'then' can mean 'at that time', in a broad sense, rather than 'subsequently'.

6. The symbols used in the prophecy can be interpreted through knowledge of The Word of God. - E.g. 'beasts' for nations,2 'heavens', 'sun', 'moon', 'stars' for ruling powers and authorities, 'earth' for subject peoples etc. The use of 'heaven' to denote the seat of earthly power is demonstrated in God's judgment upon the nations in general and upon Edom (Idumea) in particular, Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment. (Isa.34:1-5). In Genesis 1 we read how God set the literal Sun and Moon in the heaven to rule the day and night respectively. Joseph later had a dream (Gen.37:9-10) in which the sun, moon and eleven stars made obeisance to him, which his father interpreted as, Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? thus demonstrating his understanding of the symbolic meaning of the rule of the heavenly bodies. (This prophecy was only partly fulfilled when Joseph's brethren subsequently bowed down to him in Egypt. The story of Joseph, as a type of Christ, pointed forward to a time when all Christ's brethren will acknowledge The Lamb of God as King)

7. The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible and a familiarity with the teaching of the other books of the Bible for the understanding of God's purpose with the world and its redemption is obviously a pre-requisite for fully understanding this remarkable book. A blessing is pronounced upon those who take the trouble to read, understand and hold fast its teachings, conversely, those without the understanding of God's purpose with the earth cannot hope to begin to unravel the symbolism of this book.

Nearly 4000 years ago, as Paul testified in Galatians chapter 3, the Gospel was preached to Abraham; that he and his seed should inherit the land for ever and that, in his seed (Christ), all nations would be blessed. As an example of how the correct interpretation of Revelation harmonises with Scripture (bearing in mind these promises to Abraham), let the reader compare Rev.21 with Isaiah's prophecy of Israel's redemption, which concludes with, “The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time.” (Isa.60:20-22). Isaiah was looking forward to the time when the faithful would no longer be subject to a succession of human kings and priests, with all their varied frailties and vices, but would be blessed with The LORD's righteous rule in the land.

Revelation Chapter 21, speaking of this 'new heaven' and 'new earth' and 'holy Jerusalem', using the same symbology, concludes with,And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.(Rev.21:23-27).

[1] The thousand year rule of Christ and the saints on earth is one of the few instances when a time period in Revelation can, with confidence, be taken as literal. Biblical chronology yields approximately a 2000-year period from Adam to Abraham, 2000 years from Abraham to Christ and 2000 years from Christ to the present time. This amounts to a period of 6000 years of man's toil upon the earth and, on a day for a 1000 year basis (2 Peter.3:8), after the example of the work of creation, the redeemed can look forward to a thousand year Sabbath rest, There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; (Hebrews 4:9-NIV)

[2] The 'Four Beasts' of the King James' version (defined in Chapter five as representing the redeemed) are better rendered 'Living Creatures' (as in many later versions) to distinguish them from the beast and its image of later chapters. This latter word represents a dangerous wild beast. In the book of Daniel, the four nations which successively ruled the people of Israel are represented by such wild beasts, so there should be little difficulty in identifying dangerous beasts of the later chapters of Revelation with various manifestations and phases of Daniel's fourth great and terrible beast which was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and the subsequent oppression of those ...which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev.12:17)

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