A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 1-3

Why that title?  Because we’re going to take a “midlevel” approach to explore the Book of Revelation.  Obviously, we could easily spend a year or MORE in this book, couldn’t we?  For example, I have a two-volume commentary on Revelation by Robert Thomas that totals well over a thousand pages!  That’s too low or detailed a level for the type of discussion we can have.  Or we could fly over Revelation in one article at a really high level and try to provide a summary of the Book in one hour of Sunday School.  What we’re going to do is take a plane ride over Revelation and fly over it at a mid-level altitude that will let us get the gist of about two chapters a week on average.

With that in mind, here are a few “nutshell descriptions” of the Book of Revelation.  Here are the one-sentence summaries of Revelation from a couple of pastors I know well:

A fun exercise, approached it from several angles, and settled on this version:

“Jesus pulls back the curtain of time to give us a preview of the final chapters of this world’s drama and give us a glimpse into the world to come.”

Another pastor and I put our heads together to come up with this one:

“Revelation is a message of hope to God’s people as they struggle against evil.”

I tried to be as descriptive as I could in my sentence:

Sinful man will progressively shake his fist at Jesus Christ until evil appears to take over the whole world, but God will ultimately end the problem of evil once for all and provide an eternity of shalom for His people through the King of kings and Lord of lords.

I believe that’s a worthy exercise for any book or passage you study: can you sum up the point/message in a big-idea sentence?  You are forced to stop and ask yourself: what is the point of what I’ve read?

If you want to go even further and offer a two-word description of what Revelation is about those two words are “Jesus Christ,” NOT “the future.”  Is the future important in Revelation?  Of course.  But in Revelation we find out what Jesus DID, we find out what He’s GOING to do and we find out that He is King of kings and Lord of lords who will reign over the Universe surrounded by His people forever.  And the beauty of the Book of Revelation is that it was written so that St. John’s first reader of Revelation could get that about Christ.  And someone a thousand years ago could get it.  And we can get it today.  They wouldn’t understand all the “future stuff” that was divinely intended for a future day; but they would understand the main idea of the Book of Revelation: One day King Jesus will kick the devil’s butt and throw him along with the world’s worst human dictator into hell, and then it will all be a forever of good times for Jesus’ disciples.

Moving on: how many of you have heard the term “newspaper prophecy”?  What does that phrase say to you?  Do you think it is intended as a positive or a negative description of literal interpretation of biblical prophecy?  It’s usually been used as an insult to deride those who see the last days picture falling into place.  On the view of this attack, people like me take whatever headline is in the news at the moment and twist the Bible prophecy to fit that headline.  And such people will point to periods when many in a generation believed the world was in the last days when it really wasn’t – particularly the periods around WWI/WWII.

Here’s my response to that: Take WWII.  You can see why some people may have believed that we were in the last days: we had a figure – Adolf Hitler – who very definitely seemed “Antichrist-like.”  You had the entire world locked in a terrible war that resulted in the deaths of more than 60 million people.  But while there were many things that might make the late 1930s and the early 1940s seem like a candidate for the Tribulation, one thing was missing that those who favor a literal interpretation said HAD to happen according to the Bible.  What was that one thing?  THE EXISTENCE OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL.  Just as one example, Daniel 12:11, 11:31-37 and 9:27 say that the Antichrist will set up an abomination that causes desolation in the last days during the Tribulation.  That is a major event in Bible prophecy.  Jesus in Matt 24:15 and Mark 13:14 tells us this was still an event to happen in the future.  2 Thess 2:3-4 says that Antichrist will set himself up in God’s Temple and declare himself to be God.  Which temple would that be in?  There is only one possible candidate.  When Daniel referred to the temple, it could be none other than the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  Revelation chapter 11 is a prophetic account that that Temple will one day be built again.  And this is just one of many, MANY ways that a literal interpretation of Revelation would lead us to definitively state that no state of Israel, no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.  The state of Israel as prophesied in Ezekiel simply has to exist for the events prophesied in the last days to occur.   And so an informed student of Bible prophecy could know for certain in 1939 that whatever would happen was not yet the Tribulation.

And so the accusation of “newspaper prophecy” massively fails.  Because the people accused of perverting Bible prophecy to suit the newspaper are the very same people who were boldly and confidently predicting that the state of Israel would rise for centuries before it actually happened.  As an example, Charles Nelson Darby was claiming back in 1819 in writing that if his dispensationalism was correct, the state of Israel would have to be reborn.  And had we been relying on our newspapers prior to 1948, as critics falsely claim we do, we would have agreed with said critics and pronounced that Israel had been expunged from the pages of anything but ancient history and that the rebirth of the state of Israel could never have happened.  And in fact on THAT most significant ground of the rebirth of the nation Israel exactly as we rightly claimed the Bible prophesied, it is in in fact our critics who looked at their newspapers beginning some 1600 years ago (Augustine appx. 398 AD) and wrongly concluded that Israel was obliterated forever and therefore out of God’s prophetic plan.  It was the amillennialists who in fact were the ones who engaged in “newspaper prophecy” in that most pejorative sense.

And while the folks like Hal Lindsey who are demagogued as “newspaper prophets” at least adjust their speculations to accommodate new developments, the amillennialists, postmillennialists, etc. never bothered to adjust THEIR “newspaper theology” to the REALITY that the state of Israel – in direct fulfillment of God’s Word – had come into existence precisely as the premillennialists/dispensationalists they mocked had said would happen.  Israel stands as a refutation of these theological systems that attempted to “replace” a national Israel that should NEVER have been “replaced” to begin with.

I’ve written articles that describe some of the key differences between amillennialism, postmillennialism and premillenialism/dispensationalism.  If these terms confuse you, read up on them.

That said, the Book of Revelation ultimately WILL be “newspaper prophecy.”  Because when the events described in Revelation are ultimately fulfilled, a good newspaper will report the events as they unfold and intelligent readers will say, “That’s what the Bible said would happen!”  That’s because when Revelation is fulfilled (as it will be), it will very much happen in real time for real people to really witness.  And the newspapers of record in that soon-approaching day will report the modern news version of what was revealed to John in 96 AD.  Which is to say that there truly is coming a time when one can look at the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and rightly end up with “newspaper prophecy,” isn’t there?

I previously mentioned the Book of Daniel.  Here’s a question: of the 404 verses in the Book of Revelation, how many of them do you think allude to the Old Testament?  And the answer is 278 or 69%.  That’s a lot of Old Testament!  So here’s another bone to chew on: a lot of people say (complain, really) that no one can understand the Book of Revelation because of all the symbolism.  Here’s where that falls apart: A GREAT DEAL OF THE SYMBOLISM IS SYMBOLISM RELATING TO THE OLD TESTAMENT, AND WE SAW HOW THE OLD TESTAMENT WAS LITERALLY FULFILLED IN HISTORY.  As an example, take the over 400 prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament.  We saw that literally HAPPEN, right?  And it turns out that these O.T. prophecies were fulfilled LITERALLY, right?  My point is that where there is symbolism, you can very often take that symbolism, see what it ties into from the O.T., and then see how that O.T. symbolism was fulfilled.  The symbolism of Revelation was in many cases already explained to us before, in other words, and all we have to do is apply the fulfilled O.T. symbolism to the symbolism we need to understand in the Book of Revelation.

Question: “What do the seven churches in Revelation stand for?”  The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven literal churches that all existed at the time that John the apostle was writing Revelation. But even though they were real, actual churches in that time, there is also a larger spiritual significance for churches and believers today. John’s first purpose of the letters was to communicate with the literal churches and meet their needs at that time. The second purpose is to reveal seven different types of individuals/churches throughout history and instruct them in God’s truth and His expectation of them.

A possible third purpose is to use the seven churches to foreshadow seven different periods in the history of the Church. The problem with this view is that each of the seven churches describes issues that could fit the Church in any time in its history. And for those who would say that Laodicea is the final age, well, we’ve already got Bible passages that tell us that there will be a falling away in the last days (Ex 2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:2-3), don’t we?  So, although there may be some truth to the seven churches representing seven eras, there is far too much speculation in this regard. Our focus should be on what message God is giving us through the seven churches. The seven churches are:

(1) Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) – the loyal, persevering, enduring church that had left its first love (2:4).

(2) Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) – the persecuted church that would be rewarded for its faithful suffering (2:10).

(3) Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the formerly faithful church that needed to repent because it had embraced false teachings (2:16).

(4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) – the active, serving church that became too cozy with a false world system (2:20).

(5) Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) – the church of incomplete deeds that had fallen asleep and needs to spiritually wake up (3:2).

(6) Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) – the small, patient, persevering church that is urged to hold fast and promised to be kept from the time of testing (3:10).

(7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the useless, gutless church with the lukewarm faith (3:16).

Jesus begins speaking to His Churches because He tells us what’s coming and asks us, “Are you ready?”

Tune in next week.  I will be going through the entire Book of Revelation taking about two chapters per session.  Revelation is the ONLY Book in the Bible that promises a special blessing to those who read it (Rev 1:3), but many don’t bother to study it because they have been told that it is so difficult.  It isn’t all that difficult if you read it with a literal hermeneutic principle and simply accept the story as it is being told.  And in fact the only reason it is so incredibly “difficult” is because the amillennialism/postmillennialist approaches have so wrapped the Book up in allegory that it “literally” doesn’t say what it in fact rather clearly says.

Part Two: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 4-5

Part Three: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 6-7

Part Four: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 8-9

Part Five: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 10-11

Part Six: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 12-13

Part Seven: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 14-15

Part Eight: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 16-18

Part Nine: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 19-20

Part Ten: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 21-22

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9 Responses to “A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 1-3”

  1. Dog Walker Says:

    That is a good post. I will probably read it a time or two. just thought I’d say that in case you though you were wasting your breath. Heck, I might even go to church next year if I can get the glitches worked out of my language.

  2. Michael Eden Says:

    Dog Walker,

    Good to hear!

    Jesus loves people with Tourette syndrome too :)

    The thing about Jesus is that He went to those who needed Him most rather than spending His time with the hoity-toity group who were impressed with their own righteousness. Jesus came as the Great Physician to those who were sick and knew they needed healing.

    There’s a rather famous short story called “My Heart, Christ’s Home” that basically teaches the truth of how we come to Christ. He takes us wherever we’re at in life and then begins to help us to establish our priorities in life and throw out our “garbage.”

    You DON’T need to “clean up your life” first to come to Jesus. Just come as you are willing to be changed and things will start to happen.

    As for profanity, I try not to use it. In fact, I try not to even THINK it which then helps me NOT use it. But I also know that many people are surrounded by it and every now and then a word will pop out of somebody’s mouth. So find a good Bible-believing church, try not to use such words, be aware of when you DO, apologize and say you’re working on it, and I believe you’ll find most Christians will be tolerant of the work in progress in their midst even though you can expect to see shock when an ill-chosen phrase pops out.

  3. impeachobama2012 Says:

    Nice post. Thank you for posting!

  4. Johnny Says:

    May I recommend Elaine Pagels, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.” Read it. It gives a fascinating history of the book.

  5. Dog Walker Says:

    Mr. Eden,

    I don’t know. Church is still kind of a conundrum for me. I wouldn’t mind going to your church. You and I have a good bit in common. I like a pastor that believes in physical fitness. I have been to churches where most of the people couldn’t even fit into a regular sized chair. I like a pastor that is not afraid to throw down politically. I been to churches where they were totally intimidated by the conditions on the tax exempt status.

    Most recent church I went to was(is) really cool. It is the friendly neighborhood super mega church. They have a stage setup, you know the amplifiers and light show set up that even Led Zeppelin would envy. They even got smoke or that fog effect. Just like going to a rock concert. And I tell you what, they crank it up. I am sure they spent several hundred thousand on that stage. And it ain’t their only stage.

    Can’t say why I didn’t like that church. I went to a couple of the small groups. They were relevant to my needs. But I guess when it comes down to it I am really not a people person. It is not like I am in a “sales” profession. So I really don’t care about being “everybody’s'” friend. When it comes down to it, I have a good bit of antipathy towards government workers. I think these super cool mega churches also entertain a bit more liberalism than I am comfortable with. You say I don’t have to clean up my life before I go to church. Well I say maybe that is the idea that accommodated the inclusion of a homo in the small group. Eh, when he gets right with God he will be able to throw out that garbage? Except he didn’t exactly want the forgiveness. He wanted a sanction or an endorsement. Ugh. Then there is a high preponderance of liberalism in the gov emp crowd and they are the guys that tithes the most. Like I mentioned before, they are the guys with the disposable incomes.

    Well the super mega church isn’t the only game in town. But wherever I go, it is always something. I think I said before, I have anti-social tendencies.

  6. Michael Eden Says:

    You say I don’t have to clean up my life before I go to church. Well I say maybe that is the idea that accommodated the inclusion of a homo in the small group.

    Dog Walker,

    You nailed a problem that afflicts society at EVERY level: if you take a good principle to a ridiculous degree, you end up with a ridiculous principle. Which is to say that “God takes you where you are” and that other Christians should be tolerant of your “work in progress” somehow too often ends up meaning, “We should allow the militant homosexual agenda in our church.”

    It’s non sequitur and here’s why: true believers should of course be seeking to conform their lives – and of course their “lifestyles” – into the image of Christ. Which kind of means that we should NOT have blatant homosexuality brazenly displaying itself in anything that calls itself a “church of Jesus Christ.”

    But of course there’s a tension at those points in between the blatantly obvious contradiction of homosexuals parading around a church that has the foolishness and wickedness to exploit the name of Jesus. Churches DO need to hold their members accountable at some firm point. Churches NEED to stand for righteousness. But where do you draw the line?

    If you are a true believer, and you actually read your Bible and take its teaching seriously, it isn’t all that difficult. But how many “churches” actually do that any more? And there aren’t that many that do, and they prioritize man’s (selfish) wisdom and ignore God’s wisdom that they gathered ostensibly to try to learn.

    All that said, everybody’s got an excuse for not doing what they know they ought to do, don’t they?

    The phrase “one another” is used 448 times in the Bible, almost always in the context of being with and serving other believers. If you are involved in a good, solid, Bible-teaching church, it is very easy to “plug in” and live according to all those “one anothers.” If you don’t, it is nearly impossible. Which is why the word “church” or “churches” is used so many times in the New Testament.

    The last thing I’d say is that I’m not a “super people person” either. Crowds and parties energize some people; they tend to drain me. I never really want to go to parties and “events.” Oh, almost always when I go I end up having a good time, but I love being with myself. That’s kind of the way I’m wired. Left to myself, I could very happily be a hermit who only ventures out to buy what I need to keep being a hermit. But just because I tend to think and be a certain way doesn’t make it right. I know that I’m out of balance with the way I OUGHT to be; and so one of the things my church helps me do is BE more people-oriented and become a more balanced individual. And I think such intentional conforming of character would similarly help you, for what that’s worth.

  7. Michael Eden Says:

    Johnny,

    It sounds interesting. I have come to realize that “politics” and “economics” are INCREDIBLY important in understand what Revelation is warning us about. Because the Antichrist is the ULTIMATE politician and because economic calamity is referred to again and again in Revelation.

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides Says:

    “My point is that where there is symbolism, you can very often take that symbolism, see what it ties into from the O.T., and then see how that O.T. symbolism was fulfilled. The symbolism of Revelation was in many cases already explained to us before, in other words, and all we have to do is apply the fulfilled O.T. symbolism to the symbolism we need to understand in the Book of Revelation.”

    You make a good point. Irrefutable, as far as I can see.

  9. Michael Eden Says:

    Truth Unites… and Divides,

    I believe it is straightforward and clear that we saw prophecies both of Israel and of Messiah being fulfilled in a literal matter in actual history.

    So why should any Christian take them “allegorically” or “metaphorically” now?

    On my view, amillennialism was born in the mind of Augustine because he was trying to “explain away” the fact that Israel did not exist. If Israel didn’t exist, why, then, you just can’t accept the Bible and particularly Bible prophecy which is FULL of Israel literally. Augustine was one of the great minds of history, but he failed to understand that if the Bible said Israel would be regathered – even from dead and dried bones – then Israel would once again rise as a nation.

    These theologies that refuse to allow the Bible to be read and understood in the straightforward, literal manner that it needs to be read in may be the greatest single travesty in the history of Christianity.

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