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 Three: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 6-7
Part Four: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 8-9
Part Seven: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 14-15
Part Eight: A Midlevel Flight Across Revelation: Rev 16-18