The very first verse of Revelation confirms the fact that the content of this book does not constitute an enigmatic allegory of future events, but a revelation of the book. The origin of its prophetic message is clearly stated: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John” (Rev. 1:1). These things will certainly take place and are not be symbolically interpreted.
By writing it down, John ensured that this important message would find its way to the entire Church of Christ. In verse 2 he states that what he has described is an accurate record of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. He is therefore merely a messenger of that which God Himself wishes to address to the Church through Jesus Christ.
In verse 3, a special blessing is promised to everyone who reads this prophecy and keeps these things faithfully in his heart: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
Peter also plainly states the importance of the prophetic word:
The prophetic lamp has shone through the ages and lightened up the pathway of devoted pilgrims in a dark world. Abraham sojourned in tents in a strange land. Because he had a vision of a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10), he lived by faith as someone whose citizenship is in heaven – in the new Jerusalem.
The message of Revelation comes from the Triune God. It includes letters addressed to the seven Churches in Asia Minor. Since seven is the biblical number of fullness, and is often repeated in the book of Revelation, this message is addressed to the entire Church of Christ through the ages.
The excellence of the Lord Jesus as Head of the Church is extolled in a sentient and lofty way. He is the One who loved us and washed us from our sins with His own blood. He is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha means He is the beginning of the creation of God and of the plan of salvation for man. As Omega He is the end of the dispensation of the Church and the One through whom we shall obtain entrance into eternal glory.
John beholds Jesus as He is during the present dispensation of the Church – moving among the golden lampstands, being intimately aware of everything that happens. The various congregations are depicted by the lampstands, as they are the containers into which the oil of the Holy Spirit is poured. When the members of the churches are filled with the Holy Spirit, they will be shining lights in a dark world.
Jesus is portrayed in His glorious appearance. He is clothed with a garment right down to His feet, and girded with a golden girdle, thereby emphasising His priestly and royal dignity. His hair, white like wool, symbolises His wisdom, while His eyes that are as a flame of fire, witness to His incisive judgement and omniscience. Nothing is hidden from His sight. His feet like fine brass as if they burned in a furnace, depict His absolute holiness and purity. Because of our sins He went through the fire of God’s judgements; through Gethsemane, Calvary and the grave, without hesitation or apprehension. Consider the great sacrifice that He made to walk this path. He left the glory of heaven to be rejected on this earth – despised, mocked, beaten and executed with criminals:
Paul not only refers to the humiliating death of Christ for our sins, but also to the indescribable glory that befell Him in heaven after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension:
It is the glorified Christ whom John sees in the midst of the lampstands. He, when He was on trial, offered no plea in His defence, He opened not His mouth (Is. 53:7), but now He speaks with a great voice as the sound of many waters. No one can dispute it, argue against it or challenge its authority. His words are like a sharp sword out of His mouth – it causes division, justifies and judges. His countenance is like the sun that dispels all the darkness, and His special witnesses are as bright shining stars in His right hand. They must cause the light of the Sun of Righteousness to shine upon a world shrouded in darkness. His feet are like brass as if they burned in a furnace. Likewise, His disciples must aspire to a holy walk in life and be purified through suffering.
Jesus Christ is the One around whom the entire book centres. From the beginning people reacted differently to Him. Shortly after His birth, Simeon said to Mary: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against” (Lk. 2:34). During the past 2 000 years Jesus has indeed been the rising into a new life for millions of people. The fall of many others was caused because they rejected Him and loved the darkness more than the light.
According to these two characteristics, the book of Revelation depicts Jesus Christ as Redeemer and as Judge. In the first place He is revealed as Redeemer and Head of the Church, as He walks in the midst of the lampstands. He speaks words of comfort to His faithful servants, reprimands the stubborn ones and calls to repentance the unsaved Church members who only have a form of godliness. The glorification of the Church and the everlasting kingship of Jesus are closely connected to His work of redemption.
In the second place, He is revealed as the Judge who exercises judgement over all those who have rejected Him. Until the last moment He offers them the opportunity to accept Him as Redeemer. Finally, when the fullness of time is reached, He passes judgement over all the followers of the Antichrist and the false prophet with the sword that issues from His mouth.
In righteousness, in glorification as well as in judgement, the determining factor is the relationship that every person has with Christ: for Him or against Him. This is what prompts John to state in Revelation 19:10 that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”. He is either the Saviour of your soul, or He will be the Judge of your soul. In the great tribulation a Christ-rejecting world will be brought to trial and get a last opportunity to repent and accept Jesus as Saviour.
The glorified Jesus addresses John directly, but the apostle is so overwhelmed with fear and humility that he falls like a dead man at the feet of Jesus. Shortly before the destructive end-time judgements are announced, the Lord lays a reassuring hand upon His servant and says: “Fear not”. He has overcome the last enemy, death, and therefore he who truly belongs to Him, has no cause for fear; he “...shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (Jn. 5:24 KJV).
In Revelation 1:19 John is commissioned to write the things he has seen, the things that are and the things that shall be hereafter. The manner in which Jesus has formulated this commission is an important key to an understanding of the book of Revelation, since three series of events are distinguished.
· First, John must record the things he has seen, that is, the glorified Jesus midst the seven lampstands.
· Next, he must report the things that are. The year 95 AD when John received the visions on Patmos, was within the dispensation of the Church. At present we still find ourselves in the same dispensation. John lived in the early years of it while we find ourselves very close to the end of the Church age.
· The main part of the message of Revelation deals with the things that shall be hereafter, and includes everything that will happen after the consummation of the Church age.
Viewed from this angle, it is evident that the book of Revelation has been written in a chronological order with regard to the clearly defined categories of events, that is:
Although the chronological order in the description of the major prophetic periods that follow one another is strictly adhered to, the events connected with the tribulation period (Chapters 6 to 19) are discussed subject by subject, not necessarily chronological. The events of Revelation 6 occur during the entire week (seven year period). The white horse (the bogus prince of peace) is revealed at the onset of the tribulation, while the red horse (war), the black horse (famine) and the pale horse (death) appear in the second half of the week.
The martyrs of the fifth seal are gathered throughout the tribulation, while the tremendous cosmic signs and disturbances described under the sixth seal, occur at the end of the great tribulation. The Messianic Jews of Revelation 7:1-8 are saved at the beginning of the tribulation period, while the Christian martyrs of Revelation 7:9-17 are gathered throughout the seven years. Events in the middle of the tribulation are recorded in Revelation 12 and 13.
Mystical Babylon of Revelation 17 (the false world Church) appears on the scene during the first half of the year-week. She is abandoned and killed after 3½ years, while the destruction of commercial Babylon (the city described in Revelation 18) occurs after another 3½ years at the end of the great tribulation.
People who explain and interpret the Bible in a literal, dispensational way, are called millennialists. The term is derived from the Latin word for a thousand and therefore refers to people who believe in a literal thousand year kingdom of peace on earth that will commence after the return of Christ. Because they expect the coming of Christ before the millennium, they are also called premillennialists.
The millennialists honour the literal meaning of the Scriptures, except where the context shows very clearly that a certain part should be interpreted symbolically. An example is the description of a dragon with seven heads, which, according to the Bible, refers to the Devil. When the Bible speaks of Israel, Jerusalem, the great tribulation, the Antichrist, the battle of Armageddon, the binding (or total restriction) of the Devil following the return of Christ, no reason exists for these concepts to be interpreted allegorically by ascribing other meanings to it at will. The golden rule is: When the plain sense of the word makes common sense, then seek no other sense.
Unfortunately, there are many people who alter the primary sense of biblical statements through spiritualisation. In terms of this approach they reject the literal kingdom of peace after the second coming of Christ. They are called amillennialists, who assert that the thousand years of peace is a spiritual kingdom that exists on earth during the present dispensation of the Church. Consequently, the period is not a thousand years and the Devil is not bound completely – he is attached to a lengthy chain and is able, to a significant degree, to move around and do the damage he plans. There are also people who believe that the Church will, through its own efforts, improve the world and eventually usher in the millennium. According to them, Christ will return only after the present millennium. They are called postmillennialists.
Furthermore, the amillennialists do not believe in the physical and spiritual restoration of the people of Israel according to Old Testament prophecies. In terms of replacement theology, they regard the Church as the new Israel. They also discard the rapture, and by means of spiritualisation dispose of various literal statements in the Bible. As far as they are concerned, the prophetic message of Revelation is irrelevant to modern man because of its alleged historical fulfilment many centuries ago. The chronology of events is also denied because the thousand year reign of peace described in Revelation 20, is allegorically viewed as an integral part of the present dispensation of the Church.
Such an approach harms the credibility of the prophetic word, and causes people to disregard the spiritual preparation needed for the coming of Christ. They tend to ignore the signs of the times as they unfold before us. The inevitable result is that Christians resort to a materialistic way of life that gradually develops into a humanistic and worldly assessment of reality. Within this secular perspective, human relationships, brotherly love and all kinds of social, moral, ethical and political issues dominate their thinking while the man-God-relationship is confined to the background. Under these circumstances a heavenly vision and the expectation of the soon coming Bridegroom, quickly fade into oblivion.
Millennialism, on the other hand, places a strong focus on the basic truths of the Scriptures. It tends to develop a clear concept of God’s divine plan for future events. Christians who hold this view, are disposed to interpret current affairs in the world in the light of the prophetic word and, therefore, have the spiritual ability to see a biblical pattern in contemporary events. They avoid the typical amillennial pitfall of complacency that arises from the self-imposed inference that the Devil is bound and that we can sit back and enjoy the benefits of the kingdom. Instead, they view themselves as strangers in a world that “lies in wickedness” (1 Jn. 5:19 KJV). Within this orientation, an intensified struggle between the powers of light and darkness is expected.
Premillennialists are aware of the solemn hour in which we live, and are convinced that the dispensation of the Church is speeding towards its end. Under these circumstances they make the best use of their time to warn others to prepare their lives to meet the Lord. Greater evangelistic zeal is displayed in this manner, as the time to give effect to the Great Command is soon to expire. Furthermore, the prophetic word urges people to continuously conduct their lives according to biblical standards of holiness, in preparation for the return of Jesus. They also long for the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom, who will take them to their heavenly mansions which He has prepared for them.
Should you not be a millennialist, please do not lose interest in this book. We do not discuss man-made theological doctrines, but the basic truths that are recorded for you and me in the book of Revelation. As the name indicates, Revelation unveils the future so that we may know what to expect.
The occasional somewhat strange symbolism can be attributed to the fact that John had only the archaic terminology of the first century to narrate his visions, and consequently experienced problems in describing the modern technology and nuclear wars that were revealed to him.
I invite you to join me on a journey of discovery into this vast treasure-house of knowledge about the end-time. We will discover unsearchable riches of the love and saving grace of Christ, but also urgent warnings of the terrible judgements awaiting those who have not turned to the living God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to be saved.