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Understanding and

Interpreting Revelation

When the books of Daniel and Revelation are better understood, believers will have an entirely
different religious experience.
Why Revelation?
We get a glimpse of heaven in the book where all other Bible books meet and end. We
see that God has a solution for this sinful world and He is in control. We see that He is
preparing a place for those who exercise faith in Him. The words of Jesus in John 14:1-3 rings
in our ears with hope and joy. Jesus is not going to His Father's house as the great earthly
carpenter turned heavenly carpenter to construct buildings; but rather, He has gone ahead of us
to prepare a place of eternal belonging. Carefully read the text below and think about what it
means to you to be with Jesus forever as His forever friend.
Exploring the Basic Question
The Greek of the book contains numerous grammatical flaws when compared to the
Greek of the Gospel of John. The gospel is simple, but correct while Revelation uses "rough
language." One reason may be that John is writing in Greek while thinking in Hebrew. Another
reason may be that John was on the island called Patmos when he wrote the book, but when he
wrote his gospel, he was free and could have employed help in writing it like Paul did in the
writing his letters.
A common theme in the book is the use of seven. We have the seven churches, the seven
seals, the seven trumpets and so on. We also have the use of seven that is not so obvious. Such
as seven times the book of Revelation mentions a blessing, and seven times in chapters 12
through 14, we read John saying, "I saw."
Take time to recognize the use of words like testimony, written, light and darkness.
The Date of Revelation
Scholars hold to two dates. Each during a time of persecution. The first during the time of
Nero, around 65 A.D. and the second during Domitian who ruled from A.D. 81 to 96. Most
scholars ascribe to the late date which seems to have been favored by the early church father
Ireneaus (fl. 175-200) who named Domitian as the emperor at the time the book was written.
Ireneaus also knew Polycarp. Polycarp may have shared what he knew about Johns book
because he was a young man around the time the book was actually written and he knew John. In
fact, Jerome wrote that Polycarp was a disciple of John and that John had ordained him bishop of
01 Revelation is Jesus Seminar

Applying Revelation to Our Day

What do we do with this book today? Can we understand it? By what method? Let me
show you the four major approaches to reading the book of Revelation. They are listed below as:
The book was written for the first century and to the people of that time. It was simply a message
from John to his congregation to encourage them through any trails of the day they may face.
The prophecies were fulfilled at that time or shortly after, but did not reach down into the distant
future. The book has its place in the past. The prophecies are fulfilled.
With this view, the book of Revelation is almost solely focused on the end of the age and the
final crisis of earths history. While the message is relevant to its original audience, it finds its
fulfillment in the final generation and therefore the prophecies are fulfilled mainly right at the
end. A variant form of futurism which dominates most Protestant churches is Dispensationalism.
Though widely developed by John Nelson Darby (ca. 1830), it wasn't until the publication of Hal
Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 that this view really took hold. It found a
resurgence in the late 1990s with the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. It is
largely a hermeneutic regarding covenant which speaks to how the consummation must be
fulfilled. Here we have two comings at the end. The secret rapture followed by the glorious
second coming seven or three-and-a-half years later.
The Historical view is the understanding the Reformation Fathers used. The book spans
history by beginning with the time of the writer and continues through to the consummation, or
the second coming of Jesus. Johns story starts in the 1st century A.D. while Daniel begins his
story in the 6th century B.C.
The book of Revelation contains timeless truths in symbolic form, principles that apply to any
time and place. Many of the rules for understanding the book come right from the Preterist view.
The book wasn't written about a future consummation, but written to encourage the saints in all
times across the church age.
All four approaches have some validity. But its the historicist approach which hangs it
all together. The Preterists concentrate on the past, while the Futurists concentrate on the future

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and the end. The Historical method brings both methods into proper view and shows them
working out across time.
Learning from the Pattern
God is consistent. What He did at creation sets the pattern for what He did at the Red
Sea. What He does now is to remind us what He did then. What He is doing now points to what
He will do later. But that doesn't mean God is predictable. His consistency is not mindless. While
much of the pattern is carried out, not every bit is repeated. God is creative. That means that each
type does not necessarily have an anti-type to match it. Let's not put God in a box.
God meets people where they are. Whatever God reveals, he does so within the time,
place and circumstances of the one who receives the revelation. While God's prophets may have
at times written more for our time than their own, it doesn't mean what they wrote didn't have
meaning for their time.
Spiritualization of the biblical type. God can use the vocabulary of the past in literal
terms at times (as in the Flood Storys reminiscences of Creation), but He can also employ the
same language to describe something more spiritual and local (as in the account of the Exodus).
For instance, the language of the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, presents the pattern of the
Exodus in the exile and the return of Judah from Babylon. The book of Revelation presents the
same pattern as the final exodus from planet earth.
Read Hosea 2:8-15, regarding the Northern Kingdom. Also Micah 7:15-20. The new
exodus will be as much literal as it is spiritual. The spiritualizing of the type is very strong in this
passage. And finally, look at Isaiah 11:15, 16; 43:16-19; 65:17-20. The Euphrates functions as a
parallel to the Red Sea. A highway of return from Assyria would cross over the Euphrates. What
God did for His people in Egypt, He will do again in the return from Babylon. God is consistent.
The New Testament and Prophecy
I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe (John
14:29 NIV). Prophetic fulfillments are best recognized after they happen, not before. And so, we
have some basic principles to help us with the interpretation of Revelation. See the figure below.

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Principles of Prophetic Interpretation


is Consistent
God is not Predictable
God is Creative
God Meets People Where They Are
There is a Spiritualization of the Type
God Uses the Language of the Past to Describe the Future
Prophetic Fulfillments Are Best Recognized After They Occur

Three Ways to Approach Scripture


Time of Reference

Unit of Study

Field of Study

Level of Significance
Agency Examined

What was the writer

trying to say?


What did the writer


first century

first century







What should I believe?

What is truth?
twenty-first century



Three Approaches to the Study of the Bible

1) Biblical Exegesis
a. The fundamental question, What was the Bible writer trying to say?
b. Since God meets people where they are, the authors original intention
is vital for biblical understanding.
c. A descriptive process: trying to describe what the author was saying.
d. What the author writes doesnt change.
2) Biblical Theology
a. Asking what the author believed.
b. Focus on the time, place and culture of the writer.
c. The writings of dead prophets are closed, therefore unchanging.
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3) Systematic Theology
a. The big question, What does this mean to me?
b. This will encounter other processes outside of scripture, such as science,
geography, etc. It is basically a philosophical question.
The Major Problem of Reading the Bible
Our self deception (Jer. 19:9) masks the Bibles words to us. Exegesis helps us bypass our
defense mechanisms. Exegesis is: the art of learning how to read the Bible in such a way as to
leave open the possibility that you might learn something.
The Role of the Original Languages
1-Begin with Authentic Prayer and Self-distrust. Not just for knowledge, but for a
teachable spirit
2-Use a Variety of Translations. Look for where various translations render the text in
similar language and where they differ.
3-Favor the Clear Texts. Some areas of the Bible are rather clear and easy to understand.
Spend more time with these passages to help balance the unclear
4-Favor General Reading. Understand the big picture and general context to help keep
you from going astray on your interpretation.
5-Give Attention to Criticism of Peers. Counsel in groups helps you to affirm your study
and to draw attention to areas you need to work on. Let others who disagree with you or see
things differently, challenge your paradigm. Learn to step outside your box.
Revelations Own Introduction
This book is a Christian Book. The context of Revelation is based on Christianity. It is
the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1). We need to recognize that this book is divine, (Rev
1:10-20; 2:7, 11).
Revelation is connected to Daniel. One commentary stated that the phrase, things which
must shortly take place (Rev. 1:1, NKJV), is a deliberate allusion to Daniel 2 (see Dan 2:28).
We also see other connections to Daniel in the throne room scenes of chapter 5, the angel with
the open scroll in chapter 10 and Satan's allies marching against the saints in chapter 13 and
other places.
The Language of Apocalyptic Symbolism is the bases for the book. The reading of
Revelation is in Symbol. Note the words, and he signified it (vr. 1). The symbolism was used
in the language of the day. John's use of the knowledge of the past in order to write regarding
the present and the future is steeped in the memories, the incidents, the thoughts, and the
01 Revelation is Jesus Seminar

language of the churchs past. Though it never quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures, John alludes
to it in almost every verse. Notice too, that John does not just allude to just the Old Testament,
but to the whole corpus of ancient writings including the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.
Unlocking the structure
We usually think the immediate context of a text are the verses right before and after the
text in question. In Revelation, the context could be several chapters away. We should think of
the immediate primary context for most passages in Revelation as being the whole book.
The Chiastic Structure
Based on

the Greek letter chi ( X ), the structure relates the content of an inverse parallel.

Normal literature progresses ABC



with a conclusion or climax at the end.

structures progress in ABCBA fashion with the climax in the middle.

Strand is the one who first noticed the chiastic structure of the book of Revelation;
beginning by noting the Prologue and it's relation to the Epilogue.

The Hebrew Sanctuary in the Book of Revelation

Knowledge of the Old Testament Sanctuary is the key to unlocking the structure of the
book of Revelation. We find meaning when we see the big picture. There are seven introductory
scenes depicting the Sanctuary. From these scenes, the story of the book unfolds.
Johns Use of the O.T. in the Book of Revelation
1-Citation. When an extensive quote from scripture is made and the person tells you
where they got it from. Such as in a footnote.
2-Quotation. Same as a citation, but without the footnote or reference.
3-Allusion. A serious attempt to point the reader to a commonly-recognized source, but
not a direct quotation.
4-Echo. Similar to an allusion, but may only involve a word, phrase or idea. It can be said
to be in the air in that the author may not even be aware that he is doing it.
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Seeing Christ
The book of Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not that of Moses, Peter, or
Daniel. As you go through the book of Revelation, you will find Christ everywhere.
We cannot stop with the basic exegesis of the book, its structure or reference to the Old
Testament. We must also read Revelation within its New Testament context as well.
God is the Ruler of His Creation. To the angel of the church of Laodicea write: These are the
words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of Gods creation. (Rev 3:14, NIV).
Compare this to Gen. 1:1 and John 1:1.
We read of the relation of Jesus to Creation in Luke 1:35. The language here is
reminiscent of Gen 1:2. Jesus is the counterpart of Adam, and the original creation. In the new
creation, Jesus becomes the new Adam. He is the Adam as Adam was intended to be. In other
word, Jesus is more human than we (see on Rom. 5:12-18). He becomes the arch-type of what
fallen man should be as it pertains to our renewed relationship with God.
1) Jon Paulien, Deep Things of God, (Review and Herald). I refer you to this book for a deeper
study into how to study the book of Revelation. This chapter is based largely on the book.
2) See Alden Thompsons presentation, When Gods Little People Mess up His Nice New World,
at the church website: under the heading Inspiration/Revelation

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Karl Wagner
4826 W Julie Dr
Glendale, AZ 85308

01 Revelation is Jesus Seminar