Rules of Revelation Pt. II

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“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” 1

This article, the second in a series on the Book of Revelation, continues to delve into profound prophecy. Building upon the first article, ‘Rules of Revelation, ‘we now explore a crucial finding—how Biblical Prophecy is conveyed and its significance to us today. It’s important to note that your role in this understanding is vital, making this journey of exploration more relatable and engaging.

So often, those who investigate Biblical Prophecy arbitrarily preconceive its message as futuristic, only describing events yet to come. We may do this because the symbolism doesn’t make sense to us; therefore, it must relate to something in the future. We seldom consider Prophetic writings in the context of past and present, which is unfortunate because the bulk of Prophetic messages are rich in the here and now. The relevance of the here and now is born out in the verse “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.” 2

Jesus instructs the Apostle John to record what he sees and show it to the followers of Christ, His servants. Why? So they will understand what’s going to happen. When? Soon. John’s instruction is to record what he sees for his current audience, not some undisclosed future generation. Otherwise, some of this verse would be meaningless -things that will happen shortly. There is every reason to believe the Book of Revelation was written for the servants of Christ alive in John’s day; the main reason is a portion of Revelation is for churches that existed in the cities named.

Secondly, as history bears out, some of the events in the Book of Revelation have already come to pass, specifically in John’s day. Failing to do so will result in misunderstanding the symbolism in the Book of Revelation, leading to incorrect conclusions. However, if we compare the bulk of the symbolism in the historical context of the first and second centuries AD, the symbolism will become very clear and make much more sense today.

And because the Book of Revelation contains historical accounts, it does not discount the Book of Revelation’s importance to us today. Its historical accounts are vital to understanding future events and important spiritual matters. Events yet to come. How can we reconcile the merging of the past and the future? We’ve all heard the adage ‘history repeats itself,’ we accept it as fact because it is a fact; history does repeat itself. While we recognize Historical repetition as fact, we must also accept it regarding some prophecies in the Book of Revelation.

Some prophecies in the Book of Revelation have already taken place, are currently happening, and will happen again as a continual cycle until our Lord’s return. Past and current events are preludes to the final climax, the ultimate fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy. In future articles, we will delve into these preludes in greater detail. Consider this: imagine standing on the seashore, observing the waves forming and ending at the surfline where you stand. This analogy helps to illustrate the connection between past, present, and future events, making the relevance of Biblical Prophecy to our lives more apparent. Each wave may differ in size and force, but they are all from the same ocean. So it is with the events in prophecy, specifically in the Book of Revelation. Every sequence of prophetic events is like a wave ending on the surf line; those alive in John’s day witnessed the waves of prophecy in their time, and we witness different waves today, but all are from the same ocean. Each wave gives us prophetic information and more insight, expanding our understanding.

Symbolism is the perfect vehicle for recording prophetic events because symbols are flexible, making them timeless to a certain degree. Flexible, not changeable, and there is a difference. If we interpret all symbols in the Book of Revelation as metaphoric (merely figures of speech), we have changed their meaning. In most instances, the symbols are emblematic, representing something or someone genuine. For example, the Lamb symbolizes Jesus Christ, the lion represents power and authority, and the horse signifies war. Finally, the symbols can be literal. These differences represent their flexibility. Bearing this in mind, when deciphering the symbols in the Book of Revelation, we must first determine which one of these definitions applies to the symbol and, as always, consider their historical context.

The Christians of John’s day likely could comprehend the meaning of the book’s symbolism because the symbols represented things they were familiar with. The mistake we make is trying to interpret the symbolism meant for their day, equating them to things we are familiar with, bypassing the historical context of the symbols. We should be building on the historical significance of those symbols and focusing on how they can relate to our lives, remembering what’s happened, is happening, and will happen in the future. The exact identification of the symbols used is secondary in importance compared to what those symbols represent and how they affect our lives in our times. Overlooking the historical context brings us to another famous saying, “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” 3 Put another way, those who ignore history will repeat its mistakes.

We place too much importance on the symbol itself and too little on its implication and result. For example, many have tied the symbols in Revelation chapter nine to weapons of warfare. To them, these symbols represent armored battle tanks, planes, missiles, soldiers in PPE, 4, etc., and from there, they construct details of a war that has not come yet. Typically, to what end? Creating timelines for the chronology of events in Revelation is dangerous because it makes us lax in our Christian walk.

Suppose you decide one of the creatures in Revelation 9:18-19 is a modern battle tank. In that case, you have already predetermined the era in which the events in Revelation 9 will occur. How so? Before World War I (1914-1918), the battle tank didn’t exist, so your determination means the symbols and information described in Revelation 9 meant nothing to the generations before the early 1900s. This assumption flies in the face of the description of the initial audience in Revelation 1:1, “to show His servants,” present tense.

But how does that help us understand the Book of Revelation? If we focus on the results, or the outcomes, of the actions of the symbols, then we have some information that is far more useful than the identity of the symbols themselves. A careful reading of Chapter Nine doesn’t describe physical warfare between armies but rather a plague brought on by spirits of darkness. We know it’s a physical plague from a spiritual origin based on Revelation 9:4. First, the angels are instructed, “They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree.” Every physical war destroys the ground on which it takes place, yet the angels are specifically instructed not to harm the vegetation. Secondly, The wounds and deaths resulting from combat are never one-sided, yet we find “but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” 5 Again, the symbols’ actions and the results of those actions are far more significant than the symbols themselves.

Symbolism’s flexibility, being the perfect vehicle for prophecy, keeps the message relevant, making it timeless and applicable to every era, eliminating the need for chronology construction. In John’s day, the Christian audience could relate the descriptions in the Book of Revelation to events in their day. A thousand years later, people of that era could find those same events relevant, and they are relevant to us today.

The Book of Revelation also has a future directive. As I previously mentioned, prophecy or prophetic events come in waves. Some of the events described in Revelation have not occurred; some have, some more than once, and others will come again. The appearance of their coming will be similar, if not identical, to their previous appearance. We should always be watchful for their similarities and development. Each wave and appearance gives us more information by its symbolic representation in the Book of Revelation.

Erroneously, some readers conclude that since they can’t link the chronology of events in the Book of Revelation to current events, they must represent events sometime in the future. This assumption can be dangerous as it leads to a neglect of immediate concerns. It is more dangerous than the previous because, as humans, we often overlook how rapidly things in our lives and the world at large can change. Mother nature, man-made disasters, and mass hysteria all add to the numerous historical examples of how rapidly the normalcy of life can change.

Some recent examples of cataclysmic events illustrate this rapidity. In February 2023, a pair of earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria, claiming the lives of over 34,000 people. In Turkey alone, 5,700 structures were destroyed, all in a matter of minutes. In March 2011, a tsunami hit Japan, killing over 18,000. Because it struck a nuclear power plant, 310 square miles of Japan are now uninhabitable due to radioactivity, displacing 159,000 people. 6 The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2011 killed over 2500 people, and within an hour, 4500 flights, some containing hundreds of passengers, were grounded, dislocating and disrupting the lives of all on board those flights. Covid-19 killed millions worldwide 7 and shut down the world’s economy in just a few months. These events, and many others, warn us how rapidly world events affecting personal lives can come together like pieces of a puzzle. We must not wait for the picture to be complete before we act.

There are events described in Revelation that have yet to happen. Still, focusing on the events yet to come while ignoring the past and, more specifically, the present misses the entire relevance of prophecy. Reading, understanding, and applying should be the forethought of any interpretation of biblical prophecy. Prophecy is only usable if we examine it as applicable to our lives. And Biblical prophecy is only helpful if you apply what you’ve understood.

The principle described above is what we find in the third verse of chapter one of the Book of Revelation. “Blessed is he who reads, who hears, and keeps.” 8 Blessed are those who keep – not just in the sense of remembering but recognizing the symbolic events as they unfold. Why? Because verse three ends with “for the time is near.” Near for whom? The Christians of John’s day, and since our Lord has not yet returned, it must apply to us as well, for we are now the ones reading it. With its profound insights, the Book of Revelation is not a distant prophecy but a living text that speaks to our contemporary Christian life, except the “utterances of the seven thunders.” 9 These are reserved for the end times.

In John’s day, the churches listed in chapters two and three were not symbolic; they were actual bodies of believers worshiping in the cities named. The positives and negatives addressed by Jesus in each church were prevailing conditions at the time of the writing of Revelation and applicable to future audiences, which is now us. Their existence shows prophecy contains revelations of current, historical, and future events intertwined and layered in one message. Real people, real places, actual events, and symbolism exist in the Book of Revelation.

As this series continues, I intend to give an interpretation of only some of the symbolism in the Book of Revelation. When I identify specific symbols, I will do so through the lens of history. We must make sense of the symbols as the Christians would have understood them in John’s day. By doing so, our interpretation and conclusions will be correct, and only then will we be able to apply them to our times. For example, identifying the Roman Empire and Nero Caesar in the Book of Revelation are almost self-evident. To recognize the next Beast, we must rely on what we know about the historical Beast. Other examples of symbolism we will explore include the mark, the Lamb, and the two witnesses.

The most important message I hope to convey is that prophecy happens now and in the future, and the now is what’s essential in our day, just as the soon-to-take-place was in John’s day. Regarding the Beast and his mark, you may be surprised how this can translate to us today, so stay tuned.

1Revelation 1:19

2Revelation 1:1

3George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense

4PPE – Personal Protective Equipment

5Revelation 9:4b

6PSR.Org Fukushima Destruction 10/31/2012

7W.H.O. data covid-19 dashboard 6/2/2024

8Revelation 1:3

9Revelation 10:4b & Daniel 12:9

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