Rules of Revelation

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The Book of Revelation is one of the most discussed books in the Bible. Serious and casual students of scripture have written countless exegesis on this book, which will continue until our Lord’s return. I have read a number of these offerings. Some are partially accurate, some lacking, and others not worth consideration.

I intend to share some of my thoughts on this extraordinary book, yet differently than you’d expect. I have no ax to grind, no doctrine to present, just observations to share in the hope that two things will happen due to my efforts.

First, this will bring glory to My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the needed guidance His Holy Spirit provides to understand anything written in the marvelous book. Second, what is shared here will inspire others to dig deeper and challenge what I have written, drawing them closer to God’s love offered through His son Jesus.

In this article, you will not find my interpretation of individual events, timelines, and characters in the Book of Revelation. Those findings will be the subject of separate articles. My intention here is to give the reader some basic guidelines to seek the truths contained therein for themselves and, with an open mind, allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what they are to know. By guidelines, I mean basic Biblical facts and rules that you, as a reader and student of Revelation, should remember when trying to understand what is before you. These guidelines are not a magic key to unlocking all the mysteries and symbols in the Book of Revelation, but they will help you formulate valuable conclusions. I recommend using these same guidelines to test the conclusions others have come to in their commentaries on the Book of Revelation.

I believe that no one person does or will fully understand the Book of Revelation—not in this life, anyway. Perhaps that is God’s intent. In the next life, everything will be clear, but for now, let us be satisfied with what we can grasp and act on. The purpose of Revelation is to provoke action, and that action is the carrying out of God’s will in our individual lives. If you refuse to act upon it, there is no point in just understanding what the Bible tells us. The scripture is clear: it is better if you don’t know God’s will than to understand it and fail to carry it out. 1

So, let us proceed. I am explaining my guidelines for interpretation. We will begin by dividing them into two categories. First, what the book of Revelation is not, and second, what the book of Revelation is. First, The book of Revelation is not a step-by-step sequence of events leading up to the second coming, and we should never read it as such.

Many of the events recorded in the Book of Revelation are not chronological. Too many have misinterpreted what John wrote because they thought everything would happen in the exact order written. For example, Thinking events in chapter 5 can only occur after chapter 4 is concluded (I’m only using these chapter numbers to illustrate my point).

Those who try to decipher Revelation this way will always find themselves stuck. You think you know what events A and B mean, but the sequence doesn’t work when you link the two. You can make the same mistake when you try to identify the book’s characters. The sequences don’t work because Revelation reveals current events and a prophecy of future events.

If you are familiar with Old Testament prophecy, you can find many prophetic events that occur hundreds of years apart in one or two verses. And even those are not necessarily in chronological order, as we understand chronological order. Some spend years pinpointing when the events in Revelation will happen, ignoring Jesus’s proclamation, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”2 The warning is this: be ready for Christ’s return, for He will return, and your contrived timetables will not make you any more prepared than you are right now. Refrain from trying to figure out the Book of Revelation so you will be ready. Be ready now; live like you’re ready now.

Does this mean studies of the Book of Revelation are pointless? Heaven forbid. There is much to learn, and everything we learn applies to our lives. It increases our steadfastness in the faith because we understand we can endure whatever may come today. For we know Christ will return.

The Book of Revelation is divided into several sections. In this article, I will only list a couple of primary divisions. Chapter 1 is the preamble, Christ’s appearance, the purpose of His coming, and His instructions to John. The second section is the letters to the seven churches, which were and are a current revelation. The churches listed in Chapters 2 and 3 are actual churches existing at the time of the writing of Revelation. The letters written to them describe the current spiritual state of the individual churches in terms of idioms they could relate to. Each letter contains an exhortation to continue in the faith; some include an appeal to correct deviations from the faith and a brief warning of what would occur if they didn’t change.

The descriptions and idioms in the letters to the seven churches make little sense today, but those alive at that time could easily understand what the comparisons used were and meant. The praises and admonitions directly correlated to events happening in their time, which is vital to understanding their meaning. We must not reduce the messages written to the seven churches to generalities or mere symbolism. Trying to explain their meaning based on today’s church without understanding the events and cultures of their day is worthless. I will speak more about this in future articles.

The third division of the Book of Revelation begins in Chapter 4 and continues in Chapter 6, skipping Chapter 5. “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.” 3

The events described in Revelation occur in two locations: on earth and in heaven. Chapter 4 describes events in heaven, and when we get to Chapter 6, we find events taking place on earth, initiated in heaven. I previously mentioned that chapter 5 is skipped in the sequence of events. We know this because it contains events that have yet to happen. Chapter 5 can be considered a book within a book, a summation.

The detail of the Apostle John’s glimpse into current and future events in heaven is unique in the entire New Testament. The Apostle Paul mentions he was caught up in the third heaven, but he only heard words and was not allowed to disclose what he heard. 4 Another guideline we can learn from Chapter 4 is that location is critical. Some of Revelation speaks of events happening only in heaven. What happens in heaven does have earthly consequences. One meaning of “declaring the end from the beginning” is. 5is God sets things in motion in the spiritual realm before they happen on earth. The future is already in motion, and prophecy is coming to pass. And it will affect some or all of humanity at an appointed time and place. Being ready means alertness to recognize the signs as they begin their next cycle.

Recognizing the result after the fact, ‘Oh, now I get it,’ is a common reaction. But it’s over; it’s too late; comprehending after the fact is useless. Proper interpretation of the Book of Revelation reveals many things have already happened, and their times have passed. We need to spend less energy on creating timelines of future events and more time researching the events described in Revelation, which are now historical. Learning the history of those events is extremely valuable in decoding the future. Did we ignore the warning signs because they didn’t seem to fit in the timetable of events we have constructed from our imagination? Jesus warned us about misinterpretation when He said,

“You know how to discern the face of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” 6

Let me use this example: How much time and energy do we spend figuring out who the beast in Revelation 13:18 is and when he will appear? Based on a clue given in the same verse, many think they have determined who the beast will be and will be able to recognize him when he makes his appearance. Here is the verse.

“Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is six hundred and sixty-six.” 7 Using numerology, many conclude that the beast described in Revelation is Nero Caesar.

This article is not the place to agree or disagree with this determination. Still, we must always remember that if the beast was Nero Caesar, our timetable for predicting the beast’s appearance and other future events needs to be adjusted. How so? Some Biblical Scholars date the penning of the Book of Revelation somewhere around 95 AD. If this is true, then the beast had already come and been dead for some 30 years before Revelation’s writing. So who is the beast now? And what use is knowing his identity if he’s already come? Are we no longer concerned about the catastrophes described in the remainder of the Revelation? Certainly not; his identity is still important. If this identity is correct, we must view everything surrounding the beast differently.

As you navigate the book of Revelation, we must remember one more rule of the road. Not everything in Revelation is symbolic. The seven churches of Asia are actual churches in real cities. The Apostle John was a prisoner on the island of Patmos when he penned Revelation, and we know where the Island of Patmos is. The Lord Jesus is real; the things that have and will come to pass are real, so keep yourself from becoming so caught up in deciphering the symbolic references that you overlook the reality of the things described. Many Biblical scholars accept Babylon The Great, as mentioned in Revelation 17:5, as Rome, but the Roman empire is no longer.

Because the Book of Revelation contains real places, actual events, and partially fulfilled prophecy, it solidifies the fact that the end will come. The portion of the prophecy that is now historical fact gives assurance that the remainder of the prophecy will come to pass.

Let’s review some rules or guidelines for reading and understanding the Book of Revelation.

I. The letters to the seven churches (Chapters 2-3) are one message. Chapter 4 begins another message and continues in Chapter 6, skipping Chapter 5. Chapter 5 summarizes the entire Revelation from Chapter 4 to the end.

II. Some events described in Revelation occur in heaven, others on earth, and in both locations.

III. The events in the Book of Revelation are sometimes in a different order. Like all Bible prophecies, they contain past, current, and future events.

IV. Not everything in Revelation is symbolic.

Like all scripture, Revelation is to be studied thoroughly and carefully; assumptions will not do for the followers of Christ. Accepting incorrect conclusions about the Book of Revelation is far too easy. Here is an example of one of today’s common assumptions regarding the Antichrist -we assume the Antichrist is the beast found in Revelation.

But consider this: you will not find the term Antichrist in the entire book of Revelation. Let me repeat: you will not see the word Antichrist in the Book of Revelation. So, what do you think of the popular perception and understanding of the secrets of Revelation now?

Please use these rules of Revelation, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in reading and understanding the book of Revelation, and never enable foolish assumptions to keep you from being ever ready for our Lord’s return. If you never understand anything in the entire book of Revelation, understand this: it begins with our Lord saying,

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord, who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” 8

And ends with,

“Behold, I am coming quickly,” 9 and “Surely, I am coming quickly.” 10

1II Peter 2:21

2Mathew 24:36

3Revelation 4:1a

4II Corinthians 12:2-4

5Isaiah 46:10a

6Mathew 16:3b

7Revelation 13:18

8Revelation 1:8

9Revelation 22:12a

10Revelation 22:20

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