A gracEmail subscriber in England asks how we can understand the Book of Revelation, when interpreters differ so widely and when this portion of Scripture itself seems so difficult and foreign to modern ears?
* * *
We will not know fully so long as we live in these mortal bodies. However, we can make much progress in understanding by remembering two important truths about the Bible’s final book. First, The name of this book is not “Revelations,” but “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). The purpose of this series of visions shown to John on the prison island of Patmos was to reveal Jesus Christ to his suffering churches as the exalted Son of Man and Son of God, the Lamb slaughtered by his enemies but raised by God to become the conquering Lion (Rev. 4-5). This book shows Jesus to be King and lord of all earthly kings and lords — including those kings and lords who claim supreme authority and who persecute Jesus’ followers (see especially Rev.17-22).
Second, the book of Revelation (“Apocalypse” in Greek) was written in prophetic code language used by the Old Testament prophets and understandable to Bible students familiar with the symbolism of those earlier books. Because Revelation is written in this “apocalyptic” code, we should take it seriously but not literally. It tells the truth, to be sure, but its truth is in the stories told in its visions, not in every detail of the visions themselves.
Until we learn to read Revelation in light of its expressed subject (Jesus Christ) and in view of its communication medium (symbols based on the Old Testament prophets), we are doomed to endless speculations and fanciful interpretations. (I find much good in “The Most Revealing Book of the Bible,” written by my late friend Dr. Vernard Eller, now out of print but available free online (or go to http://hccentral.com/eller7/index.html).