Studying The Book of Revelation:  This Calls for Patient Endurance and Wisdom

Hope you find this post insightful – I have adapted my post from my different writings from over the years

 

You might say that leading a Bible study on Revelation requires venturing where angels fear to tread.  However, angels have gone before us; in fact, angels are everywhere in Revelation.  Thank God for them. That is…if you are a “fellow servant…who holds to the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev. 22:9) Otherwise, the angels present a foreboding reality.

 

When venturing into teachings about Revelation, one soon finds that many views beckon along Revelation’s rocky shoals.  Not all of these are angels’ voices.  Some must be right and others wrong.  All have their earnest proponents and apparently authoritative teachers.  Teaching Revelation is different from teaching any other book in the Bible.  When teaching Revelation, you will confront other Christian authorities, conflict with strongly held, ingrained views among those you teach, be forced to accept mystery and ambiguity (if you are honest), hold opposing views as possibilities, respectfully disagree with Biblical mentors and boldly take stands when necessary.  Teaching Revelation requires committed study, research, patience, humility and perseverance.

 

After completing a 23-week study for interested church members and guests, I can attest that studying Revelation thoroughly is the rewarding and worth the effort.  I was blessed to be accompanied on the journey through Revelation by faithful and interested students.  They contributed to the discussion and were open minded to the truth of Revelation.

 

I believe that we must study and teach Revelation earnestly and correctly.  The message is for the church today no more or no less than other books of the New Testament.  I think the varied attitudes toward Revelation among Christians may dissuade pastors from delving into Revelation with their congregations.

 

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Some Christians have an unhealthy obsession with Revelation and eschatology (end-times studies).  This obsession inspires a drive to figure things out and be an expert on what will happen and the when’s, how’s and who’s of the end-time events.  Much of this attitude is fueled by televangelists and celebrity preachers and authors claiming to have insights and enlightenment into the codes of Revelation and Biblical prophecies. These are the folks who claim to dictate future events verbatim.  This attitude seems always to be tied to a futuristic, literal interpretation of Revelation that dismisses and disparages Christians who hold opposing views on the book.

 

Some Christians simply avoid Revelation and have no interest in it.  They see it as weird, intimidating, irrelevant, causing strife and generally unappealing.  These folks have a point.  Some of them have read it and tried to understand but gave up.  Revelation at a glance seems confusing and off-putting…why bother?  Even Biblical scholars and lovers like Martin Luther have dismissed Revelation.

 

Some Christians have studied Revelation and have a healthy appreciation for the book and high esteem for Scripture, but they have been misled.  I was one of these people.  I had heard the end-times teachings of rapture, the great tribulation, the anti-Christ, Armageddon, locust things, etc.  I had read Left Behind and seen the movie.  I took all of this for granted, because that is what I had been taught prior to seminary.  Many in this group have learned from highly esteemed Biblical teachers that are good men and women of God who love the Lord and his word.  Reframing Revelation rightly means gently disabusing some people of teaching by respected “gurus” like John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, John Hagee and others like Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Chuck Missler, etc., etc., Various Study Bibles used by students will also declare matter-of-factly a misinformed interpretation.

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Some folks in your church may have quietly held onto the view that Revelation is not so much about the future as about the eternal.  They may have studied it and seen the eternal gospel of Jesus illustrated in the visions of apocalyptic metaphors and symbols.  They recognize Revelation is written to a first century church but reveals eternal truths for all ages.  Such people have probably quietly disagreed with the futuristic teachings that have been popular.  They may not be sure they want to speak up and assert what they believe.

 

Overall, many Christians are hungry to learn and study Revelation.  They may have tried on their own and found it too mysterious in places or been wrongly taught.  These folks are open minds who are ready to explore the book and appreciate a good teacher willing to lead them. Truth must become the goal for students of Revelation, and humility must accompany the teaching of it.

 

This is how I approached leading the study.  In addition to continually reading through the text, I accessed the following resources:

 

  • The Book of Revelation  by G. K. Beale – I used this as my primary commentary.  It is thorough, scholarly, easy to use and faithful to Biblical theology.  Beale discusses various views, historical, Biblical and cultural contexts, and he excels in highlighting Revelation’s references to the Old Testament and other ancient sources.
  • Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation by Dennis Johnson – this commentary is a great one for students in the class.  For leaders, it is somewhat redundant to Beale; however, Johnson provides some additional insights and is very accessible.
  • Revelation for Everyone by N. T. Wright—this is the book I suggested for students. Wright approaches the book mainly by a chapter at a time.  He paints the big picture and emphasizes the correct interpretation of Revelation.  This is a good book for everyone to read.
  • The Book of Revelation by Dr. Louis Brighton (Concordia University on Itunes University) Also a book on Amazon.  Brighton is immensely qualified to teach on Revelation.  In addition to being a scholar, he was a pastor for over 30 years.  I recommend listening to his lectures.
  • The Book of Revelation by Dr. Robert Mulholland (Asbury Theological Seminary on Itunes University) Mulholland’s lectures are highly recommended.  I listened to them twice.  He and Brighton teach devotionally as well as academically.
  • Because the Time is Near Dr. John MacArthur – this is a well-organized and easy to read condensed commentary that offers the futuristic, literal and chronological interpretation of Revelation chapters 4-22.  If examined carefully, it reveals the error and lack of substance behind this view of determining future events.
  • The Book of Revelation Geoff Chapman & Gordon Fee, (University Chapel Toronto Sermons, Itunes Podcasts)  Pastor Geoff Chapman is preaching through Revelation on Sundays to his congregation.  Dr. Gordon Fee has authored a Commentary on Revelation that I recommend.  He teaches 3-4 of the lessons.
  • The Book of Revelation.  Voddie Baucham, et al (Grace Family Baptist Church on Itunes Podcasts).  Pastor Baucham and other pastors teach through Revelation to their congregation.  These are enlightening and stirring sermons on Revelation.  They especially apply Revelation to Christian living.

 

None of the above theologians or pastors agrees on everything.  However, with the exception of John MacArthur, all of the teachers listed above interpret Revelation generally from the following interpretive view:

 

Eclectic or Redemptive-Historical Approach: Recognizes historically relevant texts without limiting them to one historical reality.  Recognizes those texts that refer to future events as relevant to Christians in all ages.  Takes up the crucial and challenging task to identify through careful exegesis how texts pertain to the past, present and future.  Interprets texts in light of the historical and cultural context.  Sees most symbols as applicable to realities throughout the “church age” until the New Jerusalem descends at the return of Jesus.  This approach allows for the “Already-Not Yet” reality of God’s Kingdom and Christ’s rule.  The main basis for interpretation of Revelation is the book itself, the New Testament and the Old Testament, and then the non-canonical Jewish and Christian writings.  Emphasizes the apostolic teachings versus “Gnostic” or “special revelatory” enlightenment or current events.  Connects John’s progressive revelations to prior revelations of Scripture.  Believes Revelation does not teach new doctrine but elaborates, illustrates and emphasizes the doctrine of the Old and New Testament that is fulfilled and revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

What G.K. Beale writes concerning one text is true for how he interprets the entire book: “the only hope of obtaining any clarity about this segment is to interpret it primarily in the light of its closest parallels elsewhere in the [Book of Revelation] and in the New Testament and Old Testament.”

 

I have found it helpful, even necessary, to continually read Revelation over and over.  This helps develop familiarity with the book and a depth and breadth of understanding.  Although we read the book by chapter and verse, the vision is continually recycling, referencing itself, reversing and showing differing vantage points of the same reality.  We almost have to read it circularly over and over…Read and Repeat.

 

In light of the above approach, I tried to let the Scriptures speak for themselves.  For example, in reading and studying Revelation, the “rapture” event as popularly taught does not arise organically from Revelation.  Eventually, someone will ask about the rapture; perhaps, because their Study Bible indicates that such and such vision is of the “raptured church” in heaven, or it will emphasize that the church has been raptured by now and does not experience these things.  They wonder where the rapture occurred, since it hasn’t come up yet in our study.

 

When such questions occur that the text has not indicated, I acknowledge that view, discussed its origins and teachings and then pointed us back to the Scriptures.  Sometimes I would reference other Scriptures to show the thinness of the view.  I would emphasize the message of Revelation in its historical and Biblical context.  I would also highlight the message of Revelation to Christians around the world today suffering great tribulation and even death for their faith.

 

The Western futuristic interpretation of Revelation comes across as narcissistic and arrogant in light of the historical and worldwide church—none of whom, by the way, have ever been raptured! While many of whom have suffered persecution, tribulation and martyrdom.  We were fortunate to have a friend from Northern Kenya attend one of our lessons and share his views on Revelation.  It is good to imagine reading Revelation from another geographical and demographical point of view, especially from where the church is oppressed and persecuted.

 

When the Scripture can speak for itself in the proper contexts and genre, it proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ, his kingdom and his people – plain and simple.

 

What is to be gained from studying Revelation?  In short…A Reality Check!  All of us have a skewed version of what we call reality in this world where things are not what they seem.  Revelation reveals the truth of the reality of God’s kingdom and the fallen world where we live.  At the center of true reality is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Revelation is a revelation of the God of the Bible, as He truly exists.

 

N.T. Wright puts it this way, “The point John is making, again and again, is that there are many who have lived on earth as though there were no heaven, or as though, if heaven there be, it was irrelevant. His whole book is about the re-establishment of the rule of heaven on earth itself.”

 

These are some of the themes that are revealed:

  • Christians’ victory through Christ, even in the midst of suffering and death
  • A call to radical discipleship– Living holy, faithful lives in a fallen-Babylon world
  • God is glorified eternally and is sovereign over all creation; nothing occurs outside his scope and without his permission
  • The Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world is divine and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit and is returning to establish his rule
  • The New Jerusalem where God will dwell in the midst of his people in paradise exists and is coming to earth
  • A binding link exists between all worshippers of Jesus — the worshipping church on earth with the worshippers of God in heaven – all are of the eternal kingdom of heaven (God); also the bond exists between believers and angels who serve God and among unbelievers and demons who fight God.
  • God continually calls people to repentance and salvation until his coming again.
  • The defeat of Satan and all evil and its eviction forever from God’s presence into the lake of burning fire.

 

I also believe Revelation emphatically confirms the following truths from Scripture and must be interpreted based on these PRESENT realities (Scriptures listed are a sample of references):

 

  • Christ reigns now: Revelation 1; Matthew 28:18-20; Eph 1.19-23; 1 Cor 15.25-26
  • Believers in Christ reign with him now: Revelation 1; Luke 12:18-19; Eph 2:1-7; Col 3.1
  • Satan is bound now beneath Christ’s sovereign authority: Mark 3.27; Luke 12:18-19; John 12.31-32; Col 2.15; Mat 16.18-19
  • Those who are born again have passed from death to life and experienced a first resurrection: John 5:24-29, John 11:23-26; Eph 2.1-7; 2 Timothy 2.11; Romans 6.13

 

A proper interpretation of Revelation ought to lead to the following results and responses:

 

Responses to Revelation (from Dennis Johnson’s Triumph of the Lamb)

 

  • See Your Situation in Its True Perspective
  • See Your Enemies in Their True Colors
  • See the Beast (Power of Government)
  • See the False Prophet (Spiritual/Religious Deception)
  • See the Harlot (Idolatrous Allure of the Things of the World)
  • See Your Champion in His True Glory
  • See Yourselves (the Bride) in Your True Beauty
  • Endure as You Suffer
  • Stay Pure as Compromise Invites
  • Bear Witness as God Waits

 

John MacArthur on Rev 22:6-12 exhorts readers to the following:

 

  • Immediate Obedience
  • Immediate Worship
  • Immediate Proclamation
  • Immediate Service

 

N.T. Wright emphasizes the call for “faithful witness.” He writes, “Throughout the book of Revelation, the call of God’s people is to bear faithful witness to Jesus, even though it will mean suffering, and quite possibly a shameful death…What we are dealing with is several different angles of vision on the one single great reality: that through the awful turmoil and trouble of the world, God is establishing through Jesus a people who, following the lamb, are to bear witness to God’s kingdom through their own suffering, through which the world will be brought to repentance and faith, so that ultimately God will be king over all.”

 

Revelation provides the most stunning visions of Jesus and heaven in the Bible.  It also provides the most frightenly heart-wrenching images of the wrath of God on those who refuse to accept his love in Jesus Christ.  Believers in Jesus find cause for intense joy and hope in Revelation, as well as self-examination, repentance and consecration unto God.  Others ought to be shaken into repentance and faith in Jesus in order to be welcomed into the paradise of God.

 

Do not ask for whom the Bell of Revelation tolls…for it tolls for thee!

 

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