Notes for Q & A: How does one read and make sense out of Revelation

The notes below are notes for Sunday, November 14, 2010 that go with the sermon audio. This particular talk was to answer the question: how does one read Revelation and make sense of it?

1. Understand that the Scriptures are, perhaps, the more vague on end times teaching than any other subject

2. There are 5 interpretive methods used by scholars and readers when approaching Revelation

Preterist – relates the book completely to the writer’s age and discounts any future developments of history

Historical – sees Revelation as an outline of the ages between the incarnation of Christ and his final coming

Futurist – relates the book completely to the last generation of history when the prophecies will be fulfilled

Symbolic or Poetic – emphasizes the pictorial element in the book and declines to make specific application of the prophecies to any one era; it views the book as revealing the general principles of God’s work in history.

Idealistic – agrees with historicism that Revelation’s visions symbolize the conflict between Jesus and his church on the one hand, and Satan and his evil conspirators on the other, from the apostolic age to Christ’s second coming. However, idealists believe that the presence of recapitulation (the order in which John received the visions does not necessarily indicate the order of the events they symbolize) means that the visions’ literary order need not reflect the temporal order of particular historical events.

Eclecticism / Redemptive-Historical Form of Modified Idealism – a more viable, modified version of the idealist perspective would acknowledge a final consummation in salvation and judgment. Accordingly, no specific prophesied historical events are discerned in the book, except for the final coming of Christ to deliver and judge and to establish the final form of the kingdom in a consummated new creation — though there are a few exceptions to this rule.

The Apocalypse symbolically portrays events throughout history, which is understood to be under the sovereignty of the Lamb as a result of his death and resurrection. He will guide the events depicted until they finally issue in the last judgment and the definitive establishment of his kingdom.

This means that specific events throughout the age extending from Christ’s first coming to his second may be identified with one narrative or symbol. We may call this age inaugurated by Christ’s first coming and concluded by his final appearance “the church age,” “the interadventual age,” or “the latter days.” The majority of the symbols in the book are transtemporal in the sense that they are applicable to events throughout the “church age”.

Therefore, the historicists may sometimes be right in their precise historical identifications, but wrong in limiting the identification only to one historical reality.

The same verdict may be passed on the preterist school of thought, especially the Roman version. And certainly there are prophecies of the future in Revelation.

The crucial yet problematic task of the interpreter is to identify through careful exegesis and against the original historical background those texts that pertain respectively to past, present, and future.[1]

3. Revelation is Apocalypse, Prophesy and Letter

Apocalypse – removal of a cover; to uncover; to reveal

Prophesy – Prophecy in the NT can be described as the words of Spirit-guided preachers for the world, and the church through which God’s revealed purpose for the world and his will for humankind are revealed. [2]

Letter – Revelation is addressed to 7 churches in particular just like when Paul wrote to specific churches.

A letter was written for specific purposes and has meaning and application for those original readers, and there is where meaning and application are found.

“It is only as we relate its pictorial unveiling of God’s word to the situation of the seven churches of Asia Minor that we can understand the revelation for the churches of all generations, including the last generation of history.”[3]

4. Understand that Jesus gave John a clear and singular purpose in penning Revelation and all interpretive attempts must fall under this purpose

Overview of Revelation’s Purpose:

1. Revelation was written at the end of the first century when Domitian was emperor

Domitian would commence an active persecution on the church and the church was under hard pressure.

2. Revelation was written by John to encourage the faith of God’s people who were under intense persecution

“The book was written to strengthen the faith and courage of John’s fellow-believers in Christ, to nerve them for battle with antichristian forces in the world, and to help them bear witness to the one true Lord and Saviour of the world.” [4]

John achieves this by showing Jesus to be 1) Sovereign over nations and kingdoms and kings 2) the Satanic nature of the excessive adoration of the Roman emperor as “lord and god” 3) the inescapable judgment of the Lord on those who submit to false Christ’s rather than God’s Christ 4) in the conflict between the church and the oppressive and Satanic world powers, victory is sure because Satan is a defeated foe through the death and resurrection and coming of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.


G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 48-49.

NT New Testament

D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

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