A Brief Overview Of Revelation
The book of Revelation is a fascinating book that is full of mystery, images and symbols. Because of the mystery and symbols, men have developed various fanciful ideas about the meaning of the book.
Many “interpretations” deal with future events, end time speculations, and identifying various symbols in the book with current events and nations. But a careful look at the book reveals some clear indicators as to the correct understanding of the message of Revelation.
To begin with, note the words of the first verse: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (ASV). There are two significant keys in the verse that give some insight. (1) These things would “shortly” come to pass. By no stretch of the imagination could that mean “in a few thousand years.” (2) The message was “sign-ified,” or written in “sign language.” That is from the Greek “semaino.” We also get the word “semaphore” from this. Semaphore flags are used on ships to send signals from one to another. These are messages in code that the enemy cannot intercept. Likewise, soldiers in the field are sent orders from headquarters. The message is sent in code for the same reason—so the enemy cannot intercept and see the strategy being planned against them.
With that understanding, consider that Revelation was written to seven churches in Asia, in a region we now know as Turkey. This was an area where emperor worship was strong. Domitian, the Roman emperor decided he was divine and the decree went out that he was to be worshipped, and citizens were to bow before the image of “Lord Caesar.” Of course, Christians refused to do this, and for this reason they were subjected to persecution. “Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
The general view is that Revelation was written about 96 A.D. by the apostle John, who was in exile on the Isle of Patmos. It was written to encourage the Christians who were discouraged in the face of their persecution. If modern speculators are correct that Revelation was written prophesying events in our time or future events, then we have a problem with the purpose of Revelation. If it was written to encourage Christians in the first century, what possible comfort would they receive by someone writing to tell them, “Be patient, brethren. Things will get better in a few thousand years.”
As the letters were written to the seven churches mentioned, and then circulated, there was the possibility one or more may have been intercepted by some Roman official or soldier. Therefore, John wrote in “code” so that the reader would not understand that many references in Revelation concerned the evil Roman government and/or ruler. That would have further intensified the persecutions, thus “signs” contained in the message.
Those familiar with the Old Testament would recognize the code language, as there are some 350 references to, quotations from or allusions to the Old Testament. Therefore, they could “read” the “code” and understand the message, while an enemy who obtained a copy of what John wrote would have no clue.
As an example, the book of Daniel has several images that are similar to those in John’s Revelation. “And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings, with the beast, for one hour” (Rev. 17:12). “and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, and before which three fell, even that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake great things, whose look was more stout than its fellows” (Dan. 7:20).
So when you read the book of Revelation, don’t try to interpret that in view of events that may be occurring today in China or Iran or the United States. Read it on the context of the time in which it was written while also understanding that there are lessons for us in the present time concerning endurance and faithfulness in time of trial and persecution, as well as being faithful to follow the inspired teachings of the Bible without adding to or subtracting from.
The closing words of Revelation send a clear message to those today who follow the doctrines, creed, manuals and catechisms written by men, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18)
Jefferson David Tant