As we begin our study into this awesome book of Revelation, let us never forget that the book is written in code. Think back to the parables of our Lord, which He described as having a two-fold purpose:
1) Reveal to some (Matthew 13:12-15)
2) Conceal from others (Matthew 15:12-15)
Likewise, the book of Revelation used "codes" that would serve the same purpose. People who had a strong knowledge of the Scriptures would quickly identify with many of the images, while others would be completely left in the dark. It is my opinion that most of the misunderstanding of the book today is caused by a lack of knowledge on the part of the audience. Many simply do not recognize the Old Testament allusions and references.
Revelation employs the use of several types of symbols for this purpose, from animals to colors to my personal favorite, numbers. From the number 7 to the infamous 666, numbers hold an important place in the book. As the study continues, we will dive more into their supposed meaning.
However, the purpose of today's writing is to simply establish a base rule: numbers can be used symbolically and are not necessarily literal. I am a math teacher by trade, so I understand the concept of "counting numbers". We like to think of numbers as representing the quantity of items in a set - that is, when we see the number "9", we want to look out onto the baseball field and find 9 players that we can count. In this way, 9 means 9! If only Revelation was so simple.
Many are convinced that the numbers in the book are literal, or at least one number in particular is literal: 1,000. We will have much more to say about this in the future.
Surprisingly, some people are very quick to criticize the ancient people for their use of numbers as code, forgetting that we do it all the time today! I give you the example of "6304", which happened to be the number of the hospital room where my son Jake entered the world. By counting number standards, one would expect there to be at least 6,304 room in the hospital. Not even close! The number has meaning that only those associated with Shannon Hospital would understand. Why? It is written in symbolic code!
6 : Women and Children's Wing
3: Third Flood
04: Room Number
Numbers can represent more than their quantity. This is very important to remember going forward. This is true for all symbols (animals, colors, etc...). We must learn to think beyond their literal meanings! We should not think less of the first century Christians in Asia Minor who employed this tactic since we do the same today in 2015.
- Bryan Morrison
Before we get into the heart of the matter, it would likely be helpful to set some boundaries on the context of the letter. This concept is of major importance when it comes to interpreting the book of Revelation. Human beings by nature are quite narcissistic, and over the centuries each generation has been certain that the words of the ancient prophecy were no doubt written specifically for them in their own time. There is no doubt that this attitude still exists today.
Recently, I have heard three expressions that I would like to share with you that might help to bring the importance of context to light. These expressions might seem related or similar, but I assure you they are have nothing to do with each other.
Lubbock, Texas has more sky.
Abilene, Texas - where the sidewalks get rolled up at dark.
Kansas City, Missouri - where it gets late early.
I have lived or visited all three of these cities, and the context for these expressions is paramount. Have you heard them before? For those that are familiar with the locations, they might make sense. Others will have no idea what they mean!
For those that have never been to Lubbock, let me explain it is flat. Now I mean unbelievably flat. Songwriter Mac Davis once said you could stand on a milk crate and watch you dog run away for two weeks. Now that is flat country! So, without the distraction of mountains, trees, hills, etc... it makes perfect sense to say that Lubbock has more sky! In fact, that was a city slogan when we lived there in the late 1990's.
Abilene, Texas has never been a city known for its vibrant nightlife. The city, since its inception in the 1880's, has been dominated by three large religious organizations (Church of Christ, Baptist, and Methodist) that gave it a very Puritan feel. The expression "roll up the sidewalks at dark" has been used for years to describe sleepy, small towns. I suppose Abilene would fit into this description.
Now, on to Kansas City. The expression "It gets late early" was used last week by an announcer as I watched the K.C. Royals in the World Series. Apparently, Yogi Berra first uttered the words many years before, but for a much different reason. For the Royals, the expression describes the dominant bullpen pitchers possessed by the team. Baseball games are scheduled for 9 innings, but the Royals have outstanding pitchers at the end of the game. As the game rolls into the late innings, it is common to say "It is getting late in the game". When playing the Royals, the opposing team had better score early in the game, for the probability of scoring against Herrera, Madson, and Davis are very low. Therefore, it gets late early in Kansas City!
The following expressions must be taken in context to receive the full meaning of the author. They speak of location, people and time, respectively. Changes to any of the situations would lose their context and original meaning. Other similar situations might be found, but it would not fit the original purpose of the author. Denver has more sky! Just not the same. NYC rolls up the sidewalks at dark. Absolutely not for the city that never sleeps. It gets late early in Philadelphia. Not this year, Phillies! Such is the case with the book of Revelation.
The context of Revelation is built around a central location, that being Asia Minor (Revelation 1:4) on the frontier of the Roman Empire. Certain people were addressed as brothers in the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:9). Finally, a time period near the first century was given as John noted these things would shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1).
While it is tempting (and even seems logical) to place ourselves and our own situations into the book, that removes the original context. Many problems come from this, and the meaning of the book of Revelation has been changed greatly over the years. Let us commit to studying this book within the context that it was written, hence the Biblical-Historical method of interpretation.
- Bryan Morrison
"Should We Study the Book of Revelation?"
"I doubt there is a book in the Bible with more conflicting views and opinions by commentators. Yet, some people are more dogmatic about their opinions on this book than they are the books of the Bible that are easily understood." - Carl Johnson
So, should we study the book of Revelation? Or do we take the easy way out and say, "We can't understand it anyway, so why worry about it?"
DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to understand all of the book of Revelation. There are multiple interpretations and the very nature of Apocalyptic writing makes it extremely difficult to understand. However, I will do my best to make some sense of the mystery of this book.
PREMISE #1: People are curious, and if the Church does not teach Revelation folks will find someone else who will - and it will probably be skewed.
PREMISE #2: Most current interpretations of Revelation have been sensationalized, and support the false doctrine of pre-millennialism.
With these two premises in mind, it seems rational that the Church should teach Revelation, and thus fulfill the need to declare the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
3 Popular Types of Interpretation:
None of the events have been fulfilled yet
Most of the events were fulfilled in the first century
Symbols represent history throughout the ages
Let us now offer a third premise that I believe is very important to the understanding of Revelation.
PREMISE #3: Any message in the Bible has to have meaning to its intended audience.
Who was the audience of Revelation, and what were they facing? This is the basis of another vein of preterist interpretation - historical background. I personally believe this is the most viable of all methods of interpretation. The symbols, while impossible to nail down completely in our day and time, had to have meaning to the 1st century Christians. Furthermore, the amount of references and allusions to the Old Testament is quite staggering! Without a Biblical background, the reader would be completely lost when attempting to decipher the symbols. That being said, my studies have employed a fourth type of interpretation.
The events described were meant for the 1st century Christians of Asia Minor, and a strong working knowledge of the Bible is necessary to understand the symbols. Also, we must consider the historical time frame to properly understand the context.
PURPOSE OF REVELATION: To give comfort and hope to a group of tired, persecuted, oppressed, and scared group of Christians.
(Revelation 1:1) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John"
"Shortly" is from the Greek word "tachus", also used in the following verse:
(2 Timothy 4:9) Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me
It appears to me that John expected the things in his vision to happen very quickly - comfort was needed immediately for a group of persecuted Christians who feared that their religion was about to be vanquished. Keep that in mind for future lessons when we begin to look at possible interpretations of the symbols in the book.
MESSAGE OF REVELATION: God will win in the end!!
"Neglected, misunderstood, and grossly perverted, the book of Revelation stands quite alone in the New Testament" - Ray Summers, author of "Worthy is the Lamb"
A few years ago, I set a goal to study the book of Revelation. It would be nice if I could answer every question concerning this strange book found at the end of the Bible, but that appears to be beyond my ability. However, the time I have spent studying has certainly been worth it, as a fair amount of understanding has been brought to this most misunderstood book of the Bible. When a reader has limited knowledge of the Scriptures, it is easy for them to read Revelation with a sense of fear and trepidation. A closer examination reveals that most (if not all) of the disturbing images and symbols found in Revelation are borrowed or expanded upon from either the Old or New Testaments. Without a strong knowledge of the Bible, the words can quickly lose their meaning. I offer you the example of a political cartoon - without knowledge of the situation, the symbols mean very little. In fact, it would be very easy to "find" a meaning that was absolutely foreign to the author.
To help with this problem, I employ a method of interpretation I call "Biblical-Historical". My first question is always, "Is there a Biblical reference or allusion to this image?" My second question is always, "Is there a historical reference to the image the first-century Christian would understand?" This system will be used throughout this study.
Over the coming weeks, I will post my thoughts and findings on the book of Revelation. It would be ridiculous to expect you to agree with every thing I say, but I hope this will lead to more understanding of this wonderful, yet misunderstood book.
Possibly more than ever, the world needs to understand Revelation! The Church needs to understand Revelation! Hopefully, this forum will give us the opportunity to study and learn.