We have been doing this “How To Read Your Bible” series for a while now! Sense the beginning of this page, in fact. In this series, we have covered “Context”, “Subjects V Objects”, and all kinds of major literary genres found in the Bible. Now, I want to take the time to look at our strategies in reading the Bible to help make sense of “How To Read Revelation,” because the understanding of this book will prove to be the accumulation of everything we have learned together in this series thus far. This is the most confusing book to attempt to understand for a lot of people when reading their Bibles.
Revelation is unique in that it is prophetic literature, poetry literature, and it is seven different letters all at once! So, almost EVERYTHING we have discussed before in this series is applicable in the reading of this book.
It was written as seven different letters originally, then later it was edited into one book – this can make the chronology and flow of the story in the book confusing at times.
In fact, looking at the very first chapters, John adds that this is being written to the seven churches (it is believed that the adding of all seven by name was put in once the seven separate letters were made into one). Even in this beginning, we see a vision of seven lampstands. These lampstands are a call-back to the book of Zechariah. If this were a marvel movie, then there would be about a billion articles written by nerds who think that call-backs and cameos are the coolest things ever! I am one of these people – I FIND THIS FREAKIN’ AWESOME!!!!
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man,
In Zechariah, these lampstands were pictured more in-depth as having two olive tree branches pouring oil into a bowl, which poured the oil into seven lips on seven lampstands, which poured the oil into individual candles. This image is explained to be all about leadership! We should all be leading others and having leaders ourselves.
I always tell people I talk to, to “HAVE A LEADER; BE A LEADER!”
-This is like my catch phrase in ministry! …. So, what do I mean by it?
We must have time with God and personal mentors who are pouring into us, and we must be turning around and pouring into others ourselves, as well!
Then in chapter 6, verses 1 – 8, the author speaks about the four horsemen – these horsemen are also a call-back to Zechariah (chapters 1 & 6 this time), where they went to all the world and the lesson of their first appearance was all about spreading the word to all four corners of the earth – in order to warn them to repent and turn to God’s mercy for their sins.
We are called in the new covenant to love God and love people and how we do that is by spreading the gospel news of who Christ is!
In the instance of the lampstands and the horsemen, one must know the Old Testament to understand the New. This is what it looks like to remember our context and to look at the Bible as a whole book, as we have previously discussed. This also takes someone who looks pasts the objects being read of what may literally happen in the future (when this comes to past) and look to the subjects of the lessons that are being taught in the reading instead.
One of my favourite call-backs in this book is with the city of Babylon. Throughout the Old Testament (starting in Genesis 11), Babylon has been a symbol for the pride of man. In Isaiah 47:1, God says this to Babylon:
Come down and sit in the dust,
O virgin daughter of Babylon;
sit on the ground without a throne,
O daughter of the Chaldeans!
For you shall no more be called
tender and delicate.
Here, we see Babylon in the apocalypse, as described by Isaiah. When we see Babylon fall in Revelation, she is described as a whore (Chapter 17). The Bible calls out the pride of man as “undefeated” and haughty, then in Isaiah she is told – as a virgin – that she will be destroyed and no more called tender. Now, in Revelation the unpenetrated, untouchable virgin daughters of Babylon have been made into a whore. God has had enough of man’s pride and had made her lowly and to be looked down upon.
17: 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”
18: 1After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
3 For all nations have drunk
the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
God is sick of how all mankind has partaken in pride and praised ourselves rather than praising Him. We bring ourselves to only care for our own pleasures. Many of us today can look around and see the culture that we are in today as a self-centred culture that God hates. In this same chapter, God goes on to call out to His own people in these hedonistic cultures:
4 “Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,
since in her heart she says,
‘I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
and mourning I shall never see.’
8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,
death and mourning and famine,
and she will be burned up with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”
Judgment of man and it’s pride is a huge part of this book. This time we see the literature in song form – expressing the very feelings of God. Remember, psalms in the Bible are not to direct us what to do but instead are meant to express feelings. This means that God does not want us to literally destroy all selfish people, but instead He is angry and wants us to share in His anger – which will one day be acted upon by God, Himself. Many of us should be able to relate to the feelings of hatred for a self-centred culture. This hate of selfishness is what fuels us to lead others away from it and toward the spreading of the good news of the Gospel which is so contrary to this culture of Babylon.
Then, of course in the final chapters of Revelation, we are told about a new heaven and a new earth (shout out to Isaiah 55!) and we are told about a beautiful river with the tree of life for us all (shout out to Genesis 2 & 3)! Remember, we have said that all prophetic literature teaches us what to do to avoid judgement, then it prophecies judgment, then it gives a new hope with repentance. Revelation is no different. We are told to be leaders and to spread the good news of salvation to all so that they may avoid eternal judgement, then we are told about the judgment that comes to those who refuse to turn from their selfish ways, and finally we are given the ultimate new hope (no, not that epic movie – Star Wars) – a new heaven and new earth where we can all dwell with God on the daily!!!!
Many people miss the truths of Revelation and make the book all about judgment and the end times. They look only to the future and forget the present, because they focus so much on the objects or because they take the book by itself instead of taking it as part of the whole Bible. Without context, without learning to read for the subjects of the word, without understanding the different genres of literature, without seeing the Bible as a whole – Revelation becomes a dangerous book that even many scholars misinterpret. But once we read it correctly, looking for the right things and see the Bible as a whole – this book becomes about leading and evangelizing right now so that everyone can have the hope that we are offered in Christ!
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for an entire curriculum of a comprehensive 7-week group, Bible study over the book of Revelation!
Reading / Reference list:
- I used the ESV Bible translation, as well as pictures from The Comic Book Bible, The Lego Bible, and The Action Bible. – Sorry, I have been teaching children’s churches for a whole decade now so I can’t help but be a bit childish, occasionally. Don’t act like you didn’t enjoy the stupid pictures! 😂
- I also (and always) use The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Revised Edition) series, The Oxford Bible Commentary, and Constable’s Notes on the Bible – available free online in pdf format.