In this video series, we will be taking an in-depth look at the Book of Revelation from beginning to end.
But before we get to the actual text there are some foundational principles that I want to nail down in this and the next three videos.
If you have already read books or watched videos on Revelation you have probably encountered the terms “preterist, historicist and futurist”. These are models of interpretation that many commentators start out with as they seek to make sense of what is arguably the most confusing book of the Bible. But how helpful are they? I would like to take just a few minutes to discuss these influential models.
The historicist model of interpretation teaches that the events symbolized in Revelation began during the first century when it was written. According to this model, God inspired John to detail in symbolic language what would happen to the Christian Church throughout history until the time of the end. Several important early church theologians such as Ireneaus and Tertullian were historicists, but this model of interpretation really came into focus during the Protestant Reformation when the reformers used the historicist model to identify the final antichrist as the Roman Catholic Papacy.
The Preterist model assumes that most of Revelation is a commentary on the social, political, and religious movements of the first and second century when it was written. This model teaches that the writer of Revelation simply used highly symbolic language to describe or speculate on the events and trends of the time. According to Wikipedia and many other sources, “Preterism was first expounded by the Jesuit Luis de Alcazar during the Counter-Reformation. The preterist view helped to defend the Roman Catholic Church against attacks by Protestants, who identified the Pope as being the Anti-Christ.” (Wikipedia article Preterism).
The futurist model of interpretation puts most of the events of Revelation in the future during the Great Tribulation. Like the preterist model, it was developed during the Protestant reformation. “The futurist view was proposed by two Catholic Jesuit writers, Manuel Lacunza and Francisco Ribera… Ribera began writing a lengthy commentary in 1585 on the Book of Revelation, proposing that the first few chapters of the Apocalypse apply to ancient pagan Rome, and the rest he limited to a yet future period of 3½ literal years, immediately prior to the Second Coming of Christ… This removed the papacy of the Catholic Church from consideration as the Antichrist,” (Wikipedia article Futurism.) Today many futurists are dispensationalists who believe in the secret rapture of the Christian Church.
As you can see from this very brief overview, the development of these models of interpretation had less to do with an analysis of Revelation and the Bible, and more to do with the factions and rivalries within the Christian Church. These three models, along with idealism which treats Revelation as an allegory, are still the most widely used frameworks for interpreting Revelation.
But if we start our study of Revelation with a preconceived model, we are likely to let the model determine our interpretation rather than the Bible. For example, if my theology supports a preterist model, I will search for wars and disasters during the Roman empire that could fit with the Seven Seals, trumpets, and bowls. The antichrist, mark of the beast, and 666 would apply to oppressive emperors such as Nero. This approach may be interesting to history buffs, but it makes Revelation largely irrelevant to most of us today.
If I follow a historicist model I will tend to see the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and maybe even the seven bowls as repetitive overviews of history. But I may have to focus on obscure events in order to find history that fits with the symbols of Revelation. And interpretations that seemed like impressive signs of the end during the Protestant Reformation or the 19th century become increasingly irrelevant as the centuries pass.
If I believe in the futurist/dispensationalist model I will have to be very selective and creative in order to make the symbolic scenes of Revelation fit into the popular narrative of the secret rapture and the experiences of those “left behind” during the great tribulation.
So we see that starting with a model gives us an inherent bias that automatically skews our interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Personally, I don’t think that the models are very helpful. Using them encourages us to think that we know more about Revelation than we really do because the model tells us what the context is rather than a careful study of the text
I think that it makes more sense to let Revelation interpret itself using the keys that God inspired John to put within the book to help us unlock the meaning. In video number 4 we will find that Revelation is divided into eight major sections. These sections are arranged in a chiastic structure that builds to a climax at the very heart of the book. This chiastic structure will help us understand how the puzzle pieces of Revelation fit together.
In video 5 we will study a series of scenes based on the Old Testament sanctuary services that are markers for the eight major sections. The sanctuary scenes help to define the theme of each section and show how they fit in the flow of the Revelation narrative.
By the time we get to video 13, we will have gathered enough background information to establish a timeline that will enable us to identify the chronological context of each section. The point of this preview is that we will eventually get to where we can know where in the past, present, or future the various scenes of Revelation take place. But instead of using a model of interpretation, we will learn this by comparing the internal evidence within the Book of Revelation with the scriptural evidence found in the rest of the Bible, and in particular, the Old Testament scriptures that Revelation uses as reference material.
By now I hope you are convinced that a major key to interpretation is to compare Revelation with its scriptural links in the Old Testament. But the Old Testament is huge. Much of it’s content is not directly related to the Book of Revelation. And the links are not always easy to find with all the different translations of the Bible. With that in mind, I would like to take a few minutes to highlight some of the most relevant Old Testament passages.
You might consider this a homework assignment so that you can become more familiar with some of the scriptures that are foundational to an understanding of Revelation. You may find it helpful to take some notes or pause and take a screenshot of some of the verses that are listed in order to make yourself a study guide.
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, starts with the creation story (Genesis 1:1). Revelation chapter 4 tells us that heaven is full of praise for God the creator, and chapter 14 links God’s creation with the gospel as the foundation of powerful messages that go out to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people (Revelation 4:11, 14:7).
Genesis continues with the serpent tempting Adam and Eve to commit the original sin (Genesis 3). This is fundamental to understanding the Book of Revelation, which tells the story of how God finally brings sin to an end.
In Revelation, the “serpent” is identified as Satan, and in chapter 12 we see that he plays a major role as the instigator of the final crisis (Revelation 12, esp. verse9, 20:2). Genesis goes on to tell the stories of the Patriarchs who were the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel. Their last-day characteristics are described in Genesis 49, and this helps us identify the 144,000 (Revelation 7:4-8). Revelation concludes with the end of the curse that sin brought upon the earth, and the restoration of paradise and the tree of life (Genesis 2:8,9, 3:17-24, Revelation 2:7, 22:2,3,14)
The next book of the Bible, Exodus, has many links to Revelation. The central story is that God uses faithful Moses to bring His people out of slavery in Egypt so that they can become His chosen representatives in the promised land (Exodus 1-20). We see the same theme in the Book of Revelation: that multitudes of God’s people are enslaved by deception in symbolic Babylon. God’s faithful witnesses give the powerful call, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen… Come out of her My people” (Revelation 18:4), and God miraculously delivers them.
We see elements from Exodus all through Revelation. The plagues of Egypt, (Exodus 7-11) including water turned to blood, frogs, locusts, hail, sores, and darkness appear in the Seven Trumpets, the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:6), and the Seven Last Plagues (Revelation 16).
A Lamb that was slain for the Passover (Exodus 12) prefigures the Lamb who is the champion of Revelation; He is mentioned 25 times (eg. Revelation 5:6,8,12,13 et. al). After the victory at the Red Sea, the Children of Israel sing the song of Moses, which the redeemed in Revelation also sing on the sea of glass (Ex. 15, Rev. 15:3).
In both Exodus and Revelation God carries His people to safety in the wilderness on Eagle’s wings (Ex 19:4, Rev. 12:14). At Mt. Sinai God speaks to the people with thunder, lightning, voices, and earthquakes, and these are used as a symbol of escalating judgments in Revelation. God gives the 10 commandments, which are an identifying marker for His remnant in Revelation.
In particular, the fourth Sabbath commandment identifies the true God who “created the heavens and the earth the sea and all that is in them and rested the seventh day,” in contrast to the false gods who set up the mark of the beast. (Exodus 20:8-11, Rev. 5:13, 10:6, 12:12, 14:7, 21:1)
One of the most important symbols in the book of Revelation is the sanctuary that was built by Moses according to the pattern God showed him. The details of the construction are in Exodus chapters 25-40. The book of Hebrews tells us that the earthly sanctuary was modeled after the sanctuary in heaven, and the heavenly sanctuary is featured in the Book of Revelation with more than 40 references in 19 out of the 22 chapters. Here is a list of some of the important sanctuary verses (Revelation 1:4,12,13,20, 2:1,5, 3:8,12, 4:1-11, 5:1,6,7,8,11,13,14, 6:1,3,5,7,9,16, 7:9-11,15, 8:2,3-5, 9:13, 11:1,2,4,16,19, 12:5, 13:6, 14:1-5,15,17,18, 15:5-8, 16:1,7,17, 19:3-5, 20:11,12, 21:3,5,16,19,22, 22:1
The book of Leviticus details the sanctuary’s sacrificial services (Leviticus 1-9). Although there is a mind-numbing degree of detail, the services all symbolize the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins and help us understand more about the “Lamb as if it was slain” in Revelation chapter 5. Leviticus chapters 16 and 23 describe the Day of Atonement, which is a major focus of several of the sanctuary scenes that are used to organize the Book of Revelation.
The Book of Numbers is not just an endless list of names and genealogies; Chapter 2 describes the encampment of the 12 tribes around the sanctuary. There is an intriguing link between the tribes and the four living creatures who are important actors in Revelation. (Numbers 2, Revelation 4:6-9). And Numbers chapters 22-25 tells the story of Balaam, which provides the background we need to understand the mysterious “doctrine of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14).
The book of Deuteronomy ends with warnings and a curse on those who would attempt to alter what was written. Revelation ends with the same final warnings. (Deut. 4:2, 12:32, Rev. 22:18,19)
The long history portion of the Old Testament from Joshua through Esther has far fewer references, although there are a few important ones such as the apostasy of Dan and Ephraim (Judges 18, 1Kings 11:26-12:33, Revelation 7:4-8), the corrupt influence of Jezebel (1Kings 16:29-19:10, 21, Revelation 2:20-23), fire coming down from heaven (1Kings 18, 2Kings 1, Revelation 13:13,14), and the Babylonian captivity (2Kings 36, et. al., Revelation 14:8-19:21).
The book of Job pulls back the curtain to reveal a heavenly council where Satan challenges God and His faithful servant Job (Job 1 and 2). This passage gives us insight into the issues of the controversy between God and Satan, which is the central theme of Revelation (Revelation 5:1-4, 9:11, 11:7, 12:1-17, 13:2,11, 16:12-14, 19:19-21, 20:1-3,7-10) It also shows us why Satan has the title, “the accuser of the brethren who accuses them before God day and night” (Job 1:6-12, 2:4-7, Revelation 12:10)
The psalms are packed with themes, allusions, echoes, and references in Revelation. Psalm 2 is an important example providing insight into “the nations [who] rage…against the Lord and against His anointed… He will break them with a rod of iron” (Psalm 2, Revelation 2:27, 12:5, 19:15). We see the fulfillment of this in Revelation 19.
The book of Isaiah is rich in references. Of particular relevance is the “key of David” to “the open door that no one can shut” (Isaiah 22:15-25, Rev. 3:7,4:1). Isaiah also describes the fall of Lucifer, (Isaiah 14:12-15, Revelation 12:9), the condition of the earth during the millennium, (Isaiah 24, Revelation 20:1-3), and the new Jerusalem (Isaiah 60, Revelation 21,22)
The book of Jeremiah gives insight into ancient Babylon showing how God used her to chastise His people and then delivered His people from Babylon by bringing about her downfall and destruction (Jeremiah 20-52). This is the major theme of Revelation chapters 12-19.
The book of Ezekiel has dozens of links to Revelation, and they are among the most important ones to help us understand what Revelation is teaching. The prophet sees a vision of God’s throne and judgment of Jerusalem in chapters 1-11 that opens up the meaning of the Seven Seals.
The four living creatures that surround the throne are also key players in Revelation (Ezekiel 1, 10, Revelation 4:6-11, 5:6,8,14, 6:-8, 7:11, 14:3, 15:7, 19:4). Before destructive judgments are poured out an angel puts a protective mark on the foreheads of the faithful people; this prefigures the sealing in the foreheads of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 (Ezekiel 9:1-6, Revelation 7:1-8, 9:4)
Both John and Ezekiel are given a book to eat and a message to deliver (Ezekiel 2:8-3:4, Revelation 10:8,9). They are both tasked with measuring the temple (Ezekiel 40:1-4, Revelation 11:1,2, 21:15-17). They both record an extensive lament with similar language about the decadence and corruption that have oppressed and enslaved God’s children (Ezekiel 26:15-27:36, Revelation 18).
Like Isaiah, Ezekiel reveals the origin, fall, and ultimate destruction of Satan, which is outlined in Revelation 20 (Ezekiel 28:11-19). Ezekiel gives details about the attack that Gog and Magog will launch against God’s faithful people (Ezekiel 38-39:16, Revelation 20:7-10). And both prophets show us the river of life and the tree of life that will be present in the eternal kingdom (Ezekiel 47:1-12, Revelation 22:1-4)
Hosea, Joel, and Zechariah are the most relevant of the minor prophets. Of particular interest is the locust army in Joel (Joel 1,2, Revelation 9:1-11) and the colored horses in Zechariah (Zechariah 1:7-17, 6:1-8, Revelation 6:1-8).
Saving the best for last, the Book of Revelation is most like the visions in the book of Daniel. Like Revelation, Daniel’s visions are highly symbolic, and even have some of the same beasts, horns, and time periods (Daniel 7:3-6,25, Revelation 13:1,2, 12:14).
Because Daniel provides a compelling model and framework for Revelation, the next video will focus on the prophetic visions of Daniel. We will see how they are structured, what the main themes are, and how these apply to the Book of Revelation.
I’ve given you a lot of Old Testament scriptures to read, and as you look at them for perhaps the first time it may not be obvious how they relate to the Book of Revelation. But as we look carefully and compare scriptures I can promise that the puzzle pieces will start to come together. The reward of understanding God’s word and His plans for our lives more than makes up for the hard work of digging deep to find the treasure that is hidden in the symbols and scriptural links of Revelation
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To see all the videos in this series check out the Revelation of Jesus playlist. These videos are based on the book “A Revelation of Jesus” by David Lackey; you can order a copy of the book on Amazon or other online bookstores, or read it online at RevelationofJesus.net