series by Michael Catt continued
Operational Definitions terms, symbols and methods of interpretation to be familiar with in the study of Revelation
Revelation was written to seven churches. These churches were located on the great Circular Road of Asia. Each city mentioned in chapters two and three were 30-50 miles apart. The Revelation lists them in the sequence of the letter carrier. The trip begins at Ephesus and goes clockwise to Laodicea.
Patmos, where John was exiled, was located about 37 miles Southwest of the coast of Asia. The island was very small and was used as a Roman penal colony.
To fully grasp the truth, we need to clear up a few issues (if that’s possible with such a discussed and dissected book.
Symbols Used In Revelation:
The book was written ‘to show His servants what must soon take place’ – Rev. 1:1. The Greek word used here means ‘to signify’ or to set forth in symbols.
We must exercise extreme caution and not become mindless zealots in creating images or assigning meaning to every detail of Revelation. If you can figure it out, there’s not must to it. John Stott writes, “It is important to remember that the imagery he uses is intended to be symbolic rather than pictorial. The various elements in the vision are significant symbols to be interpreted, rather than actual features to be imagined.” Following this truth alone would put most of the writers of ‘end time’ books out of business.
Abomination – something detestable, especially to God.
Abyss – the underworld home of demons
Antichrist – anyone who opposes God or Christ, but especially the evil leader at the end of the age that Christ will overthrow and defeat at His Second Coming.
Apocalyptic refers to the prediction of imminent disaster and total destruction. In theological terms this means the climatic triumph at the end of the age when God fulfills His divine purpose. The three primary books of Apocalyptic material are Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation (although as mentioned earlier some aspects of Revelation are not ‘purely’ apocalyptic).
Babylon – the name of a wicked city and empire in the Old Testament (6th century B.C.); also a code name for another evil city in the book of Revelation.
Dispensational Theology – The Oxford English Dictionary defines a theological dispensation as ‘a stage in a progressive revelation, expressly adapted to the needs of a particular nation or period of time….also, the age or period during which a system has prevailed.” The English word ‘dispensation’ translates the Greek noun oikonomia, often rendering ‘administration’ in modern translations. The verb oikonomeo refers to a manager of a household. Charles Ryrie notes, “In the New Testament, dispensation means to manage or administer the affairs of a household as, for example, in the Lord’s story of the unfaithful steward in Luke 16.” The word is composed of oikos, ‘house’ and nomos, ‘law.’ Etymologically it indicates, ‘the law of the house,’ from which we get our idea of stewardship or administration.
A dispensation is a divine plan of the affairs of God’s house, which, committed to men, becomes a stewardship which they are required to discharge faithfully.
The various forms of the word dispensation are used in the New Testament twenty times. According to the Dictionary of Theological Terms by Alan Cairns, “It is unfortunate that in modern times, premillennialism has become almost synonymous with dispensationalism. While it is true that dispensationalists are premillennial, premillennialism does not necessarily lead to dispensationalism, with such ideas as the pre-tribulation secret rapture, and the exclusion of O.T. believers and future Jewish believers from the covenant blessings and relationship enjoyed by the church. There are valid arguments against such theories, but they do not directly impinge on the doctrine of the millennium.
According to the Moody Handbook of Theology – “Dispensationalism is a system of interpretation that seeks to establish a unity in Scripture through its central focus on the grace of God.” While dispensationalists differ in the number of dispensations, they teach that ‘response to God’s revelation in each dispensation is by faith (salvation is always by grace through faith).
Dispensational theology, in it’s development was introduced as early as Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165) and includes early Church fathers such as; Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200, Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-220), and Augustine (A.D. 354-430). Hymn writer and theologian, Isaac Watts recognized dispensations as conditional ages where God had certain expectations of men and made conditional promises and prohibitions to them.
Two of the key proponents of this theological thoughts were John Nelson Darby and C. I. Scofield. Neither, contrary to popular opinion, originated the idea. Darby believed each dispensation places man under some condition; man has some responsibility before God, yet each dispensation ends in failure.
Scofield, in Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth, believed that there are seven dispensations.
Dispensational theology would not put a premium on numbering the dispensations but on admitting they exist. The proponents of this view believe in the principle of differing economies or ‘house law’ within God’s revelation.
The key to dispensational theology is its focus on the glory of God. It centers on God, not man. Whereas, Covenant theology can be seen to center more on the salvation of man. The dispensationalists does not believe that nondispensationalist do not believe in God’s glory. Rather, they make the point that God is glorified in history in many ways, not just through the salvation of man.
Dispensational Theology supports….
Eschatology – the teaching of Scripture concerning the final consummation of all things. A study of ‘last things.’ The Greek word is eschatos, ‘last’; the part of the systematic theology that deals with last things. Eschatology sets forth the truth that history will reach an appointed consummation. It covers the subjects of the Second Coming of Christ, the millennium, the resurrection of the dead and heaven and hell. Christians believe that in the future, God’s work will be consummated and God will be glorified in all His creation. The destructive power of sin will be overcome and every knee will bow before Jesus as Lord.
This concept is rooted in such passages as Isa.2:2; Micah 4:1; Acts 2:17; 2 Tim 3:1; 2 Peter 3:3; 1 Peter 1:20; Jude 18; 1 John 2:18.
Christians do not view history as an unending cycle but a definite process that is moving toward a divinely orchestrated end. While it is unclear all that will happen in ‘the day of Christ’ (Phil 1:6,10), ‘the day of the Lord Jesus’ (2 Cor.1:14; 1 Cor. 1:8) and the ‘day of the Lord’ (Acts 2:20; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10-12) – one thing is clear, God has a plan and it has been set in motion.
Regardless of where one stands theologically (pre, post or a millennial), Christians have, for the most part, been in agreement over the explanation of death, the believer’s immediate presence with the Lord, the hope of Christ’s return, the resurrection, judgment and eternity. Typically, the controversy concerning eschatology is limited to the discussion of ‘last things.’
Millennium – a thousand year period in which the martyrs are rewarded; the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth (Rev. 20:2-7).
Pre-millennial. Jesus will personally and physically return to earth and establish the millennial kingdom. A literal reign of Christ on earth for one thousand calendar years. The 1000 year reign follows the Second Coming. Therefore the Second Coming will be preceded by a series of incredible events and signs. These are pre-millennial . It precedes the millennial. Those holding this view generally interpret the Revelation in a futurist sense. In early church history, this view was known as chiliasm, and was widely accepted. In the Middle Ages, chiliasm was rejected as heretical and this may have been why Luther dismissed it as ‘the dream’ of Christ reigning on earth.
Post-millennial. The kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of souls. The 1000 year reign precedes the Second Coming. The Second Coming is post-millennial. Some believe in a literal 1000 year reign (B.H. Carrol); others say it is not a literal calendar reign, but means an indefinite period of time. Most Post do not think of reign as a literal reign but as a spiritual reign. This view is basically dead, because those who held this view believed the world would get better and better.
A-millennial. Do not believe there will be a literal reign of 1000 calendar years. The 1000 years is an indefinite period of time. Most say that from the First Coming to the Second Coming is this 1000 year reign. Christ is reigning now. We are living in the millennium. This theory rests totally on a symbolic interpretation of Revelation 20:2-7 and the same type of treatment of the ‘millennial’ passages of the Old Testament. They believe the kingdom of God is both present and future.
You need to be aware that dispensational theology is not the only theological approach to Scripture by conservative theologians. The other is called Covenant theology.
Covenant Theology – a system of interpreting Scripture on the basis of two covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. God made a covenant with Adam, promising eternal life for obedience and death for disobedience. Adam sinned, and death entered in. God, however, entered into a covenant of grace with Christ as the ultimate and final mediator of God’s grace.
According to Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, page 144, “The parties to the former covenant were God and Adam. The promise of the covenant was life. The proviso was perfect obedience by Adam. And the penalty of failure was death. To save man from the penalty of his disobedience, a second covenant, made from all eternity, came into operation, namely, the covenant of grace. Throughout the Old Testament period there were successive proclamations of this covenant.”
Although the New Testament believers were under the same covenant, it was a better covenant because it was now administered by Christ instead of Moses. (Heb. 3:5,6).
“The covenant of grace is treated under two aspects. The first is a Godward aspect, under which it is sometimes called the covenant of redemption. The parties are God and Christ; the proviso is the Son’s perfect obedience even to his death….and the promise is salvation for all believers. The second is a manward aspect, in which the parties are God and the believer; the promise is eternal life; and the proviso faith in Jesus Christ as the only ‘work’ required of the believer.” One of the earliest statements of covenant theology is in the Westminster Confession of 1647. Primarily the theology of Reformed churches.
Covenant theology maintains that the Mosaic economy was an administration of the covenant of grace. ‘God never intended the moral law to be a way of salvation for sinful Israelites. He did not teach or offer the Jews salvation by works. When He gave the decalogue He also gave the ceremonial sacrificial system, which plainly pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’
Rapture Dispensationalists believe the church will be removed from the earth so that Israel’s destiny can be fulfilled. The rapture — parousia – marks the end ‘of the times of the Gentiles’ mentioned in Luke 21:24. During the rapture, believers will be caught up or taken up from the earth to meet Christ in the air. The unbelieving world will not see this, but they will experience the effects of it.
No preconditions exist that require the Lord to delay coming for His church. At the moment of the rapture, the saints who have already died in Christ will be resurrected and join the living believers as they meet the Lord in the air.
A small minority of dispensationalists hold different views on the rapture. One, Some believe only those who are faithful and watching will be caught up. The careless Christian will go through the tribulation. Two, others believe the rapture occurs at the 3 ½ year point of the tribulation. The third position is the church will go through the tribulation and receive supernatural protection. These three views are not held by the majority. Most believe in a pre-trib rapture.
Revelation – generally, God’s deliberate disclosure of Himself and His purposes through words and deeds; specifically, the name of the last book of the Bible because it reveals God and His purposes for the end of time.
Tribulation – trouble, persecution; Great Tribulation refers to the difficult times of martyrdom and the intense persecution just prior to Jesus coming. (Matt.24:21).
The Holy Spirit will remove his restraining hand (2 Thess.2:6,7) and all hell will break lose on earth. During this time the 10 nation confederacy, the Antichrist, the 4 Horsemen and the False Prophet will run rampant on the earth. During the tribulation, many will turn to Christ after hearing the preaching of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3-12).
The Year 2000. For several years, we’ve made much of the new millennium and the year 2000. We’ve all heard and studied about Y2K and dozens of books have been written on the subject. There are many in Western civilization that think the whole world revolves around the year 2000. People have tried to set dates and deadlines.
However, we have made a wrong assumption. In reality, a significant part of the world’s population operates on a different calendar than we do.
Calendars, throughout history, have been based on (pick one) the new moon (a lunar month being 29 ½ days and a lunar year being 11 days shorter than a solar year). The Roman calendar in 46 B.C. was based completely on the movements of the sun without reference to the moon. The ‘Julian’ Calendar was based on a year of 365 1/4 with an extra day added every four years.
The Christian church adopted the Julian calendar, but around 525 A.D. a Roman monk, Dionysius Exiguus came up with the idea of a Christian era beginning with the nativity of Jesus. He set the birth of Jesus as year 1 – but he made a mistake in his calculations. Actually, Jesus was born around 4 or 5 B.C. – this calendar wasn’t fully adopted until 200 years later.
Pope Gregory XII with the help of an astronomer, wanted a corrected calendar and in 1582 issued a calendar reform. On the night of October 4, 1582 people went to bed as usual, but when they woke up the next morning, it was 11 days later – October 15. (Maybe that was the beginning of daylight savings time).
The calendar used by the Russian and Orthodox Church is thirteen days behind the one used in the Western world. And on and on it goes. To give you a quick overview of the problem with the 2000 craze:
Our year 2000 on the Christian calendar is:
(no word yet on what year it is on the Hunks and Babes calendar available at your local secular bookstore).
Basic Principles For Interpreting Revelation
Figurative Language. All languages use some type of figure of speech in communication. These should be recognized and interpreted in light of the 1st century readers. The book was written to reveal Jesus Christ and give the believers hope. Jesus wanted His church to have a Biblical world view of events and the times. They were to view life from God’s perspective.
Keep It Simple. The simplest explanation of complex information is generally preferred in science as well as Scripture, unless there is some compelling reason to view it differently. Don’t try to read something into every word or phrase. While the book is challenging to study, it is not so veiled and complex that we can not understand its basic message to us. Nor should we spiritualize it that it becomes nothing more than a book of parables or allegories.
Jesus wasn’t trying to impress seminary theologians, he was seeking to reveal Himself to His church, His children. His concerns were real, not academic.
Read It With Hope In Your Heart. The Bible is a book of hope. The Scriptures are ‘eschatological’ even when we talk about hope. God’s people know the best is yet to come. Jesus Christ is our blessed hope. We hope and pray for His return. See Romans 8:18,23,24; Rom. 5:2; 1 Peter 1:3-6. As Scotty Smith says, “Hope does not replace grief and trials, it wondrously transforms them.”
Don’t Interpret Out Of Context. Reading a passage in context would solve 90% of our interpretation problems. Every text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text!!!!
Make Sure You Understand What The Phrase ‘Literal Interpretation’ Means. To literally interpret any portion of Scripture we must carefully identify the literary style or genre of the text. The Bible contains many different styles of writing (as mentioned before). To rightly divide the Word of God we must use the appropriate rules of exegesis so we can accurately interpret what is written.
Leave Your Baggage At The Door. No other book has been so poorly preached and interpreted like Revelation. We’ve had many false claims, teachings and movements built on an inaccurate interpretation of this book. Most of what we know about Revelation, we know 2nd hand – we heard a preacher or read one book and swallowed their interpretation whole. In case you missed it, go back and read the last part of Charlie Drapers analysis of the different views. NOBODY is ALWAYS right.
Martin Luther commented, “Everyone thinks of the book (Revelation) whatever his spirit imparts.” Let’s not draw swords and cut people off if they have a slightly different view than ours concerning a particular millennial position. Let God’s children agree, we will not be overly simplistic or arrogantly dogmatic. We want to know the Truth – Truth sets you free, it doesn’t start arguments or split hairs on non-essentials.
Let’s not break fellowship over interpretation. We won’t know who was right until Jesus comes and set’s all things right. Until then, we should agree to be teachable disciples who pray, “Lord, open my eyes that I might behold wonderful things in Thy Word.”
When John got His glimpse of the Lord Jesus, he fell at His feet as a dead man. He didn’t get out a chart; He didn’t build a theological system. He was overwhelmed by the awesome revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. John walked with Jesus for three years. He wrote the Gospel of John and three epistles to churches. But He had never seen Jesus like this before. Maybe, God willing, we can study this book and get a new, fresh glimpse of Jesus. If we do, it will affect our heart and our worship like never before. Speak to my heart Lord Jesus.
Suggested Resources for further study
Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary, Edited by Steve Gregg. Nelson Publishing.
Revelation. Warren W. Wiersbe. Victor Books
Exploring Revelation. John Phillips. Moody Press
The New Millennium Manual. A Once and Future Guide. Robert, Clouse, Robert Hosack, Richard Pierard. Baker Books (an excellent overview of ‘last days’ thinking through the ages).
The Last Days Are Here Again. Richard Kyle. Baker Books. (A more scholarly work than the above, on ‘end times fever’ and an excellent resource on the historical movements and beliefs related to end times).
The Book of Revelation. Lehman Strauss. Loizeaux Brothers.
Every Prophecy of the Bible. John F. Walvoord. Chariot Victor Publishing. (Strongly pre-millennial, but one of the strongest writers of the 20th century on prophecy from this viewpoint).
Other books on The Second Coming, not necessarily on Revelation.
Jesus Final Warning. David Jeremiah. Word Publishing.
When Christ Comes. Max Lucado. Word Publishing. Good devotional material.
2ProphetU is an online magazine/website, started by Warren Wiersbe and Michael Catt, to build up the church, seek revival, and encourage pastors.