The Other Key to Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Previously, I wrote on the key to interpreting the Book of Revelation. The point I was trying to make was that we need to interpret Revelation within its genre, which is apocalyptic literature. We should read other apocalyptic texts to help us understand the grammar of apocalyptic writing.

Well, here is the other key to interpreting the Book of Revelation.

Saint John of Patmos
Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is something that is not unique to Revelation. We should always ask why a particular book of the Bible was written. What was the intention of the author? We may have certain interests, but we must always start with the interest of the author.

The mistake that certain interpreters of Revelation make is they assume that Revelation was written to give the modern church clues about the nature of the end-times (date, countries involved, identity of the anti-christ, etc.). There is absolutely no reason to believe that was the intention of the author.

Revelation was written to Christians that were undergoing persecution. Revelation was written to encourage them that no matter what they were facing, evil would eventually be defeated and God’s kingdom would come in its fullness. In modern terms, they were given spoilers about how the story would end (or how how it would begin again).

How do we know this? It starts with letters to the seven churches. I have heard people attempt to interpret these letters prophetically. Seeing the prophetic nature of the rest of the book, they attempt to interpret the seven letters through that lense. Instead, we should read the seven letters naturally and interpret the rest of the book through that lense. These seven churches were real churches going through real persecution. They were the primary audience. If you are looking for a good book on the seven churches, I recommend this book by William Barclay.

Am I saying that there is nothing to learn about the second coming of Jesus in Revelation? Not at all. The return of Jesus is an important theme. What I am saying is that Revelation is not a book of clues to solve a mystery. Revelation is a book of encouragement to remind us God wins.

 

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