The Key to Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Revelation is the most misinterpreted book in the entire Bible. The reason for this is very simple. The problem is the starting point.

Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Many people begin their interpretation of Revelation with their newspaper or television. They see what is happening in the world and then interpret Revelation through that lens. That is the wrong starting point.

How do we interpret other books of the Bible? If we want to interpret the Psalms, we look at them as poetry. If we want to interpret the Gospels, we look at them as biographies. If we want to interpret Acts, we look at it as history. If we want to interpret Paul’s letters, we look at them as epistles. How do we see Revelation?

Many people do not realize that Revelation is not unique but rather is a part of an existing genre called apocalyptic literature. There are some early examples of this, such as sections of Daniel and Zechariah.

However, if you really want to understand the symbolic language of Revelation, I would suggest that you familiarize yourself with some of the contemporary Jewish apocalyptic texts. Some of the ones that you should read include: 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra (2 Esdras) and 2 Baruch. There are others, but this is a good place start.

I am not saying that these other texts are inspired or authoritative. What I am saying is that Revelation is communicating in a similar way as these other apocalyptic texts. By reading these and other texts, you can learn the vocabulary of apocalyptic literature and thus be in a better position to correctly interpret Revelation.

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