I have been asked many times during the pandemic (and before) if this is "the end," if the return of the Lord is imminent as proved by the signs of the times. Some have referred to the book of Revelation, which certainly seems to describe cataclysmic global events like we have recently witnessed. My answer is always the same, "I don't know if this is the end, but I am closer to my end than I have ever been." The truth is I don't know and no one else does either. All we can do is be faithful to this day and trust the Lord for tomorrow.
Years ago, I wrote a commentary on Revelation called The Revelation Project: A Fresh Look at the Last Book and then edited and re-released it as part of my Live the Word Commentary series. My perspective in both books flew in the face of most commonly held interpretations. I recently re-read the introduction to both books and thought it may be helpful if I shared it with you. My purpose is to continue my work to reclaim and revive the last book of the Bible from the zany and bizarre interpretations many hold that cause them to mistakenly examine current affairs under the light of Revelation's message. Here is what I had to say in my introduction.
I suppose it's natural for us to think about the end of time and speculate concerning what will happen leading up to the end and beyond. Due to the popularity of fiction books that focus on the end times, along with the commonly held and taught positions on the meaning of the rapture, the millenium, and the antichrist, people study Revelation, along with Daniel, Ezekiel, and some parts of the gospel accounts. Many are looking for the beast, the dragon, and the meaning of the number 666, among other things mentioned in Revelation.
Yet as you start this commentary, I'm asking you to do something completely counterintuitive: Suspend any and all preconceived notions you have accumulated about Revelation, just for as long as you read this book. I don’t want you to think as a pre- or post-millenialist. If you tend more to be a preterist, futurist, historicist, or even an idealist (and if you aren't familiar with those four labels, please don't spend much time researching them), I want you to approach this book like you know nothing at all. If you don’t do that, then you will approach my book or a reading of Revelation looking for the familiar, consequently not seeing what else may be there. If you go looking for the antichrist, that's all you'll see. If you can go looking for the Christ, you may notice things you have not seen before.
That brings me to my main objective for writing this commentary and that is I want you to read Revelation, approaching it as a devotional book. My reason for this is because that is how you approach, at least in part, the other 65 books of the Bible. You usually read those books asking, “What can I learn from this that will help me in my daily walk? What can I learn about God’s will for my life? What can I learn about the Lord Jesus that will enhance my worship and walk with Him?”
Once you suspend your preconceived notions of what Revelation is or how you have interpreted it, here are some other guidelines I have set up as you work through the material, just so you know how I'm approaching this work:
- Revelation isn't a book primarily about the future. It's a book about the past. This doesn't mean there are no future aspects to Revelation. There most certainly are. Yet the other 65 books of the Bible primarily explain how God has worked among His people, culminating in the work of Christ on the cross. The Old Testament basically tells us that Christ is coming. The New Testament explains the implications for His finished work and Ascension to heaven. Revelation has much to tell us about Christ’s work just like the other books do.
- Revelation is a book about the Christ, not the Antichrist. Yes, Revelation does depict the work of forces that align themselves against the Lord and His Anointed One, but their actions are shown to be futile in light of God’s superior power and authority and the finished work of Christ on the cross. Focusing on the enemies of God has tended to magnify their power and actions. We are never to magnify the enemy, only God.
- Revelation had to mean something to the churches that initially received it. The New Testament was written to the Church in all ages, and Revelation is no exception. The gospel of Matthew has meaning for us today, but it also meant something to those for whom it was first written—the Jews of the first century. If we can grasp and recapture some of what Revelation could have meant to the early church, then we will have a clearer understanding of what it says to us today.
- Revelation is also called the Apocalypse because it's a book that utilizes apocalyptic language and images. The word apocalypse literally means unveiling. It was a genre of literature that was well-known to the early church, but almost a complete mystery to us today. There were specific rules of interpretation for apocalyptic literature then, just like there are for satire and science fiction today. You approach those latter types of literature with certain expectations and rules for interpretation. You must do the same as you read Revelation. Much of Revelation employs graphic and exaggerated symbols and metaphors, intended to give a general “bird’s eye view” of the work of Christ as He rules until all His enemies are His footstool. Those metaphors aren't to be interpreted as literally as some have done. When Revelation wants us to know what something represents, it tells us. When it doesn't, be careful not to assign specific meanings that may even make some sense, but aren't supported by biblical evidence.
- Revelation wasn't intended to generate fear, but trust and confidence in God. If the other 65 books of the Bible were intended to teach reverence for God and confidence in His ability to protect His people, then why would Revelation be any different? Yet the Bible and Revelation do tell the sinner—those who are apart from God and in open rebellion—to fear. He will not remain silent or inactive forever but will eventually judge His enemies, both in this Age and at the Final Judgment. If anyone should fear when reading Revelation, it's not God’s people but those who do not know Him. Of course, they are not reading it and our depictions of it do little to draw them to Christ.
There you have my basic approach to the reading, study, and interpretation of Revelation. It is a book of victory, not of defeat, and I resent just a little those who have made it be something else. It matters what you believe about the end for that will direct how you live. I want to live as one who exalts daily in the truth that Jesus has taken on, and will continue to do so, all comers and is still winner and champion. Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!