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Some think Revelation is all about the first century church and the Emperor Nero while others think it exclusively relates to a 7 year window before the end of the world.
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Is there a way forward? John describes himself as a “partner in the tribulation” (1:9), describing events which “must soon take place” (1:1), yet referring to the past, present and future (things seen, those that are, those that are to take place 1:19).
Below I outline 6 principles.
Trans-temporal- past, present future principle
Opposites- who is versing who?
Power- where does ultimate power lie?
Parallelism- not strictly chronological
Unsealing- immediate relevance to the original audience/ context
Names on Bodies- spiritual identities as symbols
- Trans-temporal- the past, present and future principle
Revelation has relevance to the past (before it was written), present (time of writing) and future. It is written to the “seven churches that are in Asia (modern day Turkey)” (1:4). Yet, Jesus, who the book is about as the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) is the “Alpha and Omega” (1:8), “the first and the last” (1:17), “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:8), the living one who died and is alive forevermore (1:18).
Hence, even though Revelation was written to a specific audience, the revelation stems from a Being who extends beyond the time of writing- extending to the past (who was), the present (who is) and the future (is to come).
This past, present, future principle is laid out explicitly in 1:19 when Jesus asks John to write the things that he has “seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this”. Five of the beast heads had fallen, one was at the time of writing and another had not yet come (Rev. 17:10). The beast is composed of multiple beasts which refer back to Daniel 7, indicating a trans-temporal force with manifestation over time (13:1–2). Further, the beast is described as one who “was and is not and is to come” (17:8).
2. Opposites- who is versing who?
Revelation is a book of opposites. Some examples:
- The mark of the beast (13:16–18) v seal of God (14:1–2)
- The whore of Babylon (17) v Jerusalem bride (21:2)
- The city of man (17–18) v city of God (21–22)
- The beast (13,17) v the Lamb (5)
- The multitude of believers who worship the Lamb (7:9) v the multitude who dwell on the earth and worship the beast (13:8, 17:15)
- Jesus who died and rose (1:18) versus beast who returned from a mortal wound (13:14)
- The truth leading to worship of Christ (12:11) versus false prophet deception leading to beast worship (13:14)
- The sea the beast arises from (13:1–2) versus city of God with no sea (21:1)
3. Power- who is ultimately in control?
Revelation can appear a chaotic and out of control book, yet God allows this. This doesn’t mean God directly causes evil, for God is not an author of sin but rather God allows things to run their natural course to an extent as the influence of the dragon, beast and false prophet pervades the earth.
The beast arises from the sea which to the audience represents chaos, danger and uncertainty. Yet, the revelation comes from Christ who is the first and the last (1:17), the Almighty (1:8). The seven seals are opened, not by the beast but by the Lamb (6:1–2). Satan is not sovereign, for his time is limited (12:12).
The beast is allowed to make war against the saints and to conquer them (13:7). At times destruction is limited to “a fourth of the earth” (6:8) and not able to touch the “oil and the wine” (6:6). Damage is limited under God’s sovereign plan despite the chaos. Finally, the Lord’s wrath shall destroy “the destroyers of the earth” (11:18).
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4. Parallelism- not strictly chronological
Many people think the seals, trumpets and bowls follow chronologically. However, there is evidence the seals, trumpets and bowls follow a structure of progressive parallelism. There is escalation- things do seem to get worse, hence, the progressive nature.
Nonetheless, the seventh of seals, bowls and trumpets all end with the same event implying they are parallels- lighting, thunder, rumblings and an earthquake (8:5, 11:19, 16:18).
At the seventh trumpet the saints are rewarded and workers of evil destroyed for good (11:18) before the seven bowls are even listed.
There are further parallels- the battle of Armageddon is mentioned in 16:16 and after this “it is done” (16:17) and God’s wrath is complete. Yet, the beast and false prophet waged war against Christ in 19:17–21.
Moreover, evil forces from the bottomless pit are released in both the fifth trumpet (9:2) and the final war (20:7). The battles in chapters 19 and 20 both rely heavily on imagery from the same passage in Ezekiel 38–39 implying potential parallels here as well.
The beast makes war and conquers saints in both 11:7 and 13:7 while chapter 12 in between these two passages retells the birth of Christ (12:5) which clearly took place before 11:7 chronologically.
5. Unsealing- immediate relevance to the audience/ context
Unlike the book of Daniel where Daniel is told to seal the words of the book until the time of the end (Dan. 12:9), Revelation involves the opposite- an unsealing (Rev. 5:6- 6:1), implying immediate relevance and importance to the audience. Revelation refers to events which must “soon take place” (1:1).
John describes himself as a “partner in the tribulation (thlipsei in Greek) ” (1:9), implying he is not exclusively referring to events in the distant future but events with immediate relevance to the audience.
As a result, the historical context of Roman persecution of Christians, emperor worship, imperial cult, dark arts used to lead people to worship Caesar, first century exclusion from economic activity for Christians and much more are very important in understanding Revelation. The Old Testament is very important context for understanding Revelation. Some scholars estimate there are over 1000 allusions, parallels and quotes from the Old Testament in the book.
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6. Names on bodies principle- spiritual identities
In Revelation, names on bodies represent spiritual identity- who you ultimately belong to or are. Can this have physical manifestations? Yes, but it is fundamentally spiritual.
- Name of God and city God written on loyal followers (3:12)
- Beast has blasphemous names on its heads (13:1)
- The worshippers of the beast have his name on their right hand and forehead (13:8, 13:16–18)
- God’s chosen people have the Lamb and the Father’s name written on their foreheads (14:1)
- Babylon the whore has a name of mystery on her forehead (17:5)
- Jesus has a name on his head no one knows but himself (19:12)
- Jesus has King of kings and Lord of lords written on his robe and thigh (19:16)
- Christ’s followers have his name on their foreheads in the New Jerusalem (22:4)
Where does all this leave you amongst the chaos of our world?
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