Reading the Book of Revelation Today, Part 1

Revelation 1

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John… [see ESV below].

Fear of the Revelation Unfounded

Many Christians shy away from the last book in the Bible. John Calvin (pictured left) John Calvin 1844 etchingwrote a commentary on every New Testament Book except Revelation [see Venema below]. He wrote one on Daniel, so we know he was capable of interpreting prophetic/apocalyptic books.

Once I had a church member say she wouldn’t come to our mid-week Bible study on Revelation because “she didn’t understand the book.” I responded that she would gain understanding from the class. She still declined to attend.

In another church, I had an officer ask me to stop my series on Revelation because people were tired of hearing about it (this was code for “I am tired of hearing about it”).

Perhaps all of the above forgot what John writes in Rev. 1:3—

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

I would like to make a few introductory comments about reading Revelation in the 21st Century. This part may appear too technical, but I want you to know how I approach Revelation and then I assure you, I will get into the text in the third post. I will not proceed verse-by-verse. This gets one bogged down with the trees and loses sight of the forest.

Revelation is not a Chronology of the very End of History

Revelation is not a newspaper account of the “End Times.” We should not forget “what John sees is not heaven or [our] universe itself but a symbolic vision.” [emphasis mine; see Hendriksen, p. 128 below]. I would add we should not assume John saw tanks, missiles, bombs, etc. from 21st Century warfare.

Four horsemen and helocopters

Not what John saw in his vision.

Neither, does John receive a detailed, chronological map of the very end of history. We ought to read Revelation in light of its meaning to the original audience and make application to our own lives from its theology.

The introduction promises a blessing to “those who hear and keep” the prophetic word given. Prophesy in the Revelation is telling-forth of the Word of God like the Old Testament prophets did. The foretelling of future events is not the primary reason for Revelation. It is a symbolic vision, not a telescopic view of our future.

A Seen Vision becomes a Written One

Albrecht Durer’s attempt to picture the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse below—


From seeing this picture, we can deduce it says more about Durer’s day than any other age.

What John saw, he wrote down so his churches and future Christians could read it. We are not to assign contemporary incidents as fulfillment of what is written there. Such fanciful speculations would have been meaningless, even ridiculous,  to John’s churches. Any interpretation we make must be derived from the significance to the original readers.

A sound interpretation of the Apocalypse must take as its starting point the position that the book was intended for believers living in John’s day and age [see Hendriksen, p. 14 below].

So, I propose to shed light on the theology of the Book instead of seeking future prophetic and political fulfillments. As you can see, I do not subscribe to the “Left Behind” series of films and books and their view of the Revelation.

John as a Re-interpreter of the Old Testament

There are some 550 references to the Old Testament in the Revelation. None are direct quotations but are allusions. (see Fruchtenbaum below).

Note the following use of the Old Testament book of Daniel in the vision of the Risen Christ in Revelation 1—

White like wool (Daniel 7:9)
One like a son of man, coming with the clouds (Daniel 7:13)
Belt of the fine gold (Daniel 10:5)
Eyes like flaming torches (Daniel 10:6)
Arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze (Daniel 10:6)
Like the sound of a multitude (Daniel 10:6)

John often uses the Old Testament language to describe what he’s seen and heard. (emphasis mine; see 7 Tips below).

However, neither the Old Testament prophecies nor the Revelation is chronological in its presentation of visionary events. John uses Old Testament images, but often re-interprets them to enable his visionary experience to become a written account. (see Fee below).

More next time! And then, to the Text of Chapter 1!!!


7 Tips for Understanding Revelation. (2017). Zondervan Blog. Accessed January 11, 2019 from

ESV. English Standard Version retrieved from

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (2007). Accessed January 11, 2019 from

Hendriksen, William. (1939). More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, ,MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

Venema, Cornelis. (2012). TableTalk magazine. “Interpreting Revelation.” Accessed January 11, 2019 from

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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