At one point in time, I was teaching an adult Sunday School class. During the normal quarterly rotation, the focus switched to the study of the Book of Revelation. I thought... this will be great, because the study of the end times has always been an interest of mine.
When I got the quarterly, published by the denomination's publishing house, I discovered that the study was written by someone who thought the entire book described the times of the early church. There was nothing about unfulfilled prophecy in the quarterly that I could find. I must admit that I gave up reading after a few lessons, so they could have straightened out by the end, but it wasn't looking good for what I did read.
I decided that there was no way that I could teach the subject as they had written it, and got the permission of the pastor to teach it as I understood it. He said that would be fine as he agreed with my interpretation anyway. I took that quarter and the next (since 3 months isn't enough time to do justice to the subject) and studied Revelation, Daniel, and the Olivet prophecy with the class. These studies are included here for you to read. We didn't spend a lot of time on the Millennium period outside of what is mentioned in Revelation because references to it are really scattered through many other Bible books. Perhaps if I get time I'll add that to the pages here.
After that, I resigned my teaching post and not long after that we left the church and the denomination. Some would call that an extreme response but I decided that if that big an error made it past the editors of the adult quarterly, who knew what errors were making it past the kid's quarterly editors. I would challenge you to ensure that what you are being taught lines up with the Bible 100% of the time. It doesn't matter if the source is the pulpit, a Sunday School teacher, or literature printed by the denomination or the church itself. You need to study the Bible yourself so you will know when something is wrong. Don't rely on being spoon fed truth by people you trust. Invest the time and energy to study for yourself, get close to God, and be filled with the Holy Spirit so you will know when truth is present and absent.
Everyone makes an occasional mistake or a slip of the tongue (or finger for those of us who publish). Yet if their errors are pointed out, they should correct their mistakes. Don't leave just because a pastor said that the wrong author wrote a particular book in a Sunday morning service or said some Old Testament's patriarch's father was the wrong person. Use some discretion and common sense. But when there are major and important differences between what the Bible says and what the church you are attending or the denomination you are attending accept as doctrine or teach, then you should seek out a different place to worship God.
The study of prophecy is, to a point, speculative. Until the prophecy is actually fulfilled, you really can't say for certain how things could play out. The study of these Bible books is no different. My presentation will be a largely classical interpretation, with some modern ideas thrown in. However, during my research I found a couple of other interesting ideas that are out there on the net and I have included references to them here to provoke thought. We will not know whether our current interpretations are correct until the scriptures are fulfilled. One thing I am very certain of, however, is that Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are being fulfilled today and Revelation 4 and following contains primarily unfulfilled prophecy.
Sources for Further Study
I don't claim to be any sort of an expert on Revelation myself. I will be drawing heavily from the notes from my Finis Jennings Dake Annotated Reference Bible. I have studied through his treatment of Revelation in the past and found it to be excellent. There are a couple of items of his that I take issue with, and I will note those as we go. This study will not in any way cover all of the information that Mr. Dake provides in his books or Bible notes, but may give you a flavor of the basic points he makes.
There are many who champion and oppose most any reference Bible you would like to name. All have particular reasons, mostly dealing with denominational preferences and biases. Your own theological background and training may vary significantly from that of a Bible's commentator which will be a major factor in whether you decide a reference commentary is "good" or "bad" for you. Everyone is entitled to choose what they feel are the best tools to help them study the Bible. I have no problems at all with that. I only have problems when people start saying a particular Bible reference or Bible translation is good or bad for everyone, just because it is or isn't right for you.
Dake's Reference Bible is no exception. Its notes are definitely written from a Pentecostal and Charismatic perspective. While these biases have little to do with the study of Revelation, it will serve to automatically make it a "bad" reference to some groups and a "good" reference to other groups. Such is life. Some of his commentary is guaranteed to be controversial. Very little of what he says is not backed up by scripture references. It is up to the reader to decide for themselves, with the help of the Holy Spirit, whether he has rightly divided the word of truth.
I have no interest in stirring up debate or arguments in the church. I don't get any compensation from Dake Publishing either. I have used a Dake Bible as my primary Bible literally for decades, so I am familiar with it, and agree with 95 to 99% of the commentary that is in it. No Bible authority is likely to be completely accepted by everyone. Dake's has a lot of word translation notes. In many cases, more modern translations pick one of these alternatives in the first place, which might make portions of his commentary less useful to you. The point is to find something to help you over the rough spots so you don't get bogged down and so the Bible can be brought to light for you. The Holy Spirit is your best guide. As long as you pay attention to Him first, seeking help from other references can also prove beneficial. Daniel and Revelation certainly qualify as rough spots, and Dake does a very good job in these sections.
Let the Holy Spirit be your guide with any Biblical commentary you use. Read all the verse references yourself, and let the words of the Bible speak to you along with the commentary. Dake has done the work linking the scriptures and prophecies in a way that he feels makes sense, as do I. It will be up to you to decide how successful we both are in presenting the interpretation of these two Bible books. As with all other Bible studies, the Bible is the last and final word on the subject.
Dake's notes are also collected in a more readable subject oriented reference called God's Plan for Man. It is also a very good reference work if you want to study in a direction from subject to scripture instead of from scripture to subject.
If you find the study of Revelation to be beyond you due to the language, I would seriously suggest you read the Jenkins and LaHaye Left Behind series. This is a fictional series, tracing hypothetical people who I think are able to do more than most Christians may be able to do in fighting the forces of evil. However, if God is with a group of people like those described, who indeed can be against them? At any rate, the authors do a very good job of presenting the prophetical sections in a clear and straightforward way and I would recommend that series as a source for getting a basic understanding of the prophecy. Just keep in mind that the series itself is fiction.
Format of the Study
The study series will cover one or two chapters in each page. That seems to make for good digestible pieces. Revelation isn't a good subject for taking at a single sitting. I will present the scripture first and follow each section with a combination of my and Dake's notes on each. The scripture text will always be present on the page. Other references can be accessed by clicking on the link and you'll get a pop up window where the verses are displayed. You can leave this open and scroll the main page picking other scriptures as desired or close it. If you select a different Bible translation and ask to keep that selection, it'll be saved in a session cookie and used for the remainder of the session.
As a general outline, I will cover the first three chapters of Revelation first. Then I will go back to the Old Testament and cover the interpretation of the vision of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:1-4:37) by Daniel. That will be followed by several weeks covering the visions of Daniel himself and their interpretation (Dan. 7:1-12:13). Then I will pick up the book of Revelation again and take it through to its end. There are some back and forth passages between Daniel and Revelation, but the book of Daniel is important background for looking at the description of the tribulation period of Revelation or Daniel's 70th week. Daniel and other scriptures give this period its time frame in history. The book of Revelation describes what goes on in it in detail.
I'll take a quick break during the core of Revelation to discuss the Olivet prophecy. Unlike many today, I don't believe that this prophecy has anything to do with the pre-rapture history of earth. Yes, there will always be wars and rumors of wars. However the prophecy itself seems to fit more closely with post rapture Israel than the church itself.
Introduction: Revelation 1
1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
According to Dake, the word Revelation comes from the Gr. apokalupsis, meaning to unveil or uncover. It implies that the book is designed to give us insight so we can see things we couldn't otherwise see. The book of Revelation, in a sense, completes the time line of the Bible. The Bible describes time from the ageless past in Genesis 1:1 to the ageless future by Revelation 22:21. Without Revelation, Christianity would be left with a very good book, but one that largely ended at the Early Church. By giving John a vision of the future, God completes His written history of the world.
The only difference between His and mankind's writing, is that what He has written will come to pass. Prophecy after prophecy in the Old and New Testaments have been checked off as fulfilled as time progresses. Revelation is no exception. Although most prophecies in it are yet to be fulfilled, we can see today ways that they could be fulfilled that would have been unbelievable to John. As more time passes and technology advances, the clearer some parts that were hidden in centuries past become. Truly, God has written some really good stuff here. If only the world would pay attention.
The chapter starts by stating the sequence of how the book of Revelation came to be. God the Father gave the information in it to Jesus Christ to inform his servants of the things that would soon come to pass. Jesus Christ transmitted this information to an angel and that angel transmitted the information to John. Many times, we like to think that we hear directly from the Father about things, but this shows that in many cases the actual path of information transfer may have many steps. As long as the information is transmitted on without failure, we can be sure of its truth no matter how many intermediaries it passes through.
The Holy Spirit has had an interest in keeping the Bible alive and correct for several thousand years, and has done an admirable job of that over the that time period. John says that he bares a record of the words he heard from God - the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of everything he saw in his vision. He has done his part in transmitting the information to us correctly. It is up to us to understand it.
Unlike most books of the Bible, this book pronounces a blessing on everyone who reads it. There is a second blessing on all who hear the words of the prophecy. There is a third blessing pronounced on those who keep the commandments. There is a further warning that the time of fulfillment is at hand.
It is surprising that as one of the few books of the Bible with such a statement of blessing, that it is one of the least read and least studied books of the Bible (outside of Divinity schools at least). Of all the parts of the Bible that people don't like to read, the law and genealogies probably rank at the very bottom of the barrel. Revelation is probably just above it if you were to query a very large segment of the Christian church. It may get mentioned as one of the favorites, but if you really press and ask when people last read it, it might be a very long time ago.
When it comes to sermon topics, the second and third chapters occasionally get some coverage since they deal with problems in the church. Even they don't get as much airtime as they should. The rest of the book is largely written off or relegated to an occasional Wednesday night Bible study.
Revelation is thought of as a very hard book to understand. In addition, it portrays God the Father pouring out righteous wrath and judgment. This isn't a very popular picture of God in the church today. You don't hear many sermons on the Old Testament either, for the same reason. We like to project God as a pleasant old fellow who loves us and wants to save everyone. Well, of course He is and He does. But there is coming a day when His wrath will be poured out on the planet. If we spent a bit more time talking about that perhaps people might see that there is a need to straighten up and be saved!
A Salutation to the Churches of Chapters 2 and 3
Both verse 1 and verse 3 can be taken to imply that the book's prophecy will be fulfilled soon. This is part of the basis for a preterist viewpoint of the prophecy here. The fact is, the first part of the book (chapters 1 through 3) do refer to the early church. There was an immediate nature to this text that needed to be acted on by the seven churches being addressed. The problems of these churches have carried over to many other times, churches, and denominations as well, but there was an urgency to get the word to the churches mentioned to help them with pressing problems.
In this sense, the portions of the prophecy dealing with the seven churches has an immediate application and is the reason the Bible says it "must shortly come to pass" and "for the time is at hand." However all of Revelation doesn't fit in with a complete fulfillment of all of its prophecy in the early church age. There are simply too many things that hadn't happened in that era (and still haven't happened for that matter) for a preterist view to hold for the entire book.
A rough outline of Revelation would be as follows:
- Revelation 1-3 - events in the church age
- Revelation 4-5 - events in heaven
- Revelation 6-19 - events during Daniel's 70th week.
- Revelation 20 - the millennium
- Revelation 21 - post millennium events and a description of the New Heavens and the New Earth.
1:4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;
1:5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
1:6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The formal introduction to the book starts in verse 4. It is similar in character to other New Testament books. In this case, it is addressed to seven specific churches in Asia Minor. John declares that the Revelation he is recording comes from God the Father, from the seven Spirits that are before the throne of God (see Rev. 3:1, 4:5, 5:6), and from Jesus Christ Himself. John goes on to immediately declare the humanity and lordship of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice and atonement that Jesus bought with it, and His resurrection from the dead. He declares Christ's love for us and His blood's cleansing power.
A point of note is the Seven Spirits. We have always thought of the Holy Spirit as a singular entity. Yet in Revelation, Seven Spirits are repeatedly used. Some Internet references document the Tabernacle of Moses being a type of heaven. The order to create a lamp stand was symbolic of the Holy Spirit. In this analysis, the seven individual lamps that were fashioned on the one lamp stand indicates seven separate Spirits, in line with the quotes from Revelation. This author goes on to claim that some Greek manuscripts have nine holy's in Revelation 4:8 and Hebrew manuscripts have nine holy's in Isaiah 11:2) which I have not been able to verify. The on-line Greek manuscripts that I looked at just show three, however.
Another claim is that there are seven continents and the seven Spirits being sent out means that the Holy Spirit is operating over the whole Earth. That might be a bit weak for me to accept though. Continent is a vague term - many only accept five continents, others six, and others seven. There are seven major tectonic plates and seven minor tectonic plates that the visible portions of the Earth move on though. I suspect that if this idea were true, the Antarctic Spirit would have been a bit bored (although its blood pressure would probably be lower than that of the others!)
A third claim is that there are seven primary archangels, and that these throne angels are referred to here. One text names them as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. I would have an easier time with this description than the previous ones, as there are too many scriptures that imply a singular Holy Spirit and a Trinity in the Godhead (Father, Christ, Holy Spirit) for me to accept a seven fold division of the Holy Spirit. In addition, throughout Revelation (from verse 1 and following, John notes that angels are describing the Revelation to him and angels are sent out to bring many of the judgments to pass. Thus, including them in the chain of greeting makes some sense. Some maintain that angels can't give grace or peace, so it must mean the Holy Spirit here. However, it is just as acceptable for an angel to wish us grace and peace as it is for me to do so in a greeting. It is understood that I am not the source of either, but I can wish it for you just the same. If John wanted to give most of the glory to Jesus, it might be natural to place Jesus last in the list so the mention of His name could flow to more descriptive verses. That would make the middle a more natural position for mentioning the angels if this interpretation is correct.
A final thought seems to be that there is one Spirit and the seven indicates the fullness of the description of His nature and manifestation as noted in Isaiah 11:2. Dake leans to this interpretation of there being a single Holy Spirit and the number seven just referring to His fullness and power before the throne of God. He notes this in notes on Revelation 5:6. Supporting this is the fact that the throne and Lamb are mentioned. The Lamb is clearly symbolic of Christ, and the other items mentioned (seven horns and seven eyes) would then be symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Continuing this line of reasoning, the horns and eyes (which are declared to be united with the Lamb) would be more representative of the Holy Spirit than an angel would be. There is a unity in the Trinity that isn't quite the same as the unity of all the rest of the beings in Heaven (e.g. Lucifer). The description in 5:6 also doesn't really match the concept of an angel in the rest of the Bible, although if it is a strictly symbolic reference that wouldn't particularly matter. Whichever choice you make in interpreting these four verses won't really affect the rest of the interpretation of Revelation.
John goes on to say that Christ makes us to be priests and kings. Some writers would translate this as "a kingly priesthood". He declares glory and honor and the dominion or kingship of God the Father for ever and ever. That in and of itself is a good place to stop and say Hallelujah. Truly Jesus has done tremendous things for us. If it weren't for His sacrifice, we would be facing the wrath of God in Revelation without any recourse along with the the sinful world. No Christian is without sin, but at least we have Christ's atoning blood to cleanse us from our sin and provide a reconciliation with the Father. Without that, we are without hope.
First Prophecy - the Second Advent
Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
This verse speaks of a future time when Christ shall return to set up His rule in Jerusalem. Every eye in Jerusalem will see Him come. The Jews and the gentile armies gathered around the city will see Him. The latter group shall wail or cry out in terror because of His coming.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
Jesus Christ Himself declares that He is the beginning and the ending. Usually, the Almighty refers to the Father, but in this case, where He is coming as the conqueror of the armies of the world, it is used to describe Him.
John Declares His Suffering
1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
1:11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
Here, John reveals His commission concerning Revelation to the churches he is addressing. He is writing from the Isle of Patmos. Dake describes it as:
John says that he was sent here for his preaching the world of God and giving testimonies of Jesus Christ. Truly God can bring good out of any situation.
Instead of moping about for the rest of his life in exile, John declares that He was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. He heard a very loud voice behind him that sounded like a trumpet. The voice told him to write a book about the things that he was about to see and send it to the seven churches in Asia. The churches in question are then listed and also appear in the next two chapters.
The Things Which Thou Hast Seen
The Vision of Christ
1:12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
1:13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
1:14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
1:15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
1:16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
This is the first vision we see of the risen Christ in Heaven. You will remember that while the disciples were still huddled together in Jerusalem after the crucifixion, Christ appeared on the road from the tomb, He appeared to them in their locked room, and He appeared to many others up to the time He returned to Heaven in Acts. In the first encounters, sometimes they didn't realize or trust who they were talking to. In this setting, there was no doubt as to who John was talking with and no confusion. As you read the sections of Daniel, you will note parallels in Daniel 7 and Daniel 10 to the imagery here.
There is some symbolic language here that we can address. The seven candlesticks and seven stars are defined later in verse 20 so we will wait to cover those there. Compare the sharp two-edged sword with Hebrews 4:12 and Eph. 6:17. Its use in Revelation is also spoken of in Rev. 2:12, 16, 19:15, 21. The Word of the Lord is a powerful thing. It is one of the reasons that I am including all of the scripture references in these pages. I want you to be able to read the word and let it speak to your heart. The Left Behind series gets this right in depicting Christ standing against the armies of the world and defeating them with His word alone.
Other than that, we can say a few other things about this passage. Christ is described in His glorified heavenly state, but in a form similar in layout to a man. Not a human bound body, to be sure, but recognizable and described as such by John. We can debate whether God has a body or not and the nature of the body till the cows come home with some people. Interpret the Bible literally wherever possible unless figurative language is clearly used. Here, his head and hair is figuratively described as being like white wool or snow. His eyes are figuratively described as shining like fire. His countenance shown like the sun in strength. But although the strength and power of his presence is described in marvelous powerful terms, John still describes a being that looks essentially like a man. It has feet, legs, hands, hips, head, eyes, and a mouth.
The Vision's Effect
1:17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
The effect of seeing the glorified Christ was predictable. John falls down at his feet as dead. Christ's response is to touch him and declare "Fear not!" What better words for any of us to hear when times and situations seem out of our control and out of our depth. Fear not! Christ tells us. I am the first and the last - the Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end. I lived in eternity past. I was dead. Now I am alive for evermore, AMEN!. Nothing can stand against Him. Here, he declares that He has the authority over hell and death. He is in control. All the future of each man and woman depends on the decision they make regarding Christ.
Key to Interpretation
1:19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
In the last verses of Chapter 1, we get the divine command from Christ to John, telling him what to do and also breaking what he is about to see into three parts. Quoting from Dake...
3fold key to the book of Revelation:
- Write the things which thou has seen, that is, the vision of Christ in the midst of the candlesticks (Rev. 1)
- Write the things which are, that is, the things concerning the churches, which John wrote about in Rev. 2-3
- Write the things which shall be hereafter, that is, the events which MUST BE after the churches (Rev. 4:1-22:5). This confirms the 3fold division of Revelation: after John had written the things which thou has seen in Rev. 1, and after he had written the things which are, the things concerning the churches in Rev. 2-3, he was told to Come up hither into heaven, and I will show thee things WHICH MUST BE HEREAFTER, that is, after the churches (Rev. 4-22). Rev. 4:1 says, AFTER THESE THINGS (after writing the vision of Rev. 1 and the things of the churches in Rev. 2-3)... Come up hither and I will show thee THINGS WHICH MUST BE AFTER THESE THINGS. If the things of Rev. 4:1 on must be after the things of the churches, then they will not be fulfilled along with the things of the churches. This means that every event of Rev. 4-22 must be fulfilled after the rapture of the church. It also means that no historical or present event could possibly be a fulfillment of any event of Rev. 4-22.
Significantly, the word church or churches, after appearing nineteen times in the first three chapters of Revelation, does not appear again in the rest of the book. The church is part of what is now. It existed in John's day, and it still exists today. The time till Daniel's 70th week has been long. Is it drawing near? We'll talk a bit about that in lessons to come.
In the last verse, the meaning of the seven candlesticks and seven stars that were mentioned when Christ was described is explained. Here, the candlesticks are declared to be the seven churches and the seven stars are declared to be the angels of the seven churches. Dake comments that the pastors of the seven churches are being described here rather than angels from heaven. This is consistent with the next two chapters where the angel tells John to write this book to the "angel of the church in ...". It would not be possible or needed for John to write to a real angel, as God could confer the information directly to them. Instead, a pastor would make sense. For him to write to the spiritual leader of the church would be consistent.