The Book of Revelation has been the victim of misinterpretation for thousands of years. It is so radically different than any other book in the Bible and it is widely debated what the book is really saying. There are many popular ideas about Revelation and the ends times, such as is portrayed in the well-known Left Behind series. The author of this series describes it as fiction, and in no way should this be the basis of interpretation. Instead, we must look to the Bible as the source of interpretation of the book of Revelation.
Revelation 1:4 starts of the greeting of the letter from John. There are four known John’s in the New Testament: John the Baptist, John the Apostle, John the father of Peter (John 21:15) and John the elder (Acts 4:6). The John of Revelation reveals more about himself in Revelation 1:9, where he says he “was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” meaning he was imprisoned or exiled there because of his witness to the truth. Though there is still debate, it seems as the Apostle John is the John that fits this description. All of the other Apostles had been martyred at this time with John as the exception. John the Baptist had been beheaded, and John the father or Peter and John the elder were likely deceased.
The Apostle John is a unique person. As the author of the Gospel of John it is clear that he is a creative thinker and writer. The Gospel of John is the most unique of the four gospels. His opening of the gospel in John 1:1-18 is full of imagery and symbolism, which is alike his writing in Revelation. John’s writing style should be taken into account when interpreting the book of Revelation, which is nearly entirely imagery and symbolism. If you interpret part of the book literally, then you’d have to interpret the entire book literally. This is why everything, including time, numbers, creatures, etc. need to be understood for their symbolic meaning if you want to understand what John wrote. When read this way, the book is a magnificent piece of art, describing God’s redemptive plan for mankind and his task of recreation.
The futuristic idea that Revelation is a prophecy of what will happen at the end of the world would imply that for 2000 years, the Bible has had a chapter that isn’t relevant and can’t be understood. Rather, John has written about the future in a way that is applicable to the audience at his time and even now. Revelation was foremost written to the audience of John’s time, and needs to be read through that perspective. Much of the imagery is cross-referencing Old Testament events and prophecies, and much is also symbolic of the Roman Empire at that time.
If read with correct interpretation, the book of Revelation can be seen as more than just a record of end time events. It can be seen for its contemporary and applicable purpose as a call for Christian witness and warning against idolatry and oppression. The message can be seen as a message of hope for the oppressed and martyred, and hope that justice will be served, God will restore creation and the righteous will have eternal life with God.
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