It is not news that the Revelation of Jesus Christ is the only prophetic book in the New Testament. Nor is it news that it continues to be the most difficult Biblical book to understand. Thousands of articles, hundreds of volumes and dozens of master and doctoral theses have been written offering explanations, suggesting answers to its various passages and prophesies. What is news, is that with a prophetic style of its own, it has spawned a multitude of questions and multiplied interpretations. Some good books have been written and some excellent studies detailed, but others may have muddied the waters with their outlandish theories. It is my hope that you will find some value here and no unusual theories.
As others have – I would suggest that the book of Revelation ought to be viewed as a part of the whole Word of God and as it was first seen through the eyes of the original audience. It is perhaps easy to overlook its message for believers of that time, over those now and for the rest yet to come.
For the notes and comments, I relied primarily on three English translations: the King James Version, New King James Version, and the English Standard Version (plus the interlinear versions). I listed all resources used for historical information, concepts, definitions, and background. There is a bibliography at the closing.
The greatest hindrance in any examination and study of Revelation is the wide field of possible or suggested interpretations of the various signs and visions. You can find too much or little to nothing of value, then with some in between, there are dozens of choices. Clarity may be lost in some ideas which have no basis in the Scriptures and nothing to do with the textual context. Contrary notions to the time and tenor of the early days in the churches, or by things which have been cherry picked or cobbled together in support of a modern composition do little for learning. Like others, I have tried to avoid any obvious pitfalls, and like most, I probably fell into a few.
All theories should be closed and put on the shelf until the reader has opened the text a sufficient number of times to have a basic grasp of its purpose and direction. It would not hurt anyone interested in these studies to read the entire New Testament, or better yet, the entire Bible (a few times), before taking on the Revelation of Christ.
I chose to begin with a historical section moving from the writing of the Old Testament book of Daniel; and continuing with a shortened history of the emperors of Rome from Julius Caesar to Constantine. The vetted historical records of Rome have an importance which is sometimes minimalized or passed over altogether. All of that is followed by information on the principal date theories, notes and comments on the text. This has been assembled and edited over several years.
It is my hope, that as this plays out, you may find that I have held strictly to possibilities offered within the text. I have tried to include things that are not found in Revelation or within the rest of the Scriptures. I did not try to come up with an answer for every for every detail, leaving that to others. I went only for the main points and signs. We ought not to stand at odds with what is clearly stated and defined, leaning first on the Bible, on what we see, read and can clearly identify.
The book of Revelation is God’s final message to mankind. There is no need to set out for some ruin or to look on dusty monastery shelves for an addendum, chapter twenty-three or a long-lost volume two. Nothing can be added. The angel who spoke to John had him write that into the text. The Apostle listed the things he saw and heard in order. It was then sent out to seven identified assemblies as the original recipients, and to general Christian populations since. That means it, as with the rest, is in God’s book with an eternal petition to warrant its inclusion. God and Christ both kept the Word exactly as intended and first composed. So, it is both understandable and complete. We need to read and study it while keeping that in mind.
It has also been said (as is true with the rest of the Bible), that it was not written to us, but for us. Yet, my view is this is often lost or ignored under the weight and appeal of various interpretations. However, we should also note that God has said that His Word is simple, and understandable; and that there is no private interpretation of scripture. Along with that follows the notion there is no license to think that the interpretation is not open and simple too. If anything, we forget to look at it through the eyes of a commoner, and add layers filled with various ideas, higher views and seemingly boundless knowledge.
We are removed by nearly two millennia from the publication of the Revelation of Christ, so the immediate impact is long gone. Some of the swirling and mysterious theories thought to arise out of its pages have further served to obscure its purpose to whole generations of readers and students.
To gain a basic understanding, it should not be viewed as if it is some mysterious and continuing oracle, or an all-seeing-eye gazing into far distant times and places. It should not become some excuse to train our sights on some corner of someone else’s notion or dreams. It should be tended to exactly as it was composed: to note “…things that must shortly come to pass.” Without that understood at the outset, we dismiss and dispose of the immediacy and pertinence it had for the audience to whom it had been first given. If it could not have been understood and used by them, it would end up dead-on-arrival for everyone since. To track that notion, I will hold that the early history of the Roman Empire is invaluable to its understanding. That is why I wrote this outline and incorporated some fundamental information and an abbreviated chronicle of the emperors of Rome from Julius Caesar and into the fourth century. The long form for the background information (and a good deal more), can be found in such works as Charles Rollin’s Ancient History (2 volumes) and Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 volumes). Plus, I read part or all the histories of Tacitus, Cassius Dio and several other sources. Without hesitation, I will state, without fear of understatement, that Rome held the antagonist’s chair in many of the signs within Revelation.
The label as a difficult study arises from the unfamiliar and seemingly shrouded prophetic language found in the descriptions and signs. These varying parts must be attended to either as valuable and important, or they ought to be eliminated as not understandable to us now – and if we choose the second — we are back to the dead-on-arrival consideration and might want to rethink our position. Yet despite the concern just mentioned, I found that for me, it was not useful to be overly concerned with finding an expression for every single detail in every single sign. The bigger task is to try and identify the big picture – the overall scheme.
Finally, a careful reading and knowledge of certain OT prophets is useful – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, with a higher focus, particularly Daniel, then Joel and Micah and that may help to further identify details that still seem obscured. The English reader should find the language understandable if it is attended to carefully. We will be able to identify many of the major signs readily, agreeably and without the aid of a shelf full of lexicons and commentaries, or by referring to a school of academicians. So, the most important point, as with the entire Bible, is to read the book and prayerfully study it. Perhaps to pray some more and read it again (and again, for as long as necessary) and then to read some of the other prophetic books – until we can clear the mists of time and the clutter of theories and equations from our minds.
Even so, the Revelation of Jesus will likely remain the object of many differing notions about God’s Word and his judgments just as it has since distribution. It will continue to maintain its high status as the most requested study and the most misquoted book within the scriptures. These notes will not change those things, nor likely will any others. My hope is to identify a few incorrect notions and missed applications while exploring a few obscure but identifiable ones. There is nothing to lose, as no one is in any danger from learning too much.