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New Testament – Revelation

The apokalypsis (revelation) of Jesus Christ can be a heated topic of debate among some Christians. “Revelation is powerful, difficult, perplexing, colorful, suspenseful, tragic, and amazing,”[1] say authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. The writings themselves can be hard to understand because they combine three different literary genres: letter, prophecy, and apocalyptic.[2] While it covers three particular genres, its purpose appears to be that of a single letter addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Therefore, Revelation (like other New Testament epistles) is situational for those seven churches in history and we must read it as such.

Duvall and Hays offer seven suggestions for interpreting Revelation:

  1. Read Revelation with humility.
  2. Try to discover the message to the original readers. “When it comes to reading Revelation, the tendency is to ignore the first Christians and jump directly to God’s message for us.”[3] This implies that Revelation, although written to first century Christians, was not speaking to them. Be careful here, warn Duvall and Hays. “If our interpretation makes no sense for original readers, we have probably missed the meaning of the passage.”[4]
  3. Don’t try to discover a strict chronological map of future events. Revelation is not written in a strictly linear fashion. The visions of John lend themselves more dramatically than chronologically.
  4. Take Revelation seriously, but don’t always take it literally. In other words, figure out the appropriate moments where symbolic or picture language is being used.
  5. Pay attention when John identifies an image. For example, the golden lampstands are the churches (1:13), the Lion is the Lamb (5:5-6), and the dragon is Satan (12:9, etc. Also pay attention when John utilizes the same imagery to mean different things. For example the woman in 12:1-6, 13-17, is not the same woman in 17:3-6, 15-18.
  6. Look to the Old Testament and historical context when interpreting images and symbols. “Although there is no explicit Old Testament quotation in Revelation, the book is filled with echoes and allusions to the Old Testament.”[5] In fact, Old Testament references appear in almost 70 percent of Revelation, according to Duvall and Hays.
  7. Above all, focus on the main idea and don’t press all the details. “[S]tart with the big picture and work toward an understanding of the details.”

Duvall and Hays understand the book of Revelation to unfold with an introduction, seven broad movements, and a conclusion. Grasping a general understanding of these seven movements (leading up to God’s ultimate victory in 21-22) will help you to properly interpret John’s vision.

Check back next week for Chapter 18: Old Testament – Narrative.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 309.

[2] Ibid, 312.

[3] Ibid, 317.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 320.