An Introduction to the Book of Revelation

by | Updated September 24th, 2020

The first part of Revelation is fairly clear, revealing Christ, and encouraging the Church for what it’s doing right and rebuking it where it’s in error. Most of the debate lies in Revelation 6 through the end of the book. The first chapter is John’s initial revelation of the glorified Christ.

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Chapters two and three are very practical in nature, speaking directly to the seven churches in Asia Minor. They also depict seven periods of church history. Chapters four and five deal with John’s first glimpse of the heavenly scene. The rest of the book is futuristic.

The Four Main Views and Interpretations of Revelation

By way of introduction, we will lay out the various views of interpretation for the book of Revelation. Many people have come to varying conclusions. Our goal here is to present all the different schools of thought so the student can make an informed decision as to what you believe.

This will enable you to be thoroughly equipped and through the Holy Spirit come to what is the logical conclusion and interpretation. Although scholars and teachers may label themselves with one of these distinct methods for interpreting the book of Revelation, in practice, they often use various combinations of the four.

  1. Preterist. This view presupposes that most, if not all the events of the Apocalypse have been fulfilled and pertain to what was happening in John’s day, approximately A.D. 96. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple are the main themes and events. They believe accordingly that Nero was the anti-Christ. Thus, the events in Revelation were fulfilled in the past and have been completed.

    In this view, the main point of Revelation was to encourage the Christians under persecution. For those who accept this view, Revelation becomes just historical, giving us only examples of being faithful in trials. This view fails to consider the mark of the beast and other events that never took place in the first century. Revelation can encourage those of all ages going through tribulation.

  2. Historicist view. This view portrays Revelation as a template for principles of history. It is a panoramic depiction of the history and the future of the Church. This view asserts that the prophecies of the Apocalypse are an outline of church history. They take place over a 2,000 year period of time, climaxing with the Second Coming of Jesus. Its purpose is primarily to encourage Christians of every age. The problem is the images and themes become speculative and subjective and any interpretation becomes prejudiced to the current news of the day.
  3. Idealist or spiritualist view. This view maintains that the prophecies of the Apocalypse are not specific events nor do they indicate any specific historical or future happening. This view suggests everything in Revelation should be taken figuratively of our battle with Satan. John was speaking of a spiritual conflict and not a physical experience.

    Its only value is teaching us that good will eventually triumph over evil. The problem is that those who hold this view refuse to associate the images with specific future events, and miss the point that Revelation is written in an apocalyptic genre. Revelation does, however, teach us how Satan operates and we can use these principles for understanding and combating Spiritual Warfare.

  4. Futurist. This view asserts that Revelation is about the details and order of future events immediately preceding the Second Coming. This view was held by many of the second and third century Church Fathers and is popular among most Evangelicals today. This view asserts that none of the events Jesus describes in Matthew 24 have occurred yet. The seals, trumpets, beasts, Antichrist, bowels (vials) of God’s wrath are still to come and will appear in the last days of human history.

    Then, Christ will come back to reign, judge, and establish a millennial kingdom over which He will reign. Thus, most of Revelation is yet to be fulfilled, and its value is for the Christians living in that age to come. Obviously the first five chapters are current history in John’s time and the genre indicates that chapters 6 through 22 are in a future tense and view (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 9:24-27; Matthew 24:29-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 3:10). We very well may be on the precipice of these events unfolding before our very eyes.

Views of the Millennium

The Millennium basically means a thousand-year period of time that Jesus Christ has victory over evil and corruption (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Romans 8:19-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 14:6-18; 19:11-16), and will physically and spiritually rule over all of the earth (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 20:1-10) from His throne in Jerusalem (Isaiah 65:17-25; Zephaniah 3:11-13; Zechariah 9:9-10; 14:16-21).

Jesus is seated on the throne and the righteous will be clothed with His righteousness and authority. They will inhabit the New Kingdom Age and rule and reign with Him (Daniel 7:22; Matthew 19:28; 25:34; Luke 12:32; 22:28-30; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 2:5) fulfilling the Kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 16:18-19; 26:29; Mark 14:25; Hebrews 8:11).

What the Millennium means is also in debate by some as to whether it indicates a literal thousand-year reign, a figurative time period not limited to time, or an era of church history. Most Biblical scholars hold that there will be a literal Millennium reign.

  1. Premillennialists. This view holds that the Second Coming of our Lord will take place before the millennium in which Jesus will literally reign on earth for a thousand years (Revelation 19:11-21). People with this view usually subscribe to the Futurist view. Satan will be bound and we will live in peace and harmony with one another here on earth.

    Christians will receive new bodies and those who died will be re-birthed also in new bodies. Then Satan gets out of his prison for a short time, leads a rebellion, and then there will be a final judgment at the end of the Millennium. Justin Martyr and Papias held this view, as the Early Church was mostly premillennial in its thinking for the first three centuries of the church. They considered Jesus’ return to be imminent.

  2. Amillennialists. This view believes that Jesus is reigning now since His resurrection and that there is no literal thousand-year millennium before or after Christ returns to earth (Revelation 20:1-6). People with this view usually subscribe to the Historicist view. They see an allegorical or symbolic approach to prophecy.

    Since there is no literal thousand-year reign, Millennium refers to the preeminent reign of Christ in this age or dispensation (Revelation 6:9-10; 20:5). The resurrection of the Christian refers to our new life in Christ and/or their life in eternity and Heaven (Romans 6:8-11; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1-4).

  3. Postmilleniallism. This views holds that Christ returns after the millennium because the Church will expand and will have evangelized all of the world (Revelation 19:11-21). People with this view usually subscribe to the Futurist view. Their main point is the victory of Christianity over the entire world. Thus, Christ will not return until all people groups have been reached and dominion restored. They make no distinction between the rapture and Second Coming, as most view it as one event.

The disputes in these three main views center on the chronological makeup of Revelation, what happens when, and what comes first (Ezekiel Revelation 19:11-21; 20:1-10). Premillennialists believe that chapter 20 follows the Second Coming, whereas other groups do not see it that way. Jewish literature is usually not based on time sequence or chronology as Greek and Western literature is.

It typifies relations and events over the time of those events. When our Western mind looks at the Oriental thinking, we tend to read in our philosophical notions and forget the historical and cultural relevance. Thus, our interpretations must be made with an awareness of first century thought, not how we think 2000 years removed.

When Will the Rapture Happen

The tribulation is a seven year period that is referred to as a “time of trouble” in Daniel 12:1, the “time of Jacob’s trouble” in Jeremiah 30:7, the “great tribulation” in Matthew 24:21, the “hour of trial” in Revelation 3:10, and “the great tribulation” in Revelation 7:13-14.

Major Views of the Rapture

I will just give a brief summary here. A much more thorough explanation is given in our teaching “When Will the Rapture Happen?

  1. Pre-tribulation rapture. This view believes that the Church will not go through the tribulation but will be raptured prior to it taking place (1 Thessalonians 4:16-16). The seven-year tribulation period is when God begins to specifically deal with Israel again and save them as a nation. The times of the Gentiles is over. It’s also meant to cause the world to repent because of the judgments found in the book of Revelation.
  2. Mid-tribulation rapture. This view refers to a mid week rapture. The church will be taken out before the Great Tribulation (the second half of the tribulation) which occurs when the Antichrist goes into the Temple and declares himself God approximately 1,260 days before the second coming of Christ at the battle of Armageddon.
  3. Post-tribulation rapture. This view believes that Christ will come back at the end of the Tribulation and those who remain alive through it are raptured along with the dead in Christ. There are four views within this position as well: Classic, semi-classic, futurist, and dispensational. This view holds that the rapture and second coming are one simultaneous event (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
  4. Pre-wrath rapture. This is a three-fourths view that believes the church will go through much of the tribulation to purify and perfect the bride of Christ. This is very probably what Paul referred to as “The Last Trump.” “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

The Bible is clear that Christ’s Second Coming will happen. This will happen as a thief in the night (1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Philippians 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 10:37; James 5:7-9; 2 Peter 3:8-15; 1 John 2:28; Revelation 1:1; 22:6). We may not agree on what the sequence is and the symbols mean, but we can all agree that when the last days are upon us, it will be clear. We will have unprecedented suffering, evil, and persecutions, and God will pour out His wrath on an evil world while saving those who are in Him. “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:44).

SEE: Signs of Jesus’ Return

We need to come to Revelation without a specific view, as each prophecy can have multiple applications, meanings, and fulfillments. We must come to Revelation with patience and humility, seeking dialog, and cooperation not disagreements and strife, for that is what is clearly in err.

We are to interpret in light of the historical context and what it meant then because John’s readers did not have a modern newspaper or cable news. For us to think that Revelation meant nothing for 2000 years until our generation is extremely arrogant and dismissive to the countless Christians who came before us, upon whose shoulders we stand.

Revelation is for all generations, not just ours and those to come! We must never seek to be dogmatic with our feeble opinions and limited understanding. The applications in Revelation are for us now, as they were also active in the early Church, and will have further meaning and fulfillment in the time to come.

Revelation is not just about the first Christians, nor is it just about what will happen in some distant future. These precepts are for us today, for us to know, for us to use, and for us to deploy deeply in our lives and walk in Christ. What we do know is Jesus is coming back!

7 Purposes in Studying Revelation

  1. There’s a special blessing promised (Revelation 1:3 and 22:7).
  2. It reveals how temporal our world is (2 Corinthians 4:18; Colossians 3:1-3; 1 John 2:15-17).
  3. It reveals the future. It gives clear details to Bible prophecy. Many in our day are asking. “what does the future hold?” In our day of uncertainty the church must give answers to a lost and dying world. It’s a study that can win the lost and prepare the saints so we’re not taken unaware. Only the Biblical illiterate fail to see we’re in the last days.
  4. It’s the only book that presents Jesus as He really is. Revelation means unveiling. We must never fail to look for Jesus as we study this great book. It’s “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1). It presents Him in all His glory never again to be reviled (Revelation 1:12-18).
  5. In it we view His majestic triumph over evil once and for all who believe (Romans 16:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9). Jesus and all His followers are the ultimate victors triumphing over the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  6. It motivates the lost and saved alike to get right with God (Matthew 24:44).
  7. It completes the circle of Biblical truth.
    1. In Genesis paradise is lost and in Revelation paradise is regained.
    2. Genesis cut man off from the tree of life and in Revelation we eat of it (Revelation 22:2).
    3. Genesis is man’s first rebellion and in Revelation the end of his rebellion.
    4. Genesis was the first murder and in Revelation murder is no more (Revelation 21:27).
    5. In Genesis there’s sorrow from sin and in Revelation 21:4 there’s no more sorrow.
    6. In Genesis is the first death and in Revelation 21:4 there’s no more death.
    7. In Genesis 3:15-18 the curse began and in Revelation 22:3 there’s no more curse.
    8. In Genesis 3:1-18 we’re introduced to the devil as the tempter and in Revelation 20:10 is his final doom.
    9. Genesis 3:15 prophesies Satan’s demise and in Revelation 19:20 it’s done.
    10. In Genesis 3:1-5 the devil discredits God’s Word and in Revelation 22:19 it’s fulfillment.
    11. In Genesis man lost God’s purpose for him and in Revelation 22:19 God’s purpose for him is fulfilled (genesis 1:26 and Hebrews 2:5-10). Both fellowship with God and dominion is restored.

Praise the Lord! Jesus’ return is nigh and the fulfillment of all things is at hand. We have read the end of the book and Jesus wins with us by His side. “Our salvation is nearer then when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12).

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