Commentary on Rev – [Intro Chapters 4-20]

NT – New Testament
OT – Old Testament

 

I believe the book of Revelation can be accurately and adequately interpreted apart from the OT. Not that the OT can’t and doesn’t shed light. For example, the mention of “God and Magog” in Rev 20:8, is obviously a reference to Ezekiel 38 and 39. However, it’s not necessary to know those two chapters in order to correctly identify the war of Rev 20:7-9.  Since the NT fulfills and interprets the OT, we can confidently interpret and understand Revelation without the aid of the OT. On the contrary, I believe we fall into much confusion when we try to interpret this book according to our understanding of the OT. That, of course, applies to all of the NT. We cannot accurately understand the NT according to our understanding of the OT. If we start with the OT, we end up with an OT understanding — and that’s not what we want!

 

We greatly complicate things when we try to understand the NT according to the OT. On the other hand, we greatly simplify our understanding of the OT when we do so in light of our understanding of the NT. That includes the book of Revelation. We complicate this book when we view it through the eyes of the OT prophecies. On the other hand, we simplify it when we interpret Revelation according to our understanding of the rest of the NT. It’s the NT overall that is to serve as our guide in understanding this book, not the OT! It’s a costly mistake to use the OT as a guide for understanding a book that is already difficult. But again, the OT can and does shed light on certain passages. It just shouldn’t be used as a primary guide.

 

What then, do we do with the OT prophecies? We benefit from the OT prophecies mostly by seeing how accurately and wonderfully they were fulfilled in the NT. The NT is a witness of the things written long before. They’re a witness to the truth. They’re a witness to the truth of the Christian faith.

 

Even though we have the OT prophecies regarding Christ’s first coming and our redemption through Him, we don’t need those prophecies to understand God’s plan of salvation through Him. The NT explains it all. However, we can go back to the OT and see how wonderfully those prophecies about Him were fulfilled. This glorifies God to see His Word fulfilled, and with such precise detail. Likewise, even though we have the OT prophecies relating to Christ and and His Kingdom and end time events, we don’t need those prophecies to know them or understand them. The NT explains it all. The NT serves as a witness to the accuracy of the OT Scriptures.

 

Accordingly, we don’t need the OT prophecies to understand the general theme or the events of Revelation. Indeed, we’re to view the OT through the lens of Revelation, not the other way around. Furthermore, in its proper order, we’re to view Revelation through the lens of the rest of the NT.  An incorrect order will greatly undermine our understanding. Thus the manner in which we approach Revelation is everything. Understanding of NT prophecies must precede our understanding of OT prophecies.

 

I believe that God has so ordered the NT, that if all we had was the NT, we would have sufficient light to understand the book of Revelation. We must realize that the NT was written specifically for Christ’s Church. Thus we must realize that the book of Revelation, too, was written specifically for the Church. Revelation is a NT book, not an OT book! Therefore, I believe it’s a grave mistake to separate the Church from this book. If we didn’t have the OT, we would naturally understand Revelation to have the Church in view. That means if we set aside the OT and focus on the NT, we will walk away with a much more accurate picture of what the book of Revelation is about.

 

The Seventy Weeks of Daniel

 

Most likely, there are many of you who want to know what we do with the “seventy weeks of Daniel.” Especially the “70th week,” which premillennialists insist is the last seven years (“The Great Tribulation”) that leads up to the return of Christ, and insist that Revelation 4-20 is about those last seven years. I will deal that, but only briefly. For a more thorough treatment of this subject, I highly recommend Sam Storm’s article, “Daniel’s 70 Weeks.” He does a superb job of explaining this seventy weeks. He provides great insight for those who want a solid understanding of this passage of Daniel. What you’ll find is that it reveals the Amillennial nature of the prophecy. Thus it confirms that our approach to Revelation is correct. It also reveals the weaknesses of, and the biased nature of, the dispensational interpretation of that passage.

 

Israel and the Church

 

The 70th week of Daniel, as premillennialists see it, is focused on the nation of Israel. Again, they come to that conclusion because they begin with the OT. They bring their understanding of the OT to the NT, and explain the book of Revelation according that understanding. That is such a mistake. It completely throws everything off. The approach of premillennialism to eschatology makes a mess of things. Once you start with an OT understanding, everything goes downhill from there.

 

It simply doesn’t follow that God would give His Church a book (the NT) written specifically for the Church and about the Church, and then have it be all about the nation of Israel in the end, as supposedly revealed in Revelation. Again, if all we had was the NT, I don’t believe we would even consider the idea that Revelation has the nation of Israel in view. It’s a senseless position to hold regarding this book.

 

When one begins with a NT understanding of Israel and the Church, it then becomes very easy to see that Revelation is not about Israel at all, but about the Church, in whom Israel has its fulfillment and continuation as a spiritual nation in Christ. When one studies the NT apart from the OT, there’s no other reasonable conclusion that one can come to, other than that Israel has its fulfillment in Christ and His Church. This is the central key to properly understanding the book of Revelation.

 

It’s senseless to think that the book of Revelation is about the nation of Israel in the last few years of history. This book must be viewed as part of the whole of the NT. Again, Revelation is not an OT book! As I have indicated all along, premillennialists have a preoccupation with the nation of Israel. They have a preoccupation with the OT. This preoccupation is biblically unsound. Our preoccupation is to be Christ of the New Covenant. Our preoccupation is to be the Church in Christ. To view the NT through the eyes of the OT, the way premillennialists do, is missing the central message of what the OT Scriptures pointed to.

 

At the same time, it would be equally senseless to think that the rest of the book is about the destruction Jerusalem and that this book has already been fulfilled, as Preterism teaches.

 

I deal with the subject of Israel and the Church in great detail in my preparatory series leading up to this commentary. I highly recommend that you read through that series first before you read through this commentary. It will give you the confidence of having a correct understanding as you proceed through this book. In that series I also deal with the Kingdom of Christ, for the Church is that Kingdom, and that Kingdom is now. Having this understanding prepares one to properly interpret the book of Revelation. Coming to this book with an OT understanding regarding Israel, instead of a NT understanding, gives one a much different picture of what’s actually taking place in this book.

 

The Seals,Trumpets, Plagues

 

When one considers the fact that the NT was written specifically to the Church and for the Church and about the Church, it’s inconceivable that the book of Revelation would be about anything other than the Church. I believe Jesus Himself confirms this and makes it obvious by addressing the “seven churches.” The number seven, being the number of completion or perfection, most certainly has the whole Church in view. It’s unreasonable to come to any other conclusion. It’s much more reasonable that the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowl judgments (plagues), and all of Revelation, occur throughout the Church age, which began at Pentecost. To be clear, I believe all the bowl judgments occur at the time of Christ’s return in judgment, while the seals and trumpets extend throughout the Church age.

 

I believe the book of Revelation is mostly about the spiritual warfare between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Satan. We see that in these seals, trumpets, and bowls. However, there’s something else seen there as well: natural disasters. While not all of these 3 sevens are about natural disasters, some are. I believe these are revealed to us in order to show the the wide-sweeping effects of sin. We see the catastrophic change that took place in the Garden of Eden when sin came into the world. Sin affected not only mankind, but it contaminated the whole earth. I believe these natural disasters are shown to us is in order to provide a contrast between the ugliness of this sinful world and the sinless and holy and glorious eternal kingdom in the presence of God. But again, the emphasis of the book of Revelation is not so much on the physical, but on the spiritual.

 

As with all of the book of Revelation, some of the seals, trumpets, and bowl judgments are to be interpreted literally and some symbolically. It requires careful study to determine which is in view. One must first have the general theme of the book correct. Otherwise, you’re sunk before you even begin. That’s what our preparatory series was all about. But in addition to that, the context of the passage, the chapter, the entire book, and the entire New Testament, gives us clues which way we’re to go.

 

It may be argued that the literal approach of premillennialism makes the book of Revelation easier to interpret. If it talks about locusts, then it’s about real locusts; if it talks about fire, then it must be about real fire;  if it talks about blood, then it must be about real blood; if it talks about Israel, then it must be about the nation of Israel, etc. Sure, one might argue that the literal approach simplifies things, but does it provide the correct interpretation? I have to answer that with an emphatic, no!

 

On the other hand, when one comes to the book of Revelation with a New Testament understanding, then interpretation is still reasonably easy (though not without difficulties). The result is a much more accurate picture of what’s going on in this book. Furthermore, while the literal approach may be easier, at the same time, it greatly confuses the who and what throughout this book. Premillennialism, with their literal approach, presents a false picture of what’s really going on. It’s baffling to me how an OT-centered theology like Premillennialism, can have such wide acceptance among Christians.

 

While some may have doubts about their particular approach and interpretation of Revelation, I feel very confident that I’m right where I need to be in order to present this book according to the actual meaning of it. In those places where I don’t have that confidence, I will say so.

 

It’s important to point out that being completely accurate in the details of events is not nearly as important as being accurate about what the events are about. As long as we have a proper understanding of the events themselves, being right or wrong about the details, doesn’t change the picture that much. It’s when we misinterpret the whole event, that it changes the whole picture. For example, I may correctly see a car, but be a little fuzzy about the details of it. That’s ok, at least I know that it’s a car. However, if I identify it as a house, I have a real problem. Thus it’s more important to be correct about the overall picture, than it is about the fine details.

 

That is precisely what separates amillennialism from premillennialism. While amillennialism may be a little fuzzy on some of the fine details of Revelation, I believe the overall picture is correct. Whereas, premillennialism presents an inaccurate – even bizarre – picture of the world events of this book.

 

When we read about the events of Revelation, we need to consider the world in which we live and see what’s going on regarding the Church and the Word of God. We can easily see that our primary enemies has always been false religion and anti-Christian governments. Within the Church itself we see so much false teaching and worldliness. We can readily see what’s going on both within the Church and outside the Church in opposition to it. This awareness is a key to understanding Revelation. Thus we need to take not only a NT approach to Revelation, but a common sense approach, as well.

 

Internal Evidence

 

There’s a lot of evidence that the book of Revelation covers the whole Church age, including internal evidence — with the exception, of course, the final two chapters, which are about the Eternal Kingdom. Within the book itself, there are many keys that point to the Church age, and not simply the last seven years of history – as per Premillennialism. I pointed out some of those keys in my commentary of the first three chapters. As we work our way through this commentary of Revelation, I will continue to point out those keys. A discussion about each of them will provide confidence that we’re interpreting the time period and events correctly.