Commentary on Revelation – [Introduction]

 

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.  

 

Author:  The Apostle John

 

Addressed to:  The Seven Churches in Asia

 

Date of Writing:  There are some who believe the date to be before AD 70, before the destruction of Jerusalem. However, most believe the date to be around AD 95.

 

There’s a lot written in support of both dates, but I believe the date to be after AD 70. Here are three of the deciding factors for me:

 

1. Church of Laodicea: Laodicea is addressed in Revelation as one of the seven churches. Here’s the thing: This city was completely destroyed in AD 60. It seems unreasonable that the people of this church could have recovered to the point of enjoying the “rich” life (Rev 3:17), let alone rebuilding the city to where it’s even livable by the time this book was written (supposedly) prior to AD 70. A later date of AD 95 would reasonably allow for a recovery of the type of wealthy lifestyle that Revelation suggests, and that history confirms.

 

2. Lack of historical evidence:  It seems to me that if the book of Revelation is about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (as Preterism teaches), this would have certainly been well known and passed on by those who lived near that time. But I haven’t been able to find any evidence for that. It makes sense to me that if Revelation is in fact about the destruction of Jerusalem, this would have been something that the early church fathers would have written about extensively. I think the silence is most revealing.

 

3. Kingdom Now:  If you’ve been following along in the preparatory series leading up to this commentary, you know that I have strong biblical reasons for believing that Israel is fulfilled and continues in Christ and His Church  — and that the Kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom, which is the Church. I think the New Testament is very clear about that for those who are willing to look at the associated texts without a positional bias.

 

So then, the Church/Kingdom being what it is, and the 1000 years of Rev 20:4-6 being what it is (see the discussion below), it makes better sense that the book of Revelation is about the whole Church/Kingdom age, which makes it applicable for every believer during that period — and not just about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, which would have made this book only applicable (for the most part) for those living at that time. The late date of AD 95 takes the Preterist position out of the discussion, which would have eliminated confusion for the believers who lived in those days — because certainly, Christians reading this book prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, would have thought it was about that event. Thus I tend to believe the Lord Himself would have eliminated that confusion by having it written after that event. All things considered, the later date of AD 95 makes better sense all around — which makes it applicable for every Christian throughout the Church age.  

 

Discussion

 

Everything we’ve done by way of study up to this point, was in preparation for this book. Those studies provide the foundation for interpreting the book of Revelation.

 

If you’ve been following along in my preliminary series leading up to this commentary on Revelation, you know that my eschatological position is Amillennial. Foundational to this position is the belief that Christ and His Church fulfills all promises and prophecies regarding Israel. It’s the belief that Christ and the Church is True Israel or New Israel in the New Covenant. Thus, in Christ, Israel continues as a spiritual nation. I provided a solid biblical basis for this position in my series “Israel and the Church.”

 

Also foundation to the Amillennial position, is the belief that the Kingdom of Christ is now, and that He rules over and through His Church from His throne in Heaven, and that we as His followers reign with Him. I also provided a solid biblical basis for this position too, in my series “Thy Kingdom Now.”

 

Premillennialism is the most popular position on prophecy. There are two versions of this: Dispensational Premillennialism  and Historical Premillennialism. The version most widely accepted and taught is Dispensational. Therefore, for the purpose of this commentary, all references to Premillennialism is primarily with Dispensational Premillennialism in mind.

 

It should be noted that Historical Premillennialism hold that there is no distinction between Israel and the Church, but that the Church is the fulfillment of Israel. However, they share the view with dispensationalists that there will be a literal earthly, 1000 year kingdom.

 

Dispensational Premillennialism (DP) holds to the belief that God has a separate plan for Israel apart from the Church. It’s the teaching of DP that upon the return of Christ, there will be a 1000 year earthly kingdom where Christ will rule as the Supreme King, and where God fulfills all the promises to the nation of Israel. Furthermore, this kingdom will be Jewish in nature, but will include Gentile believers, as well. As a Jewish kingdom, it will include the rebuilding of the temple where animal sacrifices will be reinstituted as a memorial. According to this view, this kingdom will be prior to the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 and 22. However, based on the teaching of the New Testament, the idea of a Jewish kingdom, with an Old Testament temple and Old  Testament animal sacrifices, is completely out of harmony with the teaching of the New Testament, and is, thus, unacceptable — if not bizarre.

 

It’s bewildering to me that Christians should become so defensive about the idea that Christ and the Church fulfill the promises and prophecies of Israel. Why is that such an offensive idea? That Christ should be their Savior and Messiah and Redeemer and Lord and King and God, and that they have the glories of the Eternal Kingdom to look forward to, that they are somehow being deprived? This is baffling to me. Especially when there is overwhelming New Testament support.  

 

I believe that the events of Revelation are generally symbolic and applies to all points of history throughout the Church age (chapters 1-20), which of course, includes the last years leading up to the return of Christ. So while this book describes the whole Church period, it does reveal the type of world situation we will have prior to the return of Christ.

 

Interpreting Revelation

 

In order to interpret the book of Revelation correctly, we must approach it with sound rules of interpretation.

 

We must begin with the New Testament. It’s a mistake to try interpret the NT according to the OT. DP is guilty of this practice. The OT is the forerunner of the NT. The NT fulfills the OT. The OT is full of typology and figurative language, all pointing to Christ and His Church. If we’re to properly understand the OT, we must first understand the NT.

 

Therefore, it’s most important that we interpret OT prophecy according to our understanding of NT prophecy. If we get this backwards, we will not come to correct conclusions.

 

Furthermore, as I have emphasized, we must understand the connection between Israel and the Church. This is KEY. We can’t interpret the NT by starting with the OT. We can’t come to a certain understanding about what the OT teaches about Israel and then carry that understanding over into the NT. If we’re to properly understand the relationship between Israel and the Church, we must begin with a proper understanding of what the NT teaches regarding this subject.  We then carry that understanding over to the OT. To do this in the reverse will lead to disastrous interpretations and conclusions of prophecy.

 

The same applies to our understanding regarding the Kingdom of Christ. We must begin with the NT and then proceed to the OT with that understanding already in place. We must get things in their proper order.  Again, all this was covered in my preliminary series leading up to this commentary.

 

Regarding Revelation, it’s not wisdom to try and interpret this book without a good understanding of what the rest of the NT teaches. The reason for that is because Revelation is a book that is characterized by symbolism. Thus I believe it would be careless for one to start with Revelation and then try to interpret the rest of the NT according to their understanding of that book. One of the most important rules of interpretation is to interpret difficult verses and passages according to those that are more easily understood. In this case, we have an entire book that is difficult.

 

Note: I plan, eventually, to do a series regarding the Old Testament prophecies that will follow this commentary on Revelation.

 

Key Verses for interpretation:

 

Rev 1:1-3 – 1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John; 2 who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand. 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia….:
Rev 22:18-19 – 18 I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: 19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.

 

I believe we have in the opening and closing verses of Revelation, the key to interpreting the time period of this book:

 

1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand.

 

This means that anyone who reads and hears and keeps the things that are written in this book, will be blessed. Not only does this plain statement made by Jesus require this to apply to every Christian of any time period (namely, throughout the Church age), but common sense demands it! The “things that are written therein,” must obviously refer to the things that are written therein! If the book of Revelation is primarily about the last seven years of history, up to the return of Christ (as DP teaches), how can all other Christians throughout the Church age who read this book, keep the things that are written in it? This verse helps to interpret the “who” of verse one:
1:1 – which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass……4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia….:

 

Note who it is that John addresses. It’s the Church! Not the nation of Israel. Revelation is a New Testament book, and must be interpreted according to the teachings of the NT. As Christians, we are all “his servants,” and that is whom this book is being addressed — that means any Christian of any period of time. Thus we must conclude that the book of Revelation is about the entire Church age. Therefore we can interpret the words “which must shortly come to pass,” as referring to the beginning of these things, which was at the time the Apostle John wrote this book. Our conclusion is supported by the closing verses of Revelation:

 

22:18 I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book….

 

Rev 22:19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy….

 

As with the opening verses of Revelation, the closing verses of Revelation reveal and confirm that this book is about and applies to all Christians and to all people throughout the Church age. The plain statements of Christ requires it, and common sense demands it! This, of course, is in perfect harmony with the Amillennial position.

 

Overview of Revelation

 

As I already mentioned, I believe the events of Revelation reveal the world situation throughout the Church age, which includes the latter years. Therefore this book has application for all Christians at all points in time. In the opening chapters, Revelation talks about seven different churches, which has application for all of us. It details the difficulties and persecutions that Christians will always encounter (generally), which involves opposition from false religion and anti-Christian people and anti-Christian governments. It details the coming of the “King of kings and Lord of lords” in “great power and glory,” where He triumphs over His enemies. It details the Resurrection, the Judgment, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the New Heaven and New Earth, and the Eternal Kingdom.

 

The Seven Churches of Asia:  Although the seven churches were real churches at the time of the writing, and although Jesus was praising the honorable things they were doing and addressing the issues they had, the seven churches pictures the whole Church era, and describe all the same types of things that occur throughout. Therefore, Jesus’ address to these churches describe all the different types of churches and experiences during the Church age, and is, thus, instructive for all. It also prepares all Christians for the events that are described in chapters 1 thru 20 (chapters 21 and 22 describe the our eternal state in the Eternal Kingdom).

 

It’s amazing to me that Pre-trib Premillennialists can make the argument that the Church will not go through the “great tribulation,” when Jesus Himself indicates the very opposite in His address to these seven churches. These churches are characterized by persecution and rewards for faithfulness, so how can one make the argument that God would not have the Church go through worldwide persecution and tribulation? Especially when you consider the severe persecution and torture and suffering and death of Christians around the world today.

 

Christian Persecution:  Not only is the book of Revelation about things that are and of things to come, it’s also a tribute to every Christian who dies as a martyr for Christ throughout Church history. There’s no doubt that this book is meant to be an encouragement to all Christians who suffer and die for their faith in Christ….no matter what part of history we find ourselves in.

 

While Christian martyrs of the last days may be seen in Revelation, it doesn’t mean that their martyrdom is any more special than those who suffer and die for Christ at any other time of history. Thus while this book is applicable to all Christians – whether we die for Christ or not – I believe this book has a special message to Christians who do. Revelation provides encouragement to those individuals by revealing in heavenly detail what awaits them for their faithfulness to Christ.

 

The Beast; Image of the Beast; Mark of the Beast:  I believe the Beast of chapter 13 is the kingdom of darkness, and the image of the Beast is the kingdom of the world. In other words, the kingdom of darkness casts its image upon the world, or rather, conforms the world to its own image or likeness. The mark of the Beast is the symbolic mark of identification that identifies unbelievers with the Beast and its image.

 

The Eighth King; Ten-Nation Confederacy:  I believe the “eighth king” of Rev 17:11 is the “man of sin” of 2 Thes 2:1-12. He will rise to world power just prior to the return of Christ. I believe the ten-nation confederacy of Rev 17:12-13 is a worldwide alliance of nations that give their support to the “man of sin,” the eighth king. Most proponents of DP identify the ten-nation confederacy as a revived Roman Empire, from which the Beast (Anti-Christ) rules. However, I believe that this is an outdated viewpoint. I believe what we will see in the end of days is the dominance of Islam, which would involve the dominance of Muslim leaders and their religion. There’s no way of knowing for sure, of course, but it does look like the world is moving in that direction. Time will tell.

 

Gog and Magog: Proponents of DP typically reject the idea of Islamic dominance in the end of days because of their interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39. They correctly identify Islamic countries to be among the nations named in those chapters, but that it describes their destruction before the rise of the Beast (Anti-Christ). Thus with the Islamic power out of the way, it would allow the European countries to rise again in the form of a revived Roman empire.

 

However, I believe a more plausible interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is what’s described in Rev 20:7-10. The Apostle John specifically mentions “Gog and Magog” in Rev 20:8, as if to give us a very clear clue that he was referring to the war that’s described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. I think it’s inconceivable that John would mention Gog and Magog in Revelation if he wasn’t talking about the Gog and Magog of those chapters in Ezekiel. Surely he knew that it would cause unnecessary confusion if he wasn’t talking about the same event. We must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.

 

Seals/Trumpets/Bowl Judgments:  I’m not going to go into any detail about these here. But it’s important going in, to understand the time period and how they relate to each other. It’s a disastrous mistake to interpret these seals and trumpets and bowl judgments as being in consecutive order (and don’t overlap), or in a mere seven year period after the Church age — as DP teaches. With that kind of approach, what you get is a confused mess.

 

Actual Time Period:

 

Seals 1-5:   Throughout Church age.
Seals 6, 7:   End of the Church age.

 

Trumpets 1-4:  Throughout Church age.
Trumpet 5-7:       End of the Church age.

 

Bowl Judgments (plagues):  All of them at the end of the Church age. Judgment on the world — unbelievers only.

 

Contrary to Premillennialism, these are not followed by a 1000 year earthly kingdom. In truth, we go directly to the Judgment of Rev 20:11-15, and then into the Eternal Kingdom of Rev 21 and 22.

 

1000 Years of Revelation 20:  The 1000 years of Rev 20:1-10, refer to the Church age — which extends from the first Advent of Christ to His second. I make a strong case for this in the commentary, but let me say this for now:

 

It seems to me that if this 1000 year period refers to an earthly kingdom where Christ reigns upon His throne, where glorified Saints are dwelling with mortal Saints (along with unbelievers too), there would be some sort of description of it, like what we have regarding the Eternal Kingdom of chapters 21 and 22. But there isn’t anything said about it in this book other than what we appear to have in this passage of chapter 20 — which is virtually nothing. One would think that if there was going to be such a glorious kingdom as this coming to this world, there would be some sort of description of it in the NT.

 

The fact that there is virtually nothing said about this so-called millennial earthly kingdom in the NT, strongly indicates that there is not such a kingdom to talk about. I think the silence is very telling.

 

There’s a verse in Revelation that I believe reveals conclusively that there is no 1000 kingdom (such as Premillennialism teaches):

 

Rev 15:1 – And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having seven plagues, which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God.

 

Here we see that God’s wrath is finalized with the outpouring of these plagues upon the world (of unbelievers), which includes the war of Armageddon. This finishes God’s wrath. Yet, Premillennialism teaches that there’s yet another war, one that takes place after the 1000 year kingdom (Rev 20:7-10). Premillennialists teach that this is where Satan gathers all the unbelievers of this kingdom against Christ and His people for one final battle. But how can this be when the Apostle John makes a very clear statement that God’s wrath is finished with the outpouring of the seven bowl judgments, which includes Armageddon? How is it that God’s wrath is displayed against His enemies at Armageddon, but not against His enemies (which  includes Satan, His greatest enemy) in Rev 20:7-10?

 

Either these two wars are the same, or God’s wrath wasn’t really finished at Armageddon like the Apostle John said it was….but was actually finished in Rev 20:7-10….contrary to what John said. This is one of the many inconsistencies of Premillennialism.

 

One must draw the reasonable conclusion that the wars described in Rev 16:12-21, Rev 19:11-21, Rev 20:7-10 all refer to the same battle, and that from there we go directly into the Eternal Kingdom of Rev 21 and 22. As I pointed out over and over in my series, “Thy Kingdom Now,” the NT doesn’t allow any room for the type of kingdom that Premillennialism teaches. That idea must be forced into the pages of the NT.

 

Olivet Discourse:  The Olivet Discourse, the prophecy Jesus gave in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 (along with Lu 17:20-37), describes the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. However, I believe they may also serve as a foreshadowing of the events of the Church age. Furthermore, these chapters may also serve as a miniature of the book of Revelation.