Crazy Talk. That’s how I have always thought of the book of Revelation. Bowls pouring out wrath, 42 months here and a thousand years there, not to mention the monsters. Is there is something past the crazy…?
The book of Revelation at my third reading is still very strange and confusing. First reading is a throw away- most of us including me get about 5 chapters in and just give up. I flip back to Matthew and start the gospels over. Much easier. The second reading is a skim, like closing your eyes during scary parts in a movie. Then, on the third read, I was expected that it would be confusing and so it was.
I think for these reasons and more, it is one of the danger zones for spiritual conversations. When I drink coffee with other Christ-followers we can cover gospels, most of the New Testament and dig into Jeremiah or even Job. When the book of Revelation is brought up, the people I talk with roll their eyes, hold up their hands and say, “I don’t know, I haven’t got it figured out yet.”
There are robust courses, books and YouTube videos that break the book of Revelation down into more manageable pieces. Be warned, there is no universally shared set of interpretations. It’s a book that is analyzed and then conjecture is offered for explanation.
Here is what I can offer: My approach to the book of Revelation in order to eliminate fear of the book and give guideposts to help read it if you are stuck on “what does it all mean?”
Monsters - All over the book of Revelation there is an intimidating set of destruction - Plagues, sea monsters, flying, weird horns, wings, multiple faces and other creatures. Good monsters, punishing monsters and evil monsters. There are bowls pouring out wrath. It’s so confusing and distracting for people like me that I have really avoided Revelation. It is complicated, a scary horror show if you choose to focus on the monsters. Ignore the monsters! You can study all of the monsters, numbers and elusive truths at your own speed later. I recommend that you focus on the core truths first and leave the monsters for later.
Time and Numbers - Rev 4, 13, 14, 20 - Many people look at Revelation as if they were interpreting the hidden prognostications of Nostradamus. Of course, when you put signs, times and impactful events in a pot of human curiosity and stir, you will get a stew of speculations. I can get lost with all of these reference points. If all of the events happen according to the times that have been written, it does not change what Christ charged us to do. This is not a Dan Brown novel that if you figure out all of the puzzles you win a prize. Unless you want to really dive deep into the study of Revelation, do not get tripped up by the schedule. Do not even get caught up in the numbers. For your consideration, theologians, bible scholars and the prognosticators do not have a shared understanding of the time schedule in Revelation either. Don’t feel bad, they are uncertain and they have spent more time trying to decipher it than you. Set these aside just like the monsters - they are not critically important.
Sovereignty Rev 1:5-6, Rev 21:1-8 - God and Jesus Christ, (Son of Man, the Lamb), are absolutely in control of this world and the next. They always have been and always will be. There is a plan for heaven and earth to be re-joined. All that happens in Revelation will happen according to God’s will. The book of Revelation is not a “could happen” scenario. This is the declaration of what will happen. A friend of mine teaches a one-year course on the Old Testament. At his first class, a 96 year-old woman came in to join the class. She pulled my friend aside and told him, “Remember, the Bible is truth, not fact.” I am still chewing on that comment, but I believe that it helps me to think of the book of Revelation. Divine truth is always more important than human definitions of fact.
Justice Rev 3:19-20 Rev 20:11-15, Rev 19:11-21- God demands justice. A friend of mine helped me to understand a little bit more about the nature of God in scripture. God is full of grace, mercy, love and compassion. This is what is preached in most churches today and it is true. However, it is not without God’s righteous requirement for justice. Revelation speaks directly and extensively about God’s meting out of justice upon the sinful people of the earth. He also completes his righteous justice on Satan and all of his followers. God is love and He is righteous, not one or the other. There will be a time of judgement and justice.
Love & Hope Rev 21, Rev 22 - For believers who have accepted Jesus Christ, repented, and been faithful to His covenant, the book of Revelation works out well. There is hope for this rejoining of us to the Father and Jesus in paradise. It is perfect and we will be with them without separation for eternity.
I just finished reading Revelation for this year. I read it every year as a part of my practice of reading the entire bible in a year. I used to hate it, be confused by it and even had my faith shaken by it. I had been focusing on the wrong things.
Revelation tells the story of God’s plan for us finally rejoining him and Jesus in heaven. For me, this makes the other confusing parts of this book accessible because I understand what the book is truly telling me. I am not focused first on the how but rather on the message.
I would love your thoughts in the comment box: What is "God's justice"?