Interpreting Revelation

Few books of the Bible have been as controversial in their interpretation as Revelation. This article is a transcript of various sermons and lectures I’ve given over the years about how I approach the book. I’ve included it here essentially so I can link to it whenever Coffee with the King deals with a text from Revelation – to avoid having to justify the way I’m interpreting it each time. Enjoy!

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A Very Apocalyptic Christmas – Part Four

On Monday, we began our Christmas week series through Revelation chapter 12. You need to start from the beginning of the week, or this won’t make sense. 

The unhappy dragon

So far, we’ve seen the dragon (Satan) defeated in his attempts to kill the young hero born to a woman. What’s more, he’s been cast down from the skies. Defeated, yes, but not yet destroyed. And as you might expect, the dragon isn’t particularly happy about being cast down from the sky. In fact, the voice from heaven gives us a bit of a warning:

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A Very Apocalyptic Christmas – Part Three

On Monday, we began our Christmas week series through Revelation chapter 12. You need to start from the beginning of the week, or this won’t make sense. 

So far, we’ve read Revelation 12 and identified the woman as “Mother Zion” – the true mother of the real saviour of the world (not Mother Rome and her emperor-son). The dragon is Satan, who – just like in Greek and Roman mythology – wants to kill the saviour-god who is born. But he’s thwarted in his plans, and is defeated by the young hero when he comes of age.

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A Very Apocalyptic Christmas – Part One

To end our Revelation series – and to prepare for Christmas on the weekend – we’re going to be looking at everyone’s favourite Christmas-themed passage: Revelation chapter 12. (What could possibly go wrong?)

But this is a very different telling of the Christmas story from the ones we’re most familiar with. It’s not the one from the Gospel of Matthew, written from the perspective of a Jew who saw Jesus’ birth as the fulfilment of OT prophecy. Nor is it the one from Luke’s Gospel, from the perspective of a Gentile historian, who saw Jesus’ birth as part of God’s great plan of salvation for all of humanity.

In fact, it’s not really told from a human, earthly perspective at all. But a heavenly one. A spiritual one. A vision given to a guy called John while he was exiled on the island of Patmos, and written down in what we call the book of Revelation.

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The New Heaven & New Earth (Rev 22)

Today we conclude our look at Revelation’s description of the future that awaits us – a recreated world in which there’s no more evil, in which sin’s curse has been undone, and in which we can see God face-to-face. If you’re just joining us, start with yesterday’s post.

Revelation 22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 

The river of the water of life reminds us of Eden, in  Genesis 2:

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The New Heaven & New Earth (Rev 21)

Yesterday, we looked at the fate of those who remain opposed to God. Over the next two days, we end on a much brighter note – the future that awaits those who are faithful to God, and worship him only.

Revelation 21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 

The chapter begins with a new heaven and a new earth, replacing or renewing the former ones. Although surfers may be disappointed that there’s no longer any sea, don’t panic: it’s symbolic. The sea symbolises the evil forces of chaos – just like in the creation story, where God subdued the chaos of the waters and caused dry land to appear.

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The Millennium and other miscellany (Rev 20)

Yesterday in our Revelation series, we saw the fate of those who remained true to Jesus, being invited to the great wedding supper of the Lamb. It was contrasted with the fate of those who remained opposed to him and who mistreated his people: the beast and the false prophet were thrown into the fiery lake, and the rest were destroyed. Today, we look at some final tidying up of things, before we get a glimpse, tomorrow, of our future in the age to come. 

The millennium – mentioned only in this small section of Scripture – has strangely divided Christians for a long time into different camps: are you pre-millennial, post-millennial, or a-millennial. (Why? Let’s just say that one particular view tried  to hijack the issue and link their way of understanding it to whether you took Scripture “literally” – so if you disagreed with them, it was a sign you were a liberal heretic. Thankfully, those days seem to be on the way out. See my overview on reading Revelation for a longer explanation.)

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The Rider on the White Horse (Rev 19)

Yesterday in our Revelation series, we saw the prophesied end of the great prostitute (Rome) because of its exploitation of the empire and its persecution of God’s people. Today, we move into the next phase of God setting things right – into our future – when Christ returns.

We ended yesterday on a note of triumph – the vindication of God’s people, as the whore of Babylon (Rome) is destroyed. Today, we see a stark contrast with the Bride of Christ (the Church):

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Fallen is Babylon (Rev 17-19)

Over the last two weeks in Revelation, we’ve seen how the beast (the Roman Emperor) set itself up as a rival god to the one, true God – and forced the people of the empire to worship it. Chapter 13 was all about presenting the emperor as he really was, rather than how Rome’s PR department would have you see him. Chapters 14-15 then gave motivation for resisting the mark of the beast (worshipping the emperor), contrasting the future that awaits Team Beast with that which awaits Team Jesus. Today, we briefly look at the fate of Rome and her emperor (chapters 17-19), as Revelation moves from its readers’ present into its readers’ near future.

Chapter 17 starts off with a by-now-routine announcement from an explanatory angel:

Revelation 17:1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters.”

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Overcoming the Beast – Part Four (Rev 14-15)

Last week, we looked at the mark of the beast – going along with the rest of the empire in worshipping the emperor as a god, in place of the one true God. And we saw how we, too, often go along with our world and its idolatry. This week, we’re looking at how Revelation encourages its readers not to go along with the world, by appealing to the four cardinal virtues of advantage, justice, courage, and self-control – how Revelation helps us to resist the mark of the beast.

The victors

We arrive today at chapter 15, which jumps again to a vision of those who overcome and resist the mark of the beast. (Those who didn’t were a big, bloody mess at the end of chapter 14, if you recall.) Here, John’s vision paints their situation like that of Israel as slaves in Egypt. In fact, he describes their future deliverance – their final salvation – using exodus terminology. It will be a new, and greater exodus!

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