Friday, January 2, 2009

Revelation: The Big Picture

Many people find the book of Revelation to be confusing. One way to take away confusion is to look at the big picture of Revelation. Read or listen to Revelation in one sitting, start to finish. It takes about an hour to listen to the entire book. One good place to listen online or download audio files is AudioTreasure.

Listen OnlineMP3 Download
Streaming KJVZipped MP3 KJV
Streaming World English Bible (WEB)Zipped MP3 Chapters 1-11 (WEB),
Zipped MP3 Chapters 12-22 (WEB)

An online class I found helpful on Revelation is a series taught by Charles E. Hill of Reformed Theological Seminary. It is an adult Sunday School series that is oriented to people without theological degrees. His Revelation course is here . Dr. Hill teaches from an idealist and amillennial perspective.

What is the Big Picture? Reading Revelation reveals at least the following scheme:

(1) There is a heavenly vision of Christ.
(2) A letter to seven churches with particular exhortations to those churches.
(3) Lots of trouble, but God is active in preserving the saints. The saints may loose their lives, but they are ultimately protected.
(4) Final judgement.
(5) Final victory of Christ and his people.

Most everyone can see that general flow no matter how one approaches Revelation. Of course we can see more detail than that, just seeing a very big layout helps in starting to understand Revelation.

Another thing to notice is Revelation is full of images. In some passages the images are identified. in other passages the images are not explicitly identified. Revelation is written in symbolic form. Revelation gathers images from the Old Testament -- but modifies them, has numerous allusions to the New Testament, pulls images from Hebrew, Greek, and Roman culture -- but again modifies these.

Question: Is John reporting the symbols just as he is seeing them? Or is John looking into the future, seeing things that he has no idea of they are and describes them as best as he can? For instance, did John see in the future wave after wave of Apache attack helicopters, and since he did not know what they were, he described them as locusts?

The answer, I think, is that John is reporting the symbols just as he sees them. Locusts are actually locusts, not helicopters. Many symbols cannot be pictured as a literal thing. For instance:

(Revelation 11:8 NASB) And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.

Literally there is no city that is Egypt, Sodom, and where Christ was crucified. The symbol description gives a picture of this city. The Israelites, before the Exodus, were in bondage in Egypt. Egypt is a place of bondage. In the Old Testament, Sodom was a city of great evil. Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified, was the center of false religion. This word image paints a picture of where the dead bodies of the two witnesses (another symbol) will lay. The place is evil, enslaves its residents, and practices false religion.

Numbers show up. Numbers have symbolic importance. Seven indicates universality or completeness. The seven churches are literal seven churches in Revelation, but the number seven indicates the universality of the message to all the churches throughout the ages. Twelve is associated with the twelve apostles, the twelve tribes of Israel, twenty-four can indicate the entire span of history from Israel through the church. Look for sentence structures of threes, often indicating attributes of the Triune God.

Let the images percolate in you mind as you read them. Sometimes one symbol can refer to several related things. Revelation is a book for ruminating, playing the images over and over in your mind.


  1. Earl,
    Had you considered that John, in prison, was coding his messages so that the letter would get out. Could it be that they recognized Nero Caesar? Things were shortly to come to pass. Why can't the Great Tribulation be the 70 destruction of the Temple? The images of Revelation, in code from the author of Revelation, also perculated and ruminated in the minds of the first century churches to whom this book was addressed.
    New Kid

  2. Other than Dr. Hill, have you considered the writings of Calvin, Matthew Henry, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, etc.? Who besides Earl subscribes to idealist/ammellennialist?

  3. New Kid,

    The real issue is not whether you or I have jumped through the hoop of reading enough resources on Revelation. Sure that helps. I have read Calvin, Edwards, Hodge, Luther, etc. on the topic. While these men are great thinkers, none of us agree 100% with what they say. Do you subscribe to Edward's realism in the Fall? Not many do. It is not clear really what Calvin and Luther fully believed. Technically the may have been Historicists, which has differences from Postmillennialism (such as the Roman Catholic Church was the Beast). Calvin didn't write a commentary on Revelation, but he wrote a commentary on virtually every other book.

    Have you listened to Charles Hill? Read G.K. Beal's huge and exhaustive commentary on Revelation? We can ask these kind of questions to each other, but what really matters, in my opinion, on this blog, is the arguments we present for our case. Resources are helpful, but let's take the time to set the case in our words.

  4. Gotcha. Will try to listen to Hill and order Beal if not too expensive. We just got rid of much of our theological library.

    New Kid

  5. I tried to download Dr. Hill's 24 lectures and now I can't open it. Not sure what format I should use.

  6. New Kid,

    I've been misspelling Beale. Also, don't feel you should buy the commentary. We don't have to read what everyone suggests. While Beale's commentary is in my opinion the best out there (he presents the other views too), it is lengthy and requires a lot of determination to read it.

    On Dr. Hill's lectures, I used the mp3-16 files. These are 16-bit mp3 files that most players (like iPod) will be able to play. The mp3-8 is a lower quality (AM radio quality) 8-bit sound file which some players will not play. I don't know what the other formats are since I never downloaded them.

    Again, don't feel you must listen to Dr. Hill. Interacting from our backgrounds will be interesting enough.

  7. One of the interesting things about Jonathan Edwards' view on Revelation is that it was shaped by a very optimistic period in the American Colonies. America was viewed as the City on the Hill and there was huge optimism among many that God's kingdom was breaking out. This is where I think Edwards was shaped more by the cultural optimism than necessarily by biblical principles.

    I admire Edwards greatly. His book, Freedom of the Will was what sold me on the basic principles of Reformed Theology. It is a masterpiece in analyzing the Bible in the area of human freedom and zeroing in on the nature of the will. But even great geniuses can make mistakes.


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