As we hurtle to “the end of the world” on December 21, 2012, when the poles are supposed to reverse and the Earth come apart, more and more people are looking to the apostle John’s book of Revelation for answers/predictions of coming events. (This behavior is nothing new. Christians have been doing it–probably–since the First Century.)
So, permit me to add a ‘balanced and sane’ view of John’s apocalypse into the mix. Hopefully you’ll give this some serious thought before permitting your brain to fall out onto the floor as so many do when reading, studying or teaching the book.
If I wrote a book and stated in the opening paragraph, “This is a work of fiction. Do not believe that anything in it actually took place.” Then, told the story and stated, again, in the closing paragraph, “This has been a work of fiction. Do not believe that anything in it actually took place“, would you then conclude that what I had written was actual fact? or
history in any sense??
Well, that’s exactly the type of thing John does with his Revelation … not about its truthfulness, but about its timeframe. He does it at the opening of the book (1:1, 1:3) and at the closing of the book (22:6, 22:10), four verses that are (almost) universally ignored today:
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:” Rev. 1:1
“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” Rev. 1:3
“And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.” Rev. 22:6
“And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.” Rev. 22:10
(As an aside, note John’s use of the word “must”, twice. Not “should”, not “ought to”; but must.)
“But,” I hear you say, “doesn’t the Bible say, ‘One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’?” It sure does, in 2 Peter 3:8. Peter’s verse was written (most likely in Rome) from 60-68 A.D., regarding the happenings at the end of time/the world. But John in Revelation–77-79 A.D.–is warning first century Christians of things that will soon happen to them.
God knows the difference between things that are “at hand” and things that are “many days” off, Daniel 8:23-26:
23 And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.
24 And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.
25 And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.
26 And the vision of the evening and the morning which was told is true: wherefore shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days.
Daniel, here, is writing of things that would occur 380 years away (in 170 B.C when the Selucid kings would rise) and Daniel calls 380 years, “many days” off.
John, on the other hand, opens and closes the book of Revelation saying “the time is AT HAND” and the things he wrote would “SHORTLY come to pass“.
There’s NO exegetical reason to think John was writing about things that would take place 2,000 years in his future, when, in the Old Testament, Daniel wrote about things that would happen in 380 years, and called them “many days” away.
John was writing to warn the fledgling Church that the greatest power on Earth (Rome) was about to try to destroy it (the Church).
Nero did a severe persecution of the Church in 64 A.D., but it was limited to the city of Rome. The emperor Domitian was about to make persecution empire-wide (89-96 A.D.). THAT was John’s message. It has nothing to do with us, today.
Now, don’t misunderstand, there is a principle that applies to us today, and that is that, no matter what power comes up against the Lord’s Church, the Church will prevail (and that’s what John is saying when he speaks of “Gog and Magog”).
Study the Old Testament, to keep your brains in place, when you read the book of Revelation … and encourage others to do the same. 3/4 of the book of Revelation uses Old Testament references. You MUST understand the Old Testament to understand what Revelation is about.
If you want to really dig into this, I invite you to go to
(I was blessed to have Jim as an instructor in preaching school
back in the ’70s. He’s got his head on straight about Revelation
… and pretty much everything else in Scripture.)
God bless you in your study of His Word!