Section 9B .. The Future/

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An Overview of Revelation

Carol Brooks

The problem with Revelation is not so much that men don’t understand it, but that men don’t believe it.

Also See   Understanding Prophecy and Typology

In the original New Testament Greek the last book of the Bible was called Apocalypsis, which means unveiling or uncovering. In this case the word signifies the revealing of previously unknown facts…  a supernatural disclosure of matters pertaining to human existence or the world. In other words … A Revelation


The Three-fold Purpose of Prophecy
Understanding Prophecy
Avoiding The Extremes
Neatly Packaged Prophetic Schemes

The Book Of Revelation
Revelation Does NOT Describe The End of The World
An Overview of Revelation

The Order Of Revelation
The Symbolism Of Revelation

Seal the Book Until the Time of the End


The Three-fold Purpose of Prophecy:
Authentication, Exhortation and Assurance are the three most significant purposes of prophecy.

Authentication of The Bible: Prophecy is a powerful authentication of the Word of God offering the clearest indication that the Bible is the verifiable Word of God..

    “Yet despite the millions of people who attend church and synagogue every week and the existence of countless books on the subject, most people are simply unaware of these prophecies. They feverishly search through the writings of Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, the Koran, and countless other “sacred texts” in hope of finding a profound truth or revelation concerning the future” but somehow, “the most credible source of information on future events, the Bible, escapes notice. Yet the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible “are backed by mountains of historical data and archaeological evidence” to say nothing of the staggering mathematical improbability of their occurrence merely being the result of chance.

    “No other source of historical knowledge can make the same claims that the Bible does, and for good reason… No other source is the inspired Word of God. Unlike other sacred texts that claim divine origin, the bible can point to its unprecedented track record in foreseeing future events. This is because the bible is not the product of imaginative men, but rather the testimony of prophets who were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak from God. Fulfilled prophecy authenticates the bible, proving it to be the Word of God”. [1]

Assurance: It is impossible to understand God’s purpose for our world apart from the study of biblical prophecy. The Scriptures reveal that not only is there one true God, but that He has a sovereign purpose for this earth… He has planned the end from the beginning and no one will stay His hand. When the future looks less than promising (as is the case in the current recession) and government seems powerless to help (because they are a huge contributing factor?), the knowledge of prophecy can give comfort by reminding us that God is still in control on the throne, and nothing stops Him from carrying out His plans.

    For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'; Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. [Isaiah 46:9-11]

We have the assurance that, regardless of some of the detail that we do not yet understand, His promises are sure and all prophecy culminates in the Lord’s return to earth where he will defeat evil once and for all, setting up his kingdom of peace to reign over the earth for ever.  Prophecy is in fact the very essence of the gospel message.

    “Almost every one of the promises Christians hold near and dear are based on prophecy. The promise of heaven is. The hope of salvation is. The joy of eternity with Christ is. Each of these is a promise from God guaranteeing our future. And what is a prophecy if not a guaranteed future event?” [1]

Exhortation: In the words of Bob Deffinbaugh...

    “Prophecy is much more than a mere telling of the future. Prophets are vastly different from fortune tellers. The prophet’s role was to incite his listeners to godly living.. Through biblical prophecy, the godly will be encouraged to live pure and righteous lives and to be willing to suffer and sacrifice in the present in order to participate in the certain blessings of God’s future promises. In this way, prophecy is profitable to every reader who will hear and obey God’s Word, regardless of whether or not these prophecies are fulfilled in his lifetime. ” [2].

Understanding Prophecy:
There certainly are prophecies that were clearly recognized at the time they were given. For example the scribes were aware that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (although they fell far short of complete understanding and vainly tried to murder Him). However much of Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in a way that no one expected, especially when it came to typology. For example, the Messiah was portrayed by a bronze serpent and a Passover Lamb.  Additionally no one could figure out how this Messiah could suffer for the sins of man (Isaiah 53) and yet own the ends of the earth (Psalm 2). Their understanding was limited at the time and they did not realize that the Messiah would come twice… the first time to die and the second time to reign as King of Kings.

During the life of Jesus, with the exception of a handful of individuals like Simeon and Anna, few realized prophecy was being fulfilled before their very eyes. Mary puzzled over what she had seen and been told (Luke 2) while the disciples did not fully grasp the events of our Lord’s life as fulfilled prophecy until after they had taken place. For example, Matthew called the return of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Israel, after the death of Herod, a fulfillment of the words of Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt did I call My Son” (Matthew 2:15). Until then one wonders if anyone even knew Hosea’s words were prophetic.

Adding to the difficulty are the facts that

    1) prophecy was seldom, if ever, fulfilled in the life of the prophet, usually taking years or centuries to come to pass.

    2) More often than not, Bible prophecies had more than one fulfillment.  Western ideas of prophecy involve prediction and fulfillment. The Hebrew idea of prophecy is a pattern that is repeated, multiple fulfillments with one ultimate fulfillment. Each of the multiple fulfillments being both a type of, and an assurance of the ultimate fulfillment. [See Understanding Prophecy and Typology]

If so many of the old time prophets and other people of God were puzzled over aspects of prophecy, what makes us think that we have it all figured out, down to the last detail…

Avoiding The Extremes
It seems obvious that God wants human being to pay attention to the future. Between one-fifth and one-fourth of the Bible is prophecy, so those who reject the study of Biblical prophecy choose to avoid twenty to twenty-five per cent of the Bible. Also, if it really doesn't matter what we believe about the last days, there was no reason for God to devote such a large portion of His Word to it.

It is true that we do see those that are fixated on last-days prophecy, studying the fig tree, the four-horsemen, the bear from the north, six-six-six, the mark of the beast, trying and figure out just when all hell is going to break loose on the earth.  However too many of these people don’t really believe what they say they believe. If they did, they would be spending more time rescuing their valuables (friends) and making sure that no one was left in the burning house (America). Instead the focus is on storing up greater riches, buying bigger houses, praying for greater financial blessings, and building bigger churches… acting as if the church building is a rapture bus-stop

Way over in the opposite corner are those that completely ignore prophecy, either because they believe that no one can really understand the prophecies in the Bible, or because they imagine there few, if any, prophecies in the Bible concern events that will transpire in the future. They think that almost all end-time Biblical prophecies were fulfilled by the end of the First Century A.D. For example, they believe that the great tribulation Jesus Christ talked about in Matthew 24 happened when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A. D.

Neatly Packaged Prophetic Schemes
Simply because it can get quite complicated, many people view those that have some knowledge of prophecy as having great spiritual insight, but too many popular, prophetic schemes pander to Easy Christianity.. “Don’t worry, we’ll all be out of here before the tribulation starts”. A tremendous disservice to God’s people who will not be prepared when the church starts experiencing serious persecution and when God’s wrath falls on this planet.

Many well-known speakers who ‘specialize’ in prophecy have an “I have it all figured out” attitude, often using extensive charts to make sure their complicated layouts are being followed. Some of the teachings have boiled down to a total of seven dispensations, eight covenants, two second comings, three or four resurrections, and at least four judgments. It is impossible to believe this is Biblical. Others, through the years, have actually set dates for the rapture and the second coming of Christ, while yet others have claimed through the years that they know who the Antichrist is. When these dates came and went without incident, and the prominent leader identified as the Antichrist proved not to have fangs or horns, it simply gave the non Christian more cause to ridicule Biblical Christianity.

Additionally, many Christians, instead of learning from the past mistakes, simply threw the baby out with the bath water and ignored all prophecy. What is really sad is that not near enough of these false prophets wound up with egg on their faces.. some keeping followers who made up endless excuses for them. 

    For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings. [2 Timothy 4:3]

The Book Of Revelation
Is one of the world's most misunderstood, misinterpreted and perplexing books ever written and has been dismissed as the work of an extremely delusional individual on the one hand, and hailed as a masterpiece on the other. Revelation quite understandably causes people to ask questions like

    Who was it written to, and why?
    Is it relevant today?
    Is it even possible for us to understand it?
    What are the meanings of its mysterious symbols?

Yet, most of our knowledge of end time events comes from the book of Revelation which is, interestingly, the only book that calls down a blessing on those that read and hear it’s words, possibly because heeding the words of Revelation reminds us that the pleasures of this world are temporary, and encourages us to persevere in resisting evil and pursuing righteousness.

    “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein” (Rev. 1:3). Also See Titus 2:11-13.

There seems to nothing but extremes when it comes to Biblical prophecy, especially Revelation. Mired in misunderstanding and confusion… Revelation is often seen as the territory of the lunatic fringe, eagerly anticipating the end of the world. However …

Revelation Does NOT Describe The End of The World
The following is a quote from Restoration: World Won't End in "Fire and Ice" by Darris McNeely

    “Sadly most people read Revelation and mistakenly conclude it describes the "end of the world". Revelation does not describe the end of the world. Rather it describes the conclusion of the age of man on this planet in terms that offer the only message of hope found anywhere.

     Most people believe that life on this planet will one day be altered beyond anything we recognize today. People's misunderstanding leads to the catastrophic conclusion that the world just ends. Nothing. Oblivion. It all returns to darkness.

    No wonder people look at Bible prophecy as only a message of gloom and doom and want no part in that kind of message. I wouldn't want to read it either. What people need today more than anything else is a message of hope. Life is tough and there is a lot of bad news in the world and our personal lives. Why spend time with a message that is hopeless?

    Now I admit that prophecy does deal with much that is not pleasant. But a careful, unbiased study will show that much of what prophecy discusses is what man brings upon himself. And when God acts to intervene in human affairs, it is only after much warning that something must change. When God punishes, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. He always holds out hope. This is true of even the most terrifying prophecies of the Bible.

    Bible prophecy is anchored in the fact that God is in control of His creation. This world, and human life with it, is not going to vaporize into the cosmos. Man will not blow himself up in a nuclear war and create a "nuclear winter" unsuitable for any life-form. Your Bible shows from Genesis to Revelation that God will give every opportunity for man to achieve the utopia of the Kingdom of God. And this wonderful world of the future, long prophesied by every major prophet of God, will come to pass. And you will have your chance to enter that Kingdom as a child of God…

    Revelation is the capstone of all God's prophecies of the world to come. It goes into much detail about what that world will be like. Human tradition has cast these details aside as spiritual allegory that doesn't really mean what it says. But God's Word does mean what it says—your future, mine and the future of all of humanity depends on those promises”.  [3]

An Overview Of Revelation
Revelation is a book of striking contrasts and admittedly difficult to understand because it is written in the field of apocalyptic writing, which was never intended to be a kind of puzzle in which every symbol has to be cunningly interpreted. Revelation was not written to satisfy our curiosity about future events, nor to make any of us into ‘prophets’, but to assure believers that God’s redemptive program will go forward and give us a general idea as to what to expect. Revelation, very importantly, helps prepare believers for what is to come to pass and outlines our Christian hope.

    Revelation paints for us a picture of God’s judgment on His enemies, the end of history as we know it, and a new world for God's saints. Jesus Christ will return and will institute a world that will not only last forever, but where there will be no pain, no suffering and no sin.

    However before He sets up His kingdom, God’s righteous anger for all the wrongs committed will cause Him to bring punishment on the transgressors. He will flood the earth in a series of judgments, which get progressively worse as the end times progress.  This will be a time of suffering and turmoil such as the world has never seen, and as Jesus said… no human being would survive if God were not to cut it short.  This devastating period of time was described in several different terms in both Old and New Testaments. Isaiah described it thus.. “Men will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the Lord when He arises to make the earth tremble”. [Isaiah 2:19]

    But to add to the problems, Satan is not going to give up without a fight and the transition from Satan's control of the earth to Jesus Christ's rule will be neither easy nor painless. As part of his strategy, Satan will cause the rise of two “beasts”, who together will "make war with the saints and overcome them. One will be a great leader who will play a pivotal role in a massive end-time religious deception and will be followed by millions of people.  The second beast is likely to be an end-time coalition of nations… an alliance of internationally powerful political entities.

    There will be one final battle when God will overthrow Satan and his minions, and a judgment, which in the long run is all that counts, since it is the time when the fate of every single individual on the face of this earth will be decided.

    Following which God will establish His long promised Kingdom on earth.

While it is certain that all the prophecies in Revelation will be literally fulfilled, we simply can not expect them to be neatly packaged, with all relevant charts and maps. Many of the end-time prophecies of Revelation will remain puzzling, or even ambiguous, until after they are fulfilled, not in the least part because of …

The Order and Symbolism Of Revelation

The Order of Revelation
To be particularly noted is the fact that all chapter and verse divisions in Scripture were added much after the books were written… to facilitate reference and make it simpler to locate certain accounts. However these divisions sometimes (not always) ignore logical and natural divisions and can even interrupt the continuity of narrative and the author’s flow of thought.

There are a wide range of opinion regarding the sequence of events in Revelation. Some believe the book is in perfect chronological order while others think there is no sequence whatsoever.  However, if one were to step back from all the detail and look at an overall picture of Revelation a basic sequence of events does emerge. In a nutshell, the Seven Seals are followed by the Seven Trumpet judgments of the wrath of God, after which come the Seven Bowls (or vials) in which God’s wrath is complete, the battle of Armageddon and the defeat of Satan. Finally Jesus returns and establishes a new Heaven and a new Earth over which He will reign for a thousand years of peace

This would be simple enough except that the above sequence is interrupted more than once to show John (and the reader) some of the background to what is actually taking place. For example...

Chapter Nine deals with the Fifth and Sixth Trumpet, after which Revelation pauses a moment in it’s recital of ongoing events.

    In chapter 10 John receives a commission to prophesy to many people.

    In the opening verses of Chapter 11 we find John measuring the temple, while the rest of Chapter 11 talks of The Two Witnesses (it is uncertain when exactly they make their entrance).

    In chapters 12, 13 and part of 14, John is shown a symbolic panorama of events and people sweeping backwards over the last two thousand years, and through the major players and events of the tribulation period to after Jesus’ return to earth. [See A Dragon and Two Beasts]

The sequence is picked up again in the second half of Chapter 14 with an angel preaching the Gospel to all on the earth (the last opportunity anyone will ever have to obtain salvation), the warning about the Mark of the Beast followed by the ‘reaping’ of the inhabitants of the earth.. [See The Earth Shaking Seventh Trumpet]

Chapters 15 and 16 are an account of the Seven Bowls (in which the wrath of God is finished) and the battle of Armageddon.

However Chapters 17 and 18 are not part of the chronological sequence of Revelation, and do not follow the seven bowls which completely destroy the earth, but are part of the reason for God’s judgment on the earth. These chapters are yet another break taken in the sequence of events to describe two different aspects of “Babylon”, and the resulting judgment.  Chapter 17 deals with the spiritual side of Babylon (“Mystery Babylon”), while chapter 18 deals with Babylon as a political and commercial system. Two faces of the same coin, a religious and an economic system, both of which endeavor to operate independently of, and in opposition to, the true God.

The Symbolism Of Revelation
Revelation is steeped in imagery and uses a bewildering and sometimes weird array of symbols...angels with trumpets and bowls, beasts emerging from the sea, locusts shaped like horses with tails like scorpions, waters turning to blood, a bottomless pit, dragons with seven heads, a woman sitting on a scarlet beast etc.

The language and style of apocalyptic literature in general, and Revelation in particular, was not literal but always highly dramatic in order to present the huge, almost indescribable, spiritual realities it was trying to portray.  The situations depicted were often deliberately exaggerated and (in some cases) even bizarre, in order that the message was not mistaken or underestimated. However, Revelation was never intended to be a kind of puzzle in which every symbol has to be cleverly interpreted. While we should endeavor to understand as many of the details as possible, the fundamental message... the thread that runs through the entire book is an assurance that God will ultimately prevail and establish His kingdom here on earth which is the eternal 'Heaven" promised us.

Symbolism and The Modern Reader:
To a great extent the describing of spiritual realities by symbolism is familiar even to the modern reader of the Bible.

For example Revelation 1:16 portrays Christ with a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth, which most Christians understand as not being a literal description, but perceive the sword as a reference to the sharpness and power of the word of God… able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [Hebrews 4:12]

Symbolism in The OT: However one has to not only be aware that a huge percentage of the book of Revelation is symbolic, but also the fact that quite a bit of the symbolism has been used before in the Old Testament, and laying some ground work is essential.  It is often the case that one only has to turn back a few pages to gain a better understanding of what the symbolism is trying to portray. Much of the language and imagery is common between the book of Daniel and Revelation, with the difference that the imagery is often clearly explained in Daniel, which makes it one of the prime keys by which we understand Revelation.  However note that Daniel also said that meanings of some of the prophecies would remain mysteriously obscure until the end of time.

One illustration of how one should understand the symbolism of Revelation by referring to the Old deals with the upheaval of the very topography of the earth as described in the following verses…

    And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. [Revelation 6:14]

    And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. [Rev 20:11]

    And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. [Rev 16:20]

However mountains (and islands) were commonly portrayed in the Old Testament as being displaced, shaken, moved, etc. as a result of the presence of the Lord... For example

    The mountains quaked at the presence of Jehovah, Even yon Sinai at the presence of Jehovah, the God of Israel. [Judges 5:5]

    Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations also of the mountains quaked And were shaken, because he was wroth. [Psalm 18:7]

    The mountains skipped like rams, The hills, like lambs. [Psalm 114:4]

    I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved to and fro. [Jeremiah 4:24]

Since we are reasonably sure that none of these verses described literal or physical displacement or movement of mountains and islands, perhaps the same logic has to be assigned to Revelation.. Why are we insisting that every mountain will physically disappear?

Self Interpretation:
Sometimes Revelation interprets itself as in when John sees a harlot sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast, that has seven heads and ten horns. We are told in verse 9 that the seven heads of the beast that the woman sits on are seven mountains, and since verse ten goes on to say that these seven mountains are seven kings, five of which have already fallen, the mountains have to represent governments or world powers (kingdoms), not literal hills.

However not everything in Revelation is symbolic…  The difficulty lies in trying to decide when to distinguish when Revelation is using prophetic hyperbole and when it is being literal.  One outstanding exception to the symbolism may be The Two Witnesses.

Many have claimed that these two witnesses are symbolic of a power or movement perhaps. However the general tenor of the verses is that of a straight forward description of two exceptional individuals, while the imagery of the olive trees and lampstands is borrowed from Zechariah 4, which refers to two actual individuals, Zerubbabel and Joshua.

Additionally the term “witness” in the New Testament is always used of persons. Under the law, two witnesses were required, and were enough, to establish any fact. Jesus even said that if the testimony of two men were sufficient to establish a fact, his own testimony and that of his Father ought to be esteemed ample evidence in the case of religious doctrine. [John 8:13-18]. Besides which, both Jesus and the early church sent out emissaries in pairs (See Mark 6:7, Acts 13:2, 15:39-40).

Therefore the account of the life of the two witnesses preaching in Jerusalem, followed by their death, resurrection and ascension is more than likely to be literal, as is the account of the earthquake that follows and the seven thousand individuals (round number?) who die in it. These events cause many to realize that God is neither asleep nor defeated. [See The Two Witnesses]

So as said before, Revelation is certainly not an easy book to understand. While there is much that is clear in the book, God did tell Daniel to…

Seal the Book Until the Time of the End

    But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. (Daniel 12:4, KJV)

    And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. (Daniel 12:8-9 KJV)

The book of Daniel has been a part of Jewish Scripture for thousands of years, therefore when the angel told Daniel to ‘seal the book’ and that ‘the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end’, it could not mean that the actual book was sealed , but the understanding of the prophecies that was to be sealed until the end of time.

The angel then went on to say…

    Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand. (Daniel 12:10 KJV)

In other words only the wise will understand the words of the prophecy.

End Notes

[1] Britt Gillette. Why Study Bible Prophecy? http://brittgillette.com/WordPress/?page_id=6

[2] Bob Deffinbaugh. The Purpose of Prophecy. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=2167

[3]  Darris McNeely. Restoration: World Won't End in "Fire and Ice”

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