Everyone wants to read and study Revelation. Because it isn’t simply a straightforward prose dissertation, some believe it takes a special enlightenment to read it or that they are especially enlightened if they figure it out. Certainly, it takes a different skill set to read Revelation than the gospel of John. And certainly, when you know what Revelation means you know something important. But, perhaps we have overblown both sides of this. In fact, in some ways, we might be better served to realize Revelation is one of the simplest books in the Bible. I wonder if the problem is not that Revelation is so confusing as much as we make it confusing because we expect it to do more than God intended. May I share some simple principles to help read Revelation more productively?
Keep in mind the time frame. Read the following passages: Revelation 1:1, 3; 2:16; 3:11; 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20. Revelation is talking about things that will take place soon and the time is near. Don’t read Revelation to figure out some coded explanation of our future. Find the message the people then needed to know about soon.
Revelation is signified. Multiple translations explain in the very first verse of the book that God “sent and signified” this message to His servants. That is an important concept. Read that “sign-ify.” That is, it is a book of signs and symbols. In other words, the 144,000 represent something, but they don’t represent the number of saved people. Seals on the forehead represent something, but not that either Satan or God will literally put stamps on people’s foreheads.
Revelation is showing, not telling. Revelation 1:1 says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants…” He doesn’t say “which God gave him to tell.” Revelation is not to be read like a book, it is to be envisioned like a movie. We are being transported into a vision. It is more like a dream and less like a documentary.
Think pictures, not paragraphs. Revelation is a sequence of pictures, images. Don’t think of it as a series of paragraphs, think of it as a video sequence. Look at the “big picture” of each sequence. More often than not it is the picture as a whole that signifies something, not every single word or detail. Thus, the gold, jewels, and pearls carried by Babylon the great don’t represent anything more than the picture of a woman clothed royally. We don’t have to figure out what the gold means or what the pearls mean.
Christ and His church wins. This is the only point Revelation is concerned with. While we are busy trying to outline a timeline of events (whether in our past or in our future) we miss what all those pictures are actually telling us. God isn’t trying to tell us His step-by-step plan of which king is going to do what, when. He is telling us one thing. Christ wins. Christ’s church wins. Sometimes it looks like we lose, but we don’t. We win. When we back up and quit trying to figure out if it is about Claudius or Nero or Vespasian or the Pope or whoever, and instead take these pictures for what they represent, we get the real message. We get the message that provided hope for John’s partners in tribulation. And we get the message we need to know today. Yes, sometimes it looks like God is losing. But He isn’t. He knows what is going on. He knows how to win. He will win.