It is regrettable that to so many Christians the book of Revelation seems to be a sealed book. That is not what God intended. The book of Daniel was to be sealed until the time of the end (Daniel 12:9), but of Revelation it is written: “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (22:10, italics added). It is clearly evident that this portion of Holy Scripture was given for our instruction and edification, yet thousands of the Lord’s people permit themselves to be robbed of blessing by ignoring it.
Significantly enough, the book of Revelation begins and ends with a blessing pronounced on those who read and keep what is written therein (1:3; 22:7). Surely God did not mean to mock us by promising a blessing on all who keep what they cannot hope to understand! Only unbelief would so reason. Faith delights to appropriate every part of the sacred record and finds that “they are all plain to him that understandeth” (Proverbs 8:9).
The true title is given in the opening verse. It is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” not “The Revelation of St. John the Divine.” There is no authority for this latter designation and it shows all too plainly how far some early editor had slipped away from basic principles. John was a saint as all believers are saints. He was not a divine! Such a title would have amazed him beyond measure. Nor is the book the revelation of John or of any other servant of God. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ Himself.
The word rendered “revelation” and sometimes “apocalypse” means literally “an unveiling.” So this book is the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is its one great theme. It presents Him as the Son of man in the midst of the churches during the present dispensation and as the Judge and the King in the dispensations to come. If you want to learn to appreciate Christ more, read this book frequently and prayerfully. It reveals Him as the Lamb rejected, yet soon to reign in glory—the Lamb on the throne!
Observe the title is not in the plural. People often speak of the book of Revelations. There is no such book in the Bible. It is the Revelation—one blessed, continuous manifestation of God’s unique Son, the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King. Revelation is the crowning book of the Bible. It is like the headstone of Zechariah 4:7 that completes and crowns the whole wondrous pyramid of truth.
The Pentateuch of Moses forms the broad, solid foundation of this vast pyramid. The covenant history is built on this foundation; then come the Psalms and poetical books followed by the prophetic series of the Old Testament. Higher up we have the Gospels and the Acts, then the Epistles with their deep spiritual instruction. To complete the glorious structure, this last solemn but exceedingly precious book, the Revelation, linking the rest of Scripture with the soon-to-be-manifested glory of God.
Or if you think of Holy Scripture as forming a great golden circle of truth, we start with Genesis, the book of beginnings, and go on through the Testaments until we come to Revelation, the book of the last things. We find it dovetails exactly into the book of Genesis and thus completes the inspired ring. The Word of God is one absolutely perfect, unbroken, and unbreakable circle. A comparison of Genesis and Revelation will readily show how we have the types in Genesis and the completion of the truth in Revelation—in the one book the beginning, in the other the consummation. Genesis gives us the creation of the heavens and the earth. Revelation presents a new heaven and a new earth.
Genesis shows us the earthly paradise, with the tree of life and the river of blessing lost through sin. Revelation gives us the paradise of God with the tree of life and the pure river of life proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb. We are shown paradise regained through Christ’s atonement.
In Genesis we see the first man and his wife set over all God’s creation. In Revelation we behold the second Man and His bride ruling over a redeemed world.
In Genesis we are told of the first typical sacrificial lamb. In Revelation the Lamb once slain is in the midst of the throne.
In Genesis we learn of the beginning of sin, when the serpent entered the garden of delight to beguile Adam and Eve with his sophistries. In Revelation that old serpent called the devil and Satan is cast into the lake of fire.
In Genesis we have the first murderer, the first polygamist, the first rebel, the first drunkard, etc. In Revelation all those who refuse to accept God’s grace in Christ Jesus are banished from His presence forever.
In Genesis we view the rise of Babel, or Babylon. In Revelation we are called to contemplate its doom.
In Genesis we see man’s city; in Revelation the city of God.
Genesis shows us how sorrow, death, pain, and tears—the inevitable accompaniments of sin and rebellion—came into the world* Revelation does not close until we have seen God wiping away all tears and welcoming His redeemed into a home where sin, death, pain, and sorrow never come.
And so we might go on contrasting and comparing these two books, but enough has been cited to stir each interested believer to study for himself. What we ourselves get out of our Bibles in the presence of God is worth far more than all that another passes on to us. We may learn from each other, but it is best to take nothing for granted. Like Ruth the Moabitess, we should “beat out that [which we have] gleaned” through meditation and prayer.
But before we examine this remarkable book, we should point out three very distinct views of Revelation held by commentators. They are generally known as the preterist, historical, and futurist. Each of the three systems of interpretation might be subdivided into various, conflicting schools, but the names give the main point of view in each case.
As a rule, the preterists see very little in the book beyond a weird religio-political document. It was supposedly written by some unknown person who took the name of John in order to give acceptance to his writings, or a John other than the apostle. Preterists hold that the author’s real object was to comfort his Christian brethren in a time of great persecution under one of the Roman emperors. So he portrayed the final outcome of the stern conflict as a great victory for the saints, resulting in the overthrow of paganism and the recognition of a glorious city of God in its place.
The historical school believe that the momentous events of the last nineteen hundred years are the fulfillment of the seals, trumpets, and vials, and the other special visions of the book. According to this view, Revelation cannot be understood apart from a thorough knowledge of the history of the nations comprising Christendom—the sphere where Christ’s authority is nominally owned. The schools of interpretation founded on this supposition are many and varied.
The futurists consider that the largest part of the book applies to a period still future. They believe that only the first three chapters refer to the present church dispensation. Some extreme futurists even relegate these chapters to the end times also; they do not see the church in Revelation at all. Our position in expounding this book will coincide with the futurists first mentioned. The basis for this view will be addressed later.
Recall the occasion when the Lord Jesus restored Peter’s soul after his fall. He told him how when he was old another would lead him where he would not want to go, thus indicating the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then Jesus said, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, and said, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” The Lord answered, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (John 21:18-22). Notice that the Lord Jesus very clearly sets forth two things that are often confused by some Christian teachers—death and the second coming of Christ. He said, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” Jesus clearly put “tarry till I come” in contrast with Peter’s dying before His return. There is no place in Scripture where death and our Lord’s second coming are confused. For death is not the second coming of the Lord; it is to be swallowed up in victory at that second coming. But most of us are extremists, so when the Lord said to Peter, “If I will that he tarry till I come,” the saying “that disciple should not die” was spread among the disciples (23). Jesus did not say that he would not die, but “If I will that he tarry till I come.” And, of course, time proved that the disciples’ hasty conclusion was incorrect.
John died many years ago. Some years before the end of his earthly life, he was banished to the desolate island of Patmos for his faithfulness. There he had a wonderful vision unfolded before him of truth connected with our Lord Jesus’ second coming. Through this vision his ministry abides with us until Christ comes again. John is absent from the body, but present with the Lord-—has been for over 1900 years; but through the ministry given to us in this wonderful book of Revelation, John abides until Jesus comes. He continues to throw light on all the complex problems that God’s people have to meet in this present dispensation. He also helps us understand, as no other ministry does, the great program that God Himself is soon going to carry out.