There are four key verses in Revelation which strongly
suggest that we need to understand the book from an historical perspective.
Revelation 1:1 is the first of these: "The revelation of Jesus Christ,
which God gave to him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly
come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant
John." (All Bible qoutes are from the KJV)
Notice the phrase "things which must shortly come to pass." This same phrase is repeated in Revelation 22:6. In the Greek text it is identical to the 1:1 phrase. Together these two references are a strong textual indication that the events described by Revelation are not given for some far of future date.
Let us note how the term shortly is used in Acts 12:7. An angel tells Peter to arise "quickly". The words "shortly" and "quickly" are translations of the same Greek word. In Acts 22:18 it is also translated as quickly, and the word is used in reference to Paul leaving Jerusalem immediately. In Acts 25:4 Festus speaks of going to Caesrea shortly. For sure this can't mean in a few years, never mind a few hundred years. So clearly the term suggests immediately, without delay. Given these examples of how the term is used, strongly suggests we should see it meaning immediately, without delay, in Revelation. Therefore Revelation opens and closes with a witness to the imminence of the events it describes.
There are two other verses in Revelation which support this suggestion of imminence, and therefore suggest a historicist view. Revelation 1:3 states: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written herein: for the time is at hand."
Note the phrase "for the time is at hand". Like the previous phrase, this one is also repeated at the end of Revelation in 22:10. It however has a slight, but very important variation. A literal rendering of the 1:3 phrase would be "for the time at hand". The word "is" is not part of the text but is understood. A literal rendering of the 22:10 phrase would be: "for the time at hand, it is." The added word "it is" in 22:10 suggests a deliberate and intentional emphasis. This added word in 22:10 is present indicative in form. In Greek grammar this form is sometimes used as a prophetic future, and it would have to be such in order for us to see Revelation as futuristic. However if that is the purpose of the present indicative in Revelation 22:10, why is it not used in 1:3?
Since this is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, lets find out how Jesus used this present indicative word. In Matthew 26:18 Jesus states: "my time at hand it is." (literal rendering) Obviously Jesus used the word to emphasize that His time for going to the cross had come. Given that the word is used at the end of Revelation, and not the beginning, clearly indicates an emphasis. An emphasis that draws attention to the fact that the events described in Revelation where to begin immediately and without delay.
Like John, Daniel was also visited by an angel. However unlike John, Daniel was told to seal the book until the time of the end.(Dan. 12:4) On the other hand John is told not to seal up the book for the time is at hand. The implication is clear: Daniel was not living in the end of time, John was. Scripture is very clear about when we entered the last days. Hebrews 1:1,2 tells us that God has spoken to us by His son, “ in these last days”. It couldn’t be said any clearer. With the coming of Jesus we entered the last days. Scriptures like Galatians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11 and 1 Peter 4:7 also indicate that the coming of Jesus as Savior marks the last days and the end of the world. With the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the events set for the end of the age where ready to take place. Therefore ‘the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, was sent and signified by his angel unto his servant John.’ The vision was sealed up by Daniel because it was for John and the Church.
Dispensational theology holds that Revelation speaks of a coming seven year tribulation period. This tribulation period is held to mark the end of the Church age, also known as the days of grace. During this tribulation period God allows Satan the right to this earth. The tribulation ends with the return of Jesus and the defeat of Satan. Jesus then takes His place as the Lion of the tribe of Judah and sets up His millennial kingdom.
However the events that John sees and describes strongly suggests we are to see Revelation in a post ascension setting rather than a premillennial setting. The text details the events as part of the Church age. John is shown – and that very pointedly - that the events unfold under the economy of grace.
Notice that John either sees or mentions Jesus as the Lamb twenty six times in Revelation. John never sees Jesus as the Lion, and there is only one mention of Him as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” (Rev.5:5) The breaking of the seals, which in turn gives rise to everything that follows, is under the jurisdiction and administration of the Lamb. John makes it very clear: without the Lamb there would be no seals, trumpets, or vials.
Consider Revelation 5: When no one is found to open the sealed book, John is told that the Lion has prevailed to do so. If the breaking of the seals is the ending of the days of grace and a seven year precursor to the millennium kingdom, would we not expect that John should now see the Lion? He doesn’t! Instead he sees a Lamb “as it had been slain”. A detail that obviously puts the event in a post resurrection context. John would never have associated the events he describes here as something to happen two thousand years in the future. Seeing the Lamb would remind John of the events of Calvary and his post resurrection experiences. It would have been a specific reminder of Jesus showing them the marks of His death after the resurrection. (John 20:27)
To these events as happening two thousand years later is to ignore John’s deliberate and pointed reference to the Lamb. John would have accepted that what he was seeing was taking place in heaven at that precise point in time. The phrase “as it had been slain” definitely places this event in the context of Calvary, and therefore the days of grace – the Church age.
Dispensational theology would have us believe that the breaking of the seals points to God’s judgement of sin before the ushering in of the millennium kingdom. If that is true then the Lamb of Revelation is not the Lamb of John’s gospel. For John declared: “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world”. So if Revelation deals with the judgement of sinners, then the Lamb is symbolic of judgement rather than our redemption. However scripture is very clear on this matter. Jesus appeared once to take away sin. (Heb.9:26) His second appearance will be without sin. (Heb.6:28) So the Lamb speaks of and is symbolic of the first coming of Jesus to take away sin. Therefore the Lamb witnesses to Jesus coming to redeem, not condemn.
Revelation 5:3,4 make it clear that the sealed book would remain sealed unless someone is found to open it. John weeps because no one is found who is worthy to take the book and break the seals. There is one exception to this rule, and that exception is the Lamb. It is stated that: “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and loose the seven seals thereof.” (Rev. 5:5) However John does not see a Lion, he sees a Lamb. Now obviously the Lion and the Lamb are symbolic of Jesus. However they are references to Jesus in two distinct portfolios. Jesus is symbolized as the Ruler by the Lion, and the Redeemer by the Lamb. Therefore the text very pointedly and emphatically establishes that the events of Revelation could not take place without our redemption.
Thus the text of Revelation 5 makes our redemption a prerequisite for breaking the seals and opening the book. Revelation can not happen without the Lamb. It is not the Lion that is in charge here, it is the Lamb. Since it is the Lamb that is in charge it must follow that these events take place during the age of grace, or the Church period. Calvary precedes the breaking of the seals. Without Calvary history could not continue.
The Language: Symbolic or Literal
I must commend the teachers of the futuristic view for insisting on a literal understanding of Revelation. I firmly believe that the events described by John literally – as opposed to figuratively - take place. However if I insist on a literal meaning of the words used I place my ability to recognize those events in jeopardy. An example: The Jews of Jesus day insisted on a Messiah that would deliver them from Roman occupation. Even the disciples held to this understanding. (Acts 1:6) Because Jesus did not fulfill that expectation the Jews rejected Him, and that to this day. Yet we know assuredly that Jesus was the Deliverer. He was the literal fulfillment of prophecy. However that literal fulfillment did not take place as most Jews expected. So to insist that the words of Revelation must be understood in a strict literal sense could place my understanding in the same category as the Jews of Jesus day.
True, Revelation like Daniel is apocalyptic literature. However to place apocalyptic literature in a category by itself for the purpose of interpreting it is not wise. Like the rest of scripture, Apocalyptic literature must have other scripture as a reference point. Without that reference point prophetic scriptures could be interpreted to teach most anything.
Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ, yet in that Revelation the Lamb is seen or mentioned 26 times. Is that term to be seen as literal or symbolic? It is obvious that we must conclude that it is symbolic. In your study of Revelation, have you ever asked yourself why Jesus would show Himself as the Lamb? Undoubtedly it is a reference to what He did on the cross for us. So the most important event in history – our redemption – is referred to in Revelation in symbolic form. Does that not say something about the importance of symbolism in Revelation?
Revelation is stated to be “the revelation of Jesus Christ”. This suggests that we need to study His use of words in the Gospels to understand what is said in Revelation. Jesus in his teaching uses the term "heart" repeatedly. An example is the parable of the sower and the seed. According to Matthew 13:19, the heart is where the seed is sown. Is Jesus referring to the physical organ in our body? No! We have no difficulty in understanding that Jesus uses the term "heart" in a parabolic sense. Paul also uses the term "heart" in this same way. He tells us in Romans 10:10 that "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." We have no difficulty in understanding the truth conveyed by this abstract use of the term "heart".
Lets look at some of the words used in Revelation. An example is the word "tree" or "trees". Notice what Jesus states in Luke 21:29: "Behold the fig tree and all the trees." For centuries we have accepted the fact that the "fig tree" is parabolic language which designates the nation of Israel. If the "fig tree" designates the nation of Israel, then obviously "all the trees" is speaking of many more nations. (It is of interest and note that since 1948 many nations have and are putting forth leaf.) The point that we need to understand is that the term "tree" definitely conveys an abstract concept. It designates a people group distinguished from another people group by ideology, language, and culture. Do we disregard this abstract use of terms when it comes to Revelation? Because Jesus uses the term “tree” in a parabolic sense, in this prophetic passage, suggests very strongly that apocalyptic literature is given to using terms in a parabolic sense. So to insist on a literal understanding in Revelation could lead us into misunderstanding what Jesus meant.
Mountain is another term used in Revelation. Jesus uses it in Matthew 17:20. We are told that if we have the faith of a mustard seed we can say to mountains: be removed, and it willl be so. We have no difficulty in understanding this passage in an abstract sense. Jesus is not telling us to use our faith to try and change the landscape. So why do we insist on a literal meaning of the term in Revelation? It would be more advantageous for us to establish what the term mountain stands for when used in this abstract sense.
Daniel 2 tells us Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. In his dream he saw a huge image that was destroyed by a stone. Verse 35 informs us that this stone became a "great mountain, and it filled the whole earth." A stone that becomes a mountain? Obviously an abstract use of terms. We understand that stone to be Jesus. His first coming marks the end of an era. However His coming also is the beginning of another era. His coming results in the gospel, it becomes the mountain that fills the earth. Thus the abstract term "mountain" is used to describe a belief system, an ideology. This is so in a passage that is designated as apocalyptic literature. So why do we insist on a literal meaning in Revelation?
Let's look at one more term, the word "star".
Because we have seen John's reference in, Revelation 6:13, to "stars falling from heaven" as literal we have envisioned natural phenomenon of unprecedented proportions. However in doing so we arrive at conclusions that are based on eisegesis rather than exegesis.
In Revelation 1:16 Jesus is pictured as holding seven stars in his hand. In verse 20 these stars are said to be the angels or pastors of the seven Churches. Thus the term "star" is used to designate certain people, and that in the very beginning of Revelation.
That the term star is used in a symbolic sense is also the case in non-apocalyptic literature. In Genesis 37:9 Joseph has a dream in which he sees the sun, moon, and stars bowing before him. The story indicates that the sun, moon, and stars stand for his father, mother, and eleven brothers.
Thus it is indisputably clear that scripture uses terms in an abstract or figurative sense. So how do we come to an understanding of the language used in Revelation? The key to understanding Revelation is given in the phrase: "The revelation of Jesus Christ". (Rev. 1:1) Since Revelation is "the revelation of Jesus Christ" it would follow the precedent set by Jesus while on this earth. When Jesus revealed anything concerning the kingdom of God he spoke in parables. In Matthew 13:10 the disciples asked Him why He did so?
Jesus replies: "because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the
kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given."
So Jesus used parabolic language in order to hide truth. Especially so when speaking about the mysteries of the kingdom. Does Revelation deal with the mysteries of the kingdom? Most definitely! It then undoubtedly follows that Jesus used parabolic language, symbols, and images to convey the truth of the kingdom. To confine a parabolic term to its literal meaning would then distort the truth conveyed by that word.
Therefore the approach in these studies will be to see Revelation as a parable given by Jesus. When a symbolic meaning is attached to a word, that meaning must remain consistent throughout Revelation. For if symbolism does not remain constant throughout a text, then the symbolism becomes meaningless.
Let's apply this principle to John's references to various time sequences. John speaks of hours, days, months, as well as "time times and half a time." The futuristic view takes the references to days and months as literal. By doing so the events Revelation describes are placed into a seven year time frame. Then all references to time, such as "time times and half a time" are made to fit into this seven year frame.
Obviously the phrase: "time, times and half a time" suggests a parabolic reference to time. So if we wish to understand the time sequence in Revelation, we must find out what "time times and half a time" refers to.
The futuristic view brought the book of Daniel alongside the book of Revelation in order to bring clarity, and rightly so. Notice that Daniel makes references to time in much the same way as John. Daniel 7:25 speaks of "a time and times and the dividing of time." Daniel 12:11,12 refers to 1290 days as well as 1335 days. This suggests that there is a parallel between John and Daniel's references to time.
Obviously Daniel's reference to seventy weeks designates 490 years. The rule being: one day equals a year. This rule is verified and established by the historical events described by Daniel. The angel that delivers the message concerning the events does not tell Daniel how he is to understand the references to time. The angel simply tells him "know and understand". (Dan 9:25) This implies that once Daniel has established how to understand the time sequence he has found the key for understanding the various references to time. Daniel is never told that the key only applies in chapter 9. Therefore we are compelled to apply the rule to the Angel’s every reference to time, unless specified otherwise.
It is an angel that delivers the apocalyptic message to Daniel as well as John. Daniel and Revelation contain parallel references to time. Given these facts I maintain that the rule of "one day equals a year" applies in Revelation, just like it does in Daniel. To apply this rule to Revelation obviously puts the events described in a totally different time frame than that of the futuristic view.
Applying the rule of "one day equals a year" to Revelation would then mean Revelation speaks of events that span a period of 2520 years. Taking the phrase "the time is at hand" to mean that the events described began in John's day would then place the half way point at about 1260 AD. The culmination of the events described would then be about the year 2520.
At this point it is important to note the words of Jesus: "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened." (Matt 24:22) It is self evident from these words of Jesus that if the tribulation would not be shortened none would survive. So accordingly Jesus said: "for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." Who and what was Jesus talking about.
(Be a Berean![Acts 17:11] Here are some questions to get you started: Who are the elect? Is the term “shortened” to be understood literally or figuratively? If the tribulation lasts seven years what is to be shortened? Why shorten the tribulation for the sake of the elect if the elect are raptured before it happens?)
Lest someone discredit me because I've given dates, I wish to make two observations.
First: In regard to the dates I have given note the word "about". John doesn't give us a beginning date to the events he describes, that of necessity demands approximate dates. To that let me add that if you or I are taken up with trying to establish the exact date of Jesus' return we are totally missing scriptures prophetic purpose. Revelation is not given to inform us about the when, but the Who and what of its events. First and foremost Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus wanted "to show his servants things which most shortly come to pass." (Rev. 1:1; 22:6) So if we want to understand the things that are coming we better get to know Jesus. Without knowing the Who – the when is immaterial.
Secondly: Much has been said about Matthew 24:36, and Acts 1:7, in that Jesus said it is not for us to know the day or hour of His return. Let’s look at the verse in Acts then the one in Matthew.
In Acts Jesus words are in answer to the disciples question: “will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Jesus replies: “it is not for you to know the times or the seasons.” The Greek word for “know” in this text is a word which speaks of experiential knowledge. (see Luke 1:18&34) So Jesus was telling his disciples that they would not experience the restoration of Israel as a nation. They were not living in that time or season. The return of Jesus is not part of the discussion in Acts 1:7. The disciples asked a direct and pointed question, to which Jesus gave a direct and pointed answer.
In Matthew 24:36 Jesus speaks to the issue of His return. The Greek word for “know” in this text speaks of the complete and total understanding of a situation. According to Jesus only God Himself fully knows what is involved for Jesus Christ to return to this earth. It is for this reason that Jesus said only His Father knows the day and hour. For only God the Father fully and totally understands what is required before His Son will return.
We associate scriptures reference to day and hour as a reference to a certain date. We forget that God’s kingdom is not subject to time, God is not looking for a certain date for the return of His Son. His kingdom can’t be realized unless the fruit of it is evident in our lives. So the return of Jesus is not tied to a certain date but a specific and certain event. That event revolves around a person – Jesus Christ – and if you’re caught up with a date you’re not caught up with the King.
For this reason Paul saw it as unnecessary to write to the Thessalonians concerning the times and seasons. (1 Thess.5:1) The Thessalonians were totally and fully aware that Jesus was returning as a thief in the night. Only those who lived a lifestyle described by Paul as “of the day” would be ready for that coming.(1 Thess. 5:4,5) The imminence of Jesus’ return is not sharpened by the passing of time. For the timing of His coming is not the issue. The issue is our lifestyle and the effectual proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom. (Matt. 24:14)
In Revelation Jesus informs the Church of coming events in order that we would be prepared. However we the Church came to understand the information Jesus gave us to be on a natural physical plain. We failed to understand that God's Kingdom is first and foremost a spiritual kingdom. Israel was the natural kingdom and race, while the Church is His spiritual kingdom and race. (1 Cor. 15:45-49) She has been called to walk in the Spirit. Until we come to realize that our authority lies in a spiritual kingdom, the literal kingdom will escape us. Yes, the Kingdom of God is ours, but we must exercise the authority of kings and priests in order to attain it.
Revelation distinctly sets forth where the Church failed to exercise her authority. As a result Satan was able to deceive and bring us under bondage. The book of Revelation informs us in which areas Satan attacked, and how he brought us under bondage. So Revelation is a book that gives us insight into our failures in the past. With this knowledge we have the means to make the required correction and thereby bring God’s kingdom into reality in our lives. Be assured: the kingdom must be real in the Christians life before it can become real in the world.