Study #84: Understanding the Book of Revelation

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophesy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophesy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."

Revelation 22:18-19, RSV


With these ominous words from the end of Revelation, we begin our study of this book of prophesy. Many books and commentaries have been written on Revelation, and many people have staked their religious beliefs on some of the passages from this book. You are doing your own study and will draw your own conclusions, but let me state at the outset that I do not believe that men have the ability to understand the words of prophesy without the benefits of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Further, I am convinced that these miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased shortly after the first century when they had served their purpose -  first, by proving that Jesus was the Christ, and second, when the whole will of God was revealed to men by the writers of the New Testament.


Since prophesy appears to have only been understood by either a miraculous revelation by the Holy Spirit, or by the event having actually occurred, I simply do not believe that mere men have the ability to interpret the events of Revelation that have not yet taken place. So, when someone tries to convince me that they know the date of the second coming of Jesus, or that they know what the thousand years and battle of  Armageddon mean, I am completely unmoved.    


I have drawn these conclusions by statements made in the New Testament, and I would like to share my conclusions with you so that you will know where I am coming from in the study of this important book of prophesy. In I Corinthians 13, Paul discusses how the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit will pass away when the "perfect" comes (I Corinthians 13:8-10). I believe that he is talking about the revealed word of God in this passage, so my understanding (at least for now, with the limited brain that I have) is that once the writings of the New Testament were completed, the gifts then passed with the death of the people who had those miraculous abilities given to them by the laying on of the apostle's hands. And once the apostles died, there was no one left to pass along these miraculous gifts, nor, apparently, was there the need.


The reason I believe that men are not given the ability to understand prophesy until the event has taken place (at least without that already discussed miraculous ability to do so) is in part because of the event recorded in John 20:3-9. In this passage, we read of Peter and John seeing the empty tomb and finally believing. I say finally because of what John revealed in verse 9 when he said, "They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead."


Now if even the apostles could not understand prophesy of Scripture until it had been revealed, how can we? Please don't get me wrong, I am convinced that we need to do our best to understand what we can about prophesy - such as clear statements of what will happen in the future like the Judgment, Heaven, Hell, and eternal life - but I do not believe that we have the ability to understand all of the nuances of the things like the seals and horses and plagues and everything else that it written in the apocalyptic language of Revelation.


I also want to say this: There are numerous statements made in Revelation that are unambiguous in their nature; things such as Jesus' warnings to the churches, and of the Judgment that is to come. It is these passages that I am convinced we need to pay special attention to in order to acquire the knowledge we need to serve God in the way that He requires. I am also convinced that we need to do our best to take to heart all that is written, and do our best to understand everything in Revelation that is possible for us to understand in this present age.


"Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophesy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near."

Revelation 1:3, NIV 


Today is day 84 of the 90 day challenge to study the New Testament. Today's reading is Revelation 2-4. May God richly bless your efforts as you seek to understand His will!