If you’ve read any part of the book of Revelation, you know it has a lot of symbols and figurative language. It also describes literal, future historical events. So how do we approach such an epic saga? Here are the necessary tools.
1. We take a passage literally unless it doesn’t make sense that way. Example: the sharp sword coming out of Christ’ mouth in Rev. 19:15.
2. We can’t determine the meaning of the symbols or figurative language based solely on what we think they mean. That would mean anything goes, and that’s not God’s style.
3. So when God uses a symbol, He must provide the meaning of it. The interpretation is either stated in the passage (or near it), or it comes from the other books of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. An example of the interpretation nearby is the meaning of the 7 lampstands in Revelation 1:13 and 20. An example of the interpretation from the Old Testament is the meaning of the Woman with the stars and moon over her head in Revelation 12. Check out Genesis 37:9.
4. The Revelation is actually a series of visions. And it is not one continuous chain of events from start to finish. To read it that way only leads to confusion and wrong interpretations, such as multiple raptures. Some parts are continuous. But a major section (chapters 11-19) offers instant replays of the key events.
5. It begins with an Introduction (chapters 1-5) that sets the stage and brings us up to speed on end-time events from Heaven’s perspective. Chapters 6 and 7 provide a sequential overview of the Church Age (Days 5 and 6 in God’s prophetic Week). Chapters 8 and 9 provide a sequential overview of the first 3½ years of the 7th Day that is known as the Wrath of that Day. Chapter 10 is a divine break in the saga, where John receives the little book so that he can prophesy again. Chapter 11 begins a series of mini-visions that are instant replays of the Wrath. The wrath is actually the 3½-year war against the Beast (the Antichrist).
6. The mini-visions in chapters 11-19 offer different “camera angles” or perspectives of the events, including the participants, battle strategies and tactics, and how the war ends. These allow us to make the right “call” concerning each pivotal play on the “field.”
7. Chapter 20 describes the rest of Christ’s 1,000-year reign over the earth from Heaven, including Satan’s final rebellion, the separation of the sheep and goats, and the final judgment. Chapters 21-22 describe what happens after the Last Day, including the marriage supper of the Lamb in a new heavens and new earth. They also describe the Perfect Day of Eternity Future, and conclude with an admonition to watch and earnestly expect our Lord’s return.
Each section of the Revelation has a specific purpose. It is not only a revelation from Jesus Christ; it also reveals Him, who is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10). It takes all that was prophesied in the past by the prophets and combines it into a meaningful whole concerning what will take place at the end. It confirms everything previously written, and adds and expands on it.
It reveals Christ as the King of kings, the Head of the Church, and the Bridegroom united with His Bride as One New Man appointed to judge the earth in righteousness. So forget about strumming harps on fluffy clouds or roaming the streets of gold for lack of anything better to do. Our earthly assignment will be done, but then we step into our next assignment. Stay tuned for what lies ahead!