I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. Of the three, my favorite is The Return of the King. When all looks lost for the fortress of Isengard, King Aragorn arrives and saves the stronghold from certain devastation and a great loss of life.
Try to imagine The Lord of the Rings without the final installment of The Return of the King? There would be no final defeat of evil or victory over the vile schemes of Sauron. Because of the timely arrival of King Aragorn, justice wins out over wickedness and death. The king saves human life from annihilation.
In the same way, Jesus’ glorious return to the earth in the midst of the epic battle for Jerusalem will save humanity from extinction at the end great tribulation (read Matt. 24:21-29).
The Lord of the Rings is allegory; Jesus’ future return to earth is reality. In Tolkien’s symbolic tale of the Second Coming, King Aragorn defeats the forces of the demonic Sauron that are attacking Isengard. In biblical prophecy, Jesus will triumph over the forces that Satan will someday gather to destroy Jerusalem.
The apostle John describes the glorious return of our great King in the book of Revelation. From beginning to end, it’s all about Jesus (see Rev. 1:1)! He is the head of the church to whom belongs all worship and adoration (chs. 1-5). He judges the wickedness of the world, wipes out Satan’s kingdom, destroys the antichrist and false prophet (chs. 6-19), and takes His rightful place on the throne of David, ruling over the nations of the world (ch. 20). After Jesus’ final defeat of Satan, death and all other enemies, God brings in the eternal state with the new earth and New Jerusalem (chs. 21-22).
Perhaps the demise of Satan at the end of Revelation explains his fierce opposition to the book. Down through church history, many have negated it’s encouraging message by claiming it’s nothing more than allegory, history, or symbols intended exclusively for believers living in the first century AD. One commentator blatantly stated that the book has no meaning whatsoever for believers today.
Do the prophecies of judgment and future glory in Revelation have significance for our lives today? Absolutely! Let examine the evidence for defending the futuristic interpretation of the book of Revelation.
John Wrote the Book in AD 95
Some who disagree with the futuristic outlook of Revelation say John wrote it in about AD 65, five years before the Romans captured and destroyed Jerusalem. Those with this perspective place the fulfillment of all its prophecies, or the vast majority of them, before AD 70 when they allege Jesus returned to earth.
Church history, however, tells a much different story. Irenaeus, a prominent theologian of the second century AD, grew up in the city of Smyrna, one of the original destinations of the book of Revelation. More than that, the key disciple of the apostle John, Polycarp, discipled Irenaeus in the faith. In his famous work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus placed the writing of the book of Revelation late in the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, who ruled until AD 96.
It’s highly improbable that someone who grew up in the church of Smyrna early in the second century AD and received instruction in the faith from a disciple of John would mistake the time when the apostle wrote Revelation. Several other early church fathers agree with Irenaeus regarding the timeframe that John penned the book.
Furthermore, the spiritual conditions of the churches in Revelation 2-3 do not match what Paul wrote in the books of Colossians and Ephesians (about AD 60) or in the books of 1 and 2 Timothy (about AD 66-67).
The Lord would not have described the church at Laodicea as “rich” if John wrote Revelation in AD 65 since an earthquake had recently brought much destruction to the city just a few years before then. In addition, the persecution under Nero happened primarily in Rome, while under Emperor Domitian, the opposition to Christianity extended across the empire as we see in Jesus’ message to those in Smyrna.
The Book Claims to be Prophecy
As to its futuristic nature, we have the testimony of the book itself, “And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book'” (Rev. 22:6-7). Notice that in verse 7, Jesus Himself says that the book of Revelation is “prophecy.”
The main event of the book confirms the prophetic nature of the apocalypse. The Second Coming, as described in Revelation 1:7 and in chapters 19 and 20, has not yet happened. When Jesus returns, everyone on earth will see Him; this will be a spectacular worldwide event that no one will miss. If He returned in AD 70, why is there no mention of such an event in the first three centuries of the church?
Irenaeus not only confirms the late date of the writing of Revelation, but also the book’s claim to be futuristic prophecy. In Book 5 of Against Heresies, he recounts the details of the future rise of the antichrist as recorded in Revelation 13. Even though the Romans had destroyed the Jewish temple 110 years earlier, Irenaeus wrote about the antichrist defiling a future temple at the midpoint of the tribulation just a Jesus said would happen (Matt. 24:15). Irenaeus possessed a clear, futuristic view of the book of Revelation.
If the leaders of the Smyrna church had regarded the letter to them as symbolism, allegory, or something only specific to their current persecution, how did Irenaeus, who grow up in Smyrna, come to possess such a contradictory opinion of the book of Revelation by AD 180? The only suitable explanation is that those in Smyrna, as well as those elsewhere in the church of the second century AD, regarded the book of Revelation to be what it claims, that of unfulfilled future prophecy.
Jesus Promises to Come Quickly
Much confusion springs from the translation of the Greek word tachos in the book of Revelation. Many versions translate this word as “soon” throughout the book. Tachos, however, most often refers to the speed of an event rather than its nearness in terms of time. The apocalypse is about events that will “quickly” take place, not those in the near future from the time John wrote the book.
In John 11:31, John uses the same word he did in Revelation 1:1 to denote quickness of action. “When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there” (emphasis mine). It does not make sense to translate tachos as they “saw Mary rise soon.”
The same is true in Revelation 3:11, 22:6-7, 12, and 20. In each instance, the word is a form of tachos, which denotes the quickness of His return rather than its nearness in the passing of time. The fact that the second coming has not happened confirms that quickly is the best translation of tachos.
Those who squeeze the complete fulfillment of the book of Revelation into the first century AD on the basis of the word “soon” err in their understanding of the prophetic nature of the book and of the meaning of the Greek word tachos. The futuristic events of the apocalypse remain unfulfilled, but someday soon, they will happen quickly, just as Revelation 1:1 tells us!
John Wrote the Book of Revelation as an Eyewitness
Perhaps the most popular assault on the prophetic nature of the book of Revelation comes from those who relegate its hopeful message to allegory. In a previous post, Biblical Prophecy Preserves My Sanity, I discuss the roots behind the allegorizing of prophetic Scripture, which originated as a way to combine the teachings of the philosopher Plato with God’s Word.
The apostle’s choice of words contradicts the allegorical interpretation of the book of Revelation. John uses the word “saw” 44 times by itself and 12 times with the word “looked.” He uses the word “heard” 30 times to indicate he was writing down words he heard. He wrote as an eyewitness to future events.
It’s clear from the language he used that the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation as an eyewitness to what he saw and recorded the words that he heard both from Jesus and the angels. If anything, he overemphasized the fact that he was recording what he saw and heard.
The Book of Revelation Completes God’s Redemptive Story
The book of Revelation completes God’s story of redemption. The Bible begins with the paradise of the Lord’s pristine creation and ends with paradise restored on the new earth and in the New Jerusalem.
In between these two perfect worlds, we have the story of God providing the perfect Sacrifice for our sins so that we might live forever. Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross just so we could have a nice future life on the current earth; He gave His life so that we might have a joyous life in a wondrous paradise as we share in Jesus’ triumph over sin and death as described in Revelation 20-22.
The book of Revelation, from beginning to end, is the story of Jesus completing the triumphant story of redemption that He began with His death and resurrection. The rapture, the Lord’s judgment of sin on the earth, our reign with Jesus during the millennium, and our eternal residence on the new earth and in the New Jerusalem all complete His total and absolute deliverance of us from sin and death to our eternal existence in paradise.
Yes, many other views of Revelation retain Jesus’ return to earth, but it’s more of an end-of-the age mop-up operation than the glorious return of a powerful, glorious, and victorious King that John portrays for us in Revelation 19-22.
We must separate allegory from reality. Tolkien’s Return of the King is an allegorical rendering of Jesus’ triumphant return to earth. The book of Revelation is the real deal; it depicts the futuristic and glorious return of King Jesus, first to judge humanity during the seven-year tribulation, and then to reign forever as King of kings. This is the future tense of the Gospel!
During the chaotic times in which we live, we urgently need the hopeful and encouraging message of the last book of the Bible. Life may become extremely dangerous for us in the near future, but we can remain confident of the message John gave us in the book of Revelation and its depiction of our future glory in the last three chapters. That’s why we defend the integrity of the entire apocalypse; it’s the essence of our hope.
That’s why we can know with absolute certainty that the words of Revelation 21:4 are not symbolic of another reality, nor do they relate to a time long gone; they depict our future as New Testament saints:
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Oh, and one more thing: He is coming “quickly.” I also believe Jesus’ appearing will happen soon; we live in the season of His return.
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