My wife and I recently learned a new song at our church, Christ be Magnified. As I sang along with the words on the screen, I wondered about what in my life truly glorifies Jesus. What honors Him above all else?
And as you might suspect, I also thought about biblical prophecy. It’s my conviction that a literal approach to biblical prophecy, and by that, I mean one that remains true to the original intent of the authors, greatly magnifies the Lord.
The future restoration of Israel is a prime example. Ezekiel 36:22-38 reveals God’s ultimate purpose for blessing Israel with a still future and glorious kingdom: It’s all about His glory. Such a restoration, He tells us, “. . . will vindicate the holiness of my great name” (v. 23). The last sentence in Ezekiel 36 again recounts God’s purpose for blessing Israel through this yet future restoration, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” It’s all about God and His magnificence.
When I think of a book of the Bible that magnifies the Lord Jesus, Revelation comes to mind. It exalts Jesus as the summation of both human history and Old Testament prophecy.
The Book of Revelation Exalts Jesus
The book of Revelation magnifies Christ from the first verse all the way to the very last one. It refers to Jesus as the “Lamb” twenty-six times, more than any other book. This Lamb, however, intervenes in human affairs as a roaring Lion wresting control of the nations from the grip of Satan in order to establish His righteous rule over all the earth.
Verse one starts with these words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” From beginning to end, the book shows forth our Redeemer’s glory. It exalts Him as our risen Savior and all-powerful King.
Chapters 2 and 3 reveal Jesus’ headship over the church as He admonishes and encourages churches of various types that existed in His day, as well as in ours. Revelation 3:10-11a contains a promise of the Rapture through which Jesus will take us out of the world before the wrath of the day of the Lord descends upon humanity.
Chapters 4 and 5 exalt the Lamb as the only One worthy to open the seals binding the title deed to this world. The ensuing judgments begin the process of the coming King demolishing Satan’s kingdom, the first step in setting up His future reign.
Chapter 6-19 demonstrate the Lord’s supreme power over all the forces that now actively rebel against Him. He will prove the righteousness of His Name as He destroys the kingdom of the antichrist along with its lawlessness, deception, and great wickedness. In Revelation 19:1-8, heaven roars with praise for the Lord Jesus. We will also be there loudly exalting our Redeemer as we joyously celebrate His future rule.
Jesus’ ultimate display of power and magnificence comes when He returns, destroys the armies of the world gathered against Jerusalem, locks up Satan, and establishes His millennial rule (19:11-20:6). After putting down a final rebellion, He will judge the unsaved and forever eliminate death and sin (20:7-15).
Revelation 21-22 describe the glorious eternal state of the new earth and the New Jerusalem. Jesus’ last words to us, His church, are these, “Surely I am coming quickly!”
The magnificence of Christ finds its fullest expression in the events recorded throughout the book of Revelation, which also records the end of our arch adversary. Is that why so many today discredit its message and magnify the church instead?
Glorifying the Church Rather Than its Head
The scoffers of our day make the book of Revelation into something other than a book of prophecy. In my experience, I have found that such critics often change it into something that exalts the church rather than its Head.
Let’s briefly look at some of the ways that those who mock our hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing also devalue the message of the book of Revelation.
- It’s Allegory
Through the use of allegory, many interpret the book of Revelation as symbolism rather than an eyewitness account of what John saw and heard. Some in this camp assign a literal understanding to the words of Revelation 21-22; others do not.
Allegory began long ago as a way to combine pagan Greek philosophy with Christianity. Those who began discrediting biblical prophecy in this way were followers of Plato and sought to make the millennium into something less offensive to the Greeks of the day that adhered to Platonism.
Augustine, the one who later established allegory as the way to approach biblical prophecy, said the idea of a literal millennium “would not be objectionable” if somehow “the nature of the millennial kingdom was a ‘spiritual one’ rather than a physical one.”[i] Can you see from his words how Plato, who regarded the material world as evil, influenced Augustine’s view of prophecy as well as the book of Revelation?
There are many other reasons to reject the allegorical approach to the book of Revelation:
- Revelation repeatedly identifies itself as a book of prophecy (1:3; 22:7, 10, 18-19).
- John makes it abundantly clear throughout the book that he is recording what he saw and heard. Those who write allegories do not do so.
- Those who use symbolism do not agree among themselves about what is allegorical and literal in Bible prophecy and in Revelation.
- The allegorical approach elevates the human wisdom of the interpreter above the inspired words of the text. The interpretation thus rests with what someone brings to the text rather than with what the text actually says.
- Those who use this approach claim to have a special “lens” by which they are able to decipher the meaning of a passage that often differs from what the text clearly tells us.
- Allegory turns Christ’s triumphal victory over Satan’s kingdom and future reign into something that greatly diminishes Jesus’ future glory.
- It’s Apocalyptic
One pastor recently told me that the book of Revelation was “apocalyptic,” thereby suggesting that he did not interpret several passages in the way that the Lord inspired them. It came as no surprise to me that his view of eschatology exalts the church rather than the Savior.
The Greek word apocalyptic is translated “revelation” in verse one of Revelation. Contrary to how we regard the word’s English equivalent, in the Greek it signifies an unveiling or revealing. In other words, this term introduces the final book of the Bible as the manifestation of Jesus. It’s not, as many suggest, a book full of hidden meanings that one can change to fit whatever beliefs one chooses to bring to the text.
- It’s Past History
Some today tell us that John wrote the book in AD 65 and that the Lord fulfilled all or most of the words of the book of Revelation in the first century. Although they recognize it as prophetic in nature, they regard it as fulfilled prophecy.
There are many problems with this false and misleading approach:
- Church history assigns the time of the writing to about AD 95. Irenaeus, who grew up in the church at Smyrna in the second century AD, assigns this time period to it as well. If anyone would know when the book arrived at the church in Smyrna, it would be someone who grew up in that church and received his training in the faith from someone discipled by the apostle John and in all likelihood initially read it to his church.
- It’s readily apparent that the prophetic events described in Revelation have not yet happened. John describes Jesus’ Second Coming as a time when “every eye will see him” (1:7). This is most certainly not a first century AD event and has not happened since then.
- The problems Jesus addressed in the church at Ephesus (2:1-7) differ significantly from what Paul wrote about in 2 Timothy as he addressed his prodigy who served as the pastor of this church. The apostle wrote his final book in about 67-68 AD.
- Many believe that the church at Smyrna did not exist until after the martyrdom of the apostle Paul in about AD 68.
This interpretation makes the book of Revelation all about the church and its first century AD experiences. In so doing, it glorifies the church and masks Jesus’ glory.
- It’s a Secret Code for First Century Believers
Another popular approach states that John wrote the book of Revelation in code for the suffering saints who lived during the first century AD.
All the previous arguments favoring a literal interpretation apply here. In addition, John’s choice of words totally negates this false approach to the book of Revelation. The apostle uses “saw” forty-four times by itself and twelve times with the word “looked.” He uses “heard” thirty times to indicate he was writing down what he heard.
The apostle purposely used the words of someone communicating God’s message on the basis of what he both saw and heard. He went out of his way to say that he was not writing a code or some sort of allegory but telling us what he both saw and heard.
Yes, there are things in the book of Revelation that I do not understand and wish I could explain. However, I’m absolutely convinced that its intent is to glorify Jesus from beginning to end and that those who discredit its words do so at their own peril.
Consider the dire warning in the last chapter of Revelation:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (22:18-19).
Would a book written as past history, as an allegory with hidden meanings, or in a secret code for suffering saints of the first century AD contain such a warning? I don’t think so. We would expect, however, to see such a strong word of caution in a book written as prophecy and one that greatly magnifies our Savior.
Practically speaking, the book of Revelation greatly encourages us as we see a myriad of signs that point to the rapidly approaching Tribulation period. It tells us that Jesus will judge the deception and lawlessness already growing exponentially in our day, destroy the lawless and deceptive rule of the antichrist, replace the coming new world order with a righteous rule upon the earth, and in the end destroy death, pain, and all suffering.
It’s because we know that the apostle John wrote chapters 1 to 20 as an eyewitness of what he heard and saw that we can have great confidence in the promises contained in the concluding chapters.
Jesus’ ultimate victory, as dramatized throughout the first twenty chapters, assures us of the truth of this glorious promise in Revelation 21:4:
“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.”
The book of Revelation magnifies Christ from beginning to end. Those who twist its message through allegory, or the other approaches listed above, not only deprive believers of the comforting specifics of their eternal bliss but rob Jesus of His glory.
My new book, The Triumph of the Redeemed-An eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times, is now available on Amazon.
Jonathan C. Brentner
Website: Our Journey Home