Don’t Mess with the Book of Revelation :: By Jonathan Brentner

Revelation begins with these words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” The book is all about Jesus’ magnificence and power. From beginning to end, Revelation glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation is more relevant than ever before as we watch a great many of its prophecies come into sharper focus. Conditions are all in place for the four “horsemen of the apocalypse” to begin their trek through the world. Never before in history has the technology existed for one man to control the buying and selling worldwide.

Unfortunately, the number of those disputing the message of the book of Revelation continues to rapidly grow, even in churches that claim to believe in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. Although the signs of the nearing fulfillment of Revelation 6:1-8 multiply by the day, many pastors deny its relevance for the church today.

Revelation comes with both a promised blessing for those who read it (1:3) and a severe warning for those who revise the meaning of its words (22:8-19).

The Blessing: Jesus’ Exaltation Is Also Our Victory

The Blessing for those who read the last book of the Bible comes from its exaltation of Jesus. It magnifies Christ from beginning to end.

  1. Jesus as the Head of His Church

Chapters 1-3 of Revelation display Jesus as head over His church. These chapters show the Lord in charge of His people, just as Paul described in Ephesians 1:22-23.

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 “those that dwell on the earth.”

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 seal judgments begin the process of the coming King setting up His kingdom on earth.

  1. The Lord Judges the Earth in Preparation for His Kingdom

Chapter 6-18 proclaims the Lord’s supreme power and sovereignty over the kings of the earth, nature, and all the forces that now 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 exceedingly great wickedness and lawlessness. Heaven will roar with praise for the Lord Jesus as He celebrates His marriage to the church and prepares to return with us to the earth.

The day of the Lord judgments in Revelation will tear the kingdom of this world away from Satan and usher in the one-thousand-year reign of Jesus.

  1. Jesus Will Reign for a Thousand Years and Then Forever

Jesus’ ultimate display of glory to the earth happens at His Second Coming. He will then destroy the armies of the world gathered against Jerusalem, lock up Satan, and establish His rule upon the earth (19:11-20:6). After putting down a final rebellion, He will judge the world and forever eliminate death and sin (20:7-15).

Revelation 21-22 describes 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 exaltation of Jesus finds its fullest expression in all of the events recorded in the book of Revelation. Someday we will fill heaven with praise for our Redeemer (Revelation 19:1-5). We will return with Him and watch as He wrests control of the world away from Satan, sets up His kingdom, and takes His rightful place on the throne of David. Jesus will forever destroy sin and death and usher in a glorious eternity.

The Warning: Don’t Mess with the Message!

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas!” The consequences of that are nothing compared to messing with the message of the book of Revelation.

No other book in the Bible contains such a warning in its last chapter:

“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” (Revelation 22:18-19).

I believe that these words of caution occur because Revelation…

  1. exalts the Person of Jesus.
  2. describes the Lord’s final victory over sin and death.
  3. Provides immeasurable comfort to believers with its description of how God will deal with this wicked world and bring in a joyous eternal state, including a New Jerusalem.

I believe that those who discredit the message of Revelation for us today tread on dangerous ground. Yet so many scoff at its message to their own peril.

Teachers, pastors, and scholars mess with the message of Revelation in the following ways:

  1. Allegory

Many regard the book of Revelation as allegory, or just symbolism, rather than an eyewitness account of what John saw and heard. This is the most popular way that the scoffers take away from its message of victory and hope.

Allegory began long ago as a way to combine pagan Greek philosophy with Christianity, especially that of the pagan philosopher Plato who believed that only the spiritual realm was good. He believed that the material world was inherently evil.

Augustine, the one who firmly established allegory as the way to approach biblical prophecy, said the idea of a millennium “would not be objectionable” if somehow “the nature of the millennial kingdom was a ‘spiritual one’ rather than a physical one.” [i] Augustine thus modified his beliefs regarding Jesus’ future thousand-year reign on the earth in order to make them comply with the teachings of Plato.

His hatred of the Jewish people also factored into his theology of dismissing the biblical promises regarding the future restoration of Israel.

There are many 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).
  • The allegorical approach elevates the human wisdom of the interpreter above the inspired words of the text. Words matter very little to those who employ.
  • John’s language negates the allegorical approach to the book of Revelation. The apostle uses the word “saw” forty-four times by itself and twelve times with the word “looked.” He uses “heard” thirty times; he was not telling us a story but rather writing down words as he listened to the angels and the Lord speak.
  • Those who use symbolism to interpret the book of Revelation do not agree among themselves about what is allegorical and literal.
  • Those who use allegory claim to have a special “lens” by which they know the meaning of a passage that, more often than not, has nothing at all to do with the actual words of the text.
  • Allegory turns Christ’s triumphal victory over Satan’s world system into something that fails to glorify Him or comfort us in any way.
  1. It’s Apocalyptic

One pastor told me that the book of Revelation was “apocalyptic,” thereby suggesting that this gave him license to interpret passages other than the way that the Lord inspired them. It came as no surprise to me that he had a unique view of biblical prophecy and the future of Israel, one I had never heard of before despite all my years of study on this matter. It was most certainly not biblical.

The word “apocalyptic” is translated “revelation” in verse one of Revelation. Contrary to how we regard the English equivalent of the word, in the Greek it signifies an unveiling or revealing. In other words, this term introduces the final book of the Bible as the unveiling of Jesus and His glory.

  1. It’s Past History

The preterists 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 AD 70.

There are many problems with this errant approach:

  • Church history assigns the time of the writing of Revelation to about AD 95. Irenaeus, who grew up in the church at Smyrna in the second century AD, tells us that John wrote the book of Revelation at this time. If anyone would know when the book first arrived at the church in Smyrna, it would be someone who grew up in that church and received his training in the faith from Polycarp, whom the apostle John discipled.
  • 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 was most certainly not a first century AD event.
  • 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 AD 67-68.
  • Many believe that the church at Smyrna did not exist until after the martyrdom of the apostle Paul in about AD 68.
  • An earthquake caused considerable damage to the city of Laodicea in about AD 65. They would not have regarded themselves as “rich” at this time.
  • Again, Revelation repeatedly identifies itself as a book of prophecy (1:3; 22:7, 10, 18-19).
  • Even if John wrote Revelation in AD 65, it’s doubtful all seven churches would have received the book, read it aloud in all the house gatherings, and possibly made a copy of it by AD 70. For sure, no other church at the time would have seen its prophecies concerning the Lord’s return.

The preterist approach makes the book of Revelation all about the church with prophecies that would have happened long before the majority of believers would have seen the book or known about it. It exalts the church above its Head.

  1. It’s a Secret Code for First Century Believers

Another popular approach states that John wrote the entire book of Revelation in code for the suffering saints who lived during the first century AD.

All the arguments against the errant use of symbolism apply here. John recorded future events as he saw them and wrote down the words spoken to him by the Lord and by angels.

And since Revelation was written in AD 95, the majority of believers living at the time would not have even seen the book until well into the second century AD.

Don’t Mess with Revelation

I’m convinced that the book of Revelation glorifies Jesus from beginning to end and that those who discredit its words and message do so at their own peril.

There are verses in the book of Revelation that I do not fully understand. Other passages have become clearer as the day approaches, and we see advances in technology and witness current events that point to the future.

But one thing I know for sure: Revelation fills me with hope for what is to come.

My book, The Triumph of the Redeemed-An eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times, is available on Amazon. This book provides a great deal of biblical support regarding the restoration of a kingdom to Israel. It’s the basis of our hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing to take us to the place that He’s preparing for us.

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[i] Allen, D. Matthew, Theology Adrift: The Early Church Fathers and Their Views of Eschatology, a paper published on the website, chapter 5.