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Refresher for Reading Revelation

We have reached the point of no return in our study of the book of Revelation. Many preachers end their series of sermons on Revelation when they complete chapter 3. This is probably because the first three chapters are comparatively easy to understand and interpret. From chapter 4 on, the book of Revelation can be very challenging.

Joel Beeke points out that It is helpful to remember two principles for interpreting this book:

“First, we must interpret Revelation cyclically rather than linearly. With the first words of chapter 4, John opens his account of the second of seven parallel cycles of visions he was given. Each cycle applies to the church of all ages. The first of the seven is the vision of Christ in the midst of the golden lampstands, with His messages to the churches of Asia (chs. 1-3). Chapters 4 through 7 record the second cycle of visions John saw on the island of Patmos.

“Earlier, we said that Revelation can be viewed in terms of a video. It begins at one vantage point and then goes onto present six additional points. Collectively, they provide a panoramic view of the entire gospel age, from the first coming of Christ to His second advent. It is important to understand the book of Revelation this way rather than as a continuous, unbroken line of history.

“Second, we must remember that Revelation is written symbolically. It is impressionistic – almost surrealistic in places. This material is more the genre of the artist, the poet, or the composer than that of the historian or scientist. Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not suggesting there is anything in Revelation or the Bible that is historically or scientifically inaccurate. But there are different ways of conveying truth. The scientist conveys truth through concrete reports of his experiments and discoveries, and the historian does so by means of historical research. But the poet, artist, and musician convey truth in a symbolic, impressionistic way rather than literally. Many of the prophets of Scripture were poets, singers, and musicians. We must grasp that before we plunge into the rest of the book of Revelation.”

The great theme of Revelation is the victory of Christ and His church over the old serpent, his helpers, and all the kingdoms of this world. The purpose of Revelation is to inspire, comfort, and encourage God’s people in the church in every era to press on in the face of persecution and amidst all our struggles knowing we are on the winning side in this anti-Christian world.

Here is a helpful ‘big-picture’ outline of the book of Revelation developed into seven sections*, each dealing with the entire present age, from the first to the second coming of Christ:

  1. The Son of Man and the Seven Churches (1:1-3:22)
  2. The Lamb and the Seven Seals of God’s Scroll (4:1-8:1)
  3. The Seven Trumpets (8:2-11:19)
  4. The War with the Dragon (12:1-14:20)
  5. The Seven Bowls of Wrath (15:1-16:21)
  6. The Fall of Babylon the Whore (17:1-19:21)
  7. The Victory of Jerusalem the Bride (20:1-22:21)

* This outline is derived from The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible, ed. Joel R. Beeke, Michael P. V. Barrett, Gerald M. Bilkes, Paul M. Smalley (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 1866.