The book of Revelation offers unique challenges when it comes to interpretation. One of the mistakes people commit when trying to interpret this book is that they begin from a wrong perspective.
Many people consider the book of Revelation a guide book for their future. They believe that the primary purpose of the book is to reveal who the anti-Christ is, what will happen during “the great tribulation” and how to get ready for the rapture (the catching away of the church) which they fervently believe, will occur before the terrible events this book speaks about. But I believe that perspective is wrong. The book of Revelation is not about us or our experiences. The book of Revelation is the the unveiling of Christ! The first phrase of the book says, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” He is the central Figure of the book. He is the Star of this drama. If you don’t interpret the book of Revelation from that perspective you leave yourself open of all kinds of speculation and deception.
The second major problem with interpreting The Revelation is the literary form that John used. I believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture.That is, I believe that the Bible should be taken at face value and is absolutely true in every word. At the same time I understand that the Bible is filled with different kinds of literature.
1. There are historical portions of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments and there are certain rules you must follow if you are to interpret them correctly. Historical narrative simply records facts and many times gives no indication as to the appropriateness of the things recorded.
2. There are poetic portions of the Bible and you must interpret them in accordance with the rules of poetry. The Song of Solomon is an example. If you described your bride using the same words Solomon used to describe his love, she would probably be highly offended. And if you take his description of her literally rather than poetically then you have the description of someone who is rather grotesque! “Your eyes are like doves behind your veil.” “Your hair is like a flock of goats.” (Try that one on your wife!) “Your temples are like a piece of a pomegranate behind your veil.” Here’s one, “Your neck is like David’s tower built for an armory, whereon a thousand shields hang, all the the shields of the mighty men. If this is taken literally is sounds like a bad case of eczema! But it is not to be taken literally but poetically and was perfectly acceptable in Solomon’s culture.
The point I am making is that there are different kinds of literature in the Bible and each passage must be interpreted according to the rules that govern that literature.
The book of Revelation is prophetic, apocalyptic literature and must be interpreted that way.
By coming at the book from the correct perspective (it is the unveiling of Christ) and by approaching it using the rules that govern apocalyptic literature, I believe we can come to John’s purpose in writing, and receive the blessing promised to all those who read this book. “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it, for the time is at hand. (Rev. 1:3).”
God willing in my next post I will deal with some of those rules that should govern interpretation of prophetic, apocalyptic literature.