"The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass and he sent a signified it by his angel unto his servant John" - Revelation 1:1
PROPHECY, HISTORY AND SYMBOL:
The last, the grandest and the most difficult book of The Bible is The Revelation.
In the first verse, quoted above, we are given the two first important clues to interpreting it correctly. Those clues are: 1. "things which must shortly come to pass"; 2. "signified it".
The phrase tells us that the book, when given, was all prophecy, predicting events commencing soon after about AD 96, when the book was written. Because nearly 2,000 years have passed since then, most of the things prophesied have passed into history, or become prophecy fulfilled. The prophecy-become-history part is from Chapter 1 through to chapter 16, verse 14a, ending with the words, "and of the whole world to gather them to. . .". . . .". . . .". . . .". That which remains prophetic is from Ch.16 verse 14b commencing with the words, "the battle of that great day of God Almighty" unto Chapter 22 verse 5. The remainder of that last chapter to verse 20 and the word "quickly", is Jesus’ appeal and promise of blessing to his servants. The very last words from "amen", verse 20, are by the apostle John giving his prayer to Jesus and his blessing to his brethren. The Revelation therefore must be interpreted as prophecy largely fulfilled, with the Great Climax of the Ages still awaiting fulfilment.
To "signify" means, ‘to present the actual events predicted in the form of sign or symbol’. Because the book is the last message of the Lord Jesus, from heaven, to 'his servants' on earth, and not meant for anyone else, he purposefully hid the then future events in symbolic form. His servants of each generation from AD 96 to today, would recognize from their Bible studies, the symbols used and would be able to interpret them in the light of historical happenings and ascertain just how the symbolic prophecies were being fulfilled. Enough understanding was given so that each generation of disciples could discern where they stood in the outworking Divine programme. They could then be encouraged and prepare themselves. (ch. 1:3; 3:20-22; 22:7).
BASED UPON SEVEN:
The book is based upon the number seven, the number of spiritual perfection. There are seven letters to seven churches with seven warnings, seven appeals and seven promises, chs. 2,3; seven seals, ch. 5; seven trumpets, chs. 8, 9; seven thunders, ch. 10:3,4; seven angels with seven vials , ch. 16; a beast with seven heads, ch. 17: 3; seven mountains, and seven kings, ch. 17: 9,10. The Revelation is a spiritual 'riddle', based largely upon the prophecy of Daniel who declared, "none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand", Daniel 12:10.
THE THRONE & THE LAMB:
There are two symbols which occur repeatedly throughout The Revelation which provide the key to the interpretation of the book. They are in the phrases, "the throne" and "the Lamb". They commence in ch. 3:21 and are to be found regularly in chs. 4 to 7, 14, and 22. Those who read their Bibles regularly, will not find it hard to decipher that "the throne" refers to God’s plan for this earth to set up thereupon His Kingdom with its capital, Jerusalem, or Zion, Daniel 2:44. They will also decipher quite easily that "the Lamb" refers to our Lord Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world", John 1:29. These two symbols are placed together five times, Rev. 5:13; 7:9,10; 22:1,3. They tell us that the key to understanding The Revelation is to be found in The Gospel, which is defined in Acts 8: 12 as, "the things concerning the kingdom of God ["the throne"] and the name of Jesus Christ ["the Lamb"]". They tell us that THE GRAND PLAN OF GOD to which all things human are tending, to which all prophecy points, is: THE SETTING UP OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON THIS EARTH. This is "The Throne". They tell us also that THE MAN OF GOD WHO WILL FULFIL THAT PLAN AND WHO DIED THAT WE MAY HAVE A PART IN THAT PLAN, IS JESUS CHRIST. He is "The Lamb".
THE BEAST AND HIS SEAT:
But there is a prophecy (which has been historically fulfilled), about a rival to God and His Kingdom, and to Jesus Christ and his Priesthood. That rival is symbolized as "another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon" , ch. 13:11. This rival kingdom and priesthood is further symbolised in ch.17 as "I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy", v. 3, sitting upon "seven mountains", v. 9 and identified as "that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth", v. 18. A further identification is given in ch. 13:18, ".. it is the number of a man; and his number is 666".
The Revelation predicted the rise, the blasphemous and vicious career, and the fall of this ‘city-state-religious’ beast who reigns in Rome, and which is the spiritual ruler of the earth. History tells of its rise out of the fall of the Roman Empire, and its terrible career. We await the yet prophesied fall of this universal religious system that masquerades as ‘The Church of Christ’, but is really quite different, see Rev. 17:5,6.
May we study The Revelation that we might "overcome", "come out", and "Come".