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UNDERSTAND THE BOOK OF REVELATION Written by Dr Andrew Corbett, President of ICI Theological College Australia
Once you understand that Revelation was written in the mid 60s AD, and that it contains a message entirely relevant for its original audience, it becomes a far easier book to understand. When we abandon our preconceived notions that this book is about the 21st century and accept its plain statements about when it is referring to, we can see more clearly what it was trying to say to its original audience.
To understand Revelation we need to apply the same principles of Biblical interpretation that we apply to any other book of the Bible. Firstly, we allow the (circles of) context to be the primary interpretation of a text (this includes the context of Scripture's overall message, the context of the particular covenant, the context of the original audience's language and culture, the context of the particular book and finally, the context of the particular passage). Secondly, we interpret the passage in light of how the original audience would have understood the passage based on what the original intention of the author was. Thirdly, we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Fourthly and finally, we do not interpret a Scripture in a way that it contradicts the overall message of Scripture.
By following these 'rules' of interpretation we can learn that the Book of Revelation was about events to occur immediately to its original audience. We see this from the recurring expressions- "now", "at hand", "this hour", "soon". It is positively ludicrous to make these terms mean exactly opposite what they plainly state by suggesting that the contents of the Book of Revelation pertains to events two millennia after it was written.
Much damage to the credibility of the Bible has nearly been done by those who twist the contents of the Book of Revelation to force it to sound like it refers to the events of our present day. Time and time again, so called Bible-Prophecy teachers have been left with egg on their faces as their ridiculous speculations have proved to be completely wrong. Our Administrator forwarded onto me a copy of an email we were sent claiming that our understanding of the Book of Revelation was wrong and that we would be humiliated by the Lord when the Rapture took place on October 17th 2009.
You'll notice that I am writing this brief article after this 'day of humiliation'. But still the sillyness continues to be rolled out by many TBN preachers who (even inadvertently) misrepresent the Book of Revelation by claiming that it is written to us about our day. (I have compiled a small list of such of failed interpretations.) In the unlikely event that you are a now cynical believer reading this article, or even in the more unlikely event that you are a complete skeptic about Christianity and the Bible reading this article, I hope to take just a few minutes of your time to offer an alternate understanding of the Book of Revelation that will actually present a credible case for Christianity and the Bible.
WHO WAS REVELATION FOR?
Firstly, it can be shown that the Book of Revelation was written to a Turkish audience around 65AD who had the immediate potential of actually understanding it! The contents of the Book bore immediate relevance to them and their situation.
Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
History verifies this claim (that the contents of the Book of Revelation were written to an audience around 65AD who most likely recognised its message and meaning). This is because the first 19 chapters deal with the impending judgment upon Jerusalem and the end of the Temple Age. The Jewish historian, Josephus, records the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple which took place in 70AD.
Secondly, nearly all Bible prophecy teachers make certain assumptions about the Book of Revelation which can be shown to be either inaccurate or even false. For example, most of these Bible Prophecy "Experts" claim that the Book of Revelation describes the Rapture of the Church. The problem with this assumption is that it is false. The term: Rapture, no where occurs in the Book of Revelation! Neither is it described or even alluded to in the Book of Revelation. For example, it is claimed that the following verse predicts the Rapture. You decide-
Revelation 4:1-2 ¶ After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.
ANTICHRIST IN REVELATION APPEARS TO BE MISSING
Another huge assumption made by many Bible Prophecy "Experts" is that the AntiChrist is described and foretold in the Book of Revelation. The problem with this assumption is that term "Anti-Christ" does not even occur in the Book of Revelation! Revelation 13 describes 2 beasts which these "Experts" often fail to distinguish and then erroneously label: The Anti-Christ. The Book of Revelation does refer to "the Beast and the false prophet", and it would be my assertion that it is the "false prophet" who is more likely the person that is referred to as The Anti-Christ in John's epistles (and was most likely the Office of the High Priest). Notice that John states that the Anti-Christ was "now is" (1Jn 4:3) and was "coming" ('to be revealed') -
1John 2:18 ¶ Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
1John 4:3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
REVELATION IS NOT ABOUT THE
"END OF THE WORLD"!
But perhaps the Mother of Assumptions that these "Bible Prophecy Experts" make is their claim that the Book of Revelation is all about the end of the world. The New Testament's usage of such terms as "last days" (Acts 2:17; 2Tim 3:1; Heb. 1:2; James 5:3; 2Peter 3:3) or "end of the age/s" (Matt. 24:14; 1Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26) does not refer to the end of the world, but the end of the Temple-Age. While the Book of Revelation does indeed give a glimpse of the ultimate fulfilment of God's plan of redemption in which paints a picture of a "New Heaven and Earth" where the futility of this present world (pain, suffering, sickness, death, sorrow) will be done away with, its message is about living in the present world in the reassuring knowledge that Christ is Lord of Lords and the King of Kings (Rev. 17:14).
Revelation 21:4-5He 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.”
¶ And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
A "ONE-WORLD GOVERNMENT" FORETOLD IN REVELATION?
As I write, we are on the verge of the Copenhagen Conference which will bring world leaders together to discuss Climate Change/Global Warming and Carbon Emission Trading Schemes. I have received many emails from people warning me that this is the beginning of Revelation 13 about to be fulfilled. This is the particular chapter of the Book of Revelation, they claim, which talks about the coming of an evil one-world government. But I simply invite you to read Revelation 13. Where does it mention a One-World Government in Revelation 13? There is no hint of such a thing in this chapter. The further suggestion is made from Revelation 17, where it talks about a seeming coalition of "ten kings", that this passage also talks about a looming One World Government -
Revelation 17:12-13And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.
In the early days of the European Union, many of these Bible Prophecy Experts pointed to the initial coalition of 10 European nations as the fulfilment of this alleged prediction of a One World Government. But then as the European Union grew to encompass much more than its initial 10 nations, these same Bible Prophecy Experts retreated into more nonsensical speculation. The bottom-line is that there is absolutely no mention, let alone a prediction, of a One World Government in the Book of Revelation!
MOST OF REVELATION HAS ALREADY BEEN FULFILLED
In my eBook, THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE, I present the case for the Book of Revelation being written to an audience around 65AD where its contents were immediately relevant. I am convinced that this is how the Book of Revelation is meant to be understood. That is, we should understand the Book of Revelation in the same way that we understand any other New Testament epistle. For example, when we read First Corinthians we know that it was written to an actual church in Corinth around 55AD. This epistle was written to them - not to us. But because of God's canonical inspiration we know that First Corinthians was indeed written for us. When we realise that the Book of Revelation contained very-near-future predictions which would impact its original audience, and this can now be substantiated from the historical records, it actually increases our confidence in the reliability and credibility of God's Word.
Consider that within the Book of Revelation it asserts that the original readers were living during the reign of "sixth king". It then predicts that this current king was about to die a seemingly prematurely death and that other kings would follow in quick succession until "an" eighth king would be installed.
Revelation 17:10-11they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.
The 6th king of the Roman Empire was Caesar Nero. It was Nero who was reigning at the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation (see my article on Dating the Authorship of the Book of Revelation). After Nero's death, Rome went into civil war. A quick succession of would-be emperors claimed the throne but none was able to consolidate the Empire until Caesar Vespasian, a military general, returned from Spain. Interestingly, Revelation 17 almost sounds confusing because it appears to be very inconsistent when it numbers just how many kings are involved. It says that there are "seven kings" which includes "an eighth", but then goes on to state there is actually "ten kings".
Revelation 17:12And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.
But upon a little examination, the apparent confusion over numbers because amazingly deliberate. After Nero died, he was succeeded by Galba who reigned for 6 months and a week until he was murdered by the Praetorian Guard. Unable to stabilise the Empire, he was succeeded by Otho who reigned just 3 months until he committed suicide after losing a battle to another Roman General, Vitellius. Caesar Vitellius reigned a mere 8 months until he was murdered by General Vespasian's troops. Revelation 13 prophetically described this period as a time when the Beast from Across the Sea (the Office of the Roman Emperor) would receive "a mortal wound".
Revelation 13:3One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.
During this period of civil unrest in the Roman Empire, it probably did seem that the Empire was going to die. When Revelation 17 foretells of Caesar Vespasian arising to make the city (of Jerusalem) desolate by fire-
Revelation 17:16And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire,
Caesar Vespasian is described as one of the "seven kings" in the sense that he completes mission for Rome in His purposes for Jerusalem ("seven" is used Biblically to speak of completion). But Vespasian is also described as "an eighth king" (note that he is not referred to as "the eighth king"). The number eight in Scripture speaks of "new" or "resurrection" (new life). Vespasian did indeed bring newness to the Roman Empire. In many ways he was able to "resurrect" it. So in this sense, Vespasian is both the seventhand also the eighth king referred to in Revelation 17. But in a literal sense, Vespasian was the tenth king since after Nero (the 6th) came Galba (7th), then Otho (8th), then Vitellius (9th), then Vespasian (10th). Thus, far from being muddled, Revelation's predictions of its audience's immediate future was amazingly accurate! (See my video interview with Dr Kenneth Gentry Jnr regarding this issue.)
Some have acknowledged what I and other Preterists are saying. But being unprepared to relinquish the idea that the Book of Revelation is written to us about our near future, they invent a new way of reading Scripture called Parallelism or Double Referencing. This is the idea that the Book of Revelation has two fulfilments: the first - during the lifetime of its original audience, and the second - to be fulfilled during the lifetime of the last generation (which they claim is ours). But there is no reason for twisting Scripture like this. We should keep to the principles of Bible interpretation that the Bible itself seems to provide which includes the idea that discovering the intended meaning of a passage should guide our interpretation of that passage.
2Peter 3:16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
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Dr Corbett introduces the Book of Revelation by showing that despite the massive amount of speculation regarding its contents, there are some basic principles of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) which are used for every other book of the Bible which can not be discarded when it comes to understanding Revelation.