Are you confused, perhaps bewildered by the symbolism and mystery of the Book of Revelation? Most of us are. Revelation seems to be written in some sort of code that we have to have special knowledge to break.
I googled “decode Revelation” and found about 189,000 references. Yep, there’s LOTS of confusion out there. And people are cashing in on it big time. Look in any book store and you can find a plethora of books to aid you in this “demystification.”
Chances are you already have the codebook to deciphering Revelation. No need to buy one that’s probably wrong anyway. It’s your Bible!
To understand the symbolism of Revelation, there are two things that are necessary:
- Knowledge of the historical world context in which it was written.
- A great deal of familiarity with the Bible itself, especially the Old Testament.
Revelation was most likely written late in the 1st century BCE. The writer, John may have been the Apostle or someone else by that name. We know that he received his vision on the Roman prison island of Patmos, off the coast of modern-day Turkey.
Paul had been imprisoned because of his Christian beliefs and practices. In many respects he was fortunate. The penalty for not recognizing the Emperor as a god was death, and that penalty was enforced more strongly in Asia Minor than anywhere else in the Roman Empire.
Jewish Background/Old Testament Knowledge
The writer of Revelation unquestionably had extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. And his intended audience was believers in Jesus Christ who generally had this background as well. So John did not give Old Testament references as he described things. He assumed that what he was talking about would be obvious to the reader.
Today, most of us don’t have that level of familiarity with the Old Testament, so we’re left confused and fumbling to understand. We’ll be “deciphering” these symbols and cross references as we continue our study of Revelation. For now, if you re following along with this study, look at the cross-references in the margins of most Bibles. Follow those and you will likely see where John found the foundation for a particular “mysterious” image.
When we combine the persecution of Christians with the knowledge that most had of the Old Testament, the purpose of the symbolism becomes much clearer.
Apocalyptic writing is an “unveiling.” In modern usage, we’ve come to think of it more as pending destruction, quite wrong!
John wanted those on the inside, Christians with a strong Jewish background, to be able to easily understand what he was saying. At the same time, he wanted the Romans to be confused and see Revelation as nonsense. That was important. His life and the lives of believers depended on it!
Revelation still raises many questions for us, especially with the when and how of the End Times. But when we have a grasp of the context in which Revelation was written and an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament, most of the mystery of the symbolism simply fades away.
This blog is part of an ongoing series based on my notes from a weekly Bible Study. For all of the blogs in this study, see: A Study of the Book of Revelation: Index of Blogs
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