Q. Why should I study the book of Revelation? Is it really relevant to my life?
A. First, God’s inerrant Word is a reliable map. No matter how difficult it is to comprehend the mind-blowing visions presented in Revelation, we must not forget that it is part of God’s Word. As such, it includes an inherent blessing from simply reading, hearing, and keeping those things we do understand. If we comprehend at least the big picture of the book and its truth, we need not be disturbed or confused by the details.
Second, God’s sovereign plan replaces fear with hope. People all over the world live under superstition, fear of the unknown, apprehension about the future, and an overwhelming feeling that the whole world is out of control. Wars, famines, diseases, natural disasters—all of these tragedies appear to be evidence that chaos reigns. However, the Revelation shows that God is working out His sovereign plan, that evil will one day be destroyed, and that in the end, God wins! Knowledge of this fundamental truth replaces fear with hope and confidence.
Third, God’s glorious Son is worthy of worship. As humans, we choose to trust in many things and place confidence in various people. Revelation tells us that only one Man is worthy to be the object of our complete, undivided faith—the Son of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. He is the center of our worship, the focus of our obedience, and the source of our blessing, both now and in the future.
Q. I’m intimidated by the book of Revelation. How can I even begin to approach it?
A. As the capstone of God’s revealed Word, the book of Revelation is important for us to study with humility, balancing a restrained interpretation with a practical application of its unchanging truths. Before we embark on a quest that rivals any offered to us in mere literature or film, we need a few practical reminders to guard us against extremes.
First, we need to expect the unusual. The book of Revelation is not like any other book in the Bible. While some books—like Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel—have similar symbolic and visionary elements, nothing compares with what we find in Revelation. We’re bombarded with language and symbols in a style that often disorients us. Don’t worry—that’s okay! When you come across things that don’t make sense at first, you’ll be in good company.
Second, we must restrain our imaginations. Revelation is highly symbolic, and some people want to force some sort of interpretation out of every detail in the book. We need to embrace those things which are clearly interpreted for us either in Revelation itself or in other parts of the Bible and remain content with indecision or uncertainty regarding symbols that are unclear. The figurative language the Holy Spirit inspired is not ours to interpret as we wish
(2 Peter 1:20). The Bible interprets itself as we compare Scripture with Scripture. Given this method of interpretation, even figurative language should be treated literally. That is, once we understand what the figurative language represents, we should understand its meaning literally. Otherwise, the whole purpose for apocalyptic literature remains impractical
Third, we need to follow normal Bible-study methods of observation (“What does it say?”), interpretation (“What does it mean?”), correlation (“How does it fit?”), and application (“How does it work?”). When it comes to Revelation, sometimes we may have to quash our curiosity and be satisfied with “What does it say?” Certain elements in John’s visions were incomprehensible even to his own mind (Revelation 7:13–14). Many times we’ll be able to understand what a passage means based on context, a comparison with other Scripture passages, and an interpretation within the book of Revelation itself. Once we understand the proper meaning, we can apply its truth to our own situation. Sometimes the application will be very concrete and personal. Other times it will be more theological and general. Either way, we must be willing to be changed by the visions of Revelation, not just understand them.
Q. So, how should I respond to the book of Revelation and to prophecy in general?
A. When we grasp the power of prophetic truth, it will change our perspective on our everyday lives. While he was in the throne room of God, John cared nothing for his next meal, for the tasks he left unfinished in his home church at Ephesus, or for the trials and tribulations of the persecution he had endured. He didn’t worry about whether or not he left the toaster on, whether his portfolio was performing, or even whether his children would ever come back to the Lord. His response leads us to three timeless truths that will help us put life into perspective in light of eternity.
First, don’t ignore the future. Events are coming that must take place (Revelation 4:1). If God holds the timing and outworking of the end times in His hand, then He also controls all the events leading up to them. As “the Beginning and the End,” He also has complete authority over everything in-between. We are moving continually toward the future, and choosing to ignore the impact of His plan on our own lives will lead to frustration and disappointment.
Second, don’t oversimplify your expectations of heaven. Every portrayal of heaven, every painting and popular image, and every ancient icon fails to come close to reality. John’s vision of heaven—with its symbols and inexpressible encounters—presents us with a brief but overwhelming vision of heaven.
Third, don’t focus on yourself. How easy it is to catch the “end-times fever,” becoming all wrapped up in trumpets and bowls. We’re often like little children who haven’t yet grasped the concept of pointing. Our father or mother points at something spectacular, and we just keep gawking at that fascinating finger! Revelation points us to God. If we focus on the book of Revelation in light of our own interests, preferences, and desires, we’ll miss the object of both heavenly and earthly existence: the glory of God.