In a previous article, a number of things were suggested as helps in deciphering the message of the Book of Revelation. In the beginning of this study, let us be reminded of them: (1) Look for explanations of the signs in the text. Many times John explains the meaning of a portion of a picture. We must not ignore his explanations. They serve as a beginning point around which we can build the rest of the picture. (2) Compare similar pictures found elsewhere in the scriptures. Corresponding pictures often represent the same things. (3) Recognize that some signs are so obvious they need no further identification, i.e., the Lamb of God is clearly understood to be Jesus Christ. (4) Use common sense to decode the rest.
If we are alike, you enjoy working puzzles of all sorts. Puzzles challenge our ability to imagine and perceive possibilities not readily recognized. Picture puzzles are especially fascinating. Who has not tried his hand at working one? Those lacking patience do not usually last long, but those who persist are rewarded in many ways. The book of Revelation is a big visionary puzzle with meaning. Only those with patience to prevail reap the reward of understanding. Revelation is a difficult puzzle to solve.
There are some helpful suggestions to working a picture puzzle. (1) Turn all of the pieces face up so you can see them. (2) Put those of the same colors together because they probably go together. (3) Begin by finding the pieces with straight edges and put them together to form the border. Every piece has a place. By putting the border together, you reduce the number of pieces left to choose from. (4) Take a good look at the picture of your puzzle so you will understand the outstanding scenes in relationship to the border. (5) Build each outstanding scene in its proper relationship to the border. This way you are working the easier parts first while reducing the difficult pieces to the minimum. (6) Make sure each piece fits in its proper place. If you do not, it will disrupt your entire effort. (7) When the colors begin to look alike, take a break, but (8) return again and again until you have placed every piece where it belongs.
The mechanics of working picture puzzles is not our interest. What we are really talking about is the book of Revelation. I do not advise anyone to undertake a study of this book until they have a good understanding of the Bible. You especially need to understand the fall of man, the scheme of redemption, and the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments. In other words, lay the pieces on the table face up so you can see them in relationship to each other. The Apocalypse involves all of these things. Unless you know the truth on these matters, you cannot solve this puzzle.
Next, it is important that you identify the things in the Apocalypse you are familiar with. God's word does not contradict itself. The teachings of the rest of the scriptures are reflected in the Apocalypse. Most of us understand chapters 2-3 of Revelation fairly well because we understand the New Testament teaching regarding the local churches. Similarly, the Godhead as pictured elsewhere in the Bible appears in Revelation. Jesus Christ emerges as the Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world as portrayed throughout the Bible. In the beginning, forget about learning the identity of the things being foretold. Concentrate rather upon the things already revealed (1:19).
Look for the border pieces, i.e., that part of the picture unmistakably identified for us by John. As we noted before, no less than three dozen times John clearly establishes what certain parts of his vision means. These serve as anchors around which the rest of the picture hangs. These identified parts put us on course and keep us there. If we ignore them, we most certainly will go astray in our interpretation of the message. On the other hand, if we are unable to accept John's identifications as given, we most undoubtedly are off course in our explanation of the Apocalypse.
In many cases, John's identification of the scene is too obvious to ignore. The vision personage described in chapter one (vs.12-18), though not immediately identified, was the Son of God (2:18). This settles it. Jesus Christ is the person visualized in chapter one. Jesus himself explained the mystery of the seven stars in His right hand and the seven golden lampstands. He said, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" (Rev.1:20). This explanation helps us visualize a picture of Jesus Christ in His relationship to the churches as taught elsewhere in the New Testament.
Many examples of this nature occur. We see "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Rev.4:5). Later we observe the Lamb standing in the midst of the throne of God "having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth" (Rev.5:6). In these texts, John explains that the seven lamps and seven eyes represent the Holy Spirit. The "seven Spirits" are identified as a part of the Godhead in the book's salutatory remarks (1:4). We must conclude, therefore, that the Holy Spirit appears in His proper relationship to God's throne.
We also observe the four living beings with the twenty-four elders falling down before the Lamb, "having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints" (Rev.5:8). The petitions of God's saints are pictured making their way to God's throne (cf.8:3-4). To view these as anything other than what John proclaims would be an injustice to John and to our understanding of the message of Revelation.
In chapter seven, John "heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel" (7:4). Brethren usually contend that the 144,000 represent the church, spiritual Israel, and that the tribes, like the number, are symbolic. If this is true, I wonder how John would have worded it if he had intended to identify physical Israel? While it is true, the church is spiritual Israel, it is not true that spiritual Israel has twelve tribes. If so, would someone please inform me of my tribal identity? If they are symbolic, then please inform me what they are symbolic of? On the other hand, suppose John intended to inform us of the sealing of God's servants from under the Old Testament system. What better way than to state it plainly as he did? After all, the rest of the New Testament shows the cleansing of the Old Testament saints (cf.Heb.9:15; 12:22-24). This not only fits the teaching of the rest of the Bible but it is what John said.
In chapter eleven, we observe the dead bodies of God's two witnesses lying "in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified" (Rev.11:8). The Bible teaches that Jesus died at Jerusalem (cf.Matt.16:21; Mk.10:33; Lk.13:33). To ignore this plain statement in favor of some other glorified explanation testifies that the expositor misunderstands and misapplies this scene.
In chapter thirteen, John identifies the sea beast by a number. He said, "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six" (13:18). Many expositors understand the sea beast represents the Roman Empire. We do not need to know the number of the beast to conclude this. We conclude this from the context. Commentators often view the number 666 as symbolic of imperfection and conclude it applies to the Roman Empire to show that it does not measure up to God whose number is the perfect 777. To be frank, I could tell that about this beast if John had never confused me with the number. John said, "It is the number of a man." Did he mean it? It has long been recognized that 666 is the number of Nero's name. He was the sixth emperor of Rome and certainly fits the picture painted by John in this chapter. The theories of men do not fit the picture of Nero, however, and John's explanation must be passed over.
Many clues of this nature appear in the Apocalypse. These were mentioned only to illustrate the point. Others are far more noticeable and important. Every statement made by John in his presentation is designed to reveal this mystery to us. All of them are important. None can be passed over, ignored or overlooked. Once the pieces are identified, every piece of this great puzzle will harmoniously fit together. We may miss it in some places, but rest assured from the outset that it all fits and all makes sense. If there are any people on earth who should fathom the mysteries of this book, it is we who are the people of God. Only we can put all of the pieces on the table.
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This page was last updated on Thursday, May 28, 1998.