What relationship does the Apocalypse sustain to the rest of the Bible? Does it sustain an intimate, fundamental, essential part of the Bible, or a dangling, loosely attached relationship? Do we interpret the book of Revelation by the rest of the Bible, or do we interpret the rest of the Bible by our view of the Revelation?
Our view of the book dictates the direction we travel in explaining its language. If we see an intimate relationship, we are bound by reason to harmonize the entire book with the rest of the Bible. If we see only a dangling relationship, we are bound only to recognize the obvious ties to the rest of the Bible. This leaves us free to see what we wish in the visions recorded by John.
Wild, imaginative, speculative theories about the Apocalypse, often illustrated with finesse, are usually built upon the slightest resemblance to passages found elsewhere in the scriptures. The greater details which render the connections impossible are either ignored or glossed over. Ignorant and unsuspecting persons become prey to the proponents of these theories. Once they have established their supposed links, these speculators take the liberty to give any explanation that serves their interests.
Dispensationalist and Premillennialist have had a field day with their theories because of this approach. Revelation is not interpreted in the light of the rest of the Bible. To the contrary, the rest of the scriptures are interpreted in the light of their theories on the Apocalypse. Prophecies thousands of years old with long established fulfillments are revived to give credence to their theories. This has cheapened the Bible until it is no longer read, studied, or reverenced as it was fifty to one hundred years ago. Theories have replaced the faith that once existed in the Bible as the Word of God. Beware! Any position that interprets the rest of the Bible by its view of the Apocalypse will lead one into damnation. A few brethren have fallen prey to this philosophy.
To the Christian, the correct approach is evident. As Peter said, "No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21). The book of Revelation is prophecy (Revelation 1:3; 22:18-19). The prophet, John, received this message through the angel of Jesus Christ (1:1). This book is not John's own private opinion, and we cannot let our private opinions interpret this prophecy. We are warned lest our opinions take away from the prophecy John revealed. "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19).
With these warnings, we must be careful that our explanations of the Apocalypse do not add to or take away from the prophecy of this book. This demands (1) careful examination of the book for clues to its meaning, (2) respect for John's explanations, and (3) painstaking effort to harmonize the Apocalypse with the rest of the Bible.
Brethren generally seek to follow these guidelines. While we may not always agree with the conclusions reached, we do agree with the effort to harmonize the Apocalypse with the rest of the scriptures. Homer Hailey suggests three helpful rules when studying the book of Revelation: (1) Determine as near as possible the meaning of the book to the people John addressed. (2) Understand the Old Testament scriptures, especially the prophets. (3) Make sure all interpretations are consistent and harmonious with New Testament teaching (cf. Revelation, Hailey, pages 52-53).
The book of Revelation must be harmonized with the rest of the Bible.
Some authorities have estimated that from 300 to 400 references to the Old Testament scriptures can be found in the book of Revelation. None of them are quoted though the connection is clear. New Testament teaching is also reflected in nearly every verse. Why is there such a noticeable use of Old and New Testament teaching? Perhaps it was intended to show the weaving of the testaments together with those things revealed in the Apocalypse that were shortly to be fulfilled. Think about this! There was something revealed in the Old and New Testaments which is brought together for one ultimate and complete fulfillment in things which were shortly to come to pass (1:1). Their fulfillment magnified the divine mind that made them known and established the authenticity of everything God revealed to us. This approach to the book of Revelation renders it meaningful and edifying.
As we have observed before, there is nothing new in the book of Revelation. Its message was revealed long before the book was written and, in such a way, as to render the message of Revelation false otherwise. Jesus promised to guide His apostles into all truth (John 16:13). This was accomplished by 58 A.D. Paul instructed the Ephesians, "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). If the Holy Spirit had not revealed all truth by this time, Paul could not have declared all the counsel of God to the Ephesians. On the other hand, if all truth was revealed by 58 A.D., the book of Revelation contains only that which already existed or it is not a part of the counsel of God. The Hebrew writer also argues for the complete revelation of truth when he says it "was confirmed unto us by them that heard him" (Heb.2:3).
Again, Paul said, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). The Galatians were to accept only that teaching which they had already received. Nothing new was to be received from an apostle or an angel. This is interesting! The Apocalypse was revealed to John by an angel after the book of Galatians (Revelation 1:1). Since the Galatians were forbidden to receive new teaching, they could not accept the Revelation if it contained any thing other than what they had already received. So, either John's message was an old one, or John was to be accursed.
Many other passages show the same thing. Even the instruction of Jesus to the seven churches shows the Spirit fulfilled His mission. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." The Spirit's work of revealing the counsel of God was complete when John saw the Apocalypse.
In our last article we noted a number of things found elsewhere in the scriptures to which reference is made in the book of Revelation. From Genesis through Jude applications are made in the Apocalypse. All comes together in a most beautiful picture of divine justice. God's redemptive forces are pictured at work in a cruel and wicked world that rejects God's eternal plan and persecutes those who believe and obey it. They must reap the consequences of their behavior. This was foretold in both the Old and New Testaments. John shows that their ultimate and complete fulfillment was at hand. This would magnify the divine mind from whence they came. The fulfillment of the prophecies foretold in the Apocalypse establish its own authenticity and that of the rest of the Bible.
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This page was last updated on Thursday, May 28, 1998.