OTY: The Revelation (4) 2.2.8 -Tony Garland

2.2.8 - Overemphasis on Extra-biblical Sources

There is an endless amount of material written about and urged as essential to understanding the book of Revelation. Most authors recognize the OT context from which the book of Revelation springs, but some assert the need to go ever farther afield in the quest to find related material.

Thus, not only must we understand the historical context and setting necessary for grammatical historical interpretation, we should seek the explanation of symbols and their intended meaning from secular and even pagan source material. We believe this to be an incorrect emphasis on extra-biblical material.

While it is certain that elements of the book of Revelation are intimately connected with the historical setting of the recipients (e.g., the letters to the churches of Asia), commentators too often assume this cultural/historical connection extends to the rest of the book where no such direct connection may be established.

For example, Osborne states: “It is clear in Revelation that one of the primary problems of the believers in the province of Asia is some form of emperor worship (Rev. 13:4+, 14-17+; 14:9+; 15:2+; 16:2+; 19:20+; 20:4+).”1 

It is one thing to recognize the significance of emperor worship to the immediate readers at the time the book of Revelation was written. It is quite another to assert that a proper understanding of prophetic passages which reveal events in a potentially distant future are dependent upon the events of the time of the writer.

This goes too far and fails to appreciate the pattern established throughout Scripture by prophetic passages which although written and entrusted to an immediate readership serve to set forth events to come for the benefit of God’s people yet unborn (Ps. 22:30; 102:18; John 17:20; 20:29; Rom. 15:4).

The unintended but real result of this over-emphasis on extra-biblical material is an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture (Ps. 19:1-14; John 8:31; 1Cor. 4:6; 2Ti. 3:15-17; Heb. 4:12-13; 2Pe. 1:3, 19-21; Jude 1:3) and a subtle, but disastrous drawing of the reader ever further afield from the inspired Word of God in search of gold which, more often than not, is fool’s gold. 

This is especially problematic for the new believer who is ill-equipped to dredge through non-canonical writings such as the pseudepigrapha and apocrypha while avoiding catastrophe. Commentators who encourage this route are akin to blind guides who leave blindfolded travelers at the edge of a precipice to wander at their pleasure. Such action is in direct contradiction to the mandate of God’s Word for those more experienced to proactively guide and guard both themselves and those under their influence (Acts 20:28-29; Col. 2:8; 1Ti. 6:20; 1Pe. 5:2-3).

The truths of God are not to be taught by the university model—where the widest smorgasbord of ideas is presented for the ungrounded to sample. Instead, we are to guard our minds and to cast down non-canonical writings and ideas which attempt to assert their influence above the very inspired Word of God (Rom. 1:21-22; 1Cor. 1:19; 2Cor. 10:5; Col. 2:3, 8, 18; 2Pe. 3:16-18).

Not only is this emphasis on extra-biblical sources dangerous, but it results in all manner of incorrect conclusions as pagan or legendary ideas form the basis for the interpretation of inspired symbols.

Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in the far-fetched identifications proffered for the Woman of Revelation 12+.

This emphasis on extra-biblical material becomes so acute that the implication for the simple child of God is that an understanding of the last book of the Bible is essentially beyond his grasp unless he immerses himself in the socio-political details of the late first-century, including the broad study of pagan beliefs, practices, and symbols of the secular society.

Such an emphasis fails to understand the guidelines which the divine Author of the book has set forth for His children (Ps. 101:3; Isa. 33:15; Php. 4:8) and undermines the perspicuity of Scripture because most saints through the ages have lacked and continue to lack access to the extra-biblical materials these authors assert as essential to our understanding of this important book.

Another deleterious side-effect of the over-emphasis on extra-biblical material for an understanding of the Apocalypse is the blurring of the distinction between inspired writings versus uninspired writings. When the boundary between the inerrant and the speculative and even fraudulent is minimized or overlooked, the results are predictable: questionable conclusions result and the student of Scripture begins to equate the uninspired writings of secular writers with the matchless and unique written Word of God.

This is the well-traveled path to religious liberalism and even apostasy which has been a key tool of Satan throughout history and in our own day.

Within this commentary, we make occasional reference to extra-biblical writings, mainly when they provide insight into thought patterns, beliefs, and historical events of their time.

For example, in the discussion of related passages and themes we make mention of Jewish rabbinical writings because these help illustrate the common understanding of Jewish rabbis regarding events related to the book of Revelation.

We are not using the Rabbis to teach about the book of Revelation, but as a point of evidence that the Old Testament was understood by early rabbis to teach a future time of peril coming upon the world.

It is our conviction that those similarities which do occur between extra-biblical writings and inspired Scripture reflect a dependence of the extra-biblical material upon the Scripture.

It has been our observation that many scholars assume exactly the opposite—that extra-biblical myths and beliefs had great influence upon the writers of Scripture.


1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 6.

2.2.9 - Simplicity over Academics

As J. Vernon McGee was fond of observing, “Remember. . . [God] is feeding sheep—not giraffes!.” Nowhere is this observation perhaps more relevant than to the topic at hand.

If our tone regarding the dangers of various streams of thought regarding the interpretation of the book of Revelation sounds overly negative, perhaps it is in reaction to the painful, laborious, and often depressing task of hours spent wading through numerous commentaries which are deeply academic and highly acclaimed by some, but which are void of faith and spiritual insight. Worse, they propose a seemingly endless series of fanciful or disjointed interpretations served up with a large dose of unbelief and skepticism.

With rare exception, the words of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower could describe many of these works: “An intellectual is a man who takes more words than necessary to tell more than he knows.”

Much of what passes for enlightened inquiry is an endless series of conjectures and discussions centered on a number of highly-questionable assertions made, for the most part, by unbelievers and their allies, liberal academics. These ever-taller ivory towers are impressive at first sight, until one learns to recognize the house-of-cards foundation upon which they are built.

The sooner the believer recognizes these tangents as the distractions which they are, the less time will be spent attempting to understand and subsequently refute ideas which contradict the teachings of Jesus. We are speaking here of ideas such as the Documentary Hypothesis, Deutero-Isaiah theories, redaction criticism and others which have consumed an enormous amount of energy and time while yielding little if any fruit.1 For those who are born-again, the simple words of Jesus fell these academic constructions.

For those who are not born-again, we suggest that there is a more pressing issue than academic distractions concerning the book of Revelation—such as one’s stance in regard to these infrequently quoted verses from another of John’s writings: John 3:18-19, 36.

Let us say up-front that the approach we have chosen is unlikely to appeal to academics who place greater emphasis on interacting with each other’s often questionable theories than on understanding the text and edifying the saints.

Our approach here is not encyclopedic nor does it favor critical scholarship.2 While recognizing alternate views, the emphasis is upon an understanding of the text itself and its priority over secondary commentary.


1 “The roots of the present Age of Apostasy began in Europe, particularly with German rationalism, where the inerrancy of the Scriptures was denied with the development of biblical criticism and the documentary hypothesis.”—Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 72.

2 Perhaps the greatest weapon of critical scholarship is its academic mandate that other views engage its speculative theories else lose a hearing. This mandate denies the rule of faith of the believer and our trust in God’s written revelation. Believers do not exercise a ‘blind faith,’ but neither should we waste precious time interacting with speculative theories which only serve to keep us from a deeper understanding of what God has revealed.

Prophecy Digested

Prove All Things knowing that all Prophecy is about Jesus and God revealing His Son…To us..for our…Salvation. We post material that is questionable, objectionable, and in the opinion of the Editor of the Prophetic Perspective, valid to use as God chooses to. Sometimes that is highly suspect as material setting “dates” of the Rapture is, but often these posts, may have pieces that are correct to futher study.  

“Rarely is anyone ALL RIGHT or ALL WRONG”

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OTY: The Revelation (3) 2.2.6b -Tony Garland

2.2.6 - Hiding or Revealing?


Although we treat the issues in more depth in our discussion of Interpreting Symbols, here we will simply note that unless a uniform approach to interpretation based on the normal rules of communication is extended to every part of God’s Word, then the perspicuity of Scripture is greatly compromised. This can be seen in the huge variation of interpretive results by those who depart from these rules of grammatical historical interpretation.

The large variety of meanings attributed to the book of Revelation are the result of using a faulty hermeneutic. This is one of the many tools used by the enemy of God to undermine the understanding of His Word. When one restricts the interpretive variations to those who employ a literal hermeneutic, the range of possibilities dwindles significantly resulting in much agreement and thus, the perspicuity of the Scriptures is preserved. One can only wonder why those who employ techniques which yield hugely varying interpretations fail to see the variance in their results as irrefutable evidence of the faultiness of their approach!

No, it is God’s intent that we understand the message He has given. Although we may never understand all that He has revealed, it is not His purpose to frustrate or confuse (1Cor. 14:33). While it is our firm conviction that much may be known with confidence, it would be foolhardy to lay claim to a complete understanding. As Pink has observed:

To speculate about any of the truths of Holy Writ is the height of irreverence: better far to humbly acknowledge our ignorance when God has not made known His mind to us. Only in His light do we see light. Secret things belong unto the Lord, but the things which are revealed (in Scripture) belong unto us and to our children. . . . As the time of the manifestation of the Man of Sin draws near, God may be pleased to vouchsafe a fuller and better understanding of those parts of His Word which make known “the things which must shortly come to pass.”13


1 The definite article (“the”) does not appear within the Greek text.

2 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996).

3 American Heritage Online Dictionary, Ver. 3.0A, 3rd ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 1993).

4 Even Luther admitted: “Even if it were a blessed thing to believe what is contained in it, no man knows what that is.”—Alva J. McClain, The Greatness Of The Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), 6.

5 Jesus began using parables later on the same day (Mtt. 13:1) on which the unpardonable sin was committed (Mtt. 12:24-31).

6 Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King: A Study of Matthew (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1980), 168-169.

7 John 14:26; 16:13-14; 1Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:5; 1Jn. 2:20, 27.

8 Mal Couch, Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications), 72.

9 Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Dallas, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1993), 139.

10 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 1.

11 Randall Price, The Coming Last Days Temple (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1999), 308.

12 “No other part of Scripture has proved so fascinating to expositors, and no other part has suffered so much at their hands.”—Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 13.

13 Arthur Walkington Pink, The Antichrist (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1999, 1923), s.v. “foreword.”

2.2.7 - The Importance of Historical Perspective

As we will see when we come to the various systems of interpretation, maintaining the proper historical perspective is of utmost importance. In particular, two extremes must be avoided: (1) assuming that everything written in the book applies exclusively to our day; (2) assuming that everything written in the book applies exclusively to John’s day. While this may seem obvious to some, it is amazing how often interpretation runs astray of these guidelines by overemphasizing one or the other of these two extremes.

Hindson explains the tendency which is most prevalent in the time of the reader:

There is always a great temptation to read about the future through the eyes of the present! From our current standpoint in history, we presume to speculate on how the events predicted in the Revelation will eventually be fulfilled. The problem is that each generation tends to assume that it is the terminal generation and that the end will come in their lifetime. [emphasis added]1

This has been the bane of historical and futurist interpretations of Scripture and has led otherwise careful interpreters into the trap of date-setting when they should have known better.

[Hal] Lindsey taught that within a generation (a generation equals forty years) of Israel’s becoming a nation again, the Lord would return (Late Great Planet , p. 43). This was based upon his interpretation that the fig tree in Matthew 24:32 is a symbol for the reconstitution of Israel as a nation. Thus, the generation (Mtt. 24:34) that saw Israel become a nation would also see the Second Coming. Since Israel became a nation in 1948, many believe that Lindsey implied Christ’s return would occur by 1988. . . . none of Lindsey’s mentors agreed with his view.2

The unfortunate result of such errors has been the discrediting of the most valid interpretive system applied to the book of Revelation: (futurism). This is throwing the baby out with the bath-water.

Another common danger is to see all of Scripture through the eyes of the salvation history of our own experience. For those who have come to Christ since the Day of Pentecost, this is the perspective of the Church.

No matter what part of the Bible may we read, the one object seems to be to “find the Church.”. . . This arises from our own natural selfishness. “We” belong to the Church, and therefore all “we” read “we” take to ourselves, not hesitating to rob others of what belongs to them. . . . On this system of interpretation the Bible is useless for the purposes of Divine revelation. . . . And yet it is on this same principle that the Apocalypse is usually treated. Everywhere the Church is thrust in: John . . . represents the Church; the living creatures, or Cherubim . . . are the Church; the four and twenty elders . . . are the Church; the 144,000 . . . are the Church, the great multitude . . . is the Church; the “women clothed with the sun” . . . is the Church; the man child . . . is the Church; the bride . . . is the Church; the “New Jerusalem” . . . is the Church.3

While we might disagree with some of the foregoing examples, the general tendency is no doubt valid: a tendency to read past distinctions in the text and to read “ourselves” into passages which are really focused on believers in another age. Here we must use caution since “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Ti. 3:17). But whereas all Scripture is profitable, not all Scripture is written to the same specific audience.

This is especially true of the prophetic passages of Scripture which are written primarily to those who will live through the times described and only secondarily to the rest of the saints throughout history.4 Here, we are touching on the foundational issues of dispensationalism: a belief that a careful reading of Scripture while recognizing its self-consistent nature results in the understanding that God has dealt with different people in different ways as biblical history and progressive revelation have unfolded. When we ignore these distinctions found in God’s Word, our understanding of His message suffers.

The flip-side of our tendency to find the “church” everywhere in Scripture is a failure to recognize the Jewishness of God’s Word. Especially our lack of familiarity with God’s promises made to national Israel throughout the Old Testament. Even when we have studied these promises of God from the older books, many incorrectly assume these are no longer to be literally understood. Instead they subject them to spiritual interpretation in a vain attempt to replace Israel with the Church.

The failure to grasp the Jewishness of much of what transpires throughout Scripture, but especially in the book of Revelation, has led many interpreters astray. No more so than in their attempt to understand and explain allusions made in the Apocalypse using pagan or historic sources which are tangential or even opposed to the principles of God.5 We discuss these and other issues related to the interpretation of symbols in greater depth elsewhere.

Another error to beware of is artificially limiting the scope of the events described within the book of Revelation. The scope can be limited in numerous ways. Historically, there is a tendency to neglect vast ages of time which have a bearing on the visions John sees, but which don’t conveniently fit with the polemic purpose of the interpreter. For example, many Reformers, intent on using every weapon at their disposal to separate from Rome, tended to limit their understanding of the harlot of Revelation 17+ to the machinations of the Roman Catholic system. Geographically, the historical school of interpretation has tended to limit the scope of events portrayed in the book to only those of significance to Western Christianity or even Europe:

To limit [the scope of the Apocalypse] to Popery, or to Christendom (so called) is we believe, wholly to miss the scope of the Book; and committing the mistake condemned by true logic—vis., of putting a part (and a small part too) for the whole. The awful conflict is of far wider extent than this. It exceeds all the general petty views of its scope; as affairs of State transcend those of a Parish Vestry. . . . the scope of the book, . . . is the winding up of the affairs of the whole creation, and the fixing of the eternal states of all things in heaven and on earth. . . . While many fritter away its solemn scenes in the common-place history of Europe, there are others who see beyond.6

The careful interpreter will understand this capstone of God’s revelation as closing up all history covering a worldwide scope and will strive to avoid artificially limiting his interpretation where the text itself does not.7 Anderson has observed, “The bible is not intended for the present dispensation only, but for the people of God in every age.”8 The correct interpretation will recognize the benefit of the entire book of Revelation for all readers of all historic ages and perspectives yet without denying specific prophetic settings peopled by different saints of God in different historic situations. These historical and prophetic scenes are described from both the vantage point of heaven and that of earth:

We have here . . . a doctrine of the history of the consummation . . . an exposition of the nature of history. The book is a revelation of the connection between things that are seen and things that are not seen, between things on earth and things in heaven; a revelation which fuses both into one mighty drama; so that the movements of the human action, and the course of visible fact, are half shrouded, half disclosed, amid the glory and the terror of the spiritual agencies at work around us, and of the eternal interests which we see involved. . . . it becomes more plain that the earth is the battlefield of the kingdoms oflight and darkness.—Canon Bernard, Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament9


1 Edward Hindson, Revelation: Unlocking the Future (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 2.

2 Thomas Ice, “Harold L. Lindsey,” in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 242.

3 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), 1-2.

4 Matthew 24 serves as an excellent illustration. The primary audience of this passage will live during a time when there will be a holy place —a temple standing in Jerusalem (Mtt. 24:15), will be living in Judea (Mtt. 24:16), and living under conditions of the Mosaic Law (Mtt. 24:20).

5 “If we count up the number of Old Testament passages quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, we find that the gospel of Matthew has a very large

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OTY: The Revelation (2) 2.2.5 -Tony Garland

2.2.5 - Avoidance within Christianity

As has been long observed, the book of Revelation is not often taught from the pulpits of Christianity by the very men whom God has raised up for the purpose of serving as balanced, in-depth guides to the truths therein.

There is a widespread prejudice against the study of the Apocalypse. Though it is the great prophetic book of the New Testament, the last of all the writings of Inspiration, a special message from the ascended Saviour to His Churches on earth, and pressed upon every one’s attention with uncommon urgency, there are religious guides, sworn to teach “the whole counsel of God,” who make a merit of not understanding it, and of not wishing to occupy themselves with it.1

Even the greatest commentator of the Reformation, John Calvin, avoided writing a commentary on Revelation.2

One side-effect of this avoidance of the book of Revelation by pastors tasked with edifying the saints is that others who are less qualified step in and attempt to do the job in their place. Due to its seemingly mysterious nature and wealth of symbols, the curiosity of believers is aroused. If they are unable to find solid teaching about the book from their local church pulpit, they naturally look elsewhere. Unfortunately, most of the alternative sources are lacking in intimacy with our Lord, biblical understanding, or are motivated to gain followers and notoriety by “tickling the ears” of the saints, as Paul warned Timothy (2Ti. 4:3-4).


1 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), v.

2 “John Calvin, the greatest commentator of the Reformation, who wrote commentaries on the other books, did not attempt to write a commentary on Revelation.”—John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 1.

2.2.6 - Hiding or Revealing?

The intent of the book of Revelation is provided by the very first word of the first verse: ʼΑποκάλυψις [Apokalypsis] 1 which Strong defines as 

1 a laying bare, making naked. 

2 a disclosure of truth, instruction.

2A concerning things before unknown.

2B used of events by which things or states or persons hitherto withdrawn from view are made visible to all. 

3 manifestation, appearance.”2

 The emphasis shared by all these varied meanings is making known or revealing things which previously were not known and is rendered by our English word revelation which has a similar meaning: 1.a. The act of revealing or disclosing. b. Something revealed, especially a dramatic disclosure of something not previously known or realized.”3 

That it is God’s intent to reveal information is made plain later in the same verse where it is said that God gave the Revelation to Jesus “to show His servants.” 

Clearly, the book of Revelation is not meant to obscure, but to reveal! Yet many would admit to finding the last book of the Bible difficult to understand, even puzzling—almost as if written to frustrate the very goal stated in the first verse. 4

It is our belief that this tension between God’s desire to reveal and the fact that many are unable to understand the book of Revelation stems from a principle which Jesus spoke about. Like many of Jesus’ teachings, it is a disturbing teaching which is very important to grasp.

After Jesus had been rejected by the religious leaders of the Jews, Matthew records:

On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying. . . (Mtt. 13:1-3)

This is the first mention of the word “parable” by Matthew and underscores an essential shift in the teaching ministry of Jesus.5 Previously, Jesus had not relied heavily upon the use of parables for teaching. Matthew identifies this shift for the reader:

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them (Mtt. 13:34) [emphasis added]

At first, one might be tempted to interpret this change in teaching style to Jesus’ desire to impart deep truths through simple illustrations. Such an understanding is partly true, but there is another more ominous aspect of the use of parables which is more germane to our topic at hand—understanding the book of Revelation. Toussaint explains:

According to the etymology of the word “parable” παραβολή [parabolē] is the act of placing one thing beside another so that a comparison may be made between them. As a result the word came to mean a comparison, illustration, or figure. [Henry Barkclay Swete, The Parables of the Kingdom , p. 1.] . . . The key to the purpose of these parables is found in the Lord’s own explanation (Mtt. 13:11-18). He says that He uses parables at this juncture for two purposes—to reveal truth and to conceal it. To the ones who accept the Messiah the truth and interpretation of the parables is revealed (Mtt. 11:25-26;13:11-16). On the other hand, to those who have hardened their hearts the truth is veiled by the parables (Mtt. 11:25-26; 13:11-15). [emphasis added]6

Here then is a principle which all who seek to understand God’s Word must come to grips with: the Word of God is like a two-sided coin. One side reveals His truth to those who seek Him. The other side hides that same truth from those who have hardened their heart against Him. Jesus Himself explained it best:

He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive.’ ” (Mtt. 13:11-14 cf. Isa. 6:9-10)

The surprising and rather difficult aspect of this teaching of Jesus is to some it has not been given. Jesus spoke of this need for spiritual regeneration to receive revelation when Nicodemus came visiting one night. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born-again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). This need to be born-again reflects the fact that those who have not come to faith in Christ are unable to understand the things of God.

Paul also wrote of it: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” [emphasis added] (1Cor. 2:14).

Isaiah related the same principle. Unless men have the proper attitude and heart toward God, He will keep things hidden from them and frustrate their attempts at understanding:

Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with intoxicating drink. For the LORD has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; and He has covered your heads, namely, the seers. The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”

Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.” Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.” (Isa. 29:9-14) [emphasis added]

Here we meet with the first of several caveats which must be considered when attempting to understand the book of Revelation. Unless you, the reader, are “born-again,” you will not understand God’s Word—including that which is recorded in the book of Revelation. Even if you are born-again, commentaries and study aids produced by those who have not experienced regeneration are of very limited, even negative, value.

This alone eliminates massive volumes of verbiage by those who lack the illumination of the Holy Spirit.7 For how can those who lack the essential means of spiritual understanding ever hope to teach spiritual truth to others? The very symbols and allusions within God’s Word are intended by design to conceal spiritual truth from the unregenerate. Yet many commentators throughout history have continued in this vain attempt to rely on purely natural insight to explain this spiritual book.

The fruitlessness of such attempts are perhaps no more evident than in prophetic portions of Scripture which employ symbols like those found in the book of Revelation. “Prophecy therefore must be expressed in symbolic language in order that only the faithful and the spiritually discerning might know. Symbols confuse unbelieving skeptics without unnecessarily frustrating believing Christians.”8 

Although there is clearly an intent by God to hide truth from those without eyes to see, Tan notes this is not the primary purpose of prophecy: “Prophecy is given more primarily to reveal the future to believers than to veil it from unbelievers.”9

Another source of difficulty is the variety of interpretations which result from those who undertake to study the book and explain it to others. “It is doubtless true that no other book, whether in sacred or profane literature, has received in whole or in part so many different interpretations.”10 

Many of these interpretations are more enigmatic than the book itself. “The literary genius G.K. Chesterson once quipped, ‘Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators.’ ”11 This variety of interpretive results has been damaging to the cause of Christ and was certainly not His intention when He first gave it to His servant John.12

This diversity of interpretive results serves to obscure rather than reveal the message which God intended His saints to understand and receive a blessing from (Rev. 1:3+; 22:7+, 14+).

If God Who created language also created the human brain, surely He did so having in mind the sufficiency of communication between His creature and Himself and from creature to creature. If language and man’s intellect is sufficient and God’s revealed Word is Holy and perfect, what accounts for the wide variations in understanding attributed to the book of Revelation? In a word: hermeneutics!

Although we treat the issues in more depth in our discussion of Interpreting Symbols, here we will simply note that unless a uniform approach to interpretation based on the normal rules of communication is extended to every part of God’s Word, then the perspicuity of Scripture is greatly compromised.

This can be seen in the huge variation of interpretive results by those who depart from these rules of grammatical historical inter

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