The last book of the Scriptures is entitled ‘Revelation’, it is not entitled ‘Hidden’; thus, the book of Revelation is a true revealing from YHWH. The last book of the Scriptures is certainly not called ‘Speculation’; thus, Revelation had its own context and its own setting in the time and world in which it was written. Revelation is not some kind of mystical concealing that was waiting for us to give it its meaning in our time. The concepts, the ideas, and the language, of the book of Revelation did not simply appear out of nowhere as if by magic. Far from only presenting only brand new ideas, far from introducing only fresh concepts, and far from using only unique mystical language, the book of Revelation was culturally and firmly founded in both a Jewish and in a historical context, with:
- A firm foundation based in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and with its text resting firmly upon the Scriptures of the old covenant.
- Existing Jewish ideas further developed.
- Existing Jewish concepts reshaped.
- Existing Jewish extravagant language further enlarged.
- Ideas of the existing known world cultures adapted.
- Concepts of the existing known world cultures reimagined.
- Extravagant language of existing known world cultures culture borrowed and reshaped.
Revelation drew the canon of the Scriptures to a close, and it was the dramatic climax of the history of humankind’s ‘Covenant Relationship with YHWH’, which is the overall theme of all of the Scriptures. While there are many apparent disconnects to be found in the Scriptures, Revelation connected them all together, and Revelation brought to a close any doubts and fears that YHWH’s people may have had about their future life with YHWH. We must be very careful never to suggest that the first hearers of the book of Revelation had no idea what the book was about, yet let us think that we know all about every detail today because we are modern, sophisticated, and clever. More than any of the other books in all of the Scriptures, Revelation has been subjected to far too many and various interpretations that relied more on current news media’s focus and current world events, than they did on the Scriptures of the old covenant, and indeed upon historical context and culture.
More than any other book of Scripture, the book of Revelation has often been interpreted only in the light of modern-day politics and world events that have been back projected back onto Revelation, rather than through the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit in the light of modern-day politics and world events. Many interpretations of the book of Revelation begin with the present and then look to the future, whereas they ought to begin in the past, and thus find in the past a firm foundation upon which interpretation can be properly made from history. Furthermore, there is great danger in us believing that we alone today have the ‘right’ interpretation of Revelation, and that the generations before us were unable to see what we now see. We may be the latest generation to heap our prejudices and strange ideas upon the prophecies of Revelation – but that does not make us any wiser, nor does it make us any more ‘right’, than the generations that first heard the book read.
As we read the book of Revelation, we must avoid doing so through the eyes of a particular end-time view and thus wrongly twist the prophecies to suit our own ideas. Since almost the very day that John wrote Revelation, and since the seven letters to the seven churches were despatched, the book of Revelation has, in many cases, effectively been renamed ‘Speculation’. The temptation to interpret dates, peoples, nations, and places, seems to attract new proclaimers of prophetic ‘revelation’ on a regular basis, each of whom has newly discovered the ‘truth’ of Revelation. While many and various attempts have been made to define the details within the book of Revelation, most attempts, if not all, have failed to honour the themes that run throughout Revelation, and it is those very themes that are the key to understanding the message of the book.
The purpose of the visions of Revelation – and indeed any and all visions – is never to satisfy our curiosity about the end-times and then interpret them down to the tiniest speculative detail. Such speculation will, sooner or later, make fools of those who so speculated. Prophetic speculation is not new, and neither is it the sole property of cult leaders. Revelation was given to John in order that Jesus’ servants throughout time and history would know what must soon take place, but it was YHWH’s ‘soon’ – not John’s ‘soon’, and certainly not our ‘soon’. The problem with specific ‘prophetic’ interpretations of the book of Revelation is that the details ‘prophesied’ are thus immovably fixed, and therefore every new ‘prophetic’ interpretation fundamentally changes the understanding of the book.
Furthermore, the setting of details in concrete ‘fact’ suggests that YHWH’s actions and pronouncements are defined entirely by mortal human interpretation, when that is certainly not the case. The symbolism contained within Revelation was already known and totally relevant to the people of the era in which John wrote the book, and carelessly changing the imagery to make it fit present-day events and people can only lead to error, and thus to the misleading of YHWH’s people. We may be the latest generation that is interpreting Revelation, but our advanced technologies and the latest knowledge on their own do not mean that we are in the best place to engage in such interpretation. As I will repeat often and in various ways, YHWH’s timings are not our timings, and YHWH’s actions are not to be fixed in the speculative ideas of mortal human beings who only see dimly as in a dark mirror.
As we study Revelation, we must not engage in speculation. Speculation heaped upon speculation can only lead to contradiction after contradiction as ‘prophecies’ fail, and so the ‘prophets’ would then have to find yet another reason why YHWH did not do what they had said that YHWH would do. This long and deep study of Revelation seeks to first understand the book in its historical context, and then to interpret and apply the text to us in our own day. This is a long and detailed course that will bring a fresh revelation to the book of Revelation. Revelation is practical, down to earth, and inspiring, when it is seen through the lens of its own historical context and culture. If the group met weekly, the course would last about a year. A more intensive group that met more often could complete the course quicker than that.