About Jesus - Steve Sweetman
To begin my commentary on the Book of Revelation I'd like to share a bit of the prophetic road that I have traveled in my life.
"Are you ready for
the Battle of Armageddon"? These
words rattled their way through my head.
What kind of response did my grandmother hope to elicit from me? I
was only 6 years old. Thoughts
of being blown to smithereens in a war that would obliterate most of
humanity were far from pleasant.
I'd hear similar
references to the end times on Sundays when our pastor pleaded with us
to walk down the isle to the altar.
"Make sure you're saved.
The end of the age could come tonight".
Such talk, which included talk of hell's fire, drove me to the
altar on a weekly basis. This
kind of talk mixed with our denomination's stance on maintaining one's
salvation through legalistic means made me always doubt my salvation.
Then there was my dad who
obviously inherited my grandmother's prophetic gene.
Along with the Battle of Armageddon, he talked about the Great
Tribulation, the anti-Christ, the rapture, and most importantly,
In June, 1967, I was 15
years old. In miraculous
defeated its enemies in what has been called the Six Day War.
This was the question Free Methodists pondered that summer.
"Are we that last generation who will see the end time
events unfolding before our eyes"?
This was unsettling for us Evangelical teenagers. We
were to anticipate Jesus' return, but couldn't He hold off for a bit.
We wanted so much to experience the ecstasy of our wedding night.
In February, 1970, Jesus
delivered me from my guilt ridden obsession to get saved every Sunday.
Immediately, my passion was to study Biblical issues.
In part, that led me to Hal Lindsey.
His book entitled "The Late Great Planet Earth"
convinced me that life as we know it would end by 1975.
"This is the last
big purchase of my life", I told my friend Gerry as we left the
stereo store in 1973. I had
just purchased a pair of speakers for $250.00.
I could now be comforted by the music of Paul Clark, Larry
Norman, Randy Stonehill, and other Jesus People, while I waited for my
martyrdom in the Great Tribulation.
By 1974 I had forsaken
Lindsey's view of a pre-tribulation rapture because of Dave MacPherson's
books entitled "The Late Great Pre Trib Rapture" and "The
Unbelievable Pre-Trib Rapture".
He pointed out that at least in our modern Evangelical era this
doctrine arose from a lady's vision in the 1830's and was subsequently
propagated by a Brethren preacher named John Darby.
That was it! Without
a pre-trib rapture my execution by the anti-Christ's regime was certain.
I'd join those martyred souls of Revelation 6:9 who will scream
out to God to avenge our blood.
In 1974 my two favourite
Bible teachers were Derek Prince and Malcolm Smith.
Prince believed that Israel was the centerpiece of prophetic
history while Smith didn't. I
was trapped between two prophetic scenarios.
I was in one prophetic pickle of a mess.
In the midst of my
prophetic pickled mess was Maxwell Whyte, a prominent pastor in Toronto. Gerry and I visited with
him. His book entitled,
"Who Is The Anti-Christ" convinced me that the Historical view
of prophecy was the Biblical view. So,
I came to believe that the events of Revelation, except for chapters 20
to 22, have been unfolding over the last 2000 years.
David Edwards was the
president of Elim Bible Institute where I attended in the mid 1970's.
He held to the amillennial view that states we've been in the
1000 year rule of Christ for the last 2000 years.
I added this view to my stack of prophetic beliefs.
There were other teachers
and books along the way, but by 1980 Maxwell Whyte had won me over.
I was a Historicist, but with one nagging irritation.
I couldn't shake the Israel
factor, and, I certainly wouldn't admit that to dad
During the mid 1980's I
began to waver. I felt like
giving up, but I couldn't. I
had inherited that prophetic gene, something my friend Bill told me was
the case at my dad's funeral in 2001.
By 1990 I was still suggesting to dad that God might be finished
By the end of the 1980's
I was well aware of the main prophetic scenarios.
I let the Historical view fall by the side of my prophetic path.
I was determined to reach my own conclusions.
My search began in Genesis, where it should begin for everyone.
The first passage with end time significance is the Abrahamic
Covenant. I maintain that
how you view this covenant will determine your prophetic stance
throughout the Bible. Once
understanding the Abrahamic Covenant, I proceeded to the Mosaic
Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the prophets.
With a better grasp of the Old Testament, things became clearer.
It took me close to 10 years, but I finally fell on dad's side of
the fence. Some might
suggest I damaged my thinking processes in the fall, but that's just
wishful thinking on the part of some.
I became a Prophetic Futurist with one regret. My
dad passed away before I could admit to him that he was right. Israel
is the centerpiece of prophetic history, which in part, determines my
view of Revelation.
A bouncing ball doesn't
bounce forever. Sooner or
later it settles down and rests. I
no longer bounce from one side of my prophetic path to the other.
I certainly don't have all the answers.
There's so much more to learn, but as I stand on my path gazing
into the future road ahead of us, I'm firm in the direction my path is
commentary is based on the 1994 edition of the New International Version
of the Bible. The chapter
titles herein correspond with the NIV, making for easier comparison.
I say anything, I'd like to say that Biblical prophecy in its fine
details is hard to figure out and understand.
It's my thinking that we won't understand prophecy, and the book
of Revelation, until it is completely fulfilled.
By saying this I don't mean to suggest that we shouldn't study
prophecy because we should.
I've heard it said that
those who study Biblical prophecy are too heavenly minded to be of any
earthly good. In other
words, if you're thinking of the future, you're of little value in the
present. I suggest that
those who understand the seriousness of end time events, including the
Great White Throne Judgment and the
The Bible allots a huge
chunk of its pages to prophecy. That
fact alone makes it important. Israelis
in the Old Testament didn't think it was important.
They ignored it and thus missed their Messiah when He came to
them. I wouldn't want that
to happen to you.
Many of those who oppose
the study of prophecy will tell you that every generation throughout
history has believed Jesus would return in their generation.
By saying this they suggest that the study of prophecy is futile.
Whatever happens will happen.
So don't concern yourself with the future.
My answer to that is this. "So
what! What does that have to
do with anything"? The
fact that every generation has looked forward to their beloved Lord's
return is commendable. I
suggest we should be anticipating the return of Jesus along with all of
the other generations. Romans
8:18 to 21 tells us that even creation is eagerly anticipating Jesus'
return. If created things
look forward to His return, shouldn't we?
We all like a blessing
from time to time. Well,
Revelation 1:3 tells us that if we take the book of Revelation to heart,
we'll be blessed. We forfeit
this blessing by saying prophecy is too hard to figure out, so why try.
There are so many differing opinions, how can anyone know what's
right. This reasoning is
both irrational and illogical. Experts
in every field of endeavor have differing opinions.
We don't expect them to shut down their research just because of
these differences. If we
took this approach to life, none of us would have graduated from
elementary school. You don't
give up on grade 1 math because you don't understand university math.
You start at the beginning. You
take one step at a time until full understanding comes.
In Mark 13:33 Jesus
commands us to watch and pray for the events that end this age.
He's telling us to pay attention to what's happening in the world
around us. Watch for the
prophetic signs that point to the end.
Once we see these end time signs, we pray about them.
Of course, if you don't know the signs to watch for you'll miss
them, and you certainly won't be praying about them.
In John 16:33 Jesus
foretold certain events
Hosea 6:4 states that
lack of such knowledge destroys God's people.
This lack of knowledge destroyed
Hosea 6:4 states that
lack of such knowledge destroys God's people.
This lack of knowledge destroyed
I could probably scrape up a few more reasons why Biblical prophecy is important, but I'm sure you get my point. Jesus forewarns us of many things that lie ahead. If He has taken the time to tell us these things, we should take the time to listen to what He has said.
begin this commentary I point out the warning of Revelation 22:18 that
states we dare not tamper with the prophetic nature of this book.
With this in mind, I do not claim to have to full understanding
about the prophecies found in the last book of the Bible.
There are far more educated men than I who have written on the
book of Revelation. I simply say, "Consider what I say and the Lord
give you the understanding in all things".
If I am in error in anything I say may Jesus forgive me.
If I am correct in anything I say may we all be blessed.
are four historical view-points in how to approach the interpretation of
Revelation. The Idealist view-point merely sees Revelation as a symbolic
struggle between good and evil, with no real time frame in mind.
The Preterist view-point interprets Revelation as a symbolic
vision of what happened to the church and the world in the first
century. The Historic view-point interprets the events of Revelation as
certain events that have taken place, and will take place in the church
age. The Futurist view-point
is that this Revelation is about what takes place in the few short years
before the return of Christ.
I hold to the Prophetic Futurist view point. I do understand some of the proofs given for the other viewpoints of which some are somewhat convincing, but still; I understand the events of Revelation to be futuristic.
To understand the book of Revelation you need a good
understanding of Old Testament prophecy that goes back as far as Genesis
3:15 where God predicted the Saviour who would rescue man from his fall
from grace. Beyond that, I believe we need to understand the Abrahamic
Covenant, which I won't explain here because I've done that elsewhere.
I'll simply say that we need to understand that covenant as
Abraham understood it, not as Replacement Theologians have understood it
over the years. The promises
in this covenant predicted a day when Israel
would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
That promise has not been fulfilled, but it will be when the
events of Revelation are fulfilled.
This leads me to say that the events of Revelation concerns
book consists of a vision that John received from Jesus while on the Island
The general consensus for
dating the book of Revelation is around 95 A D.
Those who believe that the book relates the history of the first
generation church, that is, the Preterist view, are forced to believe
this book was written around 64 A D, but again, in my view, as well as
the view of many others, this is highly unlikely.
We should note the
writing style of the book of Revelation.
Although it is written in Greek it is Hebrew orientated.
It has been said that there are at least 285 references to the
Old Testament within the book. All of the imagery and idioms are Hebrew.
I believe this is important because the last seven years of this
age is all about two things. One
is that the nations of this world are judged, and, two,
Although it is not
popular these days, some commentators understand the book of Revelation
to be written to and about
There are three basic
questions that one must ask when studying the book of Revelation.
The first question the needs to be asked is; "Is what I am
reading a symbol or is it literal"?
In some cases the answer to this question is easy to answer
because the text itself will explain what the symbol is.
If the text doesn't answer this question for you, then it's up to
you to dig around for the answer. One
thing needs to be understood at this point and that if something is a
symbol, most of these symbols can be seen, or, they're alluded to, in
the Old Testament.
When thinking of these
symbols, or signs as they're often called, we should think of these
signs as if they were road signs. We
shouldn't think of them as symbols to represent something.
Signs point to something. The signs you see in Revelation point
to something as well.
The second question to be
asked is; "When does what I read take place in human history"?
Of course, as I've already pointed out, the answer to this
question has been well debated over the years.
Still, in order for you to formulate your view of the book of
Revelation for yourself, you must answer this question. I
will speak to this in greater detail later.
I'll only say one thing at this point, and that is this.
In the visions found in Revelation John is transported into the
future. Therefore, any
reverence to the present tense found in the text should not be
understood to be in John's day but in
the future day that John is seeing in the vision.
You may not understand the significance of this point now, but
you will later as you continue to read.
The third question that
should be asked is; "To whom is being spoken of in the text"?
The majority view among Prophetic Futurists is that the seven
letters of chapters two and three are directed to the church, but I
question that. As you will
see later, they might well be directed to Jewish communities during the
tribulation period. How you
understand to whom Revelation is written to will determine much of your
understanding of the specific prophecies in the book.
I simply say now that the book is written to and about Jews, not
These three questions are hard questions to answer. You need to have an understanding of the various views of Revelation. You need to know a bit of history, especially Old Testament history, since much of what you read in Revelation stems from the Old Testament.
thing to think about is all the weird things we see in Revelation.
For example, we see the four living beasts, other weird looking
characters, and, even the New Jerusalem.
We cannot discount these weird things because they don't seem to
fit into our present reality. We
must remember that John is transported into a different dimension that
looks nothing like the time, space, earth we live in today.
The weird things you see might well be real, not merely symbols
of things that we might be familiar with.
It will take much time to begin to understand the prophecy of this book, so, let's try to begin now.
To Your Study
Christians want to jump right into the book of Revelation, but that is
futile. The following are a
few preliminary points to consider before you even attempt to think
about understanding the most difficult to understand book in the Bible.
all, you should have a good understanding of basic Biblical
is the process by which we understand anything someone says.
Biblical hermeneutics includes a number of common sense rules of
communication, like taking things in context.
When it comes to Revelation, context means placing it in its
proper Biblical setting, which is, the last book, and, the last
prophetic book of the Bible. This
leads me to my next point.
cannot understand Revelation without having a good grasp of the Old
Testament. The problem with
modern day church is that it tells new Christians to ignore the Old
Testament until you have a half decent grasp of the New Testament.
That doesn't work when it comes to Revelation because Revelation
is as I've said, the last book in a long list of prophetic writings.
If you don't know what comes before Revelation you certainly
won't know and understand what's in Revelation, especially sense
Revelation has at least 285 allusions to the Old Testament, or so they
process of understanding the Old Testament, you must realize that all
the Old Testament books are important, not just the prophetic books.
The books of the law are just as prophetic as they are a list of
attempt to understand the Old Testament you'll soon discover a lot of
history, especially Jewish history.
You cannot understand Revelation without knowing some Old
Testament history, and really, history up to our present day.
There is much in Revelation that is historical in nature,
including names of cities. That
would suggest some geographical knowledge is important as well.
important thing to come to grips with concerns
what we call the Abrahamic Covenant, there is also the Mosaic and the
Davidic Covenant that must be understood.
Again, there are varying views on the prophetic meaning to these
process of understanding the above, you should have some knowledge of
the major views of Biblical Prophecy, which by the way includes the four
major views of the book of Revelation.
attempting to apply hermeneutics to your Bible study, there are some
other things you will have to decide upon.
One is how you approach any text in the Bible.
Does the particular text that you're reading need to be
understood literally, symbolically, or, allegorically?
This is real important in studying Revelation.
Should you take it literally as possible, or, should you view it
symbolically or allegorically?
with this, you will have to form your opinion on numbers found in the
Bible. Are they to be
understood literally or do they have some special meaning?
This is especially important when studying Revelation since there
are a variety of numbers found in the book.
helps to have access to some kind of text that can help you with Greek
and Hebrew. It's also good
to use more than one version of the Bible.
It is next to impossible to translate the Bible into English
without imposing some theological bias into the translating process.
It would also be good to have access to a text that could help
you with idioms of the day in which the text was originally written.
stated in my introduction it is somewhat important to know when
Revelation was written, and, there is diversity of thinking there.
There's even diversity of thinking what particular John actually
penned the book. Was it John
the Apostle or was it John the Elder, or, where these two John's the
same John? Really, there is
diversity on pretty much every point in the book of Revelation.
I could probably add to this list of preliminaries, and, at some
point I probably will, but at least for the moment, this will get you
started in the right direction.
recently told me that he wanted to get into the book of Revelation and
study it. I began to tell
him just some of what I've said in this section.
He interrupted me and told me that he had just changed his mind
about studying Revelation. Whatever
your take on the book is, the following is my verse by verse thoughts as
I presently think them, with the emphasis on the word