About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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My Commentary on Revelation

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Introduction

My Prophetic Path

 

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, Israel's place in prophetic history.  At the age of 8 my prophetic path was being well walked on.      

 

In June, 1967, I was 15 years old.  In miraculous fashion, Israel 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.  When he told me of Israel's importance in prophecy, I'd respond by saying, "but dad, there are other ways to think".  Dad would hear of no other ways.

   

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 with Israel , but, when talking to Bill who rejected all things Israel , I'd tell him that God wasn't finished with Israel.  Talk of being in a prophetic pickle of a mess; by 1993 I was a prophetic schizophrenic.       

 

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 leading me.   

 

Introduction

 

This 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. 

 

Before 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 Lake of Fire , are of great value to Jesus.  The knowledge of these events motivates them to do the work Jesus has for them to do before it's too late.  

 

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 
that would shortly transpire in His life and in the lives of His followers.  Jesus admitted that His disciples didn't understand what He was predicting, but He predicted them anyway.  He did so for one specific reason.  Once His predictions came true, the disciples would recall His words and then they'd understand and react accordingly.  Jesus was giving them a heads up on the future so they could be prepared for that which would come their way.  This is why the Bible is full of prophetic predictions that we should know about.  Without the knowledge of the prophecies there is no recollection of them.  Without the recollection there is no understanding.  Without the understanding there is no appropriate response.  Hosea 6:4 states that lack of such knowledge destroys God's people.  This lack of knowledge destroyed Israel in Old Testament days and it can destroy Christians today.       

 

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. 

 

To 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.  

 

There 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 Israel and not the church.  It is the time of Jacob's trouble as seen in Jeremiah 30:7.         

 

The book consists of a vision that John received from Jesus while on the Island of Patmos.  This island was a colony for prisoners.  The prisoners would work in the mines that were on the island.  The text does not say that John was a prisoner, but most commentators believe he was.  There are a few commentators that think the John might have been a missionary to the prisoners, but that's highly unlikely in my opinion because there was much persecution of Christians at the time John wrote this book.  

 

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, Israel is judged in order to bring her back to her God.  Ultimately, the book of Revelation is all about God redeeming Israel , and thus the reason for the Hebrew Old Testament nature of this vision.   

 

Although it is not popular these days, some commentators understand the book of Revelation to be written to and about Israel and not the church.  This would also be the case when it comes to the seven letters of chapters 2 and 3.  Thus, I will attempt to make reference to this view, as well as other views, in my commentary.

 

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 the church.      

 

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.  

 

One last 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.    

 

Preliminaries To Your Study

 

Many new 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.

 

First of all, you should have a good understanding of basic Biblical interpretation.  Hermeneutics 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. 

 

You 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 say.

 

In the 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 laws.

 

In your 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.

 

One very important thing to come to grips with concerns Israel , and its place in prophetic history.  Your study here would have to begin with Genesis 12 when God called Abram out of Ur . You have to know why God called Abram away from his family.  You have to know the significance of the covenant God made with Himself and spoke to Abram.  There are two important prophetic camps on this issue.

 

Besides 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 two covenants.     

 

In the 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. 

 

While 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? 

 

Along 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. 

 

It sure 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. 

 

As I 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.

 

Someone 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 "presently".                

 

 

   

 

 

 


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