Putting Together a Puzzle
We are going to be looking at each of these pieces in detail, but not necessarily in the order that the Bible gives them. I'm going to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that will hopefully help you understand the sequence of the events that are involved here.
Now some of these interludes are like this. We have all watched television or a movie in which a certain scene is played out. Meanwhile back at the proverbial "ranch," another simultaneous scene is being played out. However, since we couldn't watch both scenes at the same time, the scenes are played out sequentially in the movie. Similarly John in writing the book, may have written sequentially some of the scenes that may have been actually occurring over the same period.
John makes a very interesting statement in his caveat or warning at the end of the book:
It is quite an interesting statement that John makes, for no similar statement is found in any other book in the Bible, including Daniel. John was a prisoner exiled on Patmos, and possibly subject to having his letters censored or edited by his Roman captors.
I have often wondered, if he did not scramble some of his original manuscript in order to escape this editing by his jailers. You notice he says, do not add, do not subtract, but no reference is made to "do not unscramble."
Most commentators of Revelation recognize that certain parts of Revelation are out of sequence and have, according to their particular philosophy or orientation, tried to put the book back in sequence.
Since I have been doing the Scripture compilations of which this book is an outgrowth, and have looked at tens of thousands of Bible verses on various subjects, I have begun to get a clearer picture of what Revelation is about. And a clearer idea of how to reassemble it in a way that is consistent with the bulk of scripture.
Pretend with me for a moment, that you have the pieces of a puzzle scattered in front of you. Wouldn't you begin by assembling the edge pieces first? Wouldn't this provide a framework for filling in the middle pieces and completing the puzzle. The straight sides of the edge pieces provide a simple guideline and a good starting point. To fill in the other pieces, we look for interlocking pieces by matching the shapes of the tongues and notches.
Two interlocking pieces may be scattered some distance away from each other. But when we pick them up, we see that the tongue matches the notch, the picture across the two pieces is consistent and we recognize the fit. In order to finish the puzzle, all the pieces have to be in place.
Similarly, in Revelation, some of the pieces may be located several chapters away from their matching pieces. And the information in a distant chapter may be necessary to help understand the information given in an earlier one. In order to determine how some pieces fit, it may be necessary to go outside of the book of Revelation to other Scripture to ensure a consistent Scriptural interpretation.
I would like to assemble the pieces of Revelation by using the cut and past technique available through computers today. Pieces of Revelation have been assembled in a manner that I believe provides the greatest scriptural consistency, and subsequently, is also the easiest to understand.
Some other rules for scriptural interpretation have come out of my study that may be helpful to know.
Literal versus Symbolic Prophecy
There are two types of prophecy or visions. The primarily literal and the primarily symbolic. Since the Hebrew and Greek languages are pictorial languages, it is not unusual to find extensive usage of symbol and word pictures to describe an event.
Picturesque language helps us in remembering an event or statement. Today's memory improving techniques stress the conversion of text, lists or statements into pictures which the mind is less likely to forget.
Visions or prophecies given in primarily symbolic terms are virtually always not understood by its receiver and therefore they are interpreted for the receiver of the vision by a heavenly being or by God through a human agent. While the characters are portrayed by symbolic entities (beasts, horns, women), the actions of the characters are literal (e.g. . Hence, I use the term primarily symbolic to describe these visions.
Let me use English language terms. The nouns or subjects are symbols (beasts, horns, women), but the verbs and the objects are generally but not always literal.
For example, "the little horn shall persecute the saints of the Most High." We recognize that the political power represented by the little horn power really did persecute the people of God.
However, in some cases, the verbs are phrased in symbolic language, such as "devoured the seven fat cows", "shall burn her and eat her flesh".
Examples of primarily symbolic visions are:
In primarily literal visions or prophecies, the terms used are literal and the actions are literal. No interpretation is provided because none is needed for the people for whom it is intended. The prophecy is to be understood as meaning exactly as it is portrayed. However, it is not unusual for some symbolism or pictorial language to be used to portray the characteristics of a literal character. For example, the usage of locusts in the prophetic phrase "send up horses like a swarm of locusts" (Jer. 51:27) portrays horses using the symbolic or comparative element of locusts.
Examples of primarily literal visions for which no interpretation is given include:
In fact, most of the prophecies that God gave in the Old and New Testament are not given in symbolic terms, but rather literal terms. We often fail to see them as prophecies because they are not told in dramatic symbolic format.
This concept of symbolic versus literal also helps us in the interpretation of prophetic timing. In many prophecies, the timing or duration of the event is foretold (prophesied). Examples include:
There are two methods of interpretation for time prophecy,
See the appendix for a detailed look at how the day-for-a-year interpretation is arrived at.
For biblical prophecy, the following equalities are noted:
How should one know which method of time interpretation to apply? It behooves the interpreter to apply the method most consistent with the type of vision or prophecy that contains that time prophecy. For primarily symbolic visions, first apply the day for a year principle to see if it fits. For primarily literal visions, first utilize the day for a day principle. In most cases, it is not too difficult to know which to apply. However, in other cases, it becomes more difficult and the proof of the interpretation comes from other factors.
If a sound historical application has been found (within the context of the sequence), then the evidence for the correct time interpretation is drawn from the historical evidence surrounding the fulfillment of that prophecy. We should also be able to find explanations for events that precede that event in the order prophesied! i.e. don't use an explanation that is out of order and context.
For prophecies whose fulfillment is still future, the reasonableness of the time interpretation, within the context of the prophecy and the sequence within which it falls, should be emphasized. i.e. Does it make sense?
More than Once?
Some prophecies have a sequence of events within them. Many strange interpretations have arisen because one or two events within that sequence were taken out of context. One or another fulfillment were touted for those events when clearly the events preceding that event had not yet transpired.
In apocalyptic prophecy, as most other prophecy, the fulfillment of the prophecy as a whole can only take place once. For example, great earthquakes have been prophesied in several places (see Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19 and 16:18). And the earth has experienced a number of large earthquakes, such as the great Lisbon earthquake, the San Francisco earthquake, that in Mexico City, a tremendous one in China several years ago (in which over 100,000 people were left homeless), and I am sure more big earthquakes will come. Which one of these, if any, is a correct fulfillment of any of these prophecies? Would we be correct in standing adamantly on one application when the events surrounding that prophecy have not been clearly fulfilled? I think not.
While it is true that history repeats itself, this excuse is often made for past sloppy interpretations. When appropriate rules developed by the examination of the historically provable fulfillments of prophecies are used, the sloppiness will disappear.
Some prophecies are generalistic in nature. For example Jesus prophesied,
This prophetic statement, taken by itself, has been fulfilled a number of times. People take wars to be signs of the end of the world. But look at the statements immediately surrounding that text:
In other words, the majority of wars, famines and earthquakes are not signs of Christ's Second Coming. They are "normal" events in the passage of time.
For an event within a sequence of events to be the true fulfillment of that prophecy, its fulfillment must occur within the fulfillment of the entire sequence! This will become more apparent later on.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, any interpretation of the prophecies of Revelation should be tested against sound scriptural doctrine, rather than the traditions or teachings of men or churches. A symbolic portrayal of elements should not be construed to dictate new doctrine, superseding firmly established scriptural doctrine.
An out of place piece of the puzzle should not be used to establish a new doctrine. Rather, first find the correct location of the piece, test it against established scriptural doctrine. Then if it leads to new doctrine, so be it.
It is my prayer that by the time you finish studying this book, you will find:
The reader should be reminded that absolute truth never changes.
However, our understanding of absolute truth is dynamic and ever changing as God chooses to unveil more of it to us. Some of my work is based upon what others have discovered and written about. Much of it is fresh and hopefully new and I make no claims to having a full understanding of absolute truth. That will be revealed as time progresses. However, I pray that you will study the material carefully and use it as a springboard for drawing your own conclusions.
Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. Many thanks go to Zondervan.
Scripture compilations, and commentaries copyright © 1992-2003 by BiblePlus/The Bible Research Company. All rights reserved. The Bible Research Company/BiblePlus is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ, and to disseminating the marvelous truths of the Bible.