In the last 4 months we have been doing a Bible Study in Sunday School through the Book of Revelation. I have found it personally rewarding, but it has also been a difficult study. Trying to interpret Revelation is difficult, especially Revelation 6-18. I have read where some Bible commentators have said that when they were younger, they had never heard a sermon preached on those chapters of Revelation. After spending several weeks on Revelation 6-18, I can understand why.
In our study of the Book of Revelation, I have realized the importance of a balanced approach in interpreting this great portion of Scripture. Sound principles of biblical interpretation are needed for any part of the Bible, especially a difficult book like Revelation.
I think that 2 extremes need to be avoided in interpreting the Book of Revelation. One extreme teaches that Revelation 6-18 deals entirely with the future, and the second extreme approach teaches that the entire prophetic/apocalyptic part was already fulfilled within Roman Empire times.
A balanced approach would take seriously the late 1st-century situation of persecuted Christians in Asia Minor, who were under the threat of martyrdom because of the cult of emperor worship. Worship of the Roman Caesars had become increasingly institutionalized as the cities of Asia Minor raced to curry the favor of Rome. Faithful Christians were finding their lives tossed in an upheaval. This was one of the primary reasons why John wrote the Book of Revelation.
But it wasn’t the only reason why John wrote the Book of Revelation. In this Book, we also have prophetic/apocalyptic teaching of how the Lord will remove evil, idolatry and death once for all from the old creation. This will obviously occur in the future. The immediate reference regarding the Beast (Rev.13) and Babylon (Rev.17) in the Book of Revelation are the blasphemous Roman emperors and the Roman Empire. But the anti-Christian Domitian (and Nero) and the Roman Empire are types of the final Anti-Christ and the final Babylon (i.e. some kind of eschatological or end-time world system). Just as the cult of emperor-worship put the squeeze (economic and otherwise) on 1st century Christians, the final Anti-Christ and world system will put the squeeze on faithful followers of Christ. This has always been the case with anti-Christian totalitarian regimes. Just ask an Iranian Christian today.
Christians of all eras and places can learn from Revelation regarding God’s character and purposes and what it means to live faithfully in a man-centered and idol-dominated world. The Christians living in late 1st-century Asia Minor heard and obeyed the message of Revelation. They were faithful in worship, witness and prayer. As a result, they overcame the powerful Roman Empire and were vindicated by their heavenly Father. They followed in the steps of their Lord who conquered through the Cross. In the same way, Jesus’ followers conquer through suffering love.
In Christ’s love and service, Pastor John