“Throughout the prophecies of this wonderful book Christ is pictured as the Victor, the Conqueror… He conquers death, Hades, the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and the men who worship the beast. He is victorious; as a result, so are we, even when we seem to be hopelessly defeated.“
Have you ever been reading the last book of the Bible and found yourself scratching your head, wondering, What is this actually talking about? Or maybe you’ve just sort of avoided reading it, thinking it’s too hard to understand, or not important or of practical use to your life? I have felt like this at times, and after acquiring a copy of William Hendricksen’s book had always intended to read it sometime. Then when my pastor announced he was starting a sermon series preaching through the book of Revelation, I thought it would be a good time to start it.
The last book of the Bible has been approached and interpreted in many ways, and is often considered to be one of the most difficult and cryptic books in all of Scripture. Yet, the book of Revelation comes with the promise of a blessing to all who read it:
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near (Rev. 1:3).
In spite of the various views and interpretations of the book and the teachings related to the Apocalypse/Last Day/End Times, we shouldn’t shy away from reading Revelation with an effort made towards understanding and profiting from it. Hendricksen says that Revelation is a book of symbols, not riddles. The book is meant to be an unveiling of truth, and was written to benefit and encourage believers in Christ, not to trouble and confuse us. However, in order to begin to understand it, certain rules of Biblical hermeneutics (the interpretation of scripture) need to be followed.
In his analysis of Revelation, Hendricksen begins by reminding the reader of the historical context and original audience to which it was written, and its main theme and purpose. He also reminds us that it needs to be interpreted in light of what is revealed throughout the entirety of Scripture, particularly considering the many Old Testament references, allusions, and symbolism that the book is full of, all of which are relevant and need to be kept in mind. In fact, there are over 500 allusions or references in Revelation to passages in the Old Testament (the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, for example). There are also passages that parallel verses in Revelation found in the Gospels and other New Testament books as well. As one basic rule of hermeneutics states: allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. With this in mind, Hendricksen is constantly cross-referencing Revelation with other related passages of scripture.
My pastor and Dr. Hendricksen both point out that there are some keys and interpretive principles that help to unlock the apparent mysteries of Revelation; consider the following as you take up the book of Revelation:
As a book, Revelation is classified as Jewish apocalyptic literature, and it needs to be analyzed and interpreted as such. Generally, a good rule of thumb when reading the Bible is to take the text literally unless we are specifically told that it is symbolic (as with dreams and visions). As a genre, apocalyptic literature uses symbolism, imagery, metaphors, and poetry extensively to convey the ideas and concepts it is written to communicate. It is not a genre of literature that we are familiar with; as a result it is often handled and interpreted inappropriately. Unlike historical narrative texts, it generally should be interpreted figuratively, not literally.
The book was written for the instruction, warning, and comfort of first century Christians. The purpose of the message contained in it is to reveal Jesus Christ to His people, that God is with them, and He will defeat His and their enemies. The letter was written to seven actual churches that existed in the area of Asia Minor during a period of history that was very difficult to be a Christian. The letter would be distributed amongst the churches in the area. It would not make sense if its contents described events that would occur 1000 or more years later. Hendricksen explains,
“These believers were not primarily interested in the great events of future centuries so much as in the struggle between light and darkness, the Church and the world, Christ and the dragon, truth and error, which was being waged in their own time.”
The churches addressed in chapters two and three of Revelation, while seven real churches, also represent types and conditions of churches through the ages. Thus it is as relevant and helpful to us as God’s people living in the 21st century as it was to its original audience.
The book is not a narrative and was not written chronologically, nor is it meant to be read as a chronological account. Doing so leads to a lot of confusion. Hendricksen explains that the scenes described are depicted not in a linear manner, but in a cyclical manner, with certain occurrences being described several times but from a different perspective and with a different focus.
“A careful reading of the book of Revelation has made it clear that the book consists of seven sections, and that these seven sections run parallel to one another. Each of them spans the entire dispensation from the first to the second coming of Christ. This period is viewed now from one aspect, now from another.”
So we are presented with a series of scenes which are full of action and symbols, depicting different views of the persecution and trials of Christ’s church, the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan, the final judgment of the wicked, and Christ seated on his throne after his victorious defeat of his enemies (the Beast, the False Prophet, the harlot Babylon, and the Dragon/Serpent). For example, notice how the judgment of “those who dwell on earth” (the unbelieving, rebellious God-rejecters) is depicted in Chap. 6, Chap. 14, Chap. 16, and again in Chap. 19. Again, notice how we see the saints of God worshipping and praising Christ for conquering the enemies of God: Chap. 4, Chap. 7, Chap. 11, Chap. 14, and also Chap. 19. When chapters 4 through 22 are read as if it is a series of chronological events, it really doesn’t make any logical sense.
The numbers and symbols that are so repetitively used are important in the book of Revelation and have non-literal meaning. Certain numbers are used over and over (3, 4, 7, 10, 12, and 1000 for example), and are meant to convey an idea. For example, the number 7 appears repeatedly (54 times) throughout the book, in just about every chapter, and symbolizes perfection or completeness. The number 12 should make you think of two things: the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of Jesus. Thus, the number 12 represents the people of God; 24 (12+12) represents the united people of God from both the Old Testament and the New. Likewise, items have a symbolic meaning representing a particular idea: horns = power, crowns = authority, eyes = knowledge. Rather than trying to dissect and separate each piece contained in every scene, however, we need to try to see what the picture as a whole is illustrating; what is the main idea being portrayed? Hendricksen guides the reader through this process.
Remember, the full title of this book of the Bible is The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The main focus and subject of the book is not the world, Satan, evil, tribulations, etc. The main subject is Jesus Christ. Hendricksen’s book is so instructive and insightful as the author provides his commentary chapter by chapter, explaining the meaning and pointing out the overarching theme that runs throughout the book from beginning to end: the victory of Christ and His church over all His and her enemies for His own glory.
The general message of the book of Revelation is one that we as believers need today! I encourage every Christian who has tried to make sense of this final and important book of the Bible, or has avoided reading it altogether, to set aside their preconceived ideas and read Hendricksen’s commentary with an open Bible and an open mind, and see for yourself if it doesn’t help to unveil the truths found in Revelation. Here’s a suggestion: Start listening to the sermon series on Revelation by Pastor Steve Marquedant, and read Hendricksen’s commentary as you go through the series; see link below.
“We are conquerors; indeed, we are more than conquerors through him that loved, us for not only do we triumph over every foe but we also live and reign with Christ. And in this supreme joy many of those who formerly opposed us will participate. Truly, more than conquerors are we!”
Related Articles and Reviews
- Symbols Not Riddles (tabletalktheology.com)
- Apocalyptic Literature (bibleodyssey.org)
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ sermon series, Pastor Steve Marquedant (sermonaudio.com)
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Devotional readings (ligonier.org)