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Revelation: Principles of Interpretation


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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 10:09 AM

[1] Symbols in Revelation:


[1.1] The symbolism of the book - general principles: The book uses symbols in precisely the same way as the rest of Scripture. Symbols represent qualities not entities (fire represents anything sharing the qualities of fire, water represents anything sharing the qualities of water, etc).

Symbols are therefore to be interpreted according to context, since the same symbol or set of symbols can be used in different contexts of completely different referents, though the qualities of the event or entity are always the same (thus the darkening of the sun and moon, and the falling of the stars, is used of different nations of empires, but always used of the fall of a nation or empire, Isaiah 13:9-10; 34:4, Ezekiel 32:7).

[1.2] The symbolism of the book - specific usage: Revelation takes symbols which in the Old Testament were used of the enemies of Israel, and applies them to the enemies of the servants of Christ. Revelation takes symbols which in the Old Testament were used of Israel and the Jews, and applies them to the body of Christ and to the Christians. The key to understanding this is found in the letters to the ecclesias in chapters 1 to 3, where these symbols are used with explicit referents.

Thus in Revelation 2 and 3, a false prophet (Balaam), is an apostate Christian who leads other Christians astray (Revelation 2:14), a harlot (Jezebel), is an apostate Christian who leads other Christians astray (Revelation 2:20-22), and satan (also 'the devil'), is the enemy of Christians who is currently persecuting them (Revelation 2:9-10, 13; 3:9). This supports the first premise. Usage of these symbols elsewhere in Revelation is congruent with this premise.

Thus also, in Revelation 1-3, a lampstand is an ecclesia, not a physical piece of furniture in the earthly temple (Revelation 1:20, 2:5), manna is the reward of faithful Christians, not natural Israel (Revelation 2:17), the temple of God is the body of Christians, not the earthly temple in Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12), and the holy city is the spiritual dwellingplace of God, not the earthly city of Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12). This supports the second premise. Usage of these symbols elsewhere in Revelation is congruent with this premise.


[1.3] Examples follow:

[1.3.1.1] In the letters, a lampstand is an ecclesia, not a physical piece of furniture in the earthly temple (Revelation 1:20, 2:5), so we have no warrant for supposing it is something else in the later prophetic chapters (Revelation 11:4)


[1.3.1.2] In the letters, a false prophet from the Old Testament is used to represent a false Christian teacher in a Christian congregation, who leads Christians astray (Revelation 2:14), so we have no warrant for supposing that a false prophet is anything other than a false Christian teacher who leads Christians to apostasize when the same figure used later in the prophetic chapters (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10)


[1.3.1.2] In the letters, a prostituting and spiritually corrupting woman from the Old Testament is used to represent a prostitituting and spiritually corrupting woman in a Christian congregation, who leads Christians astray (Revelation 2:20-22), so we have no warrant for supposing that this figure is something else in the later prophetic chapters (Revelation 17:1-6; 19:2)


[1.3.1.3] In the letters, the book of life represents the reward of those who have been found faithful (Revelation 3:5), so we have no warrant for supposing that it is something else in the later prophetic chapters (Revelation 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27)


[1.3.1.4] In the letters, the rule of an iron rod represents a powerful rulership which breaks in pieces (Revelation 2:27), so we have no warrant for supposing that it is something else in the later prophetic chapters (Revelation 12:5)


[1.3.1.5] In the letters, the temple of God is the body of Christians, not the earthly temple in Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12), so we have no warrant for supposing it is something else in the later prophetic chapters (Revelation 11:1; 14:15-17; 15:5-6, 8; 16:1, 17; 21:22)


[1.3.1.6] In the letters, the holy city is the spiritual dwellingplace of God, not the earthly city of Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12), so we have no warrant for supposing it is something else in the later prophetic chapters (Revelation 11:2; 21:2, 9-10; 22:19)

Edited by Fortigurn, 05 June 2008 - 10:25 PM.


#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 10:10 AM

[2] The arena of events in Revelation is more than the land of Israel:

[2.1] Many passages and phrases indicate to us that the scope of the events is restricted neither to the group of people who constitute natural Israel, nor to the geographical area of the land of Israel and its immediate inhabitants.

Examples of these phrases include:

[2.1.1] The four corners of the earth
[2.1.2] The four winds
[2.1.3] The Lord of the earth (the passage from Zechariah in the LXX from which this is quoted specifies the Lord of the whole earth)
[2.1.4] The kings of the earth
[2.1.5] The tribes of the earth
[2.1.6] Those who live on the earth (who are also described as 'every nation, tribe, language, and people')


[2.2] These phrases are consistently used in the Old Testament (LXX), of Gentile nations outside Israel. This is verifiable. The usage is the same in the New Testament. Any interpretation of these phrases which contradicts their verifiable usage is wrong.


[2.3] The area in which the prophetic events of the book take place is defined as an area far wider than simply the land of Israel and its immediate surroundings:

[2.3.1] The Philadelphian ecclesia is told that they will be kept safe from future 'hour of testing that is about to come on the whole OIKOUMENH [Roman empire] to test those who live on the earth' (Revelation 3:10)


[2.3.2] The group described as 'those who live on the earth' (defined as 'every nation, tribe, language, and people', by Revelation 11:9, 14:6), are frequently described as the subject of the prophetic passages - they are judged for their persecution of the saints (Revelation 6:10), they are described as making merry over the death of God's witnesses, who tormented them (Revelation 11:10), they are informed of the gospel and warned of impending judgment (Revelation 14:6-7), and they wonder at the beast (Revelation 17:8)


[2.3.3] The 'kings of the earth' are described as the subjects of the judgment of the sixth seal (Revelation 6:15)


[2.3.4] John sees 'four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so no wind could blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree' (Revelation 7:1)


[2.3.5] That the prophecy John is given encompasses an area far wider than simply the land of Israel and its immediate surroundings is made explicit by the statement of the angel who instructs him 'You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations,languages, and kings' (Revelation 10:11)


[2.3.6] Central to the prophecy concerning the 1,260 days of God's witnesses are 'those from every people, tribe, nation, and language', who oppose the witnesses (Revelation 11:9)


[2.3.7] The beast which makes war against Christ has an army which consists of 'the kings of the earth and their armies' (Revelation 19:19)


[2.3.8] Prior to the final battle, John sees 'satan' going out 'to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth' (Revelation 20:8)


[2.3.9] The dominion of Christ's kingdom is said to include 'nations', who will 'walk by its light', and 'the kings of the earth', who will 'bring their grandeur into it' (Revelation 20:24)


[2.4] The area dominated by the central figures in the prophetic passages of Revelation is defined as an area far wider than simply the land of Israel and its immediate surroundings:[3.4.1] The dragon with 7 heads and 10 horns 'deceives the whole OIKOUMENH [Roman empire]' (Revelation 12:9)


[2.4.2] The beast of the sea receives the same 'power, throne, and authority' as the dragon of Revelation 12 (Revelation 13:2)


[2.4.3] Further proof of this is the fact that the beast of the sea rules over 'every tribe, people, language, and nation' (Revelation 13:7)


[2.4.4] The 'spirits of demons' go out to deceive 'the kings of the earth and of the whole OIKOUMENH [Roman empire]' (Revelation 16:14)


[2.4.5] The harlot which kills the servants of Christ commits fornication with 'the kings of the earth', has a kingdom which consists of 'peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues', and rules over 'the kings of the earth' (Revelation 17:2, 15, 18; 18:3, 9)


#3 Fortigurn

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 10:10 AM

[3] The saints are the focus of Revelation:


[3.1] The saints are not 'natural Israel' in the Old Testament. They always represent those in faithful covenant relationship with God, whether they are natural Jews or not. Therefore we find that they are sometimes angels (Deuteronomy 33:2, Job 5:1; 15:15, Daniel 8:13), sometimes natural Jews specifically (Psalm 148:14; 149:1), sometimes more generally those mortals in covenant with God regardless of nationality (Psalm 50:5; 97:10; 116:15; 149:9; Proverbs 2:8), and in at least four places it could refer either to those in Christ, to the angels, or to both, but certainly excludes 'natural Israel' (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27, Zechariah 14:5).

[3.2] The term 'saints' a term used consistently in the New Testament to describe those who are in Christ (Acts 9:13, 32, 41; 26:10, Romans 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25-6, 31; 16:2, 15, 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:1-2; 14:33; 16:1, 15, 2 Corinthians 1:1; 8:4; 9:1, 12; 13:13, Ephesians 1:1, 15, 18; 2:19; 3:8, 18; 4:12; 5:3; 6:18, Philippians 1:1; 4:22, Colossians 1:2, 4, 12, 26, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Timothy 5:10, Philemon 1:5, 7, Hebrews 6:10; 13:24, Jude 1:3, 14).

[3.3] The saints (whether referred to as 'saints', those sealed with the name of God, the 'servants of God', the 'seed of the woman', 'those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus', 'those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus', or the 'witnesses of Jesus'), are specifically identified in Revelation as the subject of the events prophesied, both persecution and redemption (Revelation 6:9-11; 7:3, 13-14; 8:3-4; 11:18; 13:7, 10, 12; 14:1, 12; 16:6, 17:6; 18:24).

[3.4] It is unavoidable that the key prophetic events are said to come upon the saints (defined as the faithful in Christ), and that the war of the central enemies in Revelation is directed against this group:

[3.4.1] This is the group identified as having come out of the great tribulation described in Revelation ('the servants of our God, 'who have come out of the great tribulation', 'have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!', 'I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God', Revelation 7:3, 13-14, 20:4)


[3.4.2] The dragon (the pagan Roman empire, as we both agree), makes war specifically on this group ('the accuser of our brothers', 'to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God's commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus', Revelation 12:10, 17)


[3.4.3] The beast of the sea (which arises proximate to the dragon, the pagan Roman empire), makes war specifically on this group ('The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them', 'This requires steadfast endurance and faith from the saints', Revelation 13:7,10)


[3.4.4] The harlot makes war specifically on this group ('drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of those who testified to Jesus', 'The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed on the earth', Revelation 17:6; 18:24)
Throughout the entire series of prophetic chapters, we find this group identified as the subject of the events prophesied. Nowhere do we find these events described as coming upon natural Israel.

Edited by Fortigurn, 05 June 2008 - 10:11 AM.


#4 Fortigurn

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Posted 05 June 2008 - 10:11 AM

[4] The prophetic background in Daniel:


[4.1] The prophetic background to Revelation is especially important, and it is to Daniel that we look for guidance.

[4.2] The Revelation shares significant material with the prophecy of Daniel, specifically with chapters 2, 7 and 12. In Daniel 2 and 7 we find a prophecy regarding the 'fourth kingdom on earth'. The prophecy of Daniel describes this kingdom in chapters 2 and 7. In both places it indicates that this kingdom will be a violent and destrucive kingdom, which would break all others into pieces. In chapter 7, this kingdom is stated specifically to persecute God's people - the saints (Daniel 7:25).

[4.3] In both Daniel 2 and 7 the kingdom is identifiable clearly as the Roman empire. Furthermore, in both Daniel 2 and 7, the violent activities of this empire (including, in Daniel 7, its persecution of God's people), are described not only up to the time of Christ, but demonstrably past the date of the fall of the Roman empire in 476 AD.

[4.4] The prophecy is clearly indicating to us that the persecution of the people of God by this beast does not terminate in the 1st century, but continues well after the 5th. This empire continues to exist in some form up to the return of Christ (Daniel 7:11-14), at which point the kingdom of God is given over to the saints (whom the New Testament defines as those the faithful in Christ).

[4.5] The same beast is found in Revelation, where the same description of it and its activities is given (Revelation 11, 13, 17, and 19). The evidence from these passages is that God has revealed to us the full extent and scope of this beast's persecution and activities, right up to the time of Christ's return, and including its persecution of those in Christ, not merely natural Israel.




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