Summary Overview of Revelation
There are several schools of thought when it comes to interpreting the Revelation. There are variations of thought within each of the general schools of thought. The school of thought that I believe is most accurate, and have therefore followed, is known by a few different names. It has been called the Spiritual Approach. Some discredit this approach, accusing it of “spiritualizing” the text. The Bible is a spiritual book. There is therefore no problem with interpreting it spiritually. Spiritual interpretations must not be confused with allegorizing the text. Allegorizing often means the interpreter is free to assign meaning at will. The biblical spiritual approach understands that the Bible is spiritual and that the Revelation in particular is a book filled with apocalyptic symbols. The spiritual approach says that interpreting the book literally does not work. It further points out that no legitimate approach to interpreting the Revelation interprets everything literally. The issue is, when do we assign spiritual or symbolic interpretations? The answer that the spiritual approach gives is that the key to interpreting the symbols in the Revelation is to observe how the same language is used by the Old Testament prophets. If precedent is set elsewhere in the Bible, particularly by OT prophets,that precedent is followed in interpreting the Revelation.
Another aspect of the Spiritual Approach in interpreting the Revelation is to understand the book as being simultaneous, rather then sequential or chronological. Precedent for this is set throughout Hebrew literature of the OT. Genesis 1 and 2 establish this in the first two chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1 gives an overview of all of creation. Genesis 2 retells the same events, focusing in on the more important aspect of the creation of man. Revelation is not to be read as though the story starts in chapter one (or even in chapter 4) and then continues to tell a story in chronological order. Instead, the Revelation tells the same story over and over, each time telling it from a slightly different vantage point, with a slightly different focus, and with each telling, focusing a little more on the conclusion of the story.
What is the story? It is not about a period in the distant future from the time the book was written. That would have made it unintelligible for, and of little or no importance to, the original audience. An important rule of thumb is that the Revelation cannot mean for us something that it did not mean for the original readers (This is a basic rule of interpreting all the letters in the NT).
The story of the Revelation is about the Great Tribulation of the Church Age (the period between Christ’s first and second comings), during which the Church will experience many great persecutions. The Church is exhorted throughout the book to persevere and be “overcomers.” Only overcomers, those who remain faithful to Christ instead of capitulating to satanic and worldly attacks, will be saved in the end. Christ will strengthen His Church throughout, even when at times she looks to be falling apart. Throughout the Church Age, Satan is disallowed from stopping the spread of the gospel to the Gentile nations around the world, and from uniting those who oppose Christ to lead a world-wide effort to stamp out Christianity. Near the conclusion of the Church Age, Satan will be allowed to unite the anti-Christian world in a global effort to destroy Christianity. Just when it looks like the Church is about to be destroyed once and for all, Christ will return to judge the world. He will condemn those who oppose Him and His Church. The wicked will be cast into the Lake of Fire, the place of eternal torment. The redeemed will be taken to a New Jerusalem, a holy city in a completely renewed earth under completely renewed heavens to live, reign and worship Christ forever.
The Revelation can be outlined in seven visions as follows. Each vision is intended to give hope and encouragement to God’s people to persevere, which is the point of the book.
The Vision of Christ in the Midst of the Lampstands (1:1-3:22) All churches throughout the entire Church Age are represented by seven literal churches. This is the Church Age from the perspective of life in the church on earth.
The Vision of Heaven and the Seven Seals (4:1-7:17) This section sees the church age from a heavenly perspective, thus the lengthy picture of heavenly worship in chapters 4-5. The point is to see that Christ alone is the Sovereign who is able to open the seven seals which tell of persecution of the Church and Christ’s judgment on those who abuse His Church throughout the entire Church Age. That God is in control is a major point.
The Vision of the Seven Trumpets (8:1-11:19) This vision is similar to that of the seven seals. It sheds more light on the end of the Church Age when Christ will come again to end the persecution of His people.
The Vision of the Persecuting Dragon (12:1-14:20) This section gives an overview of Satan’s attempts to destroy Christ, which of course he cannot do. Having failed at that, he turns his hatred on Christ’s people, the Church. In this vision, three of Satan’s allies are introduced. Two beasts appear to represent anti-Christian government and religion. A third ally is the great harlot, Babylon, which appears to represent anti-Christian business, money and banking; though in the end it appears to represent all that opposes Christ. This vision ends with Christ’s Second coming to judge all who oppose His Church.
The Vision of the Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21) The seven bowls are God’s wrath with an eye progressively more toward the second coming and final judgment.
The Vision of the Fall of Babylon (17:1-19:21) This vision focuses progressively more on the final judgment of all who oppose Christ and His Church by the second coming of the Great Victor, Jesus Christ.
The Vision of the Great Consummation (20:1-22:21) The last vision provides a brief overview of the Church’s peril on earth and the Church’s triumph in Heaven during and throughout the Church Age. It continues with Christ’s second coming, and the final judgment. One aspect of the final judgment is the damnation of those who oppose Christ; who are cast into the lake of fire, the place of eternal torment. The other aspect of the judgment is the renewing of the heavens and the earth in which the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, is adorned for the Bridegroom, Christ. Descriptions of the eternal state of the people of God emphasize the presence and glory of God, and the absence of all sin and of every consequence of sin.