By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Many people are confused and intimidated by the Book of Revelation. This is understandable when confronted by John’s Apocalypse without a proper understanding of the context and setting of the Book. However, when one reads and understands the Book of Revelation, there is a great blessing from God bestowed upon the student of His Word. John Himself declared that it is possible to read and to understand this Book, and that when we do, we will be blessed:
Revelation 1:1-3-The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. 3 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.
In this article, I would like to share with you three keys to the Book of Revelation which have helped me to understand and be blessed by this beautiful section of God’s Word.
The Structure Of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is composed of seven visions that the Apostle John was given of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Each of these visions begins with the First Coming of Jesus and culminates in the Second Coming (Revelation 1:1-3:22; 4:1-7:17; 8:1-11:19; 12:1-14:20; 15:1-16:21; 17:1-19:21; 20:1-22:21). A study of each of these sections will reveal that the Second Coming is referenced several times, and then the next vision begins. For example:
Revelation 6:15-17-And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
Revelation 11:15-18-Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”. 16 And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned. 18 The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”
The Second Coming is thus pictured several times throughout the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:5, 7; 3:21; 14:14, 16; 16:20; 19:11; 22:12-17). William Hendriksen has explained it well:
“Thus interpreted, each individual church is, as it were, a type, not indicating one definite period in history, but describing conditions which are constantly repeated in the actual life of the various congregations.  Therefore this section appears to span the entire dispensation, from Christ’s first coming to save His people (1: 5) to His second coming to judge all nations (1: 7)….It should be carefully noted that this section also covers the entire dispensation, from the first to the second coming of Christ. The very first reference to Christ pictures Him as having been slain and as now ruling from heaven (5: 5, 6). Towards the end of this section the final judgment is introduced. Notice the impression of the second coming on unbelievers. ‘And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One sitting on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb! For it came, the day, the great one, of their wrath; and who is able to stand?’ (6: 16, 17). Now notice the bliss of believers. ‘They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun fall upon them, nor any heat; for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd and shall lead them to life’s springs of water; and God shall wipe away every tear out of their eyes’ (7: 16, 17). This is a picture of the entire Church triumphant, gathered out of all the nations and thus, in its entirety, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, an ideal which is not realized until the day of the great consummation. We have again spanned the entire gospel age. 3. The seven trumpets (8: 1–11: 19) The next section consists of chapters 8–11. Its central theme is the seven trumpets that affect the world. What happens to the Church is described in chapters 10 and 11 (the angel with the little book, the two witnesses). Also at the close of this section there is a very clear reference to the final judgment. The dominion over the world became the dominion of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever.’ ‘… And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged…’ (11: 15, 18). Having reached the end of the dispensation, the vision ends. 4. The persecuting dragon (12: 1–14: 20) This brings us to chapters 12–14: the woman and the Manchild persecuted by the dragon and his helpers. This section also covers the entire dispensation. It begins with a very clear reference to the birth of the Saviour (12: 5)…This section, too, closes with a stirring description of Christ’s second coming in judgment. ‘And I saw, and behold, a white cloud; and on the cloud I saw one sitting like unto a son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle…. And he that sat on the cloud cast his sickle upon the earth; and the earth was reaped’ (14: 14, 16). 5. The seven bowls (15: 1–16: 21) The next section comprises chapters 15 and 16 and describes the bowls of wrath. Here, too, we have a very clear reference to the final judgment and events that will take place in connection with it. Thus we read in 16: 20, ‘And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.’ 6. The fall of Babylon (17: 1–19: 21) Next comes a very vivid description of the fall of Babylon and the punishment inflicted upon the beast and the false prophet. Notice the picture of Christ’s coming unto judgment (19: 11 ff.). ‘And I saw the heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and he that sat thereon called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he judges and does battle….’ 7. The great consummation (20: 1–22: 21) This brings us to the final section, chapters 20–22, for Revelation 20: 1 definitely begins a new section and introduces a new subject.  This new subject is the devil’s doom. A comparison, moreover, with chapter 12 reveals the fact that at the beginning of chapter 20 we are once more standing on the threshold of the new dispensation. While in 12: 9 we are told that in connection with Christ’s ascension and coronation the devil is cast down , here in 20: 2, 3 we read that he is bound for a thousand years after being cast into the abyss. The thousand years are followed by the little season during which Satan is loosed out of his prison (20: 7). This, in turn, is followed by a description of the final overthrow of Satan in connection with Christ’s coming in judgment (20: 10, 11 ff.). At this coming the present universe, fleeing away, makes room for the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem (20: 11 ff.). 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. ..There is another line of reasoning which confirms our position that each of the seven sections extends from the beginning to the end of the new dispensation and that the seven run parallel to one another.  Different sections ascribe the same duration to the period described. According to the third cycle (chapters 8–11) the main period here described is one of forty- two months (11: 2), or twelve hundred and sixty days (11: 3). Now, it is a remarkable fact that we find that same period of time in the next section (chapters 12–14), namely, twelve hundred and sixty days (12: 6), or a time and times and half a time (3½ years) (12: 14). The three designations— forty- two months, twelve hundred and sixty days, time and times and half a time— are exactly equivalent. So the section on the trumpets (chapters 8–11) must run parallel with that which describes the battle between Christ and the dragon (chapters 12–14). A careful study of chapter 20 will reveal that this chapter describes a period which is synchronous with that of chapter 12. Therefore by this method of reasoning, parallelism is vindicated. Each section gives us a description of the entire gospel age, from the first to the second coming of Christ, and is rooted in Israel’s history under the old dispensation to which there are frequent references.” (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation Of The Book Of Revelation, 16-19 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
This use of parallelism which John uses draws directly from the Book of Daniel. In Daniel chapters 2 and 7, the Prophet describes the same four kingdoms in different imagery (I.e., Babylon, Medes/Persians, Greece, and Rome) while explaining the coming kingdom of God (Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14). In each vision, parallels are clearly seen; yet they each produce different details about the various kingdoms under consideration.
In the same way, the Book of Revelation pictures the Christian Age from the First Coming to the Second Coming, with each vision showing different details through the use of symbolic language (Revelation 1:1).
Symbolic Language Of The Book Of Revelation
The Apostle John clearly pointed out that His Book was written in symbolic language. Notice what he writes:
Revelation 1:1-The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and SIGNIFIED it by His angel to His servant John,
Notice that word “signified.” What does this word mean?
“Revelation’s imagery is deeper and more visionary than strict literalism allows. Instead of trying to “figure out” Revelation’s images literally, as if they were a code or script for the future, Revelation invites us to enter into its world of vision. The Greek word for what Revelation “shows” or “makes known” in the very first verse of the book is the same verb for “sign” as the signs in John’s Gospel and in Revelation 12. This verse tells us that the whole book is intended not as a slavishly literal kind of showing, but a deeper sign-level. We are invited to go with John on the apocalyptic journey, to experience the book’s transformative power. In order to go on that journey we have to let go of a literalist fixation, and come instead to Revelation with all our senses ready for God’s voice. As Kathleen Norris argues in her commentary on Revelation, “this is a poet’s book, which is probably the best argument for reclaiming it from fundamentalists. It doesn’t tell, it shows, over and over again, its images unfolding, pushing hard against the limits of language and metaphor, engaging the listener in a tale that has the satisfying yet unsettling logic of a dream.”‘” (Barbara R. Rousing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message Of Hope In The Book Of Revelation, 96-97 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Basic Books) “”
“semaino (4591), “to give a sign, indicate” (sema, “a sign”: cf. Sign, No. 1), “to signify,” is so translated in John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27; Rev. 1:1, where perhaps the suggestion is that of expressing by signs.¶”. (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 54941 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
The word “signified” therefore carries with it the idea of the conveying of a message through symbolic or figurative language. The Greek word is used throughout the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and throughout the New Testament with this connotation (cf. Exodus 4:8; 8:23; 13:9; 31:13, 17; Numbers 16:38; Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18; 13:1-2; 28:46; Joshua 4:6; Judges 6:17; I Samuel 2:34; 14:10; II Kings 19:29; 20:8-9; Isaiah 7:11, 14; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7, 22; 55:13; 66:19; Jeremiah 44:29; Ezekiel 4:3; 14:8; 20:12, 2; John 12:33; 18:32). The symbols are very important, for they point to a literal truth beyond the symbols. Yet if we attempt to make the symbols literal, we do great harm to the text. Examples of the importance of the symbols may be cited here for illustration from the Book of Revelation in regards to the symbolic use of numbers (which we will explore in a future lesson), and to the “mark of the beast” (which we will also examine in detail in a future lesson). When these symbols are understood within their Old Testament context, they provide great lessons for us; but when they are literalalized, they bring forth all kinds of strange supposition and wild and fanciful theories.
The Use Of The Old Testament Scriptures
We need to further understand that the Book of Revelation relies heavily upon the Old Testament. Attempting to fully understand and appreciate the Book of Revelation without being diligent students of the Old Testament Scriptures is, ultimately, futile. While a person may understand the basic themes of Revelation without precise Old Testament knowledge (I.e., that the Day of Judgment is coming, that Christ is Lord, and that the only way of salvation is through Him), one will not be able to appreciate and understand the great truths of this Book without a thorough study of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. The statements of the Apostle Paul are especially helpful in this regard (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-11).
The importance of the Old Testament to the Book of Revelation may be seen in the fact that of the 404 verses in the Book of Revelation, it is estimated that there are at least 348 allusions to the Old Testament throughout. The Apostle John quotes from the Pentateuch 57 times; he quotes from the Hebrew History Books (Joshua-Esther) 11 times; from Psalms and Proverbs 45 times; from the Major Prophets 197 times; and from the Minor Prophets 38 times. If we would better understand the symbolism of the Book of Revelation, we must be careful students of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Of course, one of the most powerful lessons of the Book of Revelation is that Jesus Christ is triumphant over all of the forces of darkness and that His people (the church) will be granted eternal life through Him (cf. Revelation 2:10). Did you know that the Holy Godhead loves you and wants you to be saved? For you, the Son of God died to pay the price for your sins (Revelation 1:5; 1 Timothy 2:6). He desires for you to be saved (2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23). True love is seen in the Son of God dying for us, being buried, and arising from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Why not today accept His offer salvation? Jesus has declared that those believers who repent of their sins, confess Him before men, and are baptized for the forgiveness of their sins will be forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). Will you not obey Him today and be added by God Himself to His church (Acts 2:41, 47)? If you are a child of God who has turned your back on the Lord, wont’ you please turn back to Him today? In repentance and prayer to God the child of God can be forgiven and restored (1 John 1:9; Revelation 3:20).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.