Revelation series, post #5

Main interpretative schools

At the end of last post we noted that there are different views on how Revelation should be interpreted. Each school has different views on what is and isn’t literal in the book of Revelation. They also have different beliefs as to when and how the symbols, images and prophesies in Revelation are or were fulfilled.

How people interpret the symbols and images depends on their general Bible hermeneutics and approach to eschatology. Biblical hermeneutics is simply the style and principles behind how someone interprets the books of the Bible. It is part of the broader field of hermeneutics which involves the study of principles of interpretation for all forms of communication, non-verbal and verbal.

What is eschatology?

Eschatos = things of the end

Ology = study of

Question for you to consider: In light of all the theology out there about the end times, does it really matter what you think about it?

As Christians, the truth is that we all have an opinion about the end times. Studying what Scripture says about the end is important because it determines whether our opinion has a firm or sandy foundation! It can give us a security in Christ, or apprehension and fear. It can bring reverent fear of the Lord, or a distorted view of God.

The views we are going to look at today: all hold Jesus Christ to be Lord and Saviour; they all hold that He has conquered over death through His work on the cross and resurrection; and they all believe firmly in the Second Coming of Christ (also called the Second Advent or the Parousia).

Can you think of anything that poor eschatology might produce?

Here are a few thoughts, but by no means an exhaustive list: Poor eschatology can lead to a wrong evangelistic style, a focus on condemnation rather than grace; twisted view of Scripture; poor stewardship of what God has given us in this world, e.g. long term planning; superstitions, such as not wanting to have things with the number 666 on it; etc. We see a few of the above addressed by Paul to the early church, such as in his epistles to the Thessalonians who feared Christ has already returned, but only in the spiritual realm and thus they had missed His coming.

On the other hand, good eschatology leads to hope, fear of the Lord, worship of God Almighty, and joyous evangelism rather than fear-based evangelism.

Scripture makes it clear that we do not know the time of Christ’s return. We need to believe He could come back at any time. This will lead to faithful stewardship of our time, possessions and the world around us. Even whilst remembering that countless generations before us have walked in the same belief. Each generation since Christ has believed, or at least hoped, He will come back in their life time. Don’t let it come about us, but how God calls us to live faithfully and with eager expectation of His return.

Back to the main views

This all said, let us look at the main ways people interpret Revelation. I am going to look at the four main views, plus a fifth emerging view that combines a few of the traditional ones. Keep in mind that there is diversity of belief even within these schools. There is also likely to be a large range of beliefs amidst your Christian network. We need to walk in love and humility. Remember the teachings of John’s first epistle – love one another!

You also do not need to fit into a view. Personally, I don’t fit nicely into one of these four views. In fact, good inductive Bible study says that we should throw off any previously held beliefs and study Scripture to see what it says, not what others before us have come to believe. You might also find that your view changes and shifts the more you dig into Scripture; again, I’ve found this to be the case for myself. The main priority is that we are regularly searching the Scripture with the Holy Spirit in order to apply its truths to our life, and allowing it to transform us into the image of God.

Grow through the Word and Spirit***

Four main ways people have used to interpret the book:

1. Spiritual/ Idealist

The idealist holds that God intended no historical reference in the giving of His revelation; all the truths in the book are held to be spiritual. The following two quotes summarise the idealist view: 

“While the Apocalypse thus embraces the whole period of the Christian dispensation, it sets before us within this period the action of great principles and not special incidents; we are not to look in the Apocalypse for special events, both for the exhibition of the principles which govern the history of both the world and the Church.” (William Milligan; 1889*).

“Revelation is a theological poem presenting the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a philosophy of history wherein Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil.” (Robert Mounce; 1977**).

Some pros of this view:

  • It avoids the problem of harmonizing passages with events in history.
  • It also makes the book of Revelation applicable and relevant for all periods of church history.

Some cons of this view:

  • This view denies the book of Revelation any specific historical fulfilment, whereas 1:1 states that the events will come to pass shortly, giving the impression that John is prophesying future historical events.

2. Preterist/Past

The word “preterist”is from the Latin “praeteritus” meaning “before” or “already fulfilled”. Preterists believe the book has already been fulfilled with the exception the last few chapters. Some scholars of this view even hold the final chapters to already have been fulfilled. They place the events in the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the Roman empire at that time. Preterism is the school that holds Revelation to have been written before 70AD.

Preterists come to their stand point by by the repeated admonitions that the: “time is at hand/ near/ short”. They also lean heavily on Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:34: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place”. As the time frame of “generation” usually refers to forty years, the fall of Jerusalem would fit the time Jesus predicted.

Some pros of this view:

  • Very relevant for John’s original readers, the seven churches of Asia Minor mentioned.

Some cons of this view:

  • Only works if early dating of the book is  prior to 70AD, where most scholars through history place it in the 90sAD.
  • There would then be a huge gap in time between the majority of the book’s events and those of the last few chapters.

3. Historical

The historicist’s view, as the name suggestions, looks at periods of history for the book’s fulfilment. This view teaches that Revelation presents the course of history from the apostle’s life through the end of the age.

Some pros of this view:

  • It can be applied throughout all history.
  • It is the historical protestant view – While this interpretation is not widely in use today, most of the classic commentaries from a century or more ago are written from a historicist viewpoint.

Some cons of this view:

  • No consensus on specific details, with people tending to interpret events based on their period of history.
  • This view focuses mostly on the events of the church in Western Europe and says very little about the church in the East. Thus, it fails to account for God’s activity throughout the rest of the world.
  • Finally, this view would have little significance for the church of the first century, to whom John addressed the revelation.

4. Futurist/Dispensationalist

Futurists see the book as chronological, not cyclical, and nearly all still coming. They divide the book of Revelation into three sections as indicated in 1:19: “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Thus, chapter 1 describes the past (“what you have seen”), chapters 2-3 describe the present (“what is now”), and the rest of the book describes future events (“what will take place later”).

Futurists also believe in the rapture of believers at Rev 4:1 (resurrection into heaven, before the millennial reign of Christ), and they interpret Daniel 7 and the 70th week to be a seven year tribulation of the church. They believe in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ (more on this when we get to chapter 20).

This view takes many passages literally. They make it clear that literal interpretation does not discount figurative or symbolic language. Futurists teach that prophecies using symbolic language are also to be normally interpreted according to the laws of language. They also hold a distinction between Israel and the Church, and God’s purposes for them.

(It must be noted that a secondary interpretative view has come out of the Traditional Dispenationalist view, called the Progressive Dispensationalist view. Progressive Dispensationalists believe in partial fulfilment of events in John’s times, with complete fulfilment at the Second Coming of Christ. They hold to the “now, but not yet”principle of hermeneutics – that the Kingdom of God was brought partially by Christ’s First Coming, but will come in its full glory at the time of His return.)

Some pros of this view:

  • Futurists contend that the literal interpretation of Revelation finds its roots in the ancient church fathers.
  • They know their Bibles really well because they examine it so thoroughly to make connections and webs, particularly of prophesies in the Old and New Testaments.

Some cons of this view:

  • Makes the book irrelevant to the original readers of the first century.
  • Also makes 90% of it irrelevant for Christians as it applies to those left after Christians taken out of the world.
  • So many people get excited about the wrath that will come on the unbelievers (because they are out of it), which does not lead us to follow in Christ’s love and compassion, or practise evangelism.
  • Some of Revelation isn’t chronological

Resources:

Some good books if interested in seeing more about these views:

  • Revelation: Four views; a parallel commentary. Edited by Steve Gregg. This book goes through Revelation verse by verse according to each of the above four views. The editor gives no preference to any of the views.

  • Four views on the Book of Revelation. Edited by Stanley N. Gundrey, and C. Marvin Pate. This book gives a big picture overview of the beliefs of Idealisms, Preterism, Progressive Dispensationalism and Classical Dispensationalism. It leaves out the Historical view.

Moving Ahead

LAY DOWN PRE-CONCEIVED IDEAS!

As we move ahead, we must lay down our preconceived ideas. This is one of books where we most-need to do this, but also one of the hardest books to lay our ideas down. Be open! Not uncritical, but open. The focus  of our interpretation must be on what it meant to John and the original readers, for this is good inductive study.

We also must not forget context! There are 404 verses in Revelations and it has been suggested that there are over 500 references to other parts of Scripture. This book can’t be read in isolation! Many of the images are defined in other parts of the Bible, such as Daniel. Revelation is not new information; it’s the same story as the rest of the Bible, just in 3D.

 

Next post, we will enter into the text at last!

 

* William Milligan, The Book of Revelation (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1889), 153-4.

** Robert Mounce, The New International Commentary of the New Testament: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: William Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1977), 43.

*** Image by Lucky Gumbo, curtsey of The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word ©2015

Advertisements

Revelation series, post #4

Review

So far in this series we have looked at:

  • The steps of Inductive Bible Study;
  • Historical background relevant to the book;
  • The themes of the book, its main idea and reason written.

In this post we will consider the literary styles contained in Revelation and some interpretive helps.

Literary styles in Revelation

To further help with our understanding of the original reader, and thus our interpretation, we need to understand a bit about the literature styles that John wrote in and their understanding of them.

Types of literature in Revelation:

  • Epistle (letter)
  • A little narrative
  • Apocalyptic literature
  • Prophecy

Prophecy comes in two types (Revelation contains both):

  • Foretelling: speaking out things of the future.
  • Forth-telling: speaking God’s view of what is actually occurring, speaking into current situations (this is seen much more in the Old Testament than the New Testament).

Apocalyptic Literature

Let’s consider what is apocalyptic literature. John was not using a new literary style. We find it elsewhere in the Bible, and outside of the Bible. Apocalyptic literature is first found in the book of Daniel; there is some in books such as Ezekiel, too, but Daniel is seen as the founding work of this style. It is found in the following books of the Bible:

  • Daniel
  • Ezekiel
  • Isaiah
  • Zechariah
  • Joel
  • Revelation

Furthermore, was a very common style inside and outside of the Bible during John’s period of history (200BC-100AD).

Apocalyptic literature deals with coming judgement and salvation (again in and out of Bible) and was written during times of persecution and hardship. It uses  dreams, visions and symbols with set meanings.

This style also has an amazing amount of structure. Its structure usually includes repetition, and thus is not always chronological or linear in its telling. Furthermore, apocalyptic literature is dualistic in nature (two sides are compared). For example, in Revelation:

  • good vs evil,
  • dragon vs Lamb,
  • mother vs whore,
  • marriage supper of Lamb vs great supper of God
  • etc

Many non-Christian versions of apocalyptic literature tend to be much more secretive in nature, and wrath and judgement are the focus. The Biblical texts are more positive in message, with the focus on salvation and the triumph of good over evil.

Symbolism in Revelation

We have seen that John was using a type of literature that was familiar at the time. Also familiar to the original readers was the symbolism that was included. There is a significant amount of symbolism in the book and it is important to realise that the original readers had insight into a large portion of it. Revelation also tells us what some of the symbols or images mean!

Just as symbolism was familiar to the original readers, symbolism is nothing new to us today. For example:

  • What does the #13 mean to you? It is considered bad luck in Western culture. Some people avoid the number when choosing sport’s jerseys or aeroplane seats!
  • What does the #4 mean to you? In some Asian countries, it is associated with death.
  • How are the colours black and white used in Hollywood? Look at what the good guys vs bad guys are wearing in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars . . .
  • In Zulu culturefrogs are feared because they “carry lightening“.

What is something with symbolism in your culture?

As we go through the text of Revelation, we will note what we know of certain symbols. For example, occurring regularly are the numbers 7 and 3 ½. The number 7 is the number for perfection or completion, whereas the figure 3 ½ is the figure for incompleteness.

Cycles in Revelation

You also need to be aware that Revelation, and apocalyptic literature in general, are written in cycles. This means that the book tells the same event from different angles as it progresses. There is debate by scholars as to whether Revelation is cyclical or linear in nature.

Some interpreters hold Revelation to be chronological in nature (that everything progresses in line with historical time). They hold that the seals lead to the trumpets and the trumpets to the bowls, and that judgement language intensifies through these. With the bowls, it is also said that “God’s wrath is finished”.

However, other interpreters note certain events recorded in Revelation that make it hard to think it is strictly chronological.

What happens to the mountains and sky? (see below)

The following examples seem to look at the same event, but from different perspectives, supporting a cyclical nature:

  1. When looking at End Times:
    • Rev 6:12-14 Appears to be end times;
    • Rev 11:15-19 Is and was, but no “is to come”;
    • Rev 14:14-20 Angel with sickle and the great wine press = final judgement of God;
    • Rev 16:17-21 End as well!
  2. What happens with the sky?
    • Rev 6:14 The sky vanishes:The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
    • Rev 11:6 Witnesses have power to shut the sky: They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
    • Rev 20:11 The sky vanishes again: Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.
  3. What happens with the mountains and islands?
    • Rev 6:14 Mountain and islands removed: The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
    • Rev 16:20 Mountain and islands removed again: And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.
    • Rev 21:10 John taken to a high mountain: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,

Interpretative schools 

Also note that people have different views on what is and isn’t literal in the book of Revelation, as well as their fulfilment. How people interpret the symbols and images depends on their general Bible hermeneutics and approach to eschatology. More about this next post when we consider the main interpretive views of Revelation. 

Remember when looking at the different views and opinions to keep the big picture in mind:

Jesus wins and so do we!!!

Revelation series, post #3

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to explore a little about the original readers of Revelation, by considering the 7 churches to whom the book was addressed. In this post we are going to consider the original readers, and dig into the book’s big picture.

Revelation for the Original Readers  

In the first post in this series, we considered how the book of Revelation has been maligned, and that many see it as too difficult to read and understand. It has even created fear amongst many – fear they won’t understand, fear of causing division, fear of the number 666, fear of the imagery . . .

Now consider our original readers. They have faced persecution to the point of martyrdom under Emperor Nero, and it seems that persecution is only going to continue. Believers need to decide if Christ is worth their lives, and the lives of their families. Are they willing to face more persecution, and martyrdom, for Christ?

Remember this Revelation was given by the Father to the Son through an angel to John. Considering the situation of the original readers, would Christ send a message of fear?  Is the main reason for God telling John to write this book to scare the early, persecuted church half to death because worse is coming?

These are God’s words to His hurting and persecuted church! People have made Revelation a book of fear, but it was given as a book of HOPE! It is to proclaim final victory of Jesus Christ, and His people. It is a book of great COMFORT!

As we look into this book, remember the Original Reader. Ask the question: “What would this mean to the early, persecuted church?” They’ve already suffered, and more is coming! They need to see that their lives matter, their choices matter, and their deaths matter. They need to know that Jesus sees their suffering, but that they will one day stand victorious with Him!

Worship Christ!

Themes

Unsurprisingly, the themes hinge around persecution, hope and why God is worthy of their worship in the midst of suffering. Themes to look at when you read Revelation include:

  • Persecution/ endurance
  • Justice/ wrath of God
  • God’s character/ worship of Him in all circumstances
  • Conquering Christ (& His saints)

Some key words and ideas that feed into the themes: True/truth; Know (chapters 2-3); Faith/ belief/ evangelism; Eternal life; Godly vs ungodly.

Main Idea and Reason Written

What do you think is the main idea of the book? Has your thought on this changed since starting to dig deeper into the Historical Background of the book?

The main idea of Revelation is truly glorious:

Jesus wins and so do we!!!

Main idea = Jesus, the conquering Lamb!

Main idea = Jesus is victorious, and believers achieve victory in Christ!

Main idea = Be comforted; be very, very comforted!

More of the big picture:

  • God’s heart for the churches
  • God’s character
  • Book of comfort and hope
  • Call to endurance

I hope you are beginning to see that this book should bring comfort and rejoicing. It should not bring a moment of fear to the hearts of believers! Yes, there is some uncertain imagery, but the big picture is very clear and we are going to see that it is one of HOPE.

Don’t forget that John is worshipping God for the message of this book. He saw it as a message that would bring hope and encouragement for those to whom he was writing.

As we go through the book, ASK:

WHO WINS/ is winning?
How would the original readers respond?

 

Next blog we are going to take a look at apocalyptic literature to gain insight into how we should interpret this book.

Revelation series, post #2

Review

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read through Revelation out-loud, and all in one sitting. If you haven’t already, take some time to consider what stood out to you as a possible main idea of the book, and a reason it was written. Write down your thoughts to compare later.

Historical Background

A good place to start exploring is to consider the author and the original readers. If we can work out these two, then we have a good start on when it was written, and what was happening in history at the time.

Author

Read Revelation 1:1 and write down who authored this book.

What did you learn?

We know that all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and the human writers were carried along by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). Revelation is unique, however, because it specifically notes God as the author. In Revelation 1:1 we read that God the Father gave the revelation to Jesus Christ, who sent angels to tell it to John. Thus, John wrote the words of Revelation, but he did not author them! God is the author of this book!

The book supports the Apostle John as the writer of God’s words (see 1:1, 1:4, and 22:8). There is also early church support of John being the writer and the one who heard and saw the things written.

Let’s pause here to consider what we know of John the Apostle from Scripture:

  • He was one of the two sons of Zebedee (Matt 4:21-22);
  • He was raised to be a fisherman (Matt 4:21-22);
  • His father, Zebedee, was a man of considerable wealth – he had “hired servants” with him (Mark 1:20), and his son, John, knew the high priest (John 18:15);
  • John was one of the three most intimate of Jesus’ disciples (Mark 5:37 healing Jairus’ daughter; Matt 17:1-2 transfiguration; Matt 26:37 Gethsemane);
  • When we consider the fire from heaven incident (Luke 9:54) and being named “Boanerges”, meaning “son of thunder”, by Christ (Mark 3:17), we can conclude he was zealous, earnest in his beliefs, and emotive;
  • John knew he was loved – he refers to himself as the “one Jesus loved”, and records that he leant against Christ’s breast at supper (John 21:20).

We can gain further insight about John outside of Scripture:

  • According to the tradition universally accepted in the church, John survived till the time of Trajan (Emperor of Rome from 98-117 AD);
  • He was the only apostle not to be martyred; however, he suffered greatly for Christ, with tradition holding that he survived being boiled alive in a pot of oil;
  • He became known as the “apostle of love”. Be careful how you interpret him as a man known for love – it does not imply weakness, or comprise. He was fiery in youth, and he maintained this passion as he aged. One account proclaims that he ran naked from the public bath when a known heretic entered it!**
  • Some suggest he was the other disciple of John the Baptist who followed Christ in John 1:35-42.

Original Readers

Revelation also tells us who the original readers were: the seven churches that are in Asia (Rev 1:4). These were the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The term “Asia” here refers to the region that became known as “Asia Minor,” differentiating it from the continent of Asia. You can read more about this on-line, including in the ISBE or AHE. I’m going to give you researching more about these churches as your homework – more on this at the end of the post!

Map of the churches***

Dating

We know that John was on the Island of Patmos (Rev 1:9). Church tradition places this time of exile between 81-96 AD, during the reign of Emperor Domitian.

(Some interpreters, who place the book’s events in the first century, date the book before the persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero, which occurred between 64-68 AD. We will explore this more later).

History of this era affecting original readers

It is important to consider three Roman emperors and their actions towards Christians to be able to read Revelation through the eyes of its original readers.

Firstly, Emperor Nero (reigned 54-68 AD)

Persecution against Christians intensified under Emperor Nero’s reign. Previously, persecution had mainly been by the Jews, and rarely led to martyrdom. Although Jewish Christians also faced persecution by Rome when Emperor Claudius forced  all Jews (and thus Jewish Christians) to leave the city of Rome in 49 AD. Emperor Nero allowed the Jews back into Rome in 54 AD).

The harsher persecution of believers commenced under Nero in the mid 60s AD after the great fire of Rome. A fire began on the 18th July, 64 AD. When the fire finally ceased to burn, 3 of the 14 regions of the city had been completely destroyed, and 7 partially destroyed. It was devastating for the citizens of that city. Blame has chased Emperor Nero, with some early historians suggesting he contrived the fire in order to have a new palace built (having already emptied the royal coffers, and the nobles unwilling to spend their money on his project). Emperor Nero averted suspicion from himself by turning on Christians.

Some of the persecution believers faced under Emperor Nero included:

  • Being covered with the skins of wild beasts, and then torn by dogs;
  • Fed to lions in the arena;
  • Crucifixion;
  • Being set on fire, so that they might serve for lights in the night-time. Nero offered his gardens for this spectacle, and exhibited the games of the Circus by their light. ****

Secondly, Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96 AD)

There is debate over how intense the persecution of Christians was under Domitian’s reign. We known that he put a tax on Jews (religious and ethnic), as well as Gentile Christians as they took up some Jewish practices; this was a response to Jewish rebellion in 70AD that also led to the Fall of Jerusalem. He also brought slanderous accusations against Christians. Of course, John’s banishment to Patmos and the exile of other Christians to the island of Pontia also occurred during his reign.

Furthermore, history records that Domitian was cruel like the Emperor Nero, but that Domitian was more intelligent. Some cite his intelligence as the reason he ceased his public cruelty and recalled the Christians he had exiled.

Finally, Trajan; (reigned 98-117 AD)

You will note that Trajan’s rule is after the dating of the book of Revelation. As the original readers would have been about to enter into his era of leadership, his actions are applicable when interpreting the book.

A quote about Ignatius’ response to impending martyrdom expresses the response of believers to persecution during Trajan’s reign:

In this persecution suffered the blessed martyr, Ignatius . . . This Ignatius was appointed to the bishopric of Antioch next after Peter in succession. Some do say, that he, being sent from Syria to Rome, because he professed Christ, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured. It is also said of him, that when he passed through Asia, being under the most strict custody of his keepers, he strengthened and confirmed the churches through all the cities as he went, both with his exhortations and preaching of the Word of God. Accordingly, having come to Smyrna, he wrote to the Church at Rome, exhorting them not to use means for his deliverance from martyrdom, lest they should deprive him of that which he most longed and hoped for.

Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!”

And even when he was sentenced to be thrown to the beasts, such as the burning desire that he had to suffer, that he spake, what time he heard the lions roaring, saying: “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.” *****

Our original readers were facing persecution to the point of martyrdom by cruel methods. We need to remember their plight when we get into interpreting this book.

 

Next blog we are going to consider the reason the book was written, its main idea and start jumping into some of the book’s themes.

In the meantime, start the method for yourself:

  1. Pray
    We list prayer as the first step, but it is a continuous part of Inductive Bible Study. We want to ensure we are walking with the Spirit of God as we study to have our hearts and minds enlightened, and our lives transformed.
  2. Continue observing. 
    Find out more information about the seven churches. Look each of them up in a Bible dictionary or encyclopaedia. Map in which modern country each church was situated. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on Study Light is a great resource.
    If you want to go deeper, and have time, read through the book again, this time writing a title for each paragraph. In your titles, try to capture what you think is the main idea or theme of each paragraph.
    Continue to review what you think is the main idea of the book, and the reason it was written.

 

**Edited by James Orr, (1939). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Accessed on-line at https://www.internationalstandardbible.com/J/john-the-apostle.html, 25/04/2019.
Quote referenced: “Striking and characteristic things are told of him in harmony with the touches we find in the Synoptic Gospels. The story of his rushing forth from the bath when Cerinthus, the heretic, entered it (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., iii.3, 4) recalls the characteristics of him whom Jesus called “son of thunder.”” 

*** Image by Lucky Gumbo, curtsey of The Inductive Bible Study Companion; Unlock the Word © 2015

**** Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (1965). The  Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Translated by Robert Graves. Accessed on-line at https://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/suetnius/index.htm, May 2018.

***** Foxe, John, and W. Grinton Berry. 1900. Fox’s Book of Martyrs – A History of the Lives, Sufferings and Triumphant Deaths of the Early Christian and Protestant Martyrs. Edited by William Byron Forbush. London: The Religious Tract Society. [Explore on-line, also accessible free on Kindle]

Revelation series, post #1

Introducing the book

Revelation. What comes to mind when you hear this book mentioned?

For some people, this book brings to mind a deep sense of hope and joy; for others, they feel grief for those who don’t know Christ as Lord and Saviour; yet, for many, it is a book that brings forth fear, is thought of as unknowable, or is avoided due to media misrepresentation; and still for others, it brings forth Hollywood images of a dark apocalypse, or the “Left Behind” series.

When I was growing up, I had put Revelation in the “unknowable – so don’t bother reading” category. My heart grieves this because, since my Bible school with YWAM 10 years ago, it has become one of the books I turn to most when facing discouragement, overwhelmed by the state of the world, or needing a fresh does of hope and joy. It is sad that many in the church do not feel equipped to read this book. It should be one of the best known and most loved books in our precious Bible.

I have been given the great honour of teaching this book later in the year and so I felt it time I compile another inductive Bible study blog series as I delve into the book once again. I pray that this blog series will reveal new and glorious truths from God’s Word to you, or encourage your spirit in truths already tucked away in your heart.

Recapping Inductive Bible Study

I recently came across this quote in “Surgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 1”** and feel it captures the heart of Inductive Bible study:

“We have listened to the preacher –
Truth by him has now been shown;

But we want a GREATER TEACHER,
From the everlasting throne:
APPLICATION
Is the work of God alone.” 

I am going to try and open this book up a little for you, but remember that the Great Teacher is the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside every believer. It is He that I pray will guide you through Revelation, and it is He who must quicken application in your heart and mind.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, emphasis added).

So what is Inductive Bible study?

There are two ways to approach the Bible. One is the Deductive method, and the other is the Inductive method.

Open the Word; Dig into life

Deductive approaches come to the Bible with preconceived ideas – we want the Bible to confirm our ideas, beliefs, or thoughts. This approach includes topical studies where we search out verses that we know, or that hold to our view of the topic; studies that look at verses in isolation (not considering their context in the passage, book, and Bible); opening the Bible randomly during our quiet times; or reading a passage through the understanding of the latest Christian book or Sunday sermon. This approach IS NOT WRONG. It is great for quiet times, reflection, or to add to what we have learnt inductively. It just isn’t the way we should study the Bible.

Inductive approaches come to the Bible to see what it says. In this method, we take off the foggy lenses from outside inputs and look at the text afresh. There can be different styles of the inductive method, but four main steps to follow:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says; do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

I hope to take you through the book of Revelation inductively over the next few months, and also help you to gain confidence in this method of study.

Next blog we are going to consider some historical background of the book.

In the meantime, start the method for yourself:

  1. Pray
    Pray that the Spirit will guide you in all truth. Pray that He will transform your heart and mind whilst studying Revelation.
  2. Start observing. 
    Read through the book in one go, out-loud. This helps you to see the book as a whole. Reading out-loud also adds another sense into the reading (hearing), to help keep your mind from wandering. You can read through it as fast as you can talk – this also helps to keep your mind focused solely on the text.
    At the end of the reading, you can jot down any ideas for the main idea of the book, or why you think it may have been written.

 

** Spurgeon, C.H. (1883). Spurgeon’s Sermons, Volume 1. Baker Book House; Michigan.

A slave of Christ

Intimacy with God means emulating Jesus, which means observing how He lived and what He taught. It means soaking in the truth and then applying it to our lives. Consider the following words of our Lord and Saviour, and the implications for our lives:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (NKJV; Matthew 20:25-28).

Let’s break this down so we don’t miss the significance:

If you want to be great? Be a servant.

If you want to be first? Be a slave.

If you want to follow Christ? Lay down your life to bring others into God’s sheep fold. 

The closer you want to get to God’s heart, the more He will ask of you. How close do you want to get to Jesus? Are you prepared to: lay down your comfort, security, dreams and even loved ones to take up your cross to follow Him? 

The pioneering missionaries of old understood this. They packed up their lives, including their own coffin, walked onto a boat, waved farewell to loved ones and sailed away, often without surety of ongoing provision, to take the Gospel to the world. They gave up their life to ransom a few through the sharing of the Gospel. 

God is in a season of refining my heart still further. All selfish ambition must go. All care of my reputation in the world must go. All hold of worldly goods must be cast aside. Any hope for security must be set aside.

How close do you want to get to your Saviour’s heart? I am far from being a slave or giving over my whole self, but it is the prayer of my heart that I shall be made willing.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but onewhich are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind (NKJV; Philippians 3:7-15a).

Take up your cross, and follow Him

 

Test the fruit

There are some truly hard teachings when you get into the Word of God. I think that the church skirts around these too often. For those of us pursuing the Father, we cannot set these aside.

Some of the hardest teachings are found in the Gospels. Many paint a picture of Jesus that is not Scripturally accurate. Too often He is painted as someone who will condone all sin in the name of love. I say “in the name of love” because that is what it is – what people name love, not what love truly is. Pure love does not condone sin. Those walking in the love of God do not condone sin. Walking in step with the Spirit means bearing fruit of repentance. It means walking the narrow road. It means standing up for truth despite the personal cost.

Looking at our fruit production

A perfect example, which has been on my heart lately, is found in Matthew 7. Let’s go through some of the hard verses.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14).

Are you willing to walk by the narrow road? Many in the church today cannot be distinguished from the world. Can you? Do you know Scripture? Do you know the teachings of Christ? Do you apply them? The gate to salvation is narrow – and the way hard – that leads to life; believers should not be expecting an easy life in this temporal existence. We are called to lay down all we have, all we are and all we desire, to follow Christ as He leads us.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

Jesus tells us that we can recognise false prophets by their fruit. It is easy to get carried a way by a charismatic leader, or someone with strong giftings. Before you fly away on their words, pause and look at their character.   First line up the fruit of their life to what Scripture says will be produced by those walking according to the Spirit. God can still use false prophets and teachers through their gifts, but we should not attempt to immolate their lives! And we must be very careful to discern what is good and sound, and what is erroneous, of their teaching.

The African Horned Melon grows quickly and looks intriguing, but is bitter in taste

How can you look into someone’s character? See how they respond to stress, or how they react when no one is looking – particularly the home life/ family. Consider what works of the flesh are apparent in their lives:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Let’s see that list again through a modern translation (Galatians 5:19-20, Amplified Bible*):

Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. 

If the above are the fruit f the flesh, what is the fruit produced by someone walking according to the Spirit?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:122-23).

Producing sweet fruit

The passage in Matthew gets even tougher and should inspire godly fear in our hearts. Those walking with the Spirit and whose hearts seek God and seek Christ have nothing to fear, but those who preach the Gospel for self-gain, and walk according to the flesh should take note:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Let us not worship God in word or deed only, but through our very being. We are to present our whole selves as a living sacrifice and walk contrary to the ways of the world.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

How can we be wise? How can we produce good fruit? Get into the Word, reading it with the Spirit. Pray and ask God to help you to read and study the Bible. Ask Him to speak application to your heart. Don’t know where to start? Start with one of the Gospels – which follow the life of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Revelation is also a great book to see Jesus, our coming Conqueror; I hope to do a blog series on it soon.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

May we be recognised as children of God by the fruits we produce.

Bear fruit in keeping with the Spirit

 

*Amplified Bible (AMP); Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631. All rights reserved.