Does the Book of Revelation predict the present crisis?

Amongst all the other confusions around ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories associated with the coronavirus Covid-19, we might not be surprised that there has been a rash of claims that the Book of Revelation (miraculously) predicted all this 2,000 years ago. Rather than look at any one of these in detail, I here make observations about the pastoral challenge, the phenomenon, and the text of Revelation itself and whether it admits of such a reading.

For those who are drawn to such theories, I think there are three things which are closely intertwined. The first is a sense of anxiety—that the world is out of control, or more particularly that the world is out of their control, and conspiracy theories of any kind are (slightly paradoxically) a way of bringing order and rationality to a chaotic and disordered—and so possibly meaningless—world. From a pastoral point of view, it might feel frustrating that this makes people vulnerable to implausible and groundless theories, but it is actually a quite understandable reaction, and in fact we all have our own strategies for finding order in the chaos of our world. More than that, it is something that Scripture generally and Revelation in particular does respond to and engage with.

One of the paradoxical features of Revelation itself is the juxtaposition of order and chaos; on the one hard, we are presented with what appears to be a bizarre menagerie of fantastic creatures, but on the other hand, the text exhibits an almost obsessive concern with order, number and structure, some of which is easily visible (in the use of seven as a numerical structure, and the explicit mention of numbers like 666, 1,260 and 144,000) but some of which is not immediately evident though becomes important in further study, such as the repetition of words a certain number of times. This ordered containing of images of chaos actually has a pastoral function, as Craig Koester points out in his short study of Revelation and the End of All Things:

With each successive scene, disaster strikes earth, sea, and sky, until the demonic hordes of locusts and cavalry torment humanity amid clouds of fire, smoke, and sulfur (8.7–9.21). The cycle is all the more ominous because the destruction unfolds in a relentlessly measured way. the effect is something like an orchestral performance in which the strings scrape dissonant chords while woodwinds shriek, trumpets blair, and cymbols crash in what seems to be wild discord—except that all the players move to a steady beat that is set by the conductor’s hand: one, two, three, four… (p 93)

I love this metaphor, because it captures well the theological tension in the text reflected by the juxtaposition of literary structure and symbolic chaos. God is in control—and yet, within this, the chaotic forces of evil appear to be shaping the world.

So, in one sense, those feeling overwhelmed with anxiety about the current situation are looking in the right place! But they are looking in the wrong way, and this leads to the second issue which I often come across—a complete lack of historical awareness and sense of perspective. Those I come across personally and hear about who talk in cataclysmic terms about our current challenges appear to have no awareness of what life was like in any previous age. We have recently visited the regions of the Dordogne and Gascony in France on holiday, and the history of the area was significantly shaped by the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. During that time, the population halved! Life truly was ‘nasty, brutish and short‘.

Even a modicum of historical awareness unravels the sense that we are in a moment of unique crisis. One hundred years ago, the so-called Spanish Flu infected one third of the world’s population—a proportion that readers of Rev 8.7 might have been alert to. When Genghis Khan invaded the east of Europe with his mongol hoards, he slaughtered so many people that, as the land reverted to wilderness from being farmed, you can measure the change in atmospheric oxygen in Antarctic ice cores. In 1666 (surely a significant apocalyptic date!) London was afflicted by both devastating fire and deadly plague—and so it goes on.

It is a conceit of modernity to think that we naturally expect our lives to be lived in security, peace and prosperity—and crises like the current pandemic offend this sense of natural privilege that we have. And it is both conceit and ignorance to then think that this crisis is uniquely important—so much so that God would take the trouble to have a book of the Bible written that ignores all the needs and concerns of hundreds of generations of previous readers, in order to communicate a message that was relevant to this generation alone!

If our pastoral response to the first issue, that of anxiety, should be sympathetic and understanding, then I think our response to the second issue, the conceit of modernity, should be rebuke and admonition. This aspect of the approach to Revelation is narcissistic, in the sense that it believes that the Bible is just about me, and my situation, and my concerns, rather than telling us what God has done and is doing for all humanity.

This leads us into thinking about the third dimension of problem—which is how we approach the text of Revelation itself. (I think we really do need to get to this, though in my experience if we don’t acknowledge and engage with the first two issues, then we will not make much progress on the third.)

There are many features of the text of Revelation which reinforce the fact that John is writing to his contemporaries with a message which is relevant to them, rather than writing some secret message to a future generation. The most obvious is that, in terms of genre, he is writing a letter to specific people who lived in specific places; this is reinforced both at the beginning and the end of the letter. At the beginning, Rev 1.4 onwards is in the same letter format that we find in other letters of the NT, especially those of Paul, and the epistolary ending in chapter 22 bears a remarkably close resemblance to the end of 1 Corinthians.

My own first encounter with Revelation was in a Bible study group where we were told that the seven ‘churches’ in the early chapters were ‘seven ages of the church’ and of course we were in the last age. If someone had just given me a map, and pointed out that the seven names were of real places with real communities of people in them, I think that would have helped a lot!

When we read about the ‘four horsemen’ in chapter 6, who bring conquest, war, famine and death, whilst these look like fantastical images of future disaster, only a little understanding of John’s world would make us realise that these were very familiar features of his world.

But there is one feature of Revelation, often passed over, which is conclusive in helping us read the text aright. At the end of the book, there is a key phrase which reinforces all this:

Then he [the angel] told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near.” (Rev 22.10)

What does this verse mean? It cannot be read in isolation from the parallel verse in Daniel 12.4 and 9–10:

But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge….Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.

(We can see the allusion to Daniel 12 in Rev 22 by the echo in 22.11 of the phrase from Daniel ‘the wicked will continue to be wicked.’)

antiochus_iv_epiphanes_morkholm_14What does this mean? In Daniel, the stories are set in the sixth century BC, with Daniel in exile in Babylon. But most commentators agree that the stories refer to the Antiochene crisis in 167 BC, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacrificed unclean animals in the temple, and event which led to the Maccabean revolt described in 1 and 2 Maccabees. Some scholars would see this as vaticimium ex eventu, a literary device where Daniel appears to foresee what is to come, though the text is actually written in the second century. Others would see it as an ‘authentic’ predictive text, where the second-century BC future was revealed to sixth-century BC Daniel. But either way, the point is that the events being referred to are many years after the setting of the story being told. Hence the words of the vision must be ‘sealed’ (in this case for around 400 years), until they become relevant to the readers.

What does Rev 22.10 then say? The exact opposite. The words of John’s vision report must not be sealed; the events being referred to are not many years after the setting in which John is writing. The beast of Rev 13 is not some future, eschatological figure who will come many centuries hence, but (in the form of Roman Imperial power) is already demonstrating his strength.

Given all this, it is surprising that even responsible commentators still allow for a kind of ‘futurist’ reading of Revelation, which encourages the ‘conspiracy theory’ type approaches. Robert Mounce (who wrote the Eerdmans NIC commentary) explains it like this:

The predictions of John, while expressed in terms reflecting his own culture, will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history. Although John saw the Roman Empire as the great beast that threatened the extinction of the church, there will be in the last days an eschatological beast who will sustain the same relationship with the church of the great tribulation. It is this eschatological beast, portrayed in type by Rome, that the Apocalypse describes…

It seems quite acceptable to believe in the dual fulfilment of biblical prophecy whilst accepting that the Old Testament prophets did not necessarily have the second (main) fulfilment in mind, even though they may have been “trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing.” However the New Testament writers, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognised the second fulfilment. The same thing applies to New Testament prophecies. The writers made predictions which sometimes referred to 1st century events and did not necessarily have a second major fulfilment in mind. Similarly Jesus made predictions which his hearers may have applied only to 1st century events. But it is clear that some of these predictions do have a second major fulfilment which is still future. We have to be careful, though, in seeking a correct understanding of these predictions.

There is a fascinating move going on here. Because the OT prophetic texts have a ‘second fulfilment’ in the person of Jesus, then NT ‘prophetic’ texts will also have a ‘second fulfilment’ in the timetable of ‘last days’ events. Note that Mounce is not here talking of the kind of partially-realised eschatology we find in Paul, for example in Romans 8, where what we have now is the ‘first fruits’ of what we will experience when Jesus returns. He is talking about historical events referred to (such as the fall of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70) having corresponding historical events in a ‘last days’ calendar. He does not appear to notice that is actually the opposite of what is happening in relation to the OT. The fact that there is a ‘second fulfilment’ in Jesus is because Jesus is the ultimate expression of God and his purposes, and all his promises find their ‘yes’ in him. To say that there is a further series of events that are needed to fulfil the NT is to say that not all God’s promises find their ‘yes’ in Jesus. Futurist eschatological schemes actually undermine the centrality of Jesus in the NT, because they focus the fulfilment of God’s promises in a scheme, rather than in his person.

But more significantly (in relation to Revelation) there is no indication whatever in the text itself that the symbolic action has this kind of ‘double reference.’ There is repeated emphasis on the fact that this is all to happen ‘soon’. The primary genre of the book is of a letter; John is addressing people he knows who live in a particular historical and cultural context, and since the work of Ramsay and Hemer on the seven ‘messages’ in chapters two and three, we have appreciated that Revelation is firmly embedded in its historical and cultural context. And the function of the messages themselves is to root the action in the world of first-century Asia; the visions that follow are not detached from the world they live in, but describe and speak to their world very directly.

Revelation does help us understand our world—not because it has ‘predicted’ our current situation, but because it speaks into the crisis of human existence that we share with John’s first readers. It is not writing in ordinary language about some extraordinary future time, but is writing in extraordinary language about the ‘ordinary’ time of human existence in history. It is a revelation—that without God, we find the world as chaotic and meaningless, but that with the knowledge of his love and grace, expressed in the self-giving of the lamb who was slain, we can discover order and meaning. And because that lamb is on the throne, we can be confident that one day he will rule the world with truth and love, that the evil and chaos we see around us will come to an end, and that we will share his reign.

For an accessible introduction to reading the Book of Revelation, see my Grove booklet How to Read the Book of Revelation

For more in-depth exploration of the text, you might be interested in my commentary on Revelation in the Tyndale series published by IVP.

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51 thoughts on “Does the Book of Revelation predict the present crisis?”

  1. Fascinating critique of Mounce: I have his volume, and although it is some time since I last used it, I remember being unconvinced by his stance on further fulfilment of NT prophecies.

  2. ‘Futurist eschatological schemes actually undermine the centrality of Jesus in the NT, because they focus the fulfilment of God’s promises in a scheme, rather than in his person.’

    Yes! You’ve put this so well, Ian.

  3. Doh, I was going to say that. But can it be unwrapped a little more? Name some schemes? Or is that to invite a tsunami?

  4. Yes, good and helpful analysis. Double reference is (a) confusing, (b) not in the text, and (c) a sociologically explicable perspective and therefore [in the light of (a) and (b)] suspect.

    John is very much absorbed not only by contemporary events but also by what we learn from them about (theology and) reality. He is living in an intense moment of history and it is at times like that (e.g. war times, times of risk, or when one is in love) that our heightened senses lead us to see realities that we cannot see to that extent at other times.

    I heard a great sermon saying that when we look in the stable we learn not only who God is (his nature) but also who we are. The same applies to Revelation and Mark – they are deep structures that have shaped our culture and shaped us profoundly. Nero is both historical and archetypal, so if you have to have a double meaning, there it is.

  5. Alan Darley Sorry, I agree with Mounce here! It was an error of Marcion to shut up the meaning of Scripture in past history. It is a naturalistic method which unwittingly yields naturalistic results – even amongst conservatve scholars. Scripture is multivocal, not univocal because the Divine author’s intentions exceed the human authors’ understanding. Aquinas suggests a clue to this in Psalms when the historical application runs out in regard to David or Solomon (e.g. in Psalm71 or 17) and leaves a prophetic ‘surplus’. Here, the Psalms ‘signify something else beyond history alone.’ (Super Psalmos, Prol.). Indeed, history is itself a level of this symbolic order witnessed in the hermeneutics of ‘typology’ once taken for granted, but today routinely dismissed as ‘quaint’ in the academy. The fact that the abomination of desolation has already had two fulfilments (at least) should make us cautious about closing down its meaning in AD 70, especially as John was almost certainly writing after AD 70 in the Book of Revelation which means he still believed that the antichrist and the eschaton were future. This is in line with Jewish exegesis, notably in its use of the exodus and the destruction of the Temple, which become ‘examples’ non-identically ‘replayed’ in unfolding history, and cultically reenacted in the annual festivals e.g. of Passover. Furthermore, full preterism must entail that the general resurrection has already taken place, which could only be true if one adopted a Gnostic ‘spiritual’ interpretation which denies the physical body! (2 Tim. 2:18).

    • Hi Alan

      If words are written with insight and according to a correct worldview, it is certain that they will be in some sense ‘fulfilled’ numerous times. This is merely because they give an accurate account of the way things are; and the way things are will repeatedly play itself out in human events and interactions. On replaying and cultic interaction I agree absolutely. But that says nothing about the original writer’s intent, which NT students have normally taken as the key thing.

      If Mounce is saying that there are precisely two fulfilments, one contemporary and one far-future, then (for the reason in the last para) I disagree. The writer will be writing of things he knows and can scarcely get excited about things he does not know (future), but if he has deep understanding then the patterns he sees can be discerned in any age. Why limit to two? It looks suspiciously like hedging bets, which is a bane of apocalyptic discourse. How many times do we hear people saying the end will be in 5-20 (or 50) years, whereas few will say it is next week. It is all to do with falsifiability not with evidence or honesty.

      Abomination of desolation – I am interested that you say this has had 2 fulfilments already. Are these Antiochus Epiphanes and AD 70? From what Mark writes, almost every interpretation produces inconcinnities. I have found only one that does not: that the abomination of which Mark speaks is the appearance of Vespasian (who was by the time of writing the despised emperor) standing where ‘he’ ought not to ‘in Judea’, whose appearance and army directly sparked off the tribulation of early AD 68, summarised by Faulkner ‘Apocalypse’ 272-3 after Josephus thus:
      ‘[Inhabitants of several villages fleeing all together once the situation at Gadara becomes hopeless and more widely known]…whole communities fleeing in fear of fire and sword as news reached them…the discovered a Jordan swollen by winter rain and rendered impassable [cf. Rev. 12]. So they turned to face their pursuers, the armed men forming a defensive line…the women, children and old folk behind them along with little flocks of sheep, heavily-laden donkeys and camels, and ox-carts piled up with the contents of emptied homes. [Most of them were quickly destroyed with corpses littering the way from Bethennabris to Jordan and others floating as far as the Dead Sea.]

      Preterism is the view that fulfilment of what’s written was fairly contemporary with the writer. Scholars ought not to pursue preterism since (a) they ought to be initially open-minded whether fulfilment ever took place or not, and also (b) they ought to be initially open-minded whether past, present or future events are being described.

    • You write that ‘John was almost certainly writing after AD 70’ but that cannot stand. I put the book in early 70 before the Fall of Jerusalem, and many others put it in 69. Not only is this (a) one of the 2 most popular opinions, (b) it is one held by a good percentage of scholars, (c) particularly those who have focussed on the topic of date, and (d) it is held to with much more conviction among its adherents than is a Domitianic date among its adherents (the former rarely give much credence to other options but the latter almost always do).

      • i understood many scholars dated John well after AD 70, which Richard Bauckham describes as the ‘consensus’ dating, though I disagree with him on for example Luke. What are your main arguments for pre-70, particularly your very specific dating? (or point me to other writing)



        • OK when I am speaking of a dating in 70 I am speaking of Revelation not of John. I am in a minority but a convinced one in thinking both are by the same man (John the Elder, whom Richard Bauckham discusses brilliantly, though my position is closer to Hengel’s).

          The best way of dating NT documents is to date several documents simultaneously by their web or network of intertextuality. This is because the amount of intertextuality is unusually large whereas the data that allows absolute dating is unusually sparse. John therefore dates c80 IMHO simply because in terms of relationships it has to be before Matt (of which Papias said John the Elder spoke) but is also likely (given its calmness, which is so unlike Rev and Mark) to be well after the Fall of Jerusalem when the dust has settled. Expulsions from the synagogue in some new and enhanced sense seem to be the latest big thing at the time of writing. This also fits well with a date c80. We need some years for John to readjust his theology post-Rev.. 2 Peter looks to be post John but also pre Matt. This is rather a bald summary which could be amplified 100fold.

          I assume it is John’s dating you are interested in. If it is also Rev’s, let me know. Rev is written when the double scandal of Vespasian’s accession not only as the Judea general but also as a false miracle-worker is hot news; so is Nero’s colossal statue (van Kooten); some priestcraft-trickery with the statue (if that is implied as a news item) together with the idea of banning those who don’t use the new money system – these 2 things are so fleetingly topical that they never made the history books so must be very recent; the 16.15 oracle may have been prompted by the nature of Vitellius’s untimely half-naked death in Dec 69 as indeed may have been the long meditation in ch18 on the fire in the great city (Rome fire Dec 69) have been prompted by the same Vitellius-Vespasian battle in Rome.

  6. Really interesting piece. Thank you. On ‘the juxtaposition of order and chaos’ I observe that the same tension in that wonderful alternative creation poem at the end of Job. God declares his ordering and the setting of boundaries to creation. But within that divine ordering there is found an extended celebration of Leviathan and Behemoth – frighteningly wild, untameable creatures. The language has a poetic, mythological edge. God actually taunts Job for his powerlessness in relation to them. So in this divinely ordered world are found chaotic creatures that are called ‘the first of the great acts of God’ (40.15ff). So this end time tension is ‘as it as in the beginning.

  7. Very helpful. Love the futurist bit!
    Compare Paul July 2020 with Caird 1980:
    Futurist eschatological schemes actually undermine the centrality of Jesus in the NT, because they focus the fulfilment of God’s promises in a scheme, rather than in his person. (Paul)

    “To anyone who believes that biblical eschatology is an ordered sequence of events leading inexorably to an eschaton, a final event beyond which nothing can conceivably happen, all this must be puzzling and frustrating. But there is no puzzle if we share John’s faith that the end is not an event but a person, the first and the last. John’s book begins on the Lord’s day and ends in Eucharistic worship; and it is in the setting of worship that his eschatology is to be understood…..“ (Caird)

    • Well, the ultimate horizon of judgement in Revelation is the new creation, the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ since the old had passed away. I think it is rather odd when anyone suggests that Jesus has already returned. If he has, I wonder how I missed it! And he isn’t making a very good fist of things, is he?

      I am arguing here against the idea that Revelation is about our times, rather than John’s, by ‘predicting’ the current pandemic and phenomena associated with it.

      John’s message about his own world, and the ultimate horizon of eschatological hope, was in the first instance a message to his first hearers. By incorporation into the canon, it has also now become a message for us, from which we can learn—but it was never, in the first instance, a message to us.

      • One of the really surprising things is the persistence of attempts to associate things in Revelation with contemporary events, people or organizations and thus predict what will happen within a few years. There have been many of these. I don’t know of any before those of the Millerites which led to ‘The Great Disappointment’ of 1844, but there have been many after. Clearly, as an interpretative method, it is very suspect.

      • Was Chernobyl, Ukranian for ‘wormwood’ just a coincidence?!

        ‘great star’ = nuclear reaction (fission rather than fusion)
        ‘poisoning’ = radiation poisoning through release of isotopes into the environment (we’re still not sure as to the world-wide and long-lasting impact of Chernobyl)

        Having watched it on the news at the time, it has always remained at the back of my mind…


        • I sometimes wonder about names in the bible. Were people given names that they lived up to or were they epithets that stuck? God is in it definitely. In your example I think it is just coincidence but of course, with God, things don’t just happen. Expect more than one layer of meaning in the Bible. If the trumpets mirror the creation narrative as a sort of disassembly of creation then we have days 1,2&3 set the stage in creation then day 4 is the top and 5, 6 &7 populate the stage in a sort of chiastic pattern. Then in an act of removing the stage trumpets give us a bit by bit deconstruction. Trumpet 4 corresponds with Day 4 Sun moon, stars at the apex. So day three = a poisonous seed falling to earth….
          I’m sleepy…going to bed 🙂

          • The trumpets and bowls do mirror creation days in ordering as Farrer noticed (bowls also include links to the most appropriate Exodus plague).

            Judgment on heaven would however be a bit ‘off’. So the scheme is (mine differs slightly from Farrer’s):
            2-greater waters
            3-rivers and freshwaters
            6-world of men
            7-day of glory, revelation, manifestation. Presence of God.
            The creation ordering is also used to a lesser extent in ch12ff., but more to do with which ‘level’ the action takes place at in each succeeding one of the 7 ‘signs’ (15.1):
            1-heavenly lights
            2-below and above firmament (ascent and descent)
            3-action relocates to earth
            4-reappearance of light-woman
            5-beast from sea (just as Nero was on sea voyage through Greece 66-68)
            6-beast from land (just as Vespasian left that same sea voyage to travel overland to Judea)
            7-Divine Presence in heaven (ch15).

            These keys help interpretation a lot and are underused.

          • And also in the new-creation sections of chs 21-22:
            1-New heavens and earth; removal of waters of chaos
            2-From above to below. The below merges with the above.
            3-Smaller-scale waters: spring of water of life, vs lake
            4-Light. Radiant city and jewels, light of God and Lamb (21.23)
            5-LIfe. River of life and tree of life.
            6-Humanity (22.4) – perfection of image-of-God. Beatific vision, Name.
            7-Glory & reign.

            Some symmetry here as sec. 4 is much longer and section-lengths increase towards 4 and diminish successively after 4.

  8. Thank you Ian

    I agree with much of what you say, we must be careful not to say ‘this is that’ unless we also say ‘that was this’ and, with Mounce, even, that and this maybe then.

    Given how the book actually ends (chs 20,21,22) depicting the destruction of the devil, the reign of Jesus, the judgment of the dead, and the new heavens and new earth – presumably you accept there is some futurist timetable, a predictive end time prophecy? And if so, on what basis do you decide something relates to Johannine time or future time?

  9. I think Ian says in his book on Revelation that if one reads Revelation out of the context of the Bible as a whole it is like reading the last chapter of War and Peace and expecting to know what its all about.
    At the beginning of Revelation it states there is a blessing to anyone who reads it. Note; it does not say there is a blessing to anyone who reads commentaries on it. This is because Revelation is about Jesus who is alive and through his Angel is able to guide the one who approaches it in faith.
    Like anything worth having one has to take time reading and meditating on it. Reading a good commentary is only a start. I found Ian’s book a good place to start.

    • The book of Daniel relates ‘revelations’ concerning that current time (6th century BC) and centuries in the future (2nd century BC & 1st century AD with the coming of the Messiah during the Roman period).

      Why is Revelation so different? Could it not, in part, be concerning events relating to the return of the Messiah?


  10. If you read something in Revelation that seems to be prophetic of some great event or other then it is out of context and can be discounted. So, speculating on which Emperor was responsible for persecution is out of context. Seeing some earthquake as divinely prophesied in Revelation is out of context. Seeing current leader in politics as being the beast is out of context. This sort of speculation is not what Jesus intended The Revelation to be used for.
    Revelation acts like a central station where trains terminate and start. All scripture leads to Jesus, The Revelation of God. The book of Revelation throws light on the rest of scripture to help us focus on Him.
    If you and I were invited to a wedding and you sat next to me and started a conversation about the wonderful architecture or the catering or the entertainment or complained about your friends not having been invited I would wonder if you were not missing the point -The Bride and Groom.
    In the same way being in context is constrained by the focus of the event unfolding even though other things besides would in any other context be worthy of comment.
    Too many people are interested in the food, their friends, the venue and report on those things.
    Context is everything.

    • What about an end time Armageddon? do you turn this into some a-historical spiritual or figurative scenario or do you think it will occur in time n space?
      What about the destruction of the demonic in the fire? Ahistorical, figurative or at a fixed point?
      What about the day of judgment? Ahistorical, figurative or at a fixed point?
      What about the the establishing of new heaven and earth? Ahistorical, figurative or a fixed point?

      I read revelation to speak of these as real events, in real time, all which climax our history and usher in the new. All of these are yet to happen – do you agree? and I would be worried if you dont. If you accept these as future historical why dismiss everything else as non historical?

  11. The whole Bible is useful for training etc, 2 Timothy 3:16. Therefore any person in any age has everything he needs in the Bible. Working out which Pharaoh was part of the Exodus is interesting but unimportant and so too is working out which Emperor was on the throne at the time of Revelation. So, when I read Rev. I look for the allusions to, and references in the rest of the Bible. From the first verse I see an allusion to Abraham, Isaac, Eliezer and Rebecca. They were planning Isaac’s wedding. Getting the bride. Bringing her home. I think Jesus used his Ancestors story to set the scene. It then mirrors Rev.22. This way of reading gives Rev. a homely, personal touch. After all it is The Groom’s word to his Bride— US!
    Armageddon in Rev. no sooner starts to happen when it’s all over. It just shows figuratively speaking, from God’s point of view, how just a puff from him is enough to stop the nonsense. Expanding it to a global war between Left/Right, Capitalists/Socialists or whatever is wrong. That would be to try to co-opt God on to one side or the other.
    The Day of Judgement, The New heaven & Earth will be real events. Wonderful, tangible, final. Like a bride and groom together at last in their new home. Whatever is good, think on these things.

    • Thanks
      I appear to be in splendid isolation on this thread – alone in leaning to the view that whilst ch’s 4-20 may and indeed do have historic allusions to the time of the author, and diachronic throughout the history of the world, they find their fulfilment at the end of time. They are set in the future. I don’t think we are there yet but I see these as to come as history accelerates to its climax and Jesus returns. Certainly if we accept them as they are depicted, we cannot say we have already experienced anything like the magnitude of them.
      anyway – I agree with your burden that we not lose Jesus in the detail or speculation

      • Historic yes, diachronic yes though not in the sense of 7 ages of the church in chs 2-3, rather that the heightened insight John had into the spiritual battle (which is the same battle though playing out with different details in each age) included insight into how that battle must inevitably pan out.

        • Hi Christopher
          yes, exactly so
          I certainly wouldn’t hold to a 7 Ages of the Church reading at all
          but I also think the insight into the battle will be intensified in the future as I think John predicts

      • Simon, thanks for your openness. Yes, I think you are in a minority!

        I think I have given some substantial reasons why this should *not* be the case. Can you say more about why you think I am wrong?

        Why does this text, alone in the NT, have a double historical meaning…?

        • Hi Ian
          Oh boy – fools rush in where angels fear to tread 🙂 I’ll be a little foolish –

          First, I dont subscribe to any one school of reading Revelation – I have changed my mind more than once on it and in no way claim to have it sorted – unlike others here who can quickly dismiss even mock views held by good and saintly scholars.

          I disagree with the view that Revelation is a letter like any other in the NT – it stands quite alone IMHO. Revelation is unique in the NT so unlike any other literature in the NT (with perhaps the exception of some end-time sayings of Jesus). It is prophetic & apocalyptic literature, and, with Mounce, I think that prophetic element could be layered in its fulfilment addressing the time, context & experience of John & his readers there n then – truth that is always true in the experience and truth that will occur at the end. I am of the view these things, always seen in part throughout history, will cluster at the end.

          One reason why I posit a future interpretation is because most of the revelation hasn’t been fulfilled to the extent it is prophesied. I dont think we have seen the natural, cosmological or demonic phenomena to the extent it is described. I dont think we have seen a global state as depicted in Rev13 that suggests a one religion, one economy, one ruler (Rome was never this). So I think this is set in the future. And of course the ending of Revelation with a battle of Armageddon ch16/19 when the nations turn on Israel is something seen in part even in recent memory, but it hasnt happened as depicted nor ended with the coming of Jesus as depicted, so I see that as future history.

          Nor have we seen the return, of Jesus, rout of the devil, resurrection of the dead, judgment, recreation of new heavens and, not on, earth (ch20-22). If we are content to read these last events as literal events set in the future, why do we quickly dismiss the others as non historical/literal.

          Just my musing – I dont claim to be right, but these questions remain for me – some here claim a futurist view definitely wrong – whilst orthodoxy demands they subscribe to some futurist elements as laid out in Revelation.

          • Double meanings beg the question of ‘why just 2?’. But there could be said to be precisely 2 important things about the orientation of Rev’s text: (a) how it attests to the [Jewish-]Christian experience of 69-70 AD; (b) how it successfully identifies the strands, players, dynamics, trajectories in the big picture of history as a whole.

          • Christopher

            for multiple layers of interpretation of the prophetic I am thinking of the hermeneutic applied to Daniel’s abomination of desolation –
            -occurred in 2nd BCE,
            -prophesied by Jesus and perhaps fulfilled in AD70 –
            -existentially n spiritually always true that the demonic seeks to defile the temple of the Spirit (the church/christian body)
            -eschatologically – an end time manifestation of the demonic assault on the church?

            In the same way could not much of Revelation’s prophecy be seen as relating to John’s time, all time and the end time – notwithstanding the very particular one-off decisive events of parousia, judgement, recreation.

            Would you see this as legitimate?

          • There have to be multiple layers, beacuse there is always both the actual physical fulfilment (the one that the author has in mind) on the one hand, and the way in which timeless patterns are revealed on the other hand.

            Nor would I always distinguish ‘all time’ and ‘the end time’ too closely as the end time is not in isolation but is rather the end result or consummation of everything that precedes.

            1 John also says the antichrist spirit can inhabit more than one person.

            Antiochus or Nero or Hitler may manifest the antisemitic spirit especially clearly (at different points in history) and show that it is essentially one and the same spirit synchronically throughout time but rarely seen in such clear definition.

          • The thing that I would want to shout from the rooftops about Revelation is that John has, because of his inspiration/ heightened awareness at the tensest time of history conceivable, is so excited about his message partly because his *specific* times and current affairs have given him such insight into *eternal* verities. And none more than (a) the fundamental nature of the spiritual battle, (b) the supreme importance of eschatology or rather of life and death issues and the four last things.

          • Thanks Christopher
            as always

            One thing we all agree on is, however history hurls to its goal, having read the end of the book, we know the Lamb Wins!

          • The Book of Revelation is not a prophetic book about the return of Christ, nor about the “end of the world.” Matthew 24/Mark 13/Luke 21 (the Synoptic Gospels) are about the “end of the world” and the return of Christ. His disciples clearly ask Him (Matthew 24:3), but Not the Book of Revelation.
            Apocalyptic literature (Revelation is an apocalypse) uses “weird, strange, bizarre” language to make a point, and it is not literal. Apocalypses were never meant to be literal. John rarely interprets Revelation because his congregations in Asia Minor knew what he was talking about. A rare example is in Revelation 1:20 where John does interpret. Anyway, enough for now.

          • I agree with you that is it not ‘literal’. But there are numerous references to Jesus ‘coming’, and many images depicting this, including the descent of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21.

            Are you really claiming that this is *not* an image of The End? On what grounds?

      • Hi Simon,
        Thanks for replying. I have some unique views which, if I’m wrong, I don’t mind dropping. After all Paul said “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

  12. Interesting reading. I would observe a couple of things:
    First there is massive scope for different points of view concerning Revelation because the book is not always clear. In places, it’s deliberately opaque (the thunders for example), in places it seems to be written to be clear, and in other places written in such as way as to imply that it will become clear at some point in the future.
    Probably the best way to start analysing it is to ask “Was John a prophet?” meaning – “Was a John a man genuinely telling us what God is saying to us?”
    If not, then analysis of Revelation is at best an academic exercise.
    If John was a genuine prophet however, then the next step is to ask why this book was written, and then to start unpicking it.
    But however much we unpick it, only so much will be clear, much will be guesswork, and some will be beyond our understanding at this point in time.

    • Thanks for these observations. I don’t think John is deliberately opaque, at least not in the way you suggest—I think this is a clear and deliberate rhetorical strategy. See my post on discontinuity in the Book of Revelation.

      And I think there is a particular reason why there are so many interpretations, to do with John’s language. See my post Why are there so many interpretations of the Book of Revelation?

    • Much will be guesswork if the person doing the “unpicking” is not learned in Apocalyptic language and has no background in it.
      John indeed is a prophet for he is writing a prophecy: Rev. 1:3/Rev. 22:10, 18-19/19:10.
      Yes, John is revealing to the congregations in Asia Minor what God is revealing to him: Rev.1:1
      Revelation was written to give warning to the congregations in Asia Minor to repent, to trust in God, to realize that Satan is behind the Beast (Rome and Imperial Cult), and that these events will happen soon and within their lifetime. (Rev. 1:1, 3/Rev. 22:6)

      • Yes, it was written to and for the congregations in Asia. But just as they overhear the messages to each other, so we overhear them too, since whilst living in a different chronological time, we are in the same theological time as them—between Jesus’ ascension and his return.

        Will Rev 21 happen in their lifetime?

  13. Shalom,
    SO, who and what and what times is revelations talking about in basic language.
    Are you submitting that what is the status que of preaching is therein and thereby false and just misinterpreted?
    So, are we in the end times of NOAH! now as it was THEN?
    Are we to expect the two witnessess of Elijah and Enoch
    Is revelations a myth and untrue?

    Personally, i read it in reality?

    • I am not sure that I quite understand your question. John was writing to the followers of Jesus about their present time. But we are part of that, since theologically we are in the same period—between Jesus’ ascension and his ‘parousia’ (return).

    • In basic apocalyptic language, John is speaking of his time (AD 95-98) and the immediate time of his congregations in Asia Minor (AD 95-AD 140).
      Revelation is not myth and untrue.
      Elijah and Enoch are not the two witnesses.


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