By Jay Rogers
Published April 27, 2008
We need to be careful when interpreting Revelation in such as way that we use all scriptural language to interpret the symbolism of this book. The original readers of Revelation (the seven churches of Asia Minor) probably did not have access to all three texts of the “little apocalypse” found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 or Luke 21.
I am taking the preterist view that Revelation was written during the reign of Nero in the persecution of Christians that lasted from 64 to 67 AD. However, the churches of Asia Minor had heard at least one or more Gospel accounts — oral or written — and were aware of Jesus’ teaching on the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. It is much more likely that the hearers immediately thought of Daniel’s prophecy, then they did Jesus’ Mount Olivet Discourse. Because the book of Revelation is a letter directed at specific churches, the readers must have had some background information to interpret the symbols. The primary meaning of Revelation is what John intended its hearers to understand it to mean. And to understand that primary meaning, we need to look first at Daniel.
This is one reason why I find it unlikely that the application of John’s Revelation had much to do with events outside of the first century. While Daniel’s prophecy was sealed up until the last days, the meaning of John’s prophecy is revealed (hence the title: Apocalypse or Revelation). Daniel’s prophecy was written and then sealed. Even Daniel did not understand everything he wrote. John’s prophecy was written to seven living churches. The hearers were expected to “understand.” The hearers were expected to “count the number of the beast” — and so on. John’s prophecy was unsealed and there is no indication that John or his hearers would not understand what Revelation was about.
While some preterists have found a lot of parallels between the Mount Olivet Discourse and Revelation, I think it makes much more sense to first recognize John’s use of images from prophecies such as Daniel, Ezekiel and other books of the Old Testament. Once we have done that, then it is also good to see how these same images line up with the Jesus’ Mount Olivet Discourse, whose hearers were also familiar with the Hebrew scriptures. Revelation was written primarily with the Old Testament scriptures in mind. While there is not always a perfect correspondence between the two, the symbols and images are consistent.
We also need to be aware that there are static and fluid images within the prophecy. For instance, the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5) turns out to be Christ. There is only one lion in Revelation; but this image also appears in Genesis. The dragon is Satan; just as the serpent is the devil in Genesis. These images are static. The woman in chapter 12 is a virgin; but the woman in chapter 17 is a whore. This image is fluid.
For the most part, with only a few exceptions, if a symbol is found in the Old Testament, we can assume that John meant it to represent the same thing in his prophecy. If there is a large degree of correspondence between the beasts of Daniel and the Beast of Revelation, then we should use this correspondence in our interpretation. It is important to gain a full understanding of Old Testament parallel passages before locking into a static interpretation of the images in Revelation.
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