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Three things to remember when reading Revelation

I’ll admit that Revelation is a mysterious and difficult document to read and understand.

For many years I shied away from studying it—let alone preaching from it myself. But there’s a beautiful message of hope contained in this final book of the Bible, and as Christians we should all examine this important conclusion to God’s Word.

In order to do that well, it’s helpful to understand what kind of document Revelation is. With that in mind, I want to provide you with three things your should keep in mind as you approach Revelation.

The very first verses actually tell us what kind of document the Apostle John is writing. Revelation 1:1–3 says…

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

Now that is what we call the prologue, or the introduction, to this whole book. I want you to notice, first of all, that the title which is given to this last book of the Bible—Revelation—is simply placed there because it is the first word in the original manuscript of this document.

In other words, it was written in Greek, and the first Greek word is apokalypsis, which means “an unveiling, or a revelation.” So that is taken as the title of the book, and it’s the first point I want you to remember.

1. Revelation is apocalyptic

This word apokalypsis has found its way into our English language as “apocalypse” or “apocalyptic.” But the thing that’s of particular interest to us is that around the time of Jesus, there was a very popular genre of writing in the Middle East, particularly among the Jewish people, called apocalyptic writing. Revelation is a classic example of it.

The book of Daniel in the Old Testament is another classic example of it. Apocalyptic writing was full of symbols and very dramatic, graphic imagery—all kinds of monsters and fires and earthquakes and storms. These very dramatic things were all intended to convey a message through symbolism.

So as you approach Revelation, which is recognized right off as apocalyptic literature, understand that its symbolism will require careful study and careful interpretation.

The book, however, is also described in verse 3 as a “prophecy.”

2. Revelation is prophecy

Revelation is an apocalyptic piece of literature, but it is also a prophecy. And there is a difference between the two.

The prophetic ministry was something with which the people of Israel were very familiar. Down through the centuries, God had sent His prophets whose job was to listen to the voice of God and then to stand before the people and predicate what they had to say with the words, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

Of course, sometimes there was a predictive element to what they were saying. But we must not assume that prophecy is always about prediction. The prophets spoke to their contemporaries, and what they were saying was relevant to their contemporary situation. But often it was relevant in light of what they predicted concerning future events.

This point is helpful because, as we approach the book of Revelation, we recognize that we’re dealing with apocalyptic literature—which is full of symbolism that requires interpretation, but is also a prophetic message. This means that God is sending someone to speak to His people in order that they might understand what He has to say to them, and it will include predictive elements.

There’s a third thing we notice about the book of Revelation, however, and it’s found starting with verse four…

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne…

This is familiar language, because we’ve read other epistles in the New Testament and that’s how they start.

3. Revelation is a letter

In the days when Scripture was written, the normal way to write a letter was to sign your name at the beginning, state to whom the letter was addressed, and then bring formal greetings.

So Revelation is not only apocalyptic and prophetic, but it is also an epistle, or letter. It is a pastoral letter written by John, quite specifically, to seven churches scattered throughout the region of Asia Minor.

This book was written by God for His servants in order that they might understand what He is doing, what He is going to do, and how they should respond in light of all that He is doing.

So keep those three things in mind as you approach the book of Revelation.

It is apocalyptic, it is prophetic, and it is a pastoral letter.

I encourage you to dive into the rich message this book holds for you as a Christian, and pray the three points I’ve provided will help you approach this book with a more keen understanding.

If you’d like to go deeper into this mysterious and exciting book, my 8-message series called End Times: What’s Going On? will help you unravel the mystery of the end times found in Revelation.

I’ll send you the series as thanks you for your gift of support to help others know the truth of God’s Word and experience Life in Christ through the teachings of Telling the Truth.

So request your copy today—and unravel the mystery of the end times in Revelation!