REVELATION STUDY - WEEK 1
40 DAYS THROUGH REVELATION - RON RHODES
“Thank you for joining me in this exciting journey through the book of Revelation. You are in for a spiritually uplifting time! My hope and prayer is that as you read 40 Days Through Revelation, you will attain…”
a thorough understanding of God’s sovereignty and control over human history,
an assurance that God will one day providentially cause good to triumph over evil,
a yearning for the soon coming of Jesus Christ at the rapture,
a joyful anticipation of our future in heaven, where we will not only be reunited with Christian loved ones but also dwell face to face with God Himself,
an exalted view of the true majesty and glory of Jesus Christ,
a deep appreciation for the wondrous salvation we have in Jesus Christ,
and an increased conviction of the trustworthiness of the Bible in general and the prophecies in the Bible in particular.
The book of Revelation is the only book in the Bible that promises a special blessing to those who read it and obey its message: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). So be encouraged. Blessing awaits you as you study this fascinating prophetic book.
As we begin our journey together, I want to address a few things that will lay a foundation for better understanding the book of Revelation. Let’s look at the big picture first, and then we will zoom in on the details in subsequent chapters.
The Author and Recipients of RevelationThe author of the book of Revelation is the apostle John (see Revelation 1:1,4,9; 22:8). This is confirmed by second-century witnesses, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian.
John had been imprisoned on the isle of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea, for the crime of sharing the message about Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:9). This island is where John received the revelation. The book was apparently written around AD 95.
The original recipients of the book were Christians who lived some 65 years after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected from the dead. Many of these were second-generation Christians, and the challenges they faced were great. Their lives had become increasingly difficult because of Roman hostilities toward Christianity.
The recipients of the book were suffering persecution, and some of them were even being killed (Revelation 2:13). Unfortunately, things were about to get even worse. John therefore wrote this book to give his readers a strong hope that would help them patiently endure amid relentless suffering.
At the time, evil seemed to be prevailing at every level. However, Revelation indicates that evil will one day come to an end. Sin, Satan, and suffering will be forever banished. Believers will no longer know sorrow or death, and fellowship with God will be perpetual and uninterrupted. This was good news for the suffering church in John’s day.
A CONTEXTUAL OUTLINE OF REVELATION
John provides a contextual outline of his prophetic book in Revelation 1:19: “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.”
The “things that you have seen” is a reference to Revelation 1, where we find a description of Jesus in His present majestic glory and an introduction to the book of Revelation.
“Those that are” relates to the then-present circumstances of the seven churches of Asia Minor recorded in Revelation 2–3. John directed his book to these seven churches.
“Those that are to take place after this” refers to the futuristic prophecies of the tribulation period, the second coming, the millennial kingdom, the great white throne judgment, and the eternal state, which are described in Revelation 4–22.
The book closes by informing God’s people that they will enjoy His presence forever in a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). Jesus promises, “I am coming soon” (22:20). Such wonderful promises regarding the future empower suffering believers to patiently endure the present.
APPROACHES TO THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Scholars throughout the ages have taken four primary interpretive approaches in studying the book of Revelation.
The historicist view — This approach to Revelation holds that the book supplies a prophetic panorama of church history from the first century to the second coming of Christ. This approach emerged in the fourth century when some interpreters saw parallels between current events and biblical prophecy. Later, Joachim of Fiore (AD 1135–1202) developed the approach by dividing history into three ages. The Reformers were attracted to historicism and viewed the pope as the antichrist. But a comparison of Revelation with other prophetic Scriptures (for example, Daniel 9:25-27; Matthew 24–25, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Titus 2:13-14) reveals that these prophecies point to the future tribulation period, antichrist, second coming, millennial kingdom, great white throne judgment, and eternal state.
The idealist view — This view holds that the book of Revelation is primarily a symbolic description of the ongoing battle between God and the devil, between good and evil. However, it is hard to see how the idealist approach to Revelation could bring any genuine comfort to the original recipients of the book, who were undergoing great persecution. Moreover, this view ignores specific time markers within the book. For example, it refers to 42 months in Revelation 11:2 and 1260 days in Revelation 12:6. Further, the many symbols in the book of Revelation point to real people and real events in the future tribulation period—the antichrist, Christ’s second coming, Christ’s millennial kingdom, the great white throne judgment, and the eternal state.
The preterist view — This approach holds that the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in AD 70 when Titus and his Roman army overran Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple. So in this scheme, the book of Revelation does not deal with the future. A primary problem with this view is that Revelation claims to be prophecy (see Revelation 1:3; 22:7,10,18-19). Further, multiple events described in Revelation bear no resemblance to the events of AD 70. For example, a third of mankind was not killed, as is predicted in Revelation 9:18. Moreover, substantive evidence indicates that the book of Revelation was written about AD 95, far after the destruction of Jerusalem. Writing in the second century, Irenaeus declared that Revelation had been written toward the end of the reign of Domitian (AD 81–96). Later writers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Victorinus, Eusebius, and Jerome affirm the Domitian date. This being the case, the book of Revelation must refer to events that had not yet happened.
The futurist view — The futurist approach to interpreting the book of Revelation—the view we will follow in this book—holds that most of the events described in the book will take place in the end times, just prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. This view honors the book’s claim to be prophecy. It also recognizes that just as the Old Testament prophecies of the first coming of Christ were fulfilled literally (more than 100 of them!), so the prophecies of the second coming and the events that will lead up to it will be fulfilled literally.
The early church took a futurist view of the book, seeing the tribulation, second coming, and millennium as yet-future events. Later writers who took a futurist approach include Francisco Ribera (1537–1591) and John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). As we examine specific prophecies throughout Revelation, we will see that a futurist approach makes very good sense.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
As you begin each chapter, pray something like this:
Lord, I ask You to open my eyes and enhance my understanding so that I can grasp what You want me to learn today [Psalm 119:18]. I also ask You to enable me, by Your Spirit, to apply the truths I learn to my daily life, and be guided moment by moment by Your Word [Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:15-17]. I thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Following this short prayer, read the assigned section of the book of Revelation using your favorite Bible. With your Bible still in hand, you can then go verse by verse through your Bible again, but this time, after reading each verse, also read the appropriate notes in this book.
You’ll notice that some of the biblical phrases I comment on are in quote marks and some aren’t. Whenever John is speaking, quote marks are not used. Whenever someone else is speaking (such as Jesus or an angel), quote marks are used.
After the insights on each verse in the passage, I provide four brief summaries:
Major Themes — These topical summaries will help you learn to think theologically as you study the Bible.
Digging Deeper with Cross-References — These will help you discover relevant insights from other books of the Bible.
Life Lessons — This is where you learn to apply what you have read to your daily life. You will find that the book of Revelation will transform you!
Questions for Reflection and Discussion — Use these for your own journaling or for lively group interactions.
Lord, by the power of Your Spirit, please enable my reader to understand and apply truth from the book of Revelation. Please excite him or her with Your Word and instill a sense of awe for the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. I thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.