Why Is the Book Revelation so Hard to Understand? (Guest post by Kevin Looper)

This past week, I (Shayne) completed a series on The Church in Images – the biblical images used to represent the Church. We concluded with the image of the Church as Bride from The Book of Revelation (a sermon I will post tomorrow). I asked my son Kevin, who is both a great youth pastor and a capable Bible scholar, to help us understand how to approach the Revelation. What follows is what he share with Lockwood Community Church.

Earlier this year, one of our students read the NT all the way through for the first time…that is, he read it all the way until the middle of Revelation and gave up.  It was too hard to comprehend. So what do we need to know about Revelation in order to hear God speak to us through the book today?

There are three main reasons why people do not understand The Book of Revelation:

  1. The genre isn’t one that we are used to. We know how to read biographies and fairy tales, and journalism. Revelation, however, belongs to a class of literature that was popular before and slightly after John’s time which we don’t use anymore.  It is called “Apocalyptic Literature”.  Apocalyptic does not mean “end of days” “zombie apocalypse” “earth destruction.”  The word is Greek and means “revelation” (hence the title of the book).  The point of the literature is to reveal something.  Authors who used this genre wrote to express the spiritual realities that were happening behind physical events.  Ancient people thought that the events of earth were reflections of what was happening in heaven.  If a battle was happening between two armies on earth, it was a reflection of the same battle that was simultaneously going on amongst spiritual forces in heaven. The outcome was decided in heaven and was only reflected on earth. 

            Revelation is a book where John “opens up” heaven and shows us the battle taking place there between God and the forces of evil in order to reveal to us what was happening in his time and, I believe, what will happen in the future.  On earth the church may be persecuted and killed and hurting because Satan is out to destroy it, but in heaven God, as the book of Revelation assures us, is on his throne and set to bring judgment against evil.

2. Another reason why it is difficult to understand the book of Revelation is that almost everything in the book has its origin in the OT. It is filled with language, ideas, and images from the Old Testament in almost every sentence.  The beasts, the locusts, the whore of Babylon, the lampstands, keys, weird numbers, and everything else come from the OT and the meaning of the book of Revelation has its source in the OT.  In fact, I think that is what is being “revealed.”  But we do not know the Old Testament as well as John’s first readers. One of the things Apocalyptic literature does is to say, effectively: “Look, God has had this all planned from the beginning, and you can see the plan in the OT.  Your suffering and turmoil are a part of it. He has not been defeated. He is still in control.”

3. We don’t understand the point of the book.  The point of the book is NOT to give some kind of twisted fortune telling.  I do think that there is prophecy in Revelation that is yet to be fulfilled. But it is not a code that you have to crack to find out what country will attack what other country and when the end of the world will be. The point of Revelation is to give the church hope in the midst of persecution and troubles right

Why was Revelation written? To encourage the church to remain faithful to God and endure suffering, because everything God had planned and promised in the Old Testament was being brought to fulfillment through Christ.

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