The Good News of Revelation: Biblical Commentary on the Book of Revelation by Hegumen Fr Abraam Sleman – Preface

The Book of Revelation reveals the good news of God in Jesus Christ culminating all the other books of the Bible. Sadly, many think that it is a complicated and confusing book. Even the so-called scholars find little agreement among themselves over its visions. The church of God, specially in the West, are divided into sects and denominations according to their approach of understanding of this book.

It is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” as the book itself claim in (Revelation 1:1), “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). We should then study and understand the Book of Revelation for the right reason. If we study it just to solve the secret of the Beast, with its seven heads and ten horns, or to set out the scenario of the Battle of Armageddon, we shall go astray apart from its objective. However, being the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1), the book is concerned with unavailing Jesus Christ. If we study it to reveal the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s work in us through Him, we shall be served royally! So, Study the Book of Revelation for the right reason alone.

According to the rite of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Book of Revelation is read on “Bright Saturday”. This Saturday follows the Good Friday and proceeds the Resurrection Sunday. This rite is a wonderful testimony that this book has special emphasis on the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and their significance for our lives now and the future of the whole creation of God.

St. John promises all who read and keep what is written in the Patmos posts will be blessed: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3, NKJV).

Four Views of Interpretation

You might find this book different than other commentaries on the Book of Revelation. The reason is that there are many different interpretations in attempting to unveil the visions of Revelation. These different approaches are sometimes classified under four main approaches: preterist, historicist, futurist and idealist or spiritual.

I. The Preterist Interpretation

The word “Preterist”, if used as a noun, means one who is chiefly concerned with the past. When the word preterist is used as an adjective, it describes something that is focused on the past. A Preterist interpretation of the book of Revelation holds that most of the prophecies and visions of the book have already been fulfilled in the first century of the early Christian church.

Some preterist interpreters believe that the prophecies of the book of Revelation were largely fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in AD 70. The interpretation of the Revelation from a Preterist standpoint is able to demonstrate an immediate relevance for the original readers, i.e. the churches of Asia Minor.

The interpretation of the Revelation by preterists reflects many parallels with non-Christian historic records of the first century. Josephus was a Jewish man who was loyal to Rome. He was an eyewitness of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The book of Revelation can be shown to have foretold details that are strikingly parallel with Josephus’ account.

The primary weakness of this approach is that it depends completely on Revelation having been written before AD 70 and fulfilled entirely in the first century. Thus, this approach introduce the Book of Revelation as past history but not relevant for today’s readers.

II. Historicist Interpretation

The “Historicist” approach to interpretation of the Revelation sees the book prophesying events that transpire over the course of the entire church age. The book of Revelation, they would say, is a foretelling of all history from the time of the first coming of Christ unto the end of the age.

Revelation 6 & 7, record the Lord Jesus breaking seven seals that are on a scroll in His hand. According to this approach, as each seal is broken, great events of judgment transpire on the earth. It was a common interpretation of the historical approach to view these chapters as predicting the sacking of the Roman Empire by invading barbarians. The fifth seal was viewed as signaling the rise of Islam and the sixth seal signaled the invasion of Rome by the Turks.

Of course, the most significant interpretation that was promoted was that of Revelation 13. There the Beast is interpreted by many protestant as the Roman papacy. The pope was universally held to be the antichrist by those who used the Historicist approach of interpreting the book of Revelation.

If the book of Revelation were to be seen in this way, it would mean that the book had little or no meaning to the churches of Asia Minor to whom it was first written and sent. Moreover, The subjective nature of assigning meaning to the symbols is unavoidable. No two, independent Historicists can agree on the meaning of the symbols from the text alone.

III. Futurist Interpretation

The Futurist approach to interpretation of the Revelation sees the book prophesying events that are largely future to all but those living just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation, they would say, is for the most part a foretelling of events that will not begin to transpire until the end of the current age shortly before the Second Coming of Christ.

Futurists divide the book’s contents based on their understanding of Revelation 1:19, in which John is told: “Write the things (1) which thou hast seen, and (2) the things which are, and (3) the things which shall be hereafter.” They go on to say that Revelation 1 records the things that John had already seen. Revelation 2 & 3, that contain the seven letters to the seven churches, are “the things that are.” “The things which shall be hereafter” begins with 4:1 and continues to the end of the book. Their view holds that the book was written so that the prophesied events are recorded in chronological order.

According to this approach, Revelation 4:1 is viewed as a future rapture of the church. The bulk of the Revelation from chapter 4 onwards speaks of a final seven year tribulation period from which Christians have escaped. This time will culminate in the Second Coming of Christ in which He will judge the world, set up an earthly 1,000 year kingdom on earth in which a renewed state of Israel will be pre-eminent. Many of the Alexandrian fathers had not accepted such views.

According to this approach, virtually all the details of the book are to be taken literally. There will be hail storms in which hail stones will weigh 100 pounds. One third of the oceans will turn to blood. A third of the fish will die and a third of the ships will sink. There will be literal locusts that sting like literal scorpions. There will be required at sometime in the future a literal mark on every forehead or hand of everyone that desires to buy anything. Now, I will not say that these things will not happen, but this position says that it must happen in just this way. There is no possibility that these things may have been symbolic of things that the first readers may have encountered under Roman persecution. These things are all seen to be yet future.

This approach is currently the most widely held approach of modern evangelicals, specially in the West. The futurist interpretation of the Revelation renders the bulk of the book as inapplicable to any Christian of any time. Since apart from chapters 1-3 the book records events after the church is removed, not only do the details of the book have no direct relevance for the churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century, they have no relevance for us Christians as well, for according to their understanding we will be gone.

There is the great danger of subjective interpretation. One can never refute even the most bizarre futurist assertions of what the book predicts will happen. Futurists over the past 150 years have been able to give interpretations of the book in the light of their own current events. The book is claimed to have prophesied Huey helicopters, a red Chinese army of 200,000,000 in number, the attack of Israel by Russia, which is made possible, by the way, of Russia recently building a dam at the headwaters of the Euphrates River. The book is said to prophesy the revival of the Roman Empire in the modern European Common Market. In this book, they claim, we can read of the prophecy of the computer chip, satellite technology, television, and a world-wide cashless economy. The Antichrist has been variously identified as Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, John Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and Ronald Reagan.

In this approach, there is a refusal to see that any of the details of the Revelation may have already been fulfilled in the lives of the original recipients of the book. Everything is presumed unquestionably to be unfulfilled yet.

Some reject the futurist approach on the basis of its origin. It was first introduced in 1585 by a Spanish Jesuit, Francisco Riberia. He originated the approach of placing the Antichrist as a future end-time individual who would yet rise to power. He did this in order to refute the Historicist teaching of the Protestant Reformers that the Pope was the Antichrist. From a theological perspective, there are both Christological and Covenantal issues that are unable to be reconciled in the futurist approach.

This method is what drives the end-time book selling craze. There are hundreds of Christian books in print that each give their scenario of current events that “were predicted” in the Revelation. This position will remain the most dominant position for a long time to come because it has great popular appeal, it certainly lines the coffers, and it is supported by the majority of the most popular (modern) evangelical speakers and writers.

IV. Idealist/Spiritual Interpretation

This method of interpreting the Revelation does not look for individual or specific fulfillment of the prophecies of the book; rather, the Revelation is perceived to contain spiritual lessons and principles that may find recurrent expression in history. What is being conveyed in the book of Revelation, it is claimed, is the reality of spiritual warfare that is always being waged. Major themes are to be seen in which the Christian may receive assistance and encouragement.

According to this approach, the beast rising out of the sea (Rev. 13:1) signifies satanically-inspired political opposition to the church at any time in history, whether it is Rome toward the churches of Asia Minor, or the Soviet Union toward Christians during its power. The beast from the land (Rev. 13:1) signifies the opposition of pagan or corrupt religion to true Christianity. The harlot is representative of all apostate or heretical church.

In this way, the message of the book could be applicable to believers of any period of history. It avoids the problem of having to identify specific fulfillment to individual visions. Most commentators, even those who use the other three approaches, resort to mixing this method with their own. One would have to use this method if the book of Revelation is to be used legitimately to encourage struggling and persecuted Christians in every historical period and situation.

This book, “Revelation of Jesus Christ: Biblical Commentary on the Book of Revelation”, can be categorized under the idealist or spiritual approach. However, it is quite different than many book as it focus only on the person of Jesus and the work of God in Him for the redemption of the whole creation. From a theological perspective, this book is very rich in dealing with many Christological and Covenantal issues. However, it is simple in understanding and relevant for today’s living and eternity.

Keys to Understand Revelation

The study of the Book of Revelation is a seat belt fastening job with deep breath taking. The trip through the Book of Revelation is a journey to discover God’s amazing love in the person and the work of Jesus Christ, by unlocking the codes of imagery, color, symbol, and numbers. This journey is very challenging. It is a journey towards the real revelation of God. Here are some keys of how to study the Book of Revelation:

1- Searching for the Christ of Revelation:
The central figure of Revelation is the Lord Jesus Christ. As mentioned before, if we read Revelation just to unlock its mysteries as “The Beast with ten horns” and “The battle of Armageddon” we will miss its message. The Book of Revelation is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev 1:1). Discovering Christ, the meaning of his death resurrection and His glory is the central message of the Revelation.

2- Searching for the Immanent Message of the Prophecy:
The Book of Revelation is a prophetic book. The prophecy in the Bible is not just for telling the future but for the edification of the church and the believers. Reading the Book of Revelation, with the purpose of just knowing about the future, is not a living experience. Discovering the immanent message of Revelation is the 2nd key.

3- Understanding the Numbers and Colors:
The Book of Revelation is a master piece of the spiritual art drawn by the Holy Spirit. Numbers and colors are richly used as a background of the text. Looking only for the text without understanding the figures and colors is like seeing the outlines of a great portray without seeing its colors, lights and shade. We need to understand the meanings behind each number and color in Revelation.

4- Unerstanding the Biblical Apocalyptic Background:
The Book of Revelation uses what we can call it, “the apocalyptic biblical language”. This language drives its roots from the Hebrew Scriptures. Reading the book of Revelation apart from the knowledge of its Hebrew roots is like reading a text of a language with knowing its Alphabet. The Biblical Apocalyptic Background is the 4th Key.

5- Discovering the Good News of Revelation:
“I am scared to read the Book of Revelation”, this is that we often hear from many. Some think the Book of Revelation is about the horror of the end of days, the destruction of heaven and earth. It is not so. The Book of Revelation is the culmination of the New Testament, the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Discovering the good news in the Book of Revelation is the 5th keys.

When it comes to the Book of Revelation, some literalize it, and others spiritualize it. However, I would like to personalize it and have it for living. By studying the Book of Revelation, you discover the mystery of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, a rich discovery that you need for life here and in eternity.

We need to be prepared for the trip to the throne of God with St. John. The first thing we need is to be equipped with the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” that God reveals His love and mighty power in us.

I pray, with St. Paul, that the glorious Father may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:16-22).

So come, take your shoes off by the water of life and drink freely. Each real encounter with Revelation takes you for a new life changing experience, with the grace of God. Please, make a room for it with your busy agenda! Get ready for the take off. Fasten your seat belt.

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