We have spent a considerable amount of time, five months, to be exact, setting the stage for our study of Revelation. We will not study the entire book as if it was a commentary. Instead, we will look at a segment of it and follow a specific thread. We will see where it leads us, and how much of the book and the rest of the Bible we encounter in the process. That should serve as a template for understanding the rest of the Apocalypse, the formal name of the book. First, though, there is more work to be done before we dig into that mystifying book.
There is much misunderstanding about Revelation, much of it stemming from the approach taken as to the interpretation of all of its symbolism and the visions and its metaphoric prose. Many scholars attempt to interpret its symbolism and metaphor in a literal sense. That is a mistake that leads to less than fruitful results because it ignores context. Context is paramount when interpreting anything, especially Scripture, and especially the things of an eschatological nature.
Fitting a literal interpretation to eschatological passages has led to the incorrect practice of interpreting the easy-to-understand passages with respect to the harder, rather than the other way around. In other words, one should always use clear passages to unveil the less clear. Put still another way one should use the rest of Scripture to uncover Revelation. There is also a general consensus about the things of the end that has led to the practice of fitting disparate (dissimilar, or unlike) verses and ideas together in order to produce a particular narrative. We will see that shortly.
There are numerous writing genres in Scripture, which clearly infers that it is not wise to use a one-size-fits-all approach. There are historical writings, such as the Old Testament books of Genesis through Esther and the New Testament book of Acts. These books are central to understanding eschatology because they set the overall context – in other words, they are factual. We should always look for and gather every fact there is in order to put the pieces of the puzzle in place correctly.
The giving of the law, i.e., the Torah (the first five books, which God gave to Moses for the people) occurred during that historical time, and it is central to the overall story because it is that law that the people continually violated. Violation of the first two Commandments is what is called ‘playing the harlot’ in the O.T., and it is what the Israelites consistently did.
There are also books of ‘Wisdom’ such as some of the Psalms (which are songs), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job. Much of those are attributed to the Kings David and Solomon, who was David’s son. Finally, still in the Old Testament, there are sixteen books named for the prophets. Much of their work was warning the people regarding their worshipping other gods (playing the harlot) and turning them back to the Law and the one true God.
In the N.T, besides the aforementioned historical book of Acts (it is historical because it details the growth and spread of the church as well as the ensuing persecution), there are the four Gospels, which portray the life of Christ, the promised Messiah. Then, there are the letters or epistles. They were written by some of the original apostles (Peter, James, Jude, and John), plus Paul and Luke, all under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Taking all of that into consideration, within the totality of all of those writings, and aside from prophetic utterances, they contain many other nuanced writings, such as, especially for our study, the parables and those considered apocalyptic – which would include Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and, of course, Daniel and the Apocalypse itself – Revelation.
So, in opting for a strictly literal or even an allegorical translation, or in any way neglecting to take into consideration the different genres and nuances of Scripture – when interpreting Revelation or any of the apocalyptic passages – that has led to an overall loss of context. One must also keep in mind that Revelation is steeped in Old Testament verbiage. It would, therefore, behoove the student of eschatology to learn the context of the Old Covenant as well as the New, and interpret Revelation accordingly.
The issues mentioned above are categorized as those things internal to the Bible. When we come to things external, we come to the things of man – and oh how we have messed things up. There are a few very significant events that have occurred throughout history (the past 2000 years) that play a part in the misunderstanding of that mysterious book.
We alluded to one in earlier posts when we named the King James Version of the Bible as the perpetrator of one of those significant events. Summarizing it, the KJV mistranslated the Greek word αἰών as “world” instead of “age” in Matthew 13:39,40,49; and 24:3. Those mistranslations have led many to come away from their reading of that Gospel (and parallels), especially the Olivet Discourse, with the idea that Jesus was talking about the literal end of the world rather than the end of the then present age.
In matters of eschatology, that is as significant an error as can be made. The “age” was the Old Covenant period that revolved around the Temple sacrifices, and it concluded in 70AD with the Romans sacking and razing Judea and the city of Jerusalem and then destroying the Temple. The end of the age was the end of that period of Old Covenant practice, which the people had performed from way back when Moses led them through the wilderness after they came out of bondage in Egypt.
While they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, they performed those sacrifices in the “tabernacle,” a temple-like structure that they transported with them until they arrived at Jerusalem, where King Solomon constructed the ‘first’ Temple. Part of the Old Covenant teaching was also the covenant of circumcision of the flesh that was instituted by God for a sign that the Israelite people were followers of Jehovah God (Genesis 17).
Now, that Temple is considered the first Temple because King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed it in 586BC when God brought them in judgment against His people for turning their backs on Him by worshipping other gods, i.e., playing the harlot. So, since Messiah had not yet come, a Temple was still necessary for the people.
When they started coming out from exile in Babylon after seventy years, they began building another Temple, the ‘second’ Temple. Because that was still 500 years before the birth of Christ, as time wore on, the Temple fell into disrepair. Then under Roman rule, Herod the Great, who ruled over Judea and was a builder, refurbished the Temple, turning it into the structure of grandeur that existed in Jesus’ time. It also became known as Herod’s Temple.
Now, keeping in mind that the Temple sacrifice system was the Old Testament system of law, whereas the New Testament system was of grace, the problem was that the Temple stood for nearly forty years after Christ’s death and resurrection. That means that, even though Jesus ushered in the new, the old system of Temple sacrifice still existed because the Temple still stood.
That created a state of agitation between those who were proselytes of the old, i.e., circumcision of the flesh vs. those of the new – justification by faith, which is known as circumcision of the heart. Another point of conflict was the fact that the new Christian converts had initially been of the Jews.
So, the end of the age, i.e., the destruction of the Temple, was not only a significant change from the Old to the New; it was a necessary step. The entirety of the book of Acts gives a detailed account of the clash between the holdovers of the Old, the Judaizers, and the adherents of the New – the apostles and the disciples.
It wasn’t until the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 that the state of agitation ended because the object of that agitation finally was removed. One must recognize the weightiness of that event, for, without it, much of the true meaning of eschatology becomes lost. That was the end of the age.