Technically known as, “The Revelation to Saint John” the Book of Revelation is one of the hardest books of the Bible to understand. The key to understanding the book is to try and not define it to literally. It is not solely a book of prophecy and can be interpreted in at least 5 ways.
1. The Critical View – sees the book in the Cultural and Historical context in which it was written. Thus, the imagery should be interpreted as a metaphor for the struggle of the infant Church against imperial Rome.
2. The Preterist View – sees the book as primarily discussing events that have or will occur within the lifetime of the original readers. Thus, while the book speaks prophesy it is limited to what will happen in the near future.
3. The Historicist View – sees the book as describing a repeating cycle of history that the Church will repeatedly live through in each generation. Thus the prophesy the book speaks of is always about to be fulfilled in each generation.
4. The Idealist View – sees the book as describing not historical events but inner spiritual realities. Thus again the book is speaking of things that will occur in each generation and are always close to fulfillment but they are spiritual things not things of this world.
5. The Futurist View – it how most people approach the book, it holds that the book is prophecy of the end times.
Of course, what one should do is take and Integrated View of the book. Seek first to read it as describing events from the time it was written and the time period just after. Discern from those things the spiritual realities. This is the way one would normally read scripture. Only last should one look to what the book might be revealing about the end times.
The book was written by the Apostle John, the same author of the Gospel of John and the three letters of John. Interestingly, we are not exactly sure when John wrote the book. Arguments can be made for the the late 60′s A.D. and for the mid 90′s A.D. Thus, it is possible that John wrote the Book of Revelation BEFORE he wrote his Gospel. If that is the case, it would add a new aspect of understanding to the reasons John records certain stories in his Gospel.
From a historical point of view we are given important information from the start of the first chapter:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 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.
So John specifically tells the reader that some of the things being revealed will come to fruition soon. Thus, one should not read the Book of Revelation solely as a book of end time’s prophecy. John expressly states that the book is talking about events that will happen in the near future so we should look to see how the imagery of the book was fulfilled in the first and second century.
We are also given this important piece of information
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying…
Remember, it is John who in his Gospel makes the point that the Resurrection and particularly the meeting on the road to Emmaus take place on Sunday (the Lord’s Day). Here John confirms that he is praying on Sunday and the Lord again chooses to reveal himself on a Sunday. From the beginning of the New Covenant, Jesus has sanctified and set apart Sunday as the day or worship and revelation.
Next, John sees Jesus, who appears to him in glory. Many fantastic details are related including that Jesus is holding seven stars in his hand. Jesus specifically speaks of these stars and says:
As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
There are two possible interpretations of the seven stars as the angels of the seven churches. First, they could be literal angels, implying that God gives to each Church an angel as its protector and messenger. Second, it could be a metaphor for the pastor of the Church, who fulfills the role as protector and messenger of God to the people. If the “angel” is a person it suggests that they are set apart, or ordained, to their task. One does not simply choose to make oneself an angel of God. One must be called out and elevated to that role by God.
Either way the implication is important. A Church is not just a building or a congregation. It is more than that. It is something Jesus himself takes enough interest in, or more correctly has enough love for, that he sends to it an angel. Thus a Church is embraced by God. It is drawn close to him who is the Truth. It is part of his family. The angel is its protector and messenger to reveal Truth to the Church. Thus again we see the implication we have seen many times as we have read the Scripture. It would be very presumptuous to think that one could start a Church and expect God to provide an angel to it. Conversely, to leave the Church is leave the protection of the Lord. To leave the Church is inherently and necessarily to distance yourself from Jesus. To leave the Church is to step out of the protection provided by God.