The Purpose of the Vision
The Book of Revelation begins, by announcing that Jesus has been given an ἀποκάλυψις (apokalpsis) – which has been variously interpreted to mean; ‘a laying bare’ – ‘making naked’ – ‘an uncovering’ – ‘a revelation’ – hence the preferred title, ‘the Revelation’:
This revelation has been given by the Father, to the Son – who commissions an angel to reveal it to the Apostle John – who in turn, is commissioned to share what he is shown, with his fellow believers in Christ.
About Jesus or From Jesus
Is it a revelation about Jesus, or is it a revelation from Jesus? The underlying Greek grammar within the expression: “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” allows for the fact, that it can be either or. The name itself ‘apokalpsis’ indicates that this is most likely meant to be understood as a revelation from Jesus. ‘Unveiling’ – ‘making naked’ etc. are words that do not favour the interpretation ‘about Jesus.’ However, they fit perfectly into the interpretation ‘from Jesus’ when we consider the purpose of the revelation.
The Purpose of the Revelation
The purpose of the revelation is clearly stated as being, to reveal, ‘things which must shortly come to pass.’ This purpose, is repeated again: “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter” (Rev. 4:1). Therefore, the purpose of the Revelation is to unfold the future, to God’s people. When we know the purpose, this would tend to indicate that this is a revelation from Jesus, and not of Jesus. This understanding is solidified when we understand why God the Father wants us to understand the future.
The Purpose of Prophecy
Prophecy accomplishes at least two things. Firstly, it establishes the fact that there is only one true God:
Only God can reveal the future – He can even tell us the history of the world starting from the end, instead of the beginning. God then uses His omniscient power, to challenge all false gods, who also supposedly have divine powers, including the ability to foretell (see Isa. 41:21-24; 42:8, 9; 45:21; 48:5). Thus, exposing the falsity of these heathen ‘gods.’
Secondly, for God’s people, the primary purpose of prophecy, is not to make us ‘wise’ before the event – but to make us ‘wise’ after the event. Jesus said, the reason why the future is laid out in the Scripture, before it happens is: “…that, when it come to pass, ye might believe” (Jn. 14:29). Prophecy therefore finds its ultimate purpose not in showing us the future, but in recognizing its fulfillment. Prophetic fulfillment should be the main concern of Bible students, and not attempting to interpret and expound unfilled prophecy. There are real dangers in trying to predict the future outcome of unfilled prophecy. Sir Isaac Newton wrote:
James White recognized the same dangers, and recommends that Bible students do not stray too far from fulfilled prophecy:
Jesus never condemned His people for not knowing the future – but he did condemn them for not recognizing the fulfillment of the future already foretold. When the unbelieving Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus for a sign:
Jesus was condemning His people for not recognizing the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies – especially of those prophecies concerning Himself. By contrast, when Jesus had finished telling His disciples, about the ‘signs of the times’ that would form a chronological time line, from the destruction of Jerusalem, till the end of the world, He concluded the signs with this question:
In other words, Jesus is looking for “faithful and wise servants” who are able to recognize the fulfillment of the signs and inform His people. When ‘the faithful servants’ perform this duty, the purpose of prophecy is fulfilled – “that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” There are future events, that we can speak about in absolute confidence, such as, the Second Coming of Jesus. But, trying to predict future events, in finer details, is a swamp, in which many people have drowned. Only after prophecy has been fulfilled can we be sure that we are “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Literal or Spiritual?
We are told, in the first verse, that the apokalpsis has been sent by a process called ‘signified.’ This word ‘signified’ means ‘sent by signs.’ Which means, sent by symbols or pictures. Which further means, that the Book of Revelation, largely needs to be interpreted symbolically or spiritually. [Distinguishing between literal and spiritual, is the gift of discernment. For more information, see ‘The Science of Salvation’ and ‘Biblical Principles of Interpretation’ in the Hermeneutics section].
Blessed are they who Read and Hear
It is often stated that the Book of Revelation is impossible to understand, but this assertion is contradicted by the prophecy itself, because it contains a special promise:
Jesus almost always finished His parables and sermons, with the words: “Let him who has ears to hear, let Him hear” (Jesus uses the same words in the Revelation). This expression means: ‘Let him who is led by the Holy Spirit – with the gift of discernment – let him understand.’ Thus, it is only those without the Holy Spirit, who claim it is impossible to understand the Book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is about the war – the great controversy between Christ and Satan. In a war the lines of communication are vital. It is vital, that messages from headquarters, get through to the soldiers on the front line. It is equally vital, that the enemy is not able to intercept and understand the messages. Therefore, the unveiling of the future is sent to us encrypted. It is God’s method of keeping vital information out of the hands of the enemy. The encryption can only be decoded by those having ‘ears to hear.’ Having ‘ears to hear’ is the same as having the gift of discernment:
Thus, God’s people are equipped with everything they need to decode the ‘apokalpsis.’ They understand the Revelation by using the ‘decoding tools’ that are provided in Scripture by the Holy Spirit. These ‘decoding tools’ can collectively be termed, ‘Principles of Biblical Interpretation’ (see Hermeneutics section).
‘Keeping’ the Revelation
One of these ‘decoding tools’ is the ‘Conditional Nature of Prophecy Principle’ (see Hermeneutics section) – all the promises and threatenings of God are conditional. And this principle is just as applicable here as elsewhere in the Bible. There isa caveat to the promised blessing: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein…” In order to obtain the blessing, we have to ‘keep’ what we learn from the prophecy. In other words, as the veil is drawn back, and we learn more and more, of God’s will, for His people, in the last days, we have to put into practice what we learn.
Thus, we have established the following:
- John has been given a vision that will reveal future events.
- The purpose of prophecy is to increase our faith.
- The vision must be primarily understood spiritually.
- ‘Hearing’ the prophecy requires spiritual discernment.
- There is a blessing attached to the reading of the vision.
- The blessing is conditional on ‘keeping’ the vision.