Summary

This article introduces key topics that are critical to understanding the book of Revelation.

Update September 8, 2013: Since writing this article I've adopted a strictly literalmethodology of Bible interpretation. Symbols are real and have a tangible existence in the spiritual realm.

Links to topics:

Date of Writing | Principles of Interpretation | Key Interpretation Points | System of Interpretation | Is There a Temple? | 3–1/2 Years | The Roman Emperors | The "Unholy Trinity"

Links to other articles:

Glossary of Symbols | Verse by Verse Commentary

Another commentary

   End Time Prophecy Leads to Rome | The Kingdom of Israel


Date of Writing

According to Eusebius, Jerome, and Victorinus of Petau, the apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos during the reign of Emperor Domitian who ruled the Roman Empire from 81–96 A.D. and he wrote the book of Revelation at that time. Irenaeus knew of John because he was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John.

This date of the writing of the book of Revelation places the book several decades after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. This is significant for two reasons:

  1. Full Preterists claim the book was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and that the book is primarily a prophecy of that event. In fact this early date is a key cornerstone of their view and their view collapses if the book was written after 70 A.D. Full Preterists also claim that the second coming, or Parousia, occurred at that time and that there is no future second coming of Christ.
  2. Modern-day premillennialists claim that the book concerns a yet-future great tribulation and a 1,000 yearmillennium, but in the historical setting at the time a futuristic interpretation would have been meaningless. The early Christians were feeling intense pressure in their faith, because in the time of Domitian, there was intense persecution of Christians in the Roman Province of Asia. In addition, the Jewish War against the Romans had resulted in the destruction of the Jewish nation. It was a very distressing time to be a Christian.

Intense persecution of Christians (atheists) by the Romans as a result of the cult of Emperor Worship began with Nero (64 A.D. until his death in 68 A.D.); intensified with the final "black years" of Domitian's reign (93-96 A.D.) when he demanded to be worshiped as Lord and God; and greatly intensified until the time of Constantine.

One line of evidence that the book of Revelation was written after the temple was destroyed is the use of the image of Rome as the destroyer of Jerusalem. This image appeared in Jewish literature after 70 A.D.

The destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans provides the backdrop for the book of Revelation and is significant for these reasons:

Based on a date of the book of Revelation during the time of Domitian, and a rejection of the futuristic model, we have the following key interpretation points:

When was Revelation written?

2 possibilities:

Verses which shed light on the issue:

Passage

If written in 68 A.D. this passage refers to:

If written in 96 A.D. this passage refers to:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.
Blessed are those who hear [the words of this prophecy] . . . because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.
Only hold on to what you have until I come. (Revelation 2:25) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Second Coming.
I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Revelation 3:10) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Christians fled to safety. Increased persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire.
The Lord . . . sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 22:6) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.
Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book. (Revelation 22:7) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Second Coming.
Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. (Revelation 22:10) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Persecution of Christians, Fall of Roman Empire.
Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:12) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Second Coming.
He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Second Coming.
Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. (Revelation 7:3) 70 A.D. destruction of temple. Christians are martyred; finally the Roman Empire falls.

Principles of Interpretation

The first readers were undergoing persecution and martyrdom and the book of Revelation was written to give them hope and encouragement. When people are giving their lives for something they want to know that:

(1) It is for a sufficiently good cause, and

(2) Those persecuting them will be judged for their evil deeds.

Revelation emphasizes these themes:

Keys to interpreting the book of Revelation:


Key Interpretation Points

There are passages in the book of Revelation with a clear meaning, which we can use as a framework for interpretation. These are:

  1. Seven hills of Rome

    The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. (Revelation 17:9)

    This is an unmistakable reference to Rome. Therefore, chapter 17 is all about the Roman empire and its emperors.

    (Some say that this refers to the seven hills of Jerusalem, such as Mt. Zion, Mt. Moriah, and five others. I have not seriously considered this view).

  2. New Heavens and New Earth

    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Revelation 21:1)

    Chapters 21 and 22 are concerned with the eternal state. Therefore all the images of end-time prophecy mentioned in these chapters refer to the eternal state. These include: (1) no sea, (2) the Holy City, New Jerusalem, (3) no more crying, (4) the bride of Christ, (5) references to the 12 tribes of Israel, (6) no temple, (7) river of the water of life, and (8) tree of life and its monthly crops for healing.

    Some Preterists claim that the New Heavens and New Earth refer to the church age which began around 30 A.D. I reject this view based on the following verse in which it is still future:

    But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13)

  3. Not Chronological from start to end

    The book of Revelation is not a chronological narrative — rather, it deals with a variety of topics that would be of concern to a church that is beginning to be persecuted and that will endure intense persecution into the next several centuries.

  4. Trumpet and Bowl Judgments

    The trumpet and bowl judgments are parallel accounts, as can be clearly seen by comparing them. Therefore they concern the same events.

    Usage of the phrase "a third" in the trumpet judgments — There are three relevant passages:

    "In the whole land," declares the LORD, "two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'" (Zechariah 13:8-9)

    Note that two-thirds are destroyed, but one-third are tested by fire and refined. Afterwards, they acknowledge God.

    A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword. (Ezekiel 5:12).

    There are different judgments for different people as represented by the word "one-third."

    His [the red dragon's] tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. (Revelation 12:4)

    The "one-third" refers to the fallen angels who followed Lucifer in his rebellion.

    The common themes in these three passages are:

    • One-third is used in the context of judgment.
    • One-third refers to a partial judgment of some sort.
  5. Babylonthe Great

    From Revelation 17:9 we know that "Babylonthe Great" refers to the Roman Empire. Therefore, the Romans who persecuted the Christians because of the cult of emperor worship would be judged and destroyed. This is a prophecy of the ultimate demise of the Roman Empire centuries later.


System of Interpretation

Every Bible commentary uses a particular hermeneutic,or system of interpretation. Here's mine.

My system of interpretation is not allegorical;which takes passages as symbolic, and in which the symbols for particular images are chosen based on some overarching principle. A common example of the allegorical method is to first assume that all Old Testament prophecy speaks of Christ. Then all passages are considered to be symbols that in some way relate to Christ.

Problems with the allegoricalmethod...

The steps I use to interpret a passage...

  1. Consider how the writers and the first readers would have understood the passage from their perspective.
  2. Every passage is grounded on a literal meaning (even when there is figurative or symbolic language). Determine the literal meaning first.
  3. Consider the basic message or messages of the book. For example, the key messages of the book of Revelation are:
    • Encourage believers who are being persecuted and martyred. Several messages of hope, encouragement, and comfort...
      • That the gospel really is true and that they will ultimately be blessed.
      • That the wicked who are persecuting them will ultimately be judged.
      • To explain why God lets these bad things happen to His faithful children.
    • Demonstrate God's holiness and righteousness.
    • Demonstrate how believers will worship God in heaven as a model for how we should worship Him now.
    • Demonstrate that the battle is spiritual.
  4. Piece the passages into this framework.
  5. Use scripture to interpret scripture.
  6. Use other information that would have been common at the time it was written. Examples...
    • Jewish millennial concepts
    • Nero Redivivus myth
    • Knowledge about Roman emperors
    • A special emphasis on the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. which was an event of major importance to the Church
    • Geography
  7. Use symbols consistently.
  8. Refer to interpretations of the Church Fathersand the historical church.

Is There a Temple?

The book of Revelation was written:

(More info).

Note: Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the Olivet Discourse, and Daniel prophesied about Domitian in Daniel Chapter 7.

The references to the temple in the book of Revelation refer to:

(1) God's presence in heaven — emphasizing God's power, and the believer's restored relationship with God, or

(2) The physical temple in Jerusalem which was destroyed in 70 A.D. as a confirmation that "the Church = Israel."

(1) References to the temple in heaven signify the presence of God in heaven, and that: (1) God is all-powerful, and (2) each redeemed believer has as restored relationship with God. Some verses:

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth." (Revelation 16:1)

Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. (Revelation 3:12)

Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. (Revelation 11:19)

Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. (Revelation 7:15)

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (Revelation 21:22)

(2) References to the temple in Jerusalem (before 70 A.D.) signify the physical temple which was destroyed in 70 A.D. as a confirmation that "the Church = Israel."

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months." (Revelation 11:1-2)

42 months — The entire church age. Jerusalem and the temple are no longer the focal point of the worship of God. The temple of God is the church, and the unbelievers (Gentiles) will persecute them for the entire church age.


3–1/2 Years

The time period of 3–1/2 years appears several times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This time period appears in several forms:

This image refers to the church in the entire church age which:

Here are the six occurrences in chronological sequence with an analysis of each:

  1. The 3–1/2 year famine of Elijah

    Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (James 5:17)

    I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. (Luke 4:25)

    Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." (1 Kings 17:1)

    The purpose of the famine was to judge Israel for rejecting God. Elijah, himself, was affected by the famine and God had to supernaturally take care of him:

    You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there. (1 Kings 17:4)

    For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:16)

    During this time there was persecution of God's servants and they were in hiding.

    While Jezebel was killing off the Lord's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) (1 Kings 18:4)

    Near the end of the famine God put on a mighty display to demonstrate that he is God. The godless leaders were destroyed.

    At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD — he is God! The LORD — he is God!" (1 Kings 18:36-39)

  2. The three year Jewish persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes

    This was prophesied in Chapter 8 of the book of Daniel. During Antiochus Epiphanes' last few years he tried to destroy the Jews. But exactly 3 years (1,095 days) later in 165 B.C. Judas Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the temple to the Lord. But this time period was three years, (1,095 days) not three and one half years.

  3. Christ's ministry

    Christ's ministry before his death was three years or so.

  4. Nero's persecution

    The cult of Emperor Worship began with Nero (64 A.D. until his death in 68 A.D.) when he persecuted Christians in Rome for about 4 years.

  5. The Jewish War leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple

    The Jewish War lasted about 3–1/2 to 4 years from the time Nero declared war until Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in August of 70 A.D.

    Nero declared war on the Jews between Nov 66 A.D. and the spring of 67 A.D. Assuming Nero declared war on Feb 67 A.D. (I selected this date out of thin air; I have no historical evidence at hand), it was 1,260 days later to the destruction of the temple in August 70 A.D.

  6. The persecution under Domitian

    The persecution under Domitian lasted about 3–1/2 years in the final "black years" of Domitian's reign (93-96 A.D.) when he demanded to be worshiped as Lord and God.

The image of 3–1/2 years in all its various forms is based on Elijah's famine, which has the following elements:

The image of 3–1/2 years applies to the persecution of the Church in the first few centuries, specifically from the time of Domitian until the time of Constantine.

The passages in the Bible using the image of 3–1/2 years: