Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 12, PAGE 34b-37

Use And Misuse Of The Book Of Revelation

James P. Needham

Introduction Bible students are convinced that the Book of Revelation is in our Bible for a purpose. Various purposes are assigned to it, but all are convinced that it is more than mere space filler. Because of the nature of its content it probably furnishes more fodder for the speculation mills than any other portion of Holy Writ. I shall be our purpose in this study to briefly refute some of the more radical interpretations of Revelation and set forth a meaningful hermeneutical philosophy. We are thoroughly convinced that it has a vital message which is often tragically lost beneath the avalanche of wild speculations, and fanciful interpretations.

The title of the book in the Greek Testament is APOKALUPSIS. This word is defined as "an uncovering, prop. a laying bare, making naked" (Thayer). It is from APOKALUPTO, "to' uncover, unveil" (Vine). This indicates that God is seeking to uncover something for us in this book. That being true, it behooves us to work diligently to discover just what it is. Obviously, if we miss it, the book becomes worthless to us. One never profits from a misinterpretation of scripture. We are commanded to "speak as the oracles of God" (I Pet. 4:11), and we are to "handle aright the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15). Wresting the scriptures brings only destruction (II Pet. 3:16).

I. Misuses Of The Book Of Revelation:

1. As an almanac: Many people, including some brethren, use the Book of Revelation as a sort of almanac to interpret the signs of the times. This has led to many absurdities. Practically every war in history has been the battle of Armageddon (16:16). It should be obvious to all that this cannot be true. This is the folly of the continuous historical interpretation of the book. A study of such interpretations presents an absurd abstract mosaic! A brother said to me several years ago that he believed the Book of Revelation covers the history of the world from the beginning to the end, and that the world will end when we get through the 22nd chapter, and he thought we were in chapter 21 at that time! There is not one benefit to be derived from such folly. Time is its best refutation. It is impossible for me to believe that God has placed within the Bible a book designed to tell us something angels and His own Son do not know (Mt. 24:36).

Garner Ted Armstrong claims to have prophesied, on the basis of Revelation and other Bible teaching, the exact time and events of the recent Mid-East war. He claims that his prophesies are a matter of record, and this may be true, but I emphatically deny that such were accurately based upon anything the Bible says. A little research would reveal that others have claimed the same Biblical basis for predicting previous Mid-East events. Obviously, the same prophesies cannot have reference to all such events. That would be like saying that a person was born in New York, Los Angeles and Baghdad! The only connection between such prophesies and the Bible is that it says "false prophets shall arise" (Mt. 24:24).

2. As an eschatological road map: The Book of Revelation suffers its greatest abuse at the hands of the Premillennial speculators. To them its main purpose is to serve as a sort of a road map in reference to the events surrounding the second coming of Christ, the end of the world, and the final judgment. Out of a tortured patchwork of distortions they build a fanciful theory of millennial madness.

As an example, the premillennial theory says that the church will be caught up into heaven (I Thess. 4:17), where it will stay, according to some of them, for seven years. This is called "the rapture period." They then conveniently run to Rev. 21:2, and find the "New Jerusalem" coming down out of heaven, so they say this is Christ coming with the saints to reign on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20). But such a hodgepodge runs into many difficulties. First, it is assumed that the thousand years' reign of Rev. 20 will take place on earth. There is absolutely no Biblical evidence of this. Secondly, it is assumed that the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven is the church. There is no biblical basis for this assumption. There are also other difficulties too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say, one without an over active "assumptive gland" is repulsed by such fanciful theorizing. Such turns the Bible into material out of which every person is to fashion his own theological jig-saw puzzle, each one more absurd than the other.

3. As a book of heavenly vital statistics: Our Jehovah's Witness friends use the Book of Revelation as a book of vital statistics on the population of heaven. They theorize from Rev. 7:4, that only 144,000 souls will go to heaven. The rest of the redeemed (the meek) shall inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5). Hence, this earth supposedly will stand forever, and will be the dwelling place of all the saved with the exception of the 144,000. But such speculation runs into many difficulties. First, John saw a "great multitude" clothed in white robes before God's throne IN ADDITION to the 144,000. Secondly, the 144,000 were virgin Jewish men. (14:4), hence, this would mean that only 144,000 unmarried Jewish men will go to heaven (no women). Thirdly, the 144,000 were called "the first-fruits unto God" (14:4), indicating more would follow. Fourthly, such a speculation conflicts with the clear Bible teaching that God is no respecter of persons, for there "is no difference between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him" (Rom. 10:12 Cf. Acts 10:35). Note also that Rev. 22:14 says, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." Everything in the New Testament indicates that all the saved of all the nations (Jews and Gentiles) are all going to the same place (heaven) on the same terms (obedience to the gospel).

II. Proper Uses Of The Book Of Revelation

In order to understand the proper use of the Book of Revelation, several facts need to be known:

1. Style of composition: Sign or code language: "He sent and signified (sign-i-fied) it by his angel unto his servant John" (1:1). "SEMANINO, to give a sign, indicate (sema, a sign...) to signify, is so translated in Rev. 1:1, where perhaps the suggestions is that of expressing by signs" (Vine, Vol. 4, p. 30). The visions John saw were coded messages sent to God's people telling them of future events and ultimate outcomes. These visions would mean much to Christians, but nothing to anyone else. In this way the heathens would be in the dark as to the significance of the historical events in which they took part, and thus would be prevented a pre-mature persecution. In such visions historical events were played out by certain fictitious actors on a dramatic stage. Revelation reads like a dramatic play with each scene subject to interpretation in the light of the then current trends and events. Such is frequently true of present-day dramatic productions.

There is a great deal of this type of composition in the Old Testament in the writings of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. When we consider the circumstances surrounding, not only these Old Testament books, but also Revelation, we are forced to the conclusion that God used this method of communicating His will to His people previous to and during periods of great difficulty.

2. Nature of material: Largely prophetic: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1,3; 22:19). While everything in the book is not prophetic, a great deal of it is. It set forth in prophetic fashion, the trials and triumphs of God's people in the first centuries, and typically, throughout all time.

3. Those addressed: God's people: "To show unto His servants..." (1:1). This plus the fact that 1:4 says, "John to the seven churches which are in Asia..." proves that the book is addressed to God's people. It was not intended for, nor would it have made any sense to, the unbelievers. Keeping this in mind will greatly assist in the understanding of the book's message.

Having these facts in mind, let us now look at the proper uses of the Book of Revelation:

1. To show fightings within the church: The problems within the seven churches of Asia are typically the problems of the churches of all time. These are: Materialism which leads to lukewarmness (Laodicea) "I am rich, and increased with goods and have need of nothing..." (3:17). Ritualism, cold formalism, doing right things without proper motivation (Ephesus) "Thou hast left thy first love" (2:4). Compromise, tolerating false doctrine (Pergamos, Thyatira, etc) "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam... Nicolaitans..." (2:14,15). Failure to watch (Sardis) "be watchful" (3:2). (This list is only suggestive, and is not intended to be exhaustive. The reader may want to pursue this thought further). As long as the church is composed of humans, there will be problems. "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you (I Cor. 11:19).

2. To show that earthly conflicts often have a spiritual purpose, and direction: In chapters 5-11, we see what seems to be an earthly conflict. The loosing of the seven seals (Chapter 6,8:1,2), and the sounding of the seven trumpets (Chapters 8-11) reveal what seemingly is an earthly, physical struggle. But a close study of 12:1-19:10, shows that this conflict has a deeper significance than we first thought. The righteous are really instruments in God's hands, and the forces of evil are the cohorts of Satan. Thus, we learn the real significance of the earthly conflict; it is a fight to the finish, a struggle for the survival of the fittest in a war between the spiritual powers: good and evil, God and Satan. Hence, Revelation demonstrates the age-old truth that "The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (Dan. 4:25). Christ turns out to be not only "king of saints" (15:3), but also "Lord of lords and King of kings" (17:14:19:16). As is stated in 17:17, "God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled."

From all this Christians should learn a valuable lesson, namely, that they must not get so involved and caught up in the "ins" and "outs" of worldly political struggles that they forget that such events are governed by Him who sits on the throne (Chapter 4) and executed by "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (5:5) who alone was found worthy to open the book (see chapter 6). Regardless of how ruthless the conflict or bloody the battle field, God is on His throne and He "ruleth in the kingdom of men" and He will do as he pleases. We must remember that "our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20), and that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (II Cor. 10:4,5), "for we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).

3. To show that regardless of when or where the conflict between truth and error rages, truth will triumph. In this apocalyptic drama, there are times when the cause of truth seemed lost, and there was no hope for victory. There were martyrs under the altar who cried out for vindication of God's Cause (6:9,10). The bodies of the martyred prophets lay in the streets for three and a half days, with nobody caring (11:7-9). The beast rising out of the sea received power from the dragon and made "war with the saints and OVERCAME them" (13:1-7). The angel poured out the third vial and said, "Thou art righteous, 0 Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of SAINTS and PROPHETS, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy" (16:5,6). "The mother of harlots" was "drunken with the blood of saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (17:5,6). In "Babylon" was found the blood of PROPHETS and SAINTS, and of all that were slain upon the earth" (18:24).

Thus is presented a very discouraging picture, but look at the other side. Truth ultimately triumphs, for the martyred saints and prophets are reigning on thrones in one of the closing scenes of the great drama (20:4). There is a war scene in chapter 12, between the dragon (satan) and Michael and his angels, and behold, the dragon was defeated and cast down and a "loud voice" said, "Now is come SALVATION, and STRENGTH, and THE KINGDOM OF OUR GOD, and THE POWER OF HIS CHRIST: for the accuser of OUR BRETHREN is CAST DOWN, which accused them before our God day and night. And they OVERCAME him by the BLOOD OF THE LAMB, and by THE WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (12:1-11). In 14:13, John hears a voice from heaven saying, "Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." In 18:1,2, John hears an angel cry, "Babylon the great is FALLEN, is FALLEN, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean bird..." In 19:20, the beast and false prophet are "cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone." In 20:10, it is said, "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever."

Thus we see the contrast. Babylon (worldliness) wallowed in luxury, and trafficked in the blood of saints and prophets, but she ultimately falls. The false prophet (human religion) seems to gain the upper hand in conflict with the true, but "truth crushed to earth shall rise again, the eternal years of God are hers. But error wounded, writhes in pain, and dies among her worshippers." The mighty hand of political oppression laid heavily upon the heads of God's people, but it could not prevail. The dragon (satan) the proprietor of all opposition to truth by whatever means seems to have everything under control, but alas, he is bound, cast into the bottomless pit, and the saints and prophets he has persecuted and killed are "reigning with Christ a thousand years" (20:1-4), and everything seems secure for the cause of truth and right, but beware of complacency! the thousand years is ended and "satan shall be loosed out of his prison" "a little season" (30:3), but be not dismayed, ultimately he is cast into the lake of fire (20:10) and destroyed forever. Truth and right have triumphed at last! All foes are conquered, and the saints are at rest in God's peaceful paradise (19:10-22).


There is no more beautiful or meaningful book in the Bible than Revelation. It is unfortunate that men have so abused it that many either are afraid to read it, and others spend all their time trying to give meaning to the countless pieces of poetic drapery that form the back-drop on the action stage upon which it is played out. It is just such nonsense that deprives many of the great lessons God put in the book for us. We must not gaze at the beautiful and/or unusual drapery on the stage to the point that we do not see the act, much less interpret its significance. One must strive for a comprehensive over-view of each act and scene, rather than exhausting all his interpretive energy on the many incidentals.

We must constantly ask ourselves, "What did this mean to the people to whom it was originally written." It was a coded message to them, but what was the message, not what is the significance of all the details of the code? It is certain that Revelation meant a great deal more to those who originally received it, but let us remember that in the first chapter we are told, "Blessed is the that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein..." (1:3), and also in the very last chapter, "Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book" (22:7). We must not conclude that the Book of Revelation has no message for us.

And now that all acts have been played, and all scenes are finished, and the final curtain is pulled, the Son of God comes, as it were, to the center of the stage and says, "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come, and let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (22:17). Then in one final warning he says, "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen." (22:20). Then, John having viewed the entire drama, yea, having been often in the midst of the fast-moving action, and having fathomed the deep significance of the over-all play, exclaims with great emotion, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus"! (22:20). This is truly the reaction of every person who understands this great book. It does not excite fear, but cool confidence; confidence because we are assured that God is on His throne, Christ is executing His divine plan, and regardless of what happens, truth will triumph "because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4).