Revelation prophecy. Is it about the past, or about things yet to come? There are various views regarding this wonderful Bible book. Some see it as depicting historical events that have already occurred, or are occurring now. Others see it as merely a symbolic description of the battle between good and evil, with no precise historical connection. But I'm convinced we should take the "futurist" view that sees everything from chapter 4 on as portraying actual events that have yet to occur, and real personages who are yet to appear.
Revelation is certainly an important book. It provides a fitting conclusion to the Word of God, as it gives us a glimpse of the consummation of all things. Yes, there are a few difficult interpretive issues in the book. But I’ve found, in teaching it, that most of them yield to patient study, and the book is not as hard to understand as many seem to think.
I suspect that one reason some have denied the prophetic nature of Revelation is that they do not believe in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures overall. They see it as an ancient book, created out of the imaginations of people who lived long ago. They may accept that it contains much wisdom but, they say, "Human beings can’t accurately predict the future. Therefore, the book of Revelation cannot be prophetic."
But since “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Tim. 3:16), and since “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21), that is another matter. While God employed many different people in writing the books of the Bible, they were superintended in their work by the Holy Spirit, so that it was preserved free from error. Not only is accurate prophecy possible, the Lord told Israel to reject any supposed foreteller of future things whose predictions were not accurate (Deut. 18:22).
God experiences time differently from what we do. He “inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15), and dwells in the eternal now. Therefore, God, in His omniscience, is able to see the end from the beginning. He says, “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Isa. 46:9-10).
God Himself defines a biblical prophet in His promise to Jeremiah. He declares: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9). That is the essence of what happened to Bible prophets. And the book in question is "the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him to show His servant [the Apostle John] (Rev. 1:1).
I’ve taken a bit of time with that to establish that God can, and does, tell His people what is coming in the future. Many of the Bible's prophecies have already been fulfilled literally and precisely. In fact, about half of the ones recorded there have. But many others yet remain to be fulfilled. For instance, the Scriptures predicted that Christ would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2), and He was. And the Bible also tells us that Christ is coming to earth a second time (Jn. 14:2-3; Acts 1:9-11; I Thess. 4:16-17, etc.), and He will.
Now, as to the book of Revelation, the first thing to note is that it is called a “prophecy” (1:3; 22:7). And the word “revelation” itself, in the opening verse (apokalupsis in Greek), means: an unveiling, i.e. an uncovering or disclosure of what was previously hidden. But clearly not all of the book is prophetic. Some of it relates to the Apostle John’s own time. And to help us mark the difference, the time frame is carefully described at the end of chapter one (1:19).
#1. John was to write of, “the things which you have [already] seen.” That refers to his vision of the risen and glorified Christ in 1:9-18. Other than a few brief moments on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-2), John had only seen and known Christ in His humble state. But now, His full heavenly glory was revealed to the apostle. And it was such a stunning sight that John says, “I fell at His feet as dead” (vs. 17).
#2. John was to write of “the things which are”–that is, the present state of things in his own day (around AD 95 or 96). That relates to chapters 2 and 3, where the Lord gives the apostle seven mini-letters to be sent to seven different churches. They describe the strengths and weaknesses of each congregation, calling for corrective measures where those are needed.
#3. John was to write of “the things which are to take place after this [meta tauta in Greek].” That aptly describes the prophetic portion of the book, chapters 4 through 22. And lest we are in doubt as to when the prophetic section starts, the same phrase begins Chapter 4–“after these things [meta tauta].”
That means that most of the book of Revelation is prophetic. And it is prophecy that can be understood. Twice in the book a special blessing is pronounced on those who will read it and obey it (1:3; 22:7)--which would be pointless if the book is truly an obscure puzzle. John is told not to “seal” the book, keeping it from the people of God (22:10). (Compare 10:4, concerning certain details John was to “seal” and not reveal.)
That Revelation is a book about events surrounding the second coming of Christ is not left in doubt. His return is mentioned over and over (1:7; 2:25; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). This is an area of truth we were meant to understand and find comfort in (I Thess. 4:18; cf. Jn. 14:1-3).
There are many visionary images and symbols used in Revelation, but they each stand for something concrete and definite. Sometimes this is explained in the context. For example, the seven golden lampstands surrounding Christ in John’s vision (1:12-13) represented the seven churches to which John was to write (vs. 20). Other times, the symbols can be interpreted with reference to other passages of Scripture.
If one takes what is known in theology as a premillennial position (as I do), the time line of the latter section of the book is relatively easy to follow. Though there are some parenthetical sections along the way, dealing with side issues, the book, from chapter 4 on, follows the prophetic calendar of coming events precisely.
I can’t, at this point, give a detailed explanation of Revelation prophecy, but below are some highlights. Further information will have to wait for another time. (Or see my 12 discussion Bible studies in
For Christians the next event on God’s calendar is the rapture--the sudden snatching away--of the church (I Thess. 4:13-18). Many commentators see John’s catching up into heaven (Rev. 4:1-2) as a foreshadowing of this.
In chapters 4 and 5 we see the saints worshiping around the throne of God, as we will, following the rapture. And from this point on, in the book of Revelation, John views events that unfold on earth from a heavenly perspective (as the church will see them). For the church, the heavenly bride of Christ, one event that follows the rapture is a time of rewards at “the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10; I Cor. 3:11-15; Rev. 19:7-10).
Meanwhile, on earth, a seven year period called the Tribulation is unfolding. It is a time of earthly judgment on the unbelieving, and also a time when Israel, as a nation, will repent and turn to Christ. This period is described by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24:4-31 (cf. I Thess. 5:1-11; II Thess. 2:1-12).
Much more detail is given regarding the Tribulation in Revelation chapters 6 through 18. The terrible earthly judgments unfold with the breaking of seven seals on a scroll in heaven (Rev. 5:1-2). The scroll seems to be a kind of title deed to the earth. And only Christ is worthy of receiving the scroll, thus claiming rulership of the earth (5:5-7).
With the breaking of each of the seven seals (6:1–8:5), divine judgments are poured out on the earth. And when the seventh seal is broken, seven trumpets sound in heaven (8:7–11:19), signaling even more intense earthly judgments. Finally, with the sounding of the seventh trumpet, seven bowls are poured out (15:1–16:21), representing the worst and culminating judgments. Swiftly, “Babylon,” the centre of false religion and earthly commerce will be destroyed (Rev. 17:1–18:24).
With that, Christ will return in power and glory, with His saints, destroying the remnant of His enemies, and setting up His earthly kingdom (Rev. 19:1–20:6; cf. Jude 1:14-15). Christ will reign for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6) from the throne of David, and a revived and restored Israel will be at the centre of earthly affairs (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:31-33; cf. Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 31:35-40; Amos 9:11-15).
At the end of that time comes what is known as the great white throne judgment, in which all the unbelieving of all the ages are consigned to the lake of fire (20:11-15). Then, the Lord creates a new heaven and new earth, and His throne descends to the earth, where He will dwell in the midst of His people forever (Rev. 21:1–22:21; cf. II Pet. 3:10-13).
Revelation prophecy. I hope that is some help in answering a few questions–even if it raises more! God bless you. I trust you are among those who “love His appearing” (II Tim. 4:8).