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The Plan and Design of Revelation
The Plan and Design of Revelation
This book should be read from the first page to the last to get the most out of it. Since it is a book based on historical fulfillment, it is essential to follow the historical development. The Book of Revelation is also a book whose understanding is cumulative, that is, when you learn something it is possible to build more on the base. Some things, however, will not be understood if the foundation for them has not been laid. We recommend therefore that you read from the beginning to the end for the greatest benefit.
Commentaries are not often read from beginning to end, and the scholar may want to pick and choose. Often someone will pick up a book on Revelation only to see what method is being followed. If it is not the one to which he has already been exposed, he may put it aside as a book that he does not agree with, and thereby miss a great blessing. On the other hand, we have read many books on Revelation, and, surprisingly, there is a blessing for the one reading, when the purpose of the writer is to unlock the mystery of the will of God, even when his system is not clearly discernable.
However, we are not setting forth with an uncertain tiller or a wobbly compass. Not that this author has special endowments, but rather, this book is based on a line of interpreters stretching over many generations. These former voyagers over the centuries have assessed their past, charted their position, and pointed the way forward. By them, the direction that we are taking is clearly marked and the destination is well in view. We have a vision of the truths that are in the Book of Revelation --they will be clearly unfolded. We invite you to start the voyage and stay with it until the mists have rolled away.
Study in history and in the Book of Revelation led me to what I had thought were some startling conclusions which were made public as early as 1966. Those conclusions caused me to make some predictions that within a short span of time, about 35 to 50 years, Russia would undergo changes that would transform her anti-Christian perspective to one of, at the least, not being an enemy of the Christian religion. At that time that did not look possible in the near future.
At that point I saw a revival of the Christian faith coming into Russia, centered in a movement in the Ukraine that would engulf Russia and spread from there to the nations. This prediction, made publicly in 1966 for the first time, has been expressed numerous times in seminars in the USA and England.
The scriptural, prophetic and historical basis behind that prediction, and the fallout of thought derived from this is part of the subject of this book.
Some political predictions that were made at that time have been borne out or are in the process of coming to pass. One major projection was that there would be an end to nationalism in Europe. More startling in that time frame (1966) was the prediction that Ethiopia would become an openly hostile Marxist state and that Iran would join the Soviets in anti-western influence. This was impossible to foresee under the Shah, and some of my early listeners asked in disbelief, "How could that happen when Iran is so pro-USA?" A similar anti-West stance was forecast for Libya but at that time, admittedly, I was not sure whether Libya should be considered as the present state or black Africa as the classical historians used the name.
The Second Coming of Christ is not Imminent
Another startling conclusion that I came to in that period was that the second coming of Christ was not imminent. This was based on the conclusions from prophecy that these above-mentioned events needed to unfold before the plan of God was complete. Those who predicted the return of the Lord at any moment had not the foggiest notion of the times and seasons that the apostle Paul spoke about in Thessalonians. I have not predicted the time of the second coming; I have said as did Paul that that day will not come until certain events happen. It was my conclusion, from 1966 onward, that one, but not the only, event which must happen in our lifetime is that Russia must cease to be an enemy of the church of Christ before the way can be clear for the second coming. There are other historical events as well but the overthrow of Russian, official, anti-Christian activity is to be cataclysmic, either physically (a great disaster) or spiritually (a great revival). The second coming of Christ is after that event which will take place in historical time. Perhaps His coming may be sooner than I think (at least 300 or so years) but no sooner than the events that are predicted and outlined in this book come to pass.
In some evangelical circles the concept of the imminent return is something sacred, and to express the belief in a non-imminent return is just short of heretical. Significantly, the section of this book which deals with what the church fathers of the first three to five centuries said about the second coming indicates that they did not think it imminent in their time.
Their major premise was that the Roman Empire had to pass away before the second coming of Christ. They were correct in reading the future on both counts, i.e. the Roman Empire, thought to be eternal, would pass the way of all flesh, and the second coming was after that event, as well as after the disappearance of the last vestige of Roman authority seized by the predicted entity who would seize the power of God and man. What power, still existing but in greatly reduced influence, entered the vacuum of authority left by the fallen Roman Empire and seized the power of both God and men for well over 1000 years, is apparent for all to see. It, too, must pass before the second coming of Christ. This book presents the proposition that there will be an historical period without the presence of the Papal system before the great day comes.
There are a great number of commentaries on the book of Revelation. More than enough to keep a student occupied for many days exploring the different schemes of interpretation. For this reason I have hesitated for many years to write a book on Revelation since so many others have done so. I have been urged by many to do so but my reply has been that almost all I would write has already been written by authors who have been recognized as established scholars.
However, I have gleaned some insight that is unique to my own study and not in print anywhere else. Those portions are the justification for writing this book. The most important contribution that I have to make is to be found in the exposition of the pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath in chapter nine of this book. That is probably the most important chapter in this book as it contains the most faith building material. The chapter collates a number of writers through the centuries and notices what they saw in the immediate and distant future concerning world events. Their collective insight is little less than incredible. The chapter also contains my own attempts in seeing, in outline form, the next one hundred years of world history. That chapter is the highlight of this book.
There is a second portion that deserves mention as worthwhile found in chapter two of this book. The exposition of Daniel chapters two and seven and Revelation thirteen deserves to be read. The chapter contains quotations from a number of Ante-Nicene Fathers relating to what they thought the future would be, based on Daniel's and John's prophecies. Some unique thinking that may add to the collective thought of believers through the centuries is to be found there.
Thirdly, in the appendix, the essay on the "2300 Day" prophecy in the eighth chapter of Daniel contains what surely is the proper exposition of that chapter. I have not seen it in print in any of the most eminent commentaries. If it is not the unique solution to that prophecy, it so clearly and accurately opens the prophecy that it deserves a place in accessible Christian literature. In the appendix you will also find an exposition of the ninth chapter of Daniel. The conclusion there is unusually valuable.
Because of the great number of different commentaries on Revelation that have been written, it has seemed to me a little presumptuous to add another one. However, as explained already, there are a few things that are unique to my own insight and these form the justification for writing. But it does not seem wise to write a complete commentary or explanation of every relevant item. Just enough has been written to establish credibility in the areas where we can refer to other more complete and extensive works. I would recommend that they be read. Recommended works are noted in the text and a bibliography appears at the end of this document for that purpose.*
*Foremost among the many historical interpreters to be recommended is Albert Barnes, Barnes Notes on The New Testament, usually available from Christian book stalls. His style is not surpassed. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, publishes Barnes Notes on Revelation in a single volume.
The Time of the Publication of Revelation
Victorinus of Petau, one of the Ante-Nicene fathers, (he was martyred in the persecution under Diocletian) also made a commentary on the book of Revelation in the late third century. He held the view that the thirteenth chapter of Revelation pictures Rome as the first beast. He mistakenly ascribes the seven heads to emperors living just before and at the time of John's writing. This "mistake" is helpful in dating the book. His comment on Rev 17:10:
"The time must be understood in which the Apocalypse was published, since then reigned Caesar Domitian; ...One remains under whom the Apocalypse was written -- Domitian, to wit."
There is no reason to suspect Victorinus of an historical mistake! Living as close as he did to the period and his life overlapping those of others who commented on the Revelation just before him, assures us that this date is correct. This understanding is attributed to earlier writers who handed it down to Victorinus.
"Dionysius Barsalibi states that Hippolytus, like Irenaeus, holds the Apocalypse to have been written by John the Evangelist under Domitian. (Gwynn; Hermathena vii. p. 137)"
(Lightfoot, J.B. ed.; Apostolic Fathers; Pub: Hendrickson, 1989. vol. 1, pg. 394.)
Eusebius is known as the Father of Church History. He was contemporary with Constantine. In his work, he quotes Irenaeus' Book V where Irenaeus was speaking of the Book of Revelation. Irenaeus, born about 135, overlaps the lives of those who would have seen the apostle John. In the following quotation Irenaeus is speaking of the relatively recent time of the writing of Revelation. He says:
"For it was not seen a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime, at the end of Domitian's reign."Irenaeus was born barely thirty five years after Domitian and the publishing of Revelation. Hippolytus wrote about the year 200 A.D. and was a pupil of Irenaeus.* Lightfoot's discussion of the date includes the fact that Polycarp, the martyred disciple of the Apostle John, was intimate with Irenaeus. The source of Irenaeus' information on the writing of Revelation is obvious. There is, therefore, a direct line of actual teacher-disciple relationship among these men, direct from the Apostle John with only one person between John and Irenaeus. Those who insist on an earlier date must reject this, the only documentary evidence there is, in place of their own speculation and opinion.
(Eusebius Book V, 8:9)
* See Lightfoot; Apostolic Fathers Part One; Clement, Vol. 2, pg. 383.
There is no reason to doubt the authorship of Revelation and the time of its publication in the reign of Domitian. Domitian was killed in the year 96.
The Historical Method of Interpretation Is Followed
Of the variety of methods of interpretation there are three into which most commentaries on Revelation can be classified. Finding the right one of these to proceed with requires some prerequisites -- the most important of which is a belief in the inspiration by God through John of the prophetic material and faith in the integrity of the book, that is, that it was written about 96 A.D. and describes a vision the prophet actually saw.
There are only three schemes of interpretation that deserve attention. One scheme deserves attention only because it won't go away but ought to: that is the preterist view. Any scheme of interpretation that does not see the book as predicting things that are future from the time of Emperor Domitian is not in harmony with the internal intention of the writer of Revelation and should on that account be discarded.
This historical method of interpreting Revelation was followed by most scholars until fairly recently. The currently popular doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture only gained this position within the last 150 years. It arose amidst a fervor of hope regarding the return of Jews to Palestine. The Zionists have actually recognized this as a positive force among Protestants toward their aims and an assistance to the establishment of the present state of Israel. In a semi-official Israeli history of Zionism this doctrine is recognized and described
."Among Protestants... the belief that Jews should return to the Holy Land, in accordance with biblical prophecies, became popular among pietistic Protestants... It was based on the millenarian concept which held, on the basis of a literal interpretation of apocalyptic prophecies, that the second coming of Jesus was at hand and that he would rule from Jerusalem for 1,000 years (the millennium). The millenarians not only anticipated the return of the Jews to their land but also their conversion to Christianity as important conditions and "signs of the times" prior to the second coming.
"[Proponents of these ideas] requested heads of state to take political measures in order to obtain rights for the Jews to settle in the Holy Land. Their activity remained without any practical results until the nineteenth century...when essential changes took place in the... motivation of Christians who supported the return of the Jews to the Holy Land. Some of the new sects which arose placed this belief at the center of their theology as the fulfillment of the escatological prophecies which would bring on the end of days and the millennium. In 1830 the Plymouth Brethren were founded in England by John N. Darby (1800-82)* whose doctrine of dispensationalist premillenialism asserted that all the biblical prophecies relate to the return of the Jewish people to its homeland prior to the Advent. Before the second coming the Jews and all the other nations will be judged during a period of tribulation, after which Jesus and the Jewish remnant will rule over all the nations from Jerusalem. Many Protestant Fundamentalist churches adopted this outlook and continue to promote it to this day."
** Kressel, Getzel (and at least nineteen other contributing writers); Zionism; Keter Publs., Jerusalem, Israel, 1973. pg. 232
It goes without saying that Zionists look kindly upon this doctrine among Protestants. Premillenial doctrine (predicting only the last seven years of this age's history) has become so popular that Christians are currently unaware that a different means of interpreting Revelation was most popular for most of the centuries of the Christian age. The historical method of interpreting Revelation was the only method known to interpreters for centuries! The transition, which also gave rise to indefiniteness as a convenient way of avoiding controversy, is described in a popular commentary published in 1910, in which the historical view's age and influence is also rehearsed.
"The "Continuous Historical theory regards the book as giving a continuous history of the church from the first century to the end of the age. Among the leaders of this method of interpretation are Luther, Bengel, Isaac Newton, Elliott, Alford, Barnes, Grattan, Guiness. From the thirteenth century until recently this theory has had almost universal sway."
Eaches, O.P.; Clarks' People's Commentary, Revelation; Philadephia, 1910. pg. xxvi.
Today, however, the historical view is a minority view due mainly to the popularity of premillenialism but also to lack of definiteness. Illustrating this transition, this above mentioned commentary is filled with pious platitudes as though the book of Revelation was a kind of visionary book of Proverbs instead of a book of prophecies of future events, which it claims to be.
A Book Predicting Future Events
The book opens with the words that it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him relating to "things which must shortly come to pass." Whatever else one sees in those words they mean that much of what follows must be of events in the future of the time that John heard and saw the revelatory symbols. Some think that it may mean that all the events predicted by the symbols in the book will be fulfilled in a short period of time. The most popular scheme applies most of the events to the last seven years of the history of this age. Another view (to which I adhere) is that the symbols in Revelation are shortly (after the book was written) to begin to be fulfilled. That is that the symbolism is sequentially fulfilled beginning with the first seal being opened in chapter six. This first seal represents the period of history just after John wrote, and each symbol follows on the heels of the last, or overlaps the last, as an epoch of history. The first of the sequence is to shortly begin to come to pass -- not come to pass in a short time, but to begin shortly -- and then follow to picture all of history from that event to the end of that which God has in mind.
Any scheme that implies that John is speaking in a kind of code language about events that are purely contemporary to him, or just before his time, is against the intent of the book and should not be regarded with the same respect due to a believer. If academic respect is due to such a scheme, then it is only due to an unbelieving system in what the book itself says of itself.
For instance John is told in Chapter one verse nineteen to write the things that he has already seen, and the things that are, and the things that shall be hereafter. Obviously some of the material is past, some contemporary, and some is to be future. Again we see that any attempt to interpret the book which rejects the predictory nature of the book from John's time is not in harmony with the scheme of the book.
Chapter 1:19 is the outline of the book. That is: 1. what you have seen -- the recent past; 2. the things that are -- the present; 3. the things which must be hereafter -- the future. In Rev 4:1 the author is addressed by an angelic voice which invites him to "come up here and I will show you things which must be hereafter." A reading of the first part of the book will show that the things past are the visions of chapter one while the "things that are" refer to the letters to the seven churches. where events describing what actually was happening in the churches at that time, are outlined. Or perhaps what is described is the condition of the churches in any period. They are perpetually "the things that are."
There can be little doubt that the writer of the book expects us to foresee the future through the symbols beginning with the opening of the book with seven seals. Those and what follows are "things that must be hereafter." That is, "hereafter" to John's time, not necessarily ours.
The scheme of interpretation which accepts the above mentioned truths of inspiration and integrity must see the prophetic material in the book as predictory from the time of 96 A.D. If the scheme does not, it is not in harmony with the stated intent of the book itself.
The Historical or Historical Parallel View is Followed
One of the two systems of interpretation which the design of the book would allow is the historical view. This view parallels events of history, beginning with the period shortly after Domitian, with the symbolic visions and then proceeds through history sequentially. It then finds a sequential historical parallel for each of seven seals, followed by seven more symbols of seven trumpets, each predicting an epoch through which the church will live and remain triumphant, and following then to seven bowls of wrath, the end of which is the consummation of that which is predicted by the vision. I accept that this is the correct scheme of interpretation to the exclusion of others.
The Futurist View
The other system, which though rejected here, is, none the less, in harmony with this basic intent of the book. That is, that the visions are future from John's time. That system is unashamedly connected with the doctrine of the second advent called Pre-Millenialism. Generally the Futurist scheme sees none of the symbols fulfilled as yet and expects that all will be fulfilled in a short space of time (seven years) just before the second coming. There are flaws in this system of interpretation based on clear mistakes* in Matthew 24; and Daniel 2, 7, and 9. These are treated in the text and in the appendix.
* We see this system as one that makes religious mistakes but as a system that attempts to honor Christ and is not in the same class as an unbelieving, or even an indefinite, system.
Sequential not Concurrent
The three groups of symbols (Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls) are to be interpreted sequentially. That is, they are to follow from the first to the last one after the other in time. The design of the book confirms this. The view that sees the symbols being fulfilled concurrently does not observe the scheme and design of the prophecy.
Schemes which see the book as cyclical, that is each age having its own interpretation for it, are in a similar category, as is the preterist view which interprets the book as though most of the material refers to the time of Nero and the persecutions which followed.
The concurrent scheme asserts that the three systems of seven periods, (seals, trumpets, and vials), are concurrent and thus all the "ones" are grouped together and determined to predict the same period in history, then all the "twos," and so on. That this is not the design is seen by noting that the concurrent scheme admits some sequence. That is, that two comes after one and five comes after four and six comes before seven. That seems simple enough but please follow this thinking to the conclusion. It means that the seventh seal is after the sixth (and those preceding) in time. And since (as we will show next) the seventh seal contains all of the seven trumpets, then all the trumpets must be after the first six seals in time. That is the design of the book.
See in Rev. 8:1, ff:
8:1 And when he had opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about the space of half an hour.
Silence: probably because of the awe produced by what they saw in the seventh seal. And what did they see? They saw seven trumpets.
8:2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
The rest of chapter eight contains the sounding of the first four trumpets which predict calamities falling on earth, sea, rivers, and lights, on one third of the earth, in that sequence. Then a clue to the sequence is given.
8:13 And I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, Woe, Woe, to the inhabitors of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels that are yet to sound!
Trumpets five, six, and seven are therefore woe trumpets. Trumpets five and six are verified as such upon their conclusions. At the conclusion of the fifth trumpet:
9:12 The first woe is past, behold, There are two woes yet to come. 9:13 And the sixth angel sounded ...
The end of the second woe (the sixth trumpet) comes at the close of the four figures of the religious interlude showing that they come to pass during the time and before the end of the sixth trumpet. In chapter eleven after the vision of the two witnesses and the great earthquake which happen at the same time, ("the same hour") the second woe ends.
11:14 The second woe is past; behold, the third woe comes quickly. 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever.
The seventh trumpet is again called a woe trumpet or "the third woe." But verse fifteen contains no woe, rather, great blessing, as does the rest of the description of the seventh trumpet except for a few words in the last sentence. These, however, are clues to where the woes of the seventh woe trumpet are to be found.
As the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets, and the trumpets must therefore be designed to follow after all the first six seals in time, then the design of the book continues, showing the seventh trumpet contains all of the seven bowls of woe. Therefore, as comprising the seventh trumpet, the seven bowls of woe must all be after the first six trumpets. They cannot therefore be considered as concurrent with them. The scheme of the book is to understand the symbols in sequence of order and of time. To repeat, the first six seals are opened, followed by a religious interval, followed in time by opening the seventh seal which contains seven trumpets. The seventh seal is the seven trumpets! Then the first six trumpets are sounded. They close with the interval of the trumpets. The seventh trumpet is a woe trumpet. The woes are found in chapter 16 under the bowls but according to the scheme of the book they are the seventh trumpet, and if not, then there is no third woe trumpet! Thus, to repeat again, in time, the first six seals are opened sequentially, i.e "after this I saw, etc." and then the seventh seal is opened introducing seven trumpets, all of which are after the first six seals since they are in the seventh seal. Then six of the trumpets are sounded and the seventh follows (immediately) after the sixth. The seventh woe trumpet contains the seven woes. Therefore the bowls of woe can not be concurrent with the other families of symbols, i.e. seals and trumpets, because comprising the seventh trumpet they are after the first six trumpets.
I feel constrained as I labor this obvious point. But it is necessary to repeat the obvious, because seeing the book out of sequence and the symbols as running concurrently is now, (but has not always been,) the most popular way of interpreting the book. Yet it is obviously not in harmony with the way the Author of the book designed it.
You will notice here that we are not saying what the symbols mean, but how the book is designed. If you know nothing of the design and order (and there is design and order) of the book, how could you possibly interpret it? It is true! If you do not take into consideration the design and order of the book then you cannot have a proper beginning, development or conclusion to your scheme of interpretation. God Almighty designed the order of this book, and He warns you not to handle it improperly.
Why are the Woes in Chapter 16?
There is a separation of the Bowls from the Trumpets, which they must follow, by over four chapters. Why?
Answer: There is a new entity which has been introduced for the first time in the book in chapter eleven: the beast.
11:7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them and kill them.
No reference to this beast has been made in the book up to this place. Because the beast plays a very important part in the rest of the book and because all the bowls of woe are to be poured out on him or things related to him, he must therefore be identified.
Chapter 12 begins a new section showing the church under the symbol of the woman fleeing into the wilderness.
12:3 And there appeared another great wonder in heaven; and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
The dragon is the devil but he is directing the power of a seven-headed, ten-horned beast. That beast is further identified in chapter thirteen as a threefold entity and great detail is given to his identity. In chapters fourteen and fifteen it is made clear that the beast of chapter thirteen is to be visited with all of the last seven woes. Therefore the reason that the Woes are separated in the book from the seventh trumpet, with which they synchronize, is to identify clearly the beast on whom all seven bowls are to be poured. Also chapters fourteen and fifteen are similar to chapters four and five in intent. They build up the reader to the importance and climax of what is coming in the bowls in chapter sixteen.
Chapters seventeen to nineteen are supplemental visions related to the seven last plagues in chapter sixteen. Chapter seventeen is a fuller description of the beast, primarily under the symbol of Babylon, but the threefold nature of the beast mentioned in the seventh bowl is more completely revealed. Chapter eighteen is completely given to the event of the fall of Babylon. The fall of Babylon is announced first in Rev. 14:8 as coming soon in the seven plagues. The time in the sequence of the fall of Babylon is given as being a part of the seventh bowl in Rev. 16:19. Thus, chapter eighteen is a supplement, to be fitted into the outline of symbols at that point. Chapter nineteen has two visions, both of which fit into the scheme at the close of Armageddon. The first is the triumph and victory supper of the Lamb, and the other is the end of the beast and false prophet. These synchronize with Rev. 16:16 and Ezek. 39:17-21 and Rev. 20:9. Chapter twenty is a review of the panorama of the Gospel age.
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