Isn’t strange how a book written to “reveal” and make known the might and majesty of Jesus Christ could cause so much strife and confusion for the past 2000 years! Clearly, other “powers” must be a work. Read for yourself the opening three verses of the book and you will see its main message:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him [Jesus] to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He [Jesus] sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Rev 1:1-3 NASB)
In his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Professor Daniel Wallace underlines this point and adds that the book of Revelation is “supremely and ultimately about Christ”. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 we read that same word for revelation, “apokalupsis”, in another context, and this time a revelation brings edification:
What is it then, brothers? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has another language, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to build each other up.
Why is it that something written “to unveil, to uncover” create so much fogginess and uproar?
Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther refused to include the book of Revelation in his German translation of the Bible, saying that he could “in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.” In 2010 you can still buy a version of that German Bible without the book of Revelation in it!
Yet I must ask again, “Why is this book so clouded with controversy and so little studied by the body of Christ”? I believe there are three main answers to this struggle.
#1. Satan – the crafty serpent.
#2. We have lost Jesus Christ in all of the symbolism used Revelation.
#3. We don’t know the same symbolism from the other 65 books preceding this one.
#1 is easy to figure out. Only in the book of Revelation do we find the certainty of Satan’s doom. A large angel throws him into the Abyss for 1000 years. After that, for a short while, Satan is released from this prison but then is thrown into the lake of fire forever!
And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev 20:10)
This is the message Satan is working with all his might to keep out of the heart and minds of believers everywhere, from all times.
#2 is so critical. We have lost Jesus in the midst of the depicting of a dragon with seven heads and ten horns. We have lost Jesus in the attempt to “puzzle out the book” and decode its messages. In this attempt each man becomes convinced of his own “correct answer” and the truth eventually evades us all.
#3. We don’t know the same symbolism from the other 65 books preceding this one.
I have read that every image of symbolism is to be found in another book in your Bible. 75 % of the book of Zechariah is to be found again in the book of Revelation. It is a well noted saying that to understand Revelation you must understand the book of Daniel. The prophet Isaiah, the most often quoted in the New Testament, writes about the Millennium more than the apostle John. Read chap. 65 and 66. On and on it goes…
The book of Revelation is God’s last word to His people. It incorporates and recycles scenes and symbols from all the other preceding 65 books. If you are afraid of reading Revelation one must call into question your spiritual maturity! These are the days when the end of the ages will occur. We, more than another generation before, must “eat the scroll” (Ezek 3, Rev 10) and have “insight and understanding” Dan 9:22.
“Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many… Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven,” Dan 11:33, 12:3
No other book ever written has such an abundance of confirmed prophesy like the Bible. Actually no other book even attempts to forecast what the future will look like! Only the Holy Bible dares to predict what will happen 100’s if not 1000’s of years into the future. Confucianism doesn’t predict the future. Hinduism doesn’t either. Islam doesn’t either really, except when, in an incredible case of irony, they fall back on the Biblical references of Jesus as a coming Messiah who, they believe, will return to earth at the end of this age.
Folks, prophecy (foretelling the future) is unique to our God-breathed Scriptures!! Biblical prophesy, when used properly, strengthens and encourages believers. At one point in His ministry Jesus changed His approach in speaking to His followers and openly told them the future so that when it came to pass they would believe in Him.
“From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.” (John 13:19)
In 2 Chron 20:20 we find a powerful affirmation of prophets and prophesy:
“Listen to Me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God, and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.”
In Revelation we are told that by simply reading and hearing the words of the prophesy we will obtain a special blessing from God.
“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophesy and heed the things that are written it it.” Rev 1: 3
Obviously there is tremendous strength and blessing as we study and meditate on Prophetic Scripture. Oh, that the church would follow the apostle Peter’s advice and make careful searches of God’s Word:
“The prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” (I Peter 1: 10-11)
Prophecy’s Inherent Danger
“We may be very sure that the careless and erroneous way in which Christendom has interpreted Prophetic Scripture, has greatly tended to increase the Infidelity that now prevails so widely… When carelessness desires not to know, it can soon find excuses for not knowing. ” (B.W. Newton)
Tragically for the church throughout the ages, satan, the father of lies and deceiver of the whole world (John 8; Rev 12), also knows the power and blessing that will come upon God’s children by knowing the future! For this reason he has continuously and cunningly trampled on God’s prophetic voice. Satan did it in the first century by hiding the truth from the Jewish people regarding Christ’s First Coming and now he is muddying the waters and hiding the truth in regards to Jesus’ Second Coming.
Author and speaker David Pawson picks up on this theme in his book Unlocking the Bible:
“[Satan] knows that it is so easy to get Christians unbalanced about the Second Coming, either by ignorance or fanaticism.” (emphasis added)
Those two little words, ignorance or fanaticism, shed much light on our current struggle to bring the church “up-to-date” regarding Prophetic Scripture concerning the End Times and Christ’s Second Coming.
Let’s look again at Satan’s deception he flung on the First Century Jews.
The people of Israel, fresh off the exhilarating experiences such as the feeding of the 5000, and Jesus walking on water, knew that something was up. The multitudes saw in Christ’s miracles and teaching the promised Messiah, whom they called ”the Prophet” (John 7:40).
Some Jews, however, even though they knew the scriptures well, were apparently not able to recognize Jesus as their Messiah because they were “stuck” in an conviction that “the Christ” can not come from Galilee.
Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ [Messiah] is not going to come from Galilee, is He? Has not Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:41-42)
Repeating the Mistakes of History
Here is where we repeat the past mistakes of our forefathers. We take partial truths, albeit direct from the pages of Scriptures, and hunker down on them. We draw our own conclusions and add to it a favorite preacher here and a Internet teaching there… The result, we can get easily “stuck” on hastily drawn conclusions that lead to either fanaticism or keep us in ignorance regarding Prophetic Scripture.
Either way, fanaticism or ignorance, it seems satan is wining. To prove my point, I suggest that most believers have already accepted the “theology of the day” and throw their hands in the air and say that the books of Revelation or Daniel are too complicated, too symbolic, for them to grasp their meaning. UNtold millions of other believers are l”ocked into a faulty teaching”, acquired by whatever means – a favorite teacher, parents, etc. – so that they can not receive the truth that is really there in Scripture .
In the famous Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned that people might be “offended” when things don’t work out per our doctrine in the Last Days (Mt 24:10). We need to have more honest and open discussions before the End Time events start to unfold. The church must be in “one accord” as we approach the final hours of this age and transition into the age to come.
John the Baptist, sitting in a cruel prison, evidently lost his way in his belief of who Jesus was:
“Are You the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
He had correctly prophesied of Jesus that “He will gather His wheat into the barn” but John could not break himself free of a traditional and incomplete interpretation of the second part of his own prediction: “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”. John had correctly seen Jesus gather His wheat but lost his way in misunderstanding the fullness of Jesus’ mission, which would only be accomplished at the end of this age, when the “chaff would be burned in the fire”.
May the church come alive unto all the prophetic truths found in Scriptures and be prepared and occupied until His Return.
”For if the bugle produces an indistinct sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” (I Cor 14:8)
Sometimes the irony of flawed Biblical interpretations, the “indistinct sounds” we often hear, leaves me chuckling under my breath. Recently, I heard a preacher quote Joel 3:10 to emphasize the point that “the weak are strong” in the Lord, etc. It seems harmless enough… until you check the context!
”Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears: Let the weak say, I am strong.” Joel 3:10
It is inspiring to say that when we are weak in ourselves, Christ’s power can be made strong in us. This is exactly Paul’s meaning in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)
However, in this passage from Joel 3:10, it is clear (if you know even the very minimum about the book) that this is an “End Times / Revelation 19” scenario and that the “weak” are the Gentile nations who are told by God that they should not exempt themselves from the Last Battle because they feel weak! They should grab their plows and beat them into swords and fight! Its “payback time” and God wants everyone there who can possibly make it to experience His wrath. No Excuses!
Well, we are all guilty of such short-sided exegesis and not taking the time to “take pains with these things and be absorbed in them”. (1 Tim. 4:15) I do not wish to point fingers at any one, preacher or layman. What I wish to do is call our attention to the woeful, short-sided exegesis of other parts of the word of God that have weakened and diluted the Body of Christ for centuries.
Where the rubber really meets the road.
Can I offer up one case in point that get us knee deep into exegetical trouble? The centuries old misguided interpretation of the prophetic parables of Matthew 13.
In Matthew 13 Jesus paints a one-of-a-kind picture of the future kingdom of heaven on earth using seven parables. These parables act as a prophetic summary of the historical development of God’s future church – during the time when the King is absent from His Kingdom. (Luke 19:15)
Traditional exegesis of these parables is so dreadful and so entrenched that you must really work with me to see through the fog. I have found it necessary to read and re-read this chapter for months to be able to “think outside the box”.
1. The parable of the sower.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.”
In the first parable we see the present reality of the kingdom of heaven as Jesus demonstrates to His followers the effect of His sowing good seed in the world. But, noticeably, we see that this sowing produces “mixed results” amongst the four different types of soil – beside the road, on rocky places, among the thorns and on the good soil. Not only do we see mixed results but an “evil one” comes in, an enemy, and snatches away the seeds. The good soil did produce a crop 100-fold but the other seed fell into worthless conditions. Three out of four is not too good!
Other texts agree with this view that the road into the kingdom would be narrow and few would find their way into it. (Mtt 7:14)
2. The parable of the tares of the field.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.”
In the second parable, in which Jesus Himself gives the interpretation, we see that into the good soil of the first parable tares are sown by an enemy – the devil. These tares are imitation wheat (NOT “weeds” – see NIV) and are sown “among the wheat while men were sleeping”. Jesus called the tares “sons of the evil one” and explains that they are to grow side by side with the wheat until the end of the age, until the harvest.
Once again we see that this parable points to “mixed results” and leaves the kingdom of heaven infiltrated with satanically sown evil impostors. Jesus further declares of these tares that He would “gather out of His Kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness and cast them into the furnace of fire.” (Mtt. 13:41-42)
The tares are not sown outside the kingdom but inside of it! One writer suggests that:
“The bad seeds grow to become poisonous weeds that allow only the healthiest of the wheat to survive.” (Martin G. Collins)
Is this not like our God, to allow evil and imitation to co-exist in our midst so that we will fight against it and grow inspite of its presence?
3. The parable of the mustard seed.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field…”
Here is where we will run into our first wall. We come now to the second parable in a row depicting the kingdom of heaven without its King. In this short parable we have presented to us a mustard seed which is smaller than any other seed, but when it is full grown becomes a tree and “birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
I consider that for the correct interpretation of this parable we must read it in its immediate context. Here is a review:
a. Mixed results within the kingdom is the message of the first two parables.
b. Tares co-exist with the wheat in the kingdom of heaven until the harvest.
c. Birds in the parable of the sower were a type of Satan, “snatching away what was sown in the heart”.
d. Satan was active sowing seeds of imitation tares amongst the wheat.
Now we come to the small mustard seed transforming itself into a huge tree. The implication here is this is at the end of the age (i.e. “when it is full grown”). So at the end of the age we find a huge tree with birds nesting in its branches.
Either Jesus is throwing us a curve ball or He is here further clarifying His first two parables. How you decide this point brings you to your answer.
Either He switches metaphors and pronounces “universal success” of the kingdom (birds eating and nesting in a huge tree = the gospel triumphing all nations) or He stays consistent and pronounces continued “mixed results” with attending evil (birds are satanic; a tree from an annual plant is unachievable growth and therefore speaks of corruption or fraud).
To me the honest interpretation, unclouded by tradition, speaks for the latter. The mustard seed becoming a tree is another instance of Satan’s influence in the kingdom of heaven. This time it is abnormal growth with attending evil. Don’t be too surprised by this explanation. It is consistent if you take in this whole chapter!!
4. The parable of the leaven hid in the flour.
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”
Get ready for the next wall. The common interpretation suggests that the leaven of the gospel will act as an invisible agent (virus) that ever expands within the flour (world) until the whole is transformed. Yet this short-sighted exegesis comes at the expense of Jesus’ three other previous parables and at the expense of the reality that leaven throughout Scriptures is a type of evil.
Chuck Smith has spelled this out directly for us: “Leaven is actually the process of deterioration by rotting.”
Let me breakdown this short parable:
The leaven in this parable is “hid in the flour” by the woman. This seemingly insignificant act has great outworking because the word used for “hid” is the same word we use in English for “encrypt”. Why would the woman secretly encrypt the leaven (Gospel) into the flour? There is no good answer for this within the short-sided exegesis family. My preference is for the leaven that is hid in the flour is a further work of an enemy who by imitation influences the kingdom of heaven though false teaching leading to corruption of the whole.
Jesus told His disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk 12:1) and to “beware of the leaven… of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Mtt 16:12
Can you not begin to see that the “conventional explanation” is inadequate? This is God’s Holy Word and needs to be seriously studied.
”Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)
5. The parable of the treasure hidden in the field.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
If you look carefully at the parable – which is my main point of writing all this! – you will find that the treasure is not only hidden at the start of the story, but the man, when he finds it, hides it again! Curiously, then, the man then goes and buys the field that the treasure is hidden in.
”From joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Mtt. 13:44
The man is Jesus and His purchase is the church! The “knee jerk exegesis” is that we are the ones to sell all we have and “buy the treasure.” We got it backwards!
Why does the man hide his new found treasure?
”Jesus reveals here how He views the world in relation to the church. Instead of glorifying us immediately, He hides us after we are called by physically sending us back into the world.” Martin G. Collins
I trust this short overview of Mtt. 13 has helped stir you up and will lead you back into your Bible with eraser in hand…
Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)