Some Interpretive Keys That I've Discovered

Copyright Ó 2002 by Dann McCreary

Version of March 30, 2002

The book of Revelation is at best a very difficult study; however, in my repeated travels through the book, I have discovered several interpretive keys that have helped me unlock the meaning of otherwise obscure passages. I hope you will find them helpful. I also hope that, if you disagree with my conclusions and observations, you will talk to me or write to me and discuss why you think differently.

Jesus is the Subject of the Book of Revelation

From the very beginning of the book, we see that Jesus is the subject of Revelation. One of the keys, then, to understanding Revelation, is this; if you are reading something obscure, something that you are not quite sure as to what it is about, consider the very likely possibility that you are reading about Jesus.

1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ,

5:6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

14:1 And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.

19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

22:16 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.

Jesus is presented to us in the book by many and varied names:

Jesus Christ (1:1)

Lord Jesus Christ (22:21)

The Root of David (5:5)

Faithful Witness (1:5)

Firstborn from the Dead (1:5)

The Prince of the Kings of the Earth (1:5)

He Who Loved Us (1:5)

He Who Washed Us from our Sins in His Own Blood (1:5)

The One Who Is, and Was, and Is to Come (1:8)

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah (5:5)

The Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the Earth (13:8)

The Bright Morning Star (22:16)

The First and Last (22:13)

The Beginning and End (22:13)

The Faithful and True Witness (3:14)

The Son of Man (1:13, 14:4)

He That Holds the Seven Stars (2:1)

He That Walks in the Midst of the Seven Golden Lampstands (2:1)

One That Has the Sharp Two-edged Sword (2:12)

The Son of God with Eyes Like a Flame of Fire and Feet Like Burnished Bronze (2:18)

He That Has the Seven Spirits of God (3:1)

He Who is True (3:7)

He Who Has David's Key (3:7)

He Who Opens and No One Shuts (3:7)

The Amen (3:14)

The Beginning of the Creation of God (3:14)

Michael (12:7)

The Almighty (1:8)

The Word of God (19:13)

Lord of Lords (17:14)

Offspring of David (22:16)

Alpha and Omega (1:8, 21:6)

The Living One

The One Who Was Dead, and Is Alive (2:8)

He Who Shuts and No One Opens (3:7)

He Who is Holy (3:7)

Alpha and Omega (22:13)

King of Kings (19:16)



We are Blessed When We Read, Hear, and Keep the Words of the Book

This is a powerful encouragement to us to read and study the book. I suspect that many people make one of two errors in this regard - they either go overboard with a fanatical overemphasis on prophecy, or they shy completely away from the book, thinking that it is beyond them. I think we should walk a middle road of reading and studying the book, trying to understand it as well as we can. If we do this, we will discover and experience the many blessings promised in the book:

1:3a Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy

14:13 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.

16:15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

19:9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

20:6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

22:7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.

22:14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

Revelation is Very Symbolic

It is undeniable that Revelation is a symbolic book. No matter how strongly held one's views may be that the bible should be interpreted literally, Revelation itself makes abundantly clear that it is a book full of symbols that cannot and must not be taken at literal face value.

1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

Revelation Contains Images from The Old Testament

Much of the symbolism in Revelation is drawn from the Old Testament. When trying to understand the meaning of a symbol in the book of Revelation, it is often very helpful to seek out correlating cross-references in the Old Testament.

11:3 And I will give [power] unto my two witnesses... 4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

Zechariah 4:1 And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. 2 And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: 3 And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.

Symbols in Revelation are Often Interpreted For Us

There are many instances in the book of Revelation where God does not want us to have any doubt about the meaning of things, and so the book of Revelation itself gives us the meaning of the symbols.

1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

5:8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four [and] twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.

19:8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

Revelation is Not Chronological

Many interpreters of this book have attempted to force it into a chronological order. There is, however, abundant internal evidence that it is a book of prophetic visions, not confined to our normal notions of space-time. Perhaps one of the clearest examples is that, in Revelation 6 we find a description of the final judgement, just prior to the ushering in of the New Heavens and the New Earth. We are shown the stars falling from heaven and the heavens rolled up as a scroll. And yet in later parts of the book, we still find the beast and false prophet active.

6:12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

"I Heard" - "I Saw" = Different Views of The Same Thing

I've discovered a paradigm, repeated again and again in the book. A messenger will describe something to John in words. Then John will turn and see the scene that was just described. Although these are one and the same thing, the description John hears and the description John gives of what he sees are completely different. Most interpreters in the past have erred by thinking that the descriptions are of two different things. In truth, I believe they are two different descriptions of the very same thing.

While this pattern appears repeatedly throughout the book, it is the most clear in one or two places. Once you see it clearly in the clearest instances, it will become easier for you to spot the pattern in the more obscure cases where it will aid your understanding of the book. Perhaps the clearest and most unequivocal example of this pattern is found in chapter 5:

5:5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

There is no argument among scholars that it is Jesus who is the Lion of Judah, and that it is Jesus who is the Lamb of God. In this verse, we see the literary pattern clearly - the elder says to John "look at the Lion" and when John looks, what does he see? The Lamb, slain. There is the pattern, plain as day - "I heard" with one description and "I saw" with a different description of the same thing.

There is another example just as plain, or nearly so, to eyes that will see. It is found in Revelation 21:

21:9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. 10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from Godů

In this example, John hears that he will be shown "the bride, the Lamb's wife". What is he then shown? The messenger takes John and shows him "that great city, the holy Jerusalem". Here again we see the "I heard" / "I saw" pattern. The two entities described are actually one and the same; the bride of Christ is the holy city.

1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet... 12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks

7:4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: [and there were] sealed an hundred [and] forty [and] four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel... 9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;

In Revelation, Angels are Messengers (And May Be God, Supernatural Beings, Churches, or even Men)

They aren't all "angels" as we commonly think of angels. We must discern from clues in the context which of at least three kinds of beings each angel is. I have selected some candidate passages from Revelation for each of several possible categories.

  1. Supernatural spirit beings, that is, the beings we commonly think of when we think of angels.
  2. 5:2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?

    5:11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;

    7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.

  3. Human beings, i.e. ordinary men acting as messengers of God.
  4. 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See [thou do it] not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

    22:8 And I John saw these things, and heard [them]. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. 9 Then saith he unto me, See [thou do it] not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.

  5. Churches (also comprised of men). Note that it is very reasonable to classify the term "the angel of the church" as a "genitive of apposition" - that is, a genitive case (i.e. "of the church") that refers to the same thing that it modifies (i.e. "angel"). A common example in English would be "the city of San Diego", where the terms "city" and "San Diego" refer to the same thing.
  6. 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

    2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

  7. God Himself. In the Old Testament the "Angel of the Lord" would appear from time to time, and was recognized by those who saw Him as the Lord Himself. Even so in the book of Revelation, by careful observation we can see that some of the angels presented to us are most likely the Angel of the Lord (i.e., The Messenger Who Is The Lord). For example, in chapter 10 we see a mighty angel to whom is attributed the same features and characteristics that are attributed to Jesus in chapter 1. My conclusion is that this Messenger can only be Jesus Himself.

10:1 And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: 2 And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, 3 And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.

18:1 And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.


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