Revelation is a beautiful book, an important book, but also a very difficult book. Many new Christians want to study Revelation when they really should study other portions of Scripture first to get grounded in the faith. Many teachers and preachers want to work through the book but they often fail to consider the OT background, imagery, historical context, and the various genres or types of literature that make up the book. Ignoring these can lead to confusion.
I admit to being a little frustrated with some commentators and some pastors and teachers who act as if they have this book all figured out. I agree that there is one correct interpretation, but I question whether everyone who thinks they have it really has it. The bottom line is that there is no one interpretive view or perspective that answers all the questions adequately. In the last decade or so we are finally starting to see some commentaries written with this in mind and their positive influence in this respect on pastors and teachers.
Having said all that, we are intended to understand this book because
(a) it is in the Bible, is holy Scripture, and so is profitable for “doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness,” and
(b) it contains a promise to those who read it profitably (1:3) which implies that we are able to understand it.
There are five things to remember before reading, studying, interpreting, and teaching of preaching the Book of Revelation:
(1) The Book of Revelation must be approached in humility. We must let it speak to us and we cannot tell it what to say.
(2) We must be willing to leave some questions unanswered. This book tells us what we need to know. What it doesn’t tell us we cannot try to answer simply to fill in the gaps in our own theological systems (or on our charts).
(3) This is not a book of timeless truths. The Revelation is a book written at a specific time to seven specific churches whose truth is for Christians in all ages. We cannot divorce it from that context.
(4) The Book of Revelation was not written to provide us with a chart of end time events; it was written to encourage God’s people in the midst of crushing persecution and to remind God’s people that He will consummate his plan, judge those who oppress them, and ultimately bring restoration, joy, and peace to creation by renewing all things in Christ.
This brings me to the last thing:
(5) We must remember that the center of the Revelation is Christ. This book is about Christ. It is about Christ and his people. It is about Christ the Righteous Judge, Christ the Conquering King, Christ the Lord of all Creation, and Christ the Lamb of God. Any interpretive view, teaching series, book, sermon, study guide, anything that buries the center of this book and seeks to make it about Christians, humanity, the wicked, creation, or anything else at the expense of Christ is just plain wrong and misses the point entirely.
I hope these provide a good starting point for approaching the Book of Revelation as Scripture so that you can hear God’s voice as your read and study it and enjoy the blessings promised to readers of this book (Revelation 1:3).
Note that a video introduction to the Book of Revelation is available on this site here.