QUESTION: How can a person understand the book of Revelation? One commentator sees most of the events as happening in the future, while the author of another commentary sees most of it as already having happened in the past. How can we really understand what God means?
ANSWER: Whenever a discussion of the book of Revelation arises most teachers preface their remarks by mentioning the difficulty of understanding this book. Some of the book of Revelation was fulfilled in the past, but much of it is yet to be fulfilled in the future. The differences in the explanations given by various commentaries and teachers come about because they stem from varying views of the Church.
Some see the Church as small and waiting for the coming of Christ, who will then establish his kingdom on earth. Others think that the kingdom already has been established or is in the course of being established. They conclude that when Christ returns it will be the end of this earth, and only heaven and hell will remain.
Most people tend to approach the book of Revelation with presuppositions that are difficult to impose on the text. The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic piece of literature and should be read with the Old Testament books of Daniel and Ezekiel. The book of Revelation is highly symbolic. In studying it you will find that a Bible dictionary usually will be a more helpful tool than a commentary, because it will help you understand the meaning of the symbols. Another useful aid is Wilson’s Dictionary of Bible Types , by Dr. Walter Wilson, published by Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids , Michigan .
As you study, remember that God does not use symbols to confuse those who study his Word, but to tell them more than could be understood through the use of ordinary language.
Ultimately, your understanding of the book of Revelation will depend on whether you believe that Christ is coming to set up his kingdom or that the kingdom already has been delivered to us. Yet in spite of differences of opinions on this matter, all true Christians agree that Christ will return, and we look forward to that glorious event.
We all ought to be more focused on the King than on the kingdom, because wherever or however he reigns we will be happy to be part of what he is doing. The greatest value of the book of Revelation for believers lies in the assurance it gives us as we wait for the return of Christ. It reaffirms the fact that Jesus is indeed Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and that one day he will vanquish forever the forces of the evil one and claim what is rightfully his. Then we who have made that faithful commitment to him will blissfully enjoy his radiant presence for all eternity.