Interpreting The Book Of Revelation
by L. A. Mott
One In A Series Of Five
Three insights have seemed to blow away much of my quarter-century-old confusion over the book of Revelation. The first involves basic approach- how to read the book—and in particular, the relation of Revelation to history.
Most people begin with history. This or that, they say, has not been fulfilled. We must look for it in the future. Others pick up scraps of history which seem to fit Revelation and read these back into the book, interpreting Revelation by history. Scripture is sometimes bent to fit history.
That approach is fundamentally unsound. Scripture is not to be interpreted in the light of history or the newspapers. Rather, history must be understood in the light of Scripture. We must learn to see history as God sees it. I therefore suggest that instead of standing as twentieth century persons looking back on Revelation through two thousand years of history, we ought rather to forget everything we know about history, and take our stand with John in the first century before the predicted events, reading Revelation as though that were all we had and none of the events since then had occurred. We must see the future through John’s eyes. We must understand what he expected to happen. We must then see history in the light of Scripture.
Our first responsibility as Bible students and teachers of the Word is to understand and then repeat what Scripture says. What Scripture says, it says regardless of history. Only after we have understood what Scripture says should we turn to history which then can be viewed in the light of Scripture.
I do not believe Scripture will be inconsistent with history, But our first and primary business as students of Scripture is to understand what God has said in Scripture; as believers, to accept whatever God has said without reservation and regardless of history; and as teachers, to repeat in the twentieth century what God said in the first century. It is not our business to make Scripture fit history.
Matthew 24 is an excellent illustration of this point. Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and said, “This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished” (v. 34), When one starts with history and contends that some of “these things” remain unfulfilled, the effect is to make a false prophet of Jesus who said they would all be accomplished before that generation had passed, That is the approach of an unbeliever. As one who has put his trust in Jesus, I start with Scripture and conclude that whether I understand the application of all Jesus’ language to history or not, I know it has already been fulfilled, for lesus said it would take place in that generation, and I believe Jesus. Our first responsibility is to understand, to believe and to repeat what the Scriptures say, and only then to do whatever we can with regard to history. A believer can take no other view.
The book of Revelation must be approached in the same way. We must first forget everything we know about history and read Revelation to see what John has said, Then we can turn to history if we still think it is of any importance. But I want to show in another article that Revelation contains several references to time that specifically define the place in history where one must look for the predicted events.The scope and span of time to which the prophecies of Revelation apply is just as definitely and conclusively fixed by the book itself as Matthew 24:34 fixes the time span of that prophecy.
CHRISTIANITY MAGAZINE JANUARY, 1984