This past Sunday I taught on the similarities and differences between Nostradamus and the book of Revelation. We had a great time at the packed evening service, and I hope left with a lot to ponder (You can watch the video here by the way). My only wish is that we'd had more time to dig into Revelation a bit more. That is what this post is about.
To catch you up to speed if you weren't able to watch the video yet (if so skip to the next paragraph), we talked about the most difficult aspect of Nostradamus being the fact that his intentional "murkiness" (his words) made even a basic translation of the text difficult much less a interpretative scheme for spelling out its predictions; though, there are interesting arguments for his predictions of Hitler and 911. Revelation is not that way. It has clear, complete grammar and can even be read as an instructive epic (like the Iliad) as well as a book containing prophecies about the future.
We didn't spend much time on the other two major interpretative schemes for understanding the book of revelation. The first one understands all of the prophecies of revelation as having been fulfilled by the fall of the temple in 70CE. In Revelation 1:3, it says, "... the time is near." This method says that anything that interprets these prophecies as having to do with events thousands of years later is being irresponsible with this passage. It should be NEAR. The method draws guidance from John 23:34 saying that it should conclude within a human's lifetime, and says that Revelation has a clear message: God will judge the first century Jews for rejecting and crucifying his son.
Then they take the rest to be a prophecy concerning that judgement. For example, they take Revelation 6 and interpret it like this:
- v. 2 - depicts the Roman march toward Jerusalem to start the Jewish war in 67CE.
- v. 4 - refers to the pax romana
- v. 5-6 - talks about the famine resulting from the Jewish war
- v. 8 - is about the death resulting from the Jewish war
- v. 9 - is talking about the same thing Jesus is talking about in Mt:23:34-39
- v. 12-17 - is common language for the wrath of God (see Isaiah 13:1, 10)
- v. 14 - According to Josephus (a first century historian) Romans actually leveled mountains to pave the way for their armies.
Interesting to say the least! The other main way (of the three I mentioned) is the one popularized in Christian movies and novels. It looks at Revelation as predicting the end of the world. It provides a myriad of cross references and keys to understand what the book is talking about.
Take, for example, Revelation 13. This method gives a key for interpreting this passage (and all similar references in the book). Read this passage with the following interpretative key:
- Dragon= Satan... Lord of they flies, mayor of hell. You know the one.
- Beast= Antichrist - political leader at the end of the world. The one that every recent president has been labeled as.
- Second beast= False Prophet. Religious leader appointed by the antichrist.
With that basic understanding it becomes clear that Satan is going to give the Antichrist access to his supernatural powers. People will begin to worship Satan because of this. The head of this new religion will be the false prophet who will use his power and influence to wow the crows and call them to worship the antichrist and Satan.
Also interesting! So, which one it right? Is it an instructive epic, or prophecies about the first century, or about events that have not yet happened? I think the answer to that question is: yes. It is most likely a profoundly mysterious text with many layers of valid meanings (including all those I mentioned above). This layered understanding of scripture is right in line with the way Jesus (and all first century rabbis) viewed the scripture (more on that here: watch week 1).
Want a great book to go in depth with these different methods? Here it is!
Next week is going to be just as interesting. Archaeologists have discovered many gospel accounts that are not in the Bible. What are they? What to they say? Why aren't they in the BIble? Why does this matter when I wake up the next morning?