More often than not, one’s presuppositions determine his interpretation of the book of Revelation, and i must admit i am as biased and guilty of that as anyone else, though pushing one’s bias to be the standard for everyone else is the height of arrogance. I think there is a key principle that is crucial in interpreting the book of Revelation. I believe we need to take into account the Jewish background of this book. As a matter of fact, Dispensational Premillennialism is guilty of taking that so seriously they made this book almost exclusively for the Jews. That’s inappropriate, for it must relate to its own day and the churches of that day as it should relate to all churches of every generation until the last generation of believers. I think all of us are guilty of doing that one way or another. Others thought the Vietnam war was the fulfillment of the book of Revelation, or when World War 2 was coming, everybody thought Hitler was the Anti-Christ. When the Protestants were so fired up and so mad at the papacy, they made the Pope the fulfillment of the beast in all of Revelation. Every generation is guilty of trying to make this book fit their day. When the real last day gets here it’s going to be obviously fulfilled, so quit trying to force it. But notice the Jewish background, it’s basically a type of literary genre called apocalyptic literature. We see it in the Book of Daniel; the latter chapters. We see it in the Book of Ezekiel 38 through 40. We see it in Zechariah the whole book. We see it in Matthew 24, and Mark 13, Luke 21. The book of the revelation is pregnant with a lot of use of numbers, a lot of use of colors, a lot of use of animals, a lot of use of wild visions. So you certainly don’t interpret that the way you do historical narrative. It’s a type of literary genre unique in its own. You would not enter poetry like you would historical narrative. You don’t interpret prophecy like you do historical narrative, and you don’t interpret apocalyptic that way. there are numerous allusions drawn from the Old Testament but no direct quotes. And again many times, the author changes the Old Testament metaphor to fit his day. Prophetic foreshadowing which takes current events to foreshadow eschatological events is the pattern of this book. and there may be many semi-fulfilments in between but the ultimate fulfillment is the end-time. The overall structure of the book helps us see something of the author’s purpose. The seals, the trumpets, and the bowls all cover, in my opinion the same period from different aspects. The 3rd and 4th of the 4 visions are parallel, and it shows that the heavenly kingdom has superseded and replaced the earthly one. The historical context must be taken into account in any interpretation of this book, primarily the presence of Emperor worship and the persecution of the local churches. We have somehow lost understanding of the symbols due to our cultural linguistic and existential setting. Possibly, the end-time events themselves will throw light on the proper interpretation of these idioms. We should be careful not to push all of the details of this apocalyptic prophecy. Like the parables, we need only to seek the major truths, the broad-strokes and don’t get so involved in the details or the backdrop to the prophecy.
We cannot be so dogmatic as to fight to death over how it all began and how it’s all going to end, when we can’t affect anything. The Lord is coming back. The kingdoms of this world are going to become the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Exactly how and exactly when has not been revealed to us. But it is obvious to those of us who believe that the Sovereign God of all things is in control of history, and is going to bring it to a conclusion.