“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelation 22:18, 19 (NKJV)
There are five views claiming to explain Revelation’s mysterious symbolisms, symbolisms that all seem specifically designed to defy explanation. These five views include: preterism, extreme preterism, futurism, historicalism, and spiritualism.
(Although there are a few splinter views, they connect to one of these five main views in one way or another. The above five views constitute the spectrum of beliefs concerning Revelation and Daniel, including Jesus’s statements in Matt, Mark, and Luke concerning the same.)
This view claims John wrote Revelation as a warning to the early church of the coming persecution due to emperor worship.
This view claims all prophecy was fulfilled at 70 AD, based mainly upon Jesus’s statement: “ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.’ ” (Matt 24:34 NKJV)
This view claims the symbolisms in Revelation predict future events as signs to the end of time.
Futurism is generally tied to millennialism, the belief Jesus will reign a thousand years on earth. Millennialism comes in several forms, post-tribulation, pre-tribulation, postmillennialism, etc. Although tied closely with futurism, the belief in millennialism is fairly widespread and connected with ideas of a coming rapture and a period of tribulation, as recently portrayed in the movie The Rapture.
This view claims Revelation predicted events concerning the church and the Catholic Church.
The methodology preterists use to solve the symbolisms is speculation based upon observable comparisons. A symbolism is compared with an historical event, and when that symbolism looks similar to an event, the preterists speculate the two are the same.
For instance: The first century people were made to burned incense to Caesar’s statue in an act of emperor worship. This action looks something like the image of the beast symbolism. Therefore, the preterists speculate, they are the same.
Here’s the problem. This methodology requires a historical event with which to compare the symbolism. Without the event, it would be impossible to know the meaning of the symbolism. So anyone living before the event took place is at a distinct disadvantage, wholly unable to comprehend the warning contained in the book. An unknowable warning is no warning at all.
Their retort might be: The early Christians had some other way to resolve Revelation’s symbolisms, of which we are currently unaware. This kind of explanation lacks credibility. If the decryption of Revelation’s symbolisms were based upon early Christian culture or spirituality, then we, possessing enough knowledge of both, should be able to resolve the symbolisms through the same. Nonetheless, there is nothing in their culture or spirituality applicable or adequate to solve the symbolisms.
In addition, preterism has not and cannot solve a number of Revelation’s more difficult symbolisms, such as the ten horns and seven heads, the locus with their tails, fire from heaven, 666, the thousand-year reign of Christ, and others. This is like a guide declaring full knowledge of the Rocky Mountains without ever actually having visited Colorado, Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming. The view that cannot solve all is not trustworthy to solve a few and declare fullness of knowledge.
Preterism stands on such shaky logic, it seems to me the motivation for believing the view must come from a desire to answer futurism and millennialism. This is not a good basis for believing anything. In fighting one heretical doctrine, men have inadvertently created another. This is unacceptable.
In that this view of Revelation comes into direct conflict with other biblical passages, particularly Paul and Peter’s descriptions of the second coming and the day of resurrection (2 Peter 3, 2 Thess 2, and 1 Thess 4), it should be dismissed out of hand.
In trying to solve one problem, extreme preterists have created several other problems, one of which is the necessity to move the date of that book’s writing. This view demands the Apostle John wrote his book before 70 AD. However, history strongly suggests John wrote Revelation in 96 AD. Although there is no way to specifically verify this date, however the only evidence suggests 96 AD only. There is absolutely no evidence John wrote Revelation prior to 96 AD. A strong desire on the part of those holding this view is not enough to rewrite history.
Futurism claims the symbolisms are references to future events. However, the Apostle John was specific concerning the beginning of the events described by the symbolisms. “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Rev 1:3 emphases mine)
There’s no way around the words “for the time is near.”
Any view that ignores plan speech lacks credibility. Explaining away what is plainly said is an act of dishonesty, with one’s self and with others.
To get beyond accusations of rewriting scripture, many teaching this view claim guidance by the Holy Spirit. However, Paul wrote:
“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect [complete] has come, then that which is in part will be done away.” (1 Cor 13:8-10)
The “that which is complete” is the Bible, completed when John wrote Revelation, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, and the Gospel of John, all around 96 AD. Secular history indicates gifts of Holy Spirit worked through Christians for about thirty more years. Thereafter, they depended solely upon the Bible for guidance.
Anyone claiming guidance through the Holy Spirit at this late date is committing fraud and usually bent upon creating a version of doctrine not found in biblical sources. Paul wrote:
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8-10 NKJV)
If you meet anyone claiming guidance through the Holy Spirit, flee for your spiritual life.
A woman wrote one of the leaders of the Restoration Movement back in the eighteen hundreds, asking his thoughts on millennialism. He responded he wasn’t clear what the thousand-year reign of Christ meant. Whatever it means though, he wrote, it will not come into conflict with the rest of doctrine. This is an excellent answer. God would not have something written in one book and then contradict Himself in another.
Reading symbolic language at face value creates contradictory statements. Therefore, reading symbolic language at face value is not an appropriate approach to solving the mysteries in Revelation.
This view correctly recognizes the symbolism of the whore as the Catholic Church. Who can deny the whore, riding the purple beast, the Holy Roman Empire, dressed in purple and scarlet, covered in jewels, and drinking abominations from a golden cup is the Catholic Church?
However, this view, like preterism, cannot answer the ten horns and seven heads, 666, the thousand-year reign of Christ, fire from heaven, and the other seemingly impossible symbolisms. If a view cannot verifiably answer all the symbolisms, especially the difficult ones, then it is incomplete and lacks credibility.
The historicist view lacks complete understanding, speculating answers to other symbolisms, and creates a speculative conclusion. Most importantly, this view does not answer why John would write such a thing in the first place. At least the preterist view claims John wrote his book as a warning to the early church.
Although this view is correct that Revelation concerns spiritual matters, the words in the book discount the claim it reveals spiritual matters only. This view falls apart with Revelation 1:1: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.”
The word phrase “things which must take place” works as a description of physical activities but does not work in describing the spiritual.
Although all the above views contain individual problems, they share a common fatal flaw in that all the above views are all born of unverifiable speculation.
Imagine two men discovering a water well previously unknown to them. The first man might ask, “How deep is this well?” The other could reply, “Your guess is as good as mine.” Although each may speculate upon the depth of the well, without an accurate measuring device—verification—their guesses hold no value.
Without verification, neither can insist upon the correctness of his guess. And although one of the two men could guess correctly, both men can and will probably guess incorrectly.
Like mathematics, Revelation’s symbolisms are complicated. In the history of mathematics, no student has ever correctly speculated/guessed the correct answers on a math test. The only result of doing so is failure. Speculating on the meaning of the hidden meaning of Revelation’s complicated symbolisms produces the same.
The imprecise nature of speculation is most evident in that one view, such as preterism, often produces various answers to any particular symbolism. One man says the ten horns are such and such particular emperors, and a second man says the ten horns are another group of emperors. There is little consensus, and the individual answers to Revelation’s mysteries multiply like branches on a tree. Without a method to verify any conclusions, speculation produces only disagreement.
In addition, there is nothing in that book that says we must compare the symbolisms with historical events or read them as future signs. It may seem logical to do such things, but without verifiable instructions on how to solve the book, any methodology devised by man is itself born of speculation and therefore worthless.
In the early 1800s, early in the Restoration Movement, members of the church of Christ ran into a living, breathing false prophet in Joseph Smith. This Mormon prophet proclaimed a modern message for modern man (a new message for the new man). However, Paul said if a man preaches any gospel other than the gospel Paul preached, and Mormonism definitely preaches a different gospel, then that man is anathema (accursed) (Gal 1:8 NKJV).
Nonetheless, even armed with Paul’s words against that profane doctrine, members of the Lord’s church wanted a scriptural passage written in specific language to hold up against this heresy. They turned to Revelation 22:18, 19 (NKJV), proclaiming, “See, we are not to add to or take away from the Word of God.”
However, this is a misapplication of these passages. Look at the wording in those verses, “…words of the prophecy of this book…” and “…words of the book of this prophecy…” The Bible is not a singular book but a collection of books, some sixty-six of them. Revelation is but one of these books. Therefore, “this book” is the book of Revelation, and “this prophecy” is the prophecy in the book of Revelation.
Although it is true we are not to add to or take away from God’s words, emphasized in Deuteronomy 4:2, the words of Revelation 22:18, 19 were written as specific instructions for our treatment of the mysterious prophecy only. When members of the Lord’s church misapplied these verses, they missed the warning not to speculate upon the meaning of the book overall and the symbolisms in particular.
If a man speculates upon the meaning of the symbolisms in Revelation, then that man adds meaning to the symbolisms (“adds to these things”) without warrant and without verification. In addition, if a man speculatively dismisses any particular symbolism, then his is taking away from the words.
For example: All my life I’ve heard people say, “Oh, that thousand-year reign of Christ is just metaphoric language for a long period of time.” This kind of statement dismisses the thousand-year reign symbolism and, consequently, “takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy.”
We are not allowed to create meaning for Revelation’s symbolisms, even if our actions are thoughtful and studied. And we are not allowed to dismiss the symbolism as inconsequential, simply because we have a difficult time explaining them.
Although we find specific instructions on how to treat the book at the end of Revelation, we find an example of the nature of the symbolic language in the first chapter of the book:
John turns and sees Jesus standing among seven candlesticks with seven stars in his right hand (Rev 1:12-20 NKJV). If Jesus had not explained the meaning of the candlesticks and stars, the world would still rage in debate over their meanings.
Nonetheless, people go to great lengths to explain the deeper meaning of the candlesticks and stars. This is unwarranted, because these symbolisms exist mainly to reveal the nature of the rest of the symbolisms found in Revelation.
The symbolism language in Revelation says one thing but means another. Sometimes the meaning is somewhat related to the symbolism, like the candlesticks are somewhat related to the churches, in that we are to let our light shine (Matt 5:16). However, many of the symbolisms are unrelated to the thing they mean, like stars seem unrelated to angels. This is why 666, the thousand-year reign of Christ, fire from heaven, and other like symbolisms are so difficult to decrypt.
Except for a few simple symbolisms, the first three chapters in Revelation were written plainly. Chapters two and three are plain enough for anyone of anytime to understand, including Christian’s in the first century. The essence of chapters two and three is not complicated, summed up in a sentence: Do not whore with paganisms nor introduce manmade doctrines into the church.
If the early church had headed this warning, the falling away, of which Paul foretold in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, would never have occurred. They did not, and the falling away took place not long after John wrote his book.
John wrote: “
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev 1:1 NKJV)
The New King James Version translators were so certain verse one was saying the same thing as verse three, “the time is near”, they decided to translate the Greek “tachos” as “shortly”. The better translation is “quickly”, the same as the word in Revelation 22:7 , 12, and 20, wherein Jesus said he is “coming quickly (quickly from the Greek tachu). (Young’s Literal Translation translates the word as “quickly” instead of “shortly” (Rev 1:1 YLT).)
Since Jesus said these things almost two thousand years ago, then His use of the word, “quickly”, in Revelation 22 is not meant to mean “soon” but to mean “suddenly”, as in I will come in suddenness (No man knows the day or hour…I will come at a time you will not expect…etc).
If Jesus means “in suddenness” in Revelation 22, then it follows John meant “in suddenness” when he wrote Revelation 1, as in, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must [come in suddenness].” And the thing that was to come in suddenness was to happen soon, for “the time is near”.
The only thing that fits this description is the falling away in 150 AD, which happened suddenly soon after John wrote Revelation. One day everything seemed well, and the next thing anyone knew, a plethora of heretical churches spilled out into the world.
With this in mind, John wrote:
“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev 1:3 NKJV emphasis mine)
The only instructional section of Revelation is chapters two and three (and the special instructions at the end of chapter twenty-two). The prophecy, contained in chapters four through 22, is informational only.
Just how does one “keep those things which are written” when the prophecy itself is written as informational? That is impossible. Therefore, although the entire book is addressed to the seven churches in Asia Minor, the only part they could obey is the part they could understand, the part not written in symbolic verse, the part written as instructional. The blessing was reserved then for those who read and kept the contents of chapters two and three, not for those who read the prophecy itself.
It follows then that the rest of the prophecy, written in mysterious symbolisms, of which modern readers find so difficult to comprehend, was not necessarily meant for the first century Christians, since they could not have understood it any better than we.
Moreover, since such importance was focused upon the instructional, with the blessing and all, doesn’t it follow the rest of Revelation, the informational, should not have a strong connection to it? Shouldn’t the subject matter of the information relate to the subject matter of the instructional?
There is more to this book than speculation can answer, and it is clear no one has yet solved the mysterious symbolisms contained within. Nonetheless, Revelation was not written for nothing; we will eventually understand that book.
God will provide the way to decrypt this book in His own time in His own way. However, until that time comes, your best answer to Revelation, Daniel, Matthew 24, and Mark 13 is to simply say, “I do not know.” This is the appropriate answer, because all other answers are unverifiable and baseless, causing division and distraction from the Gospel of truth.
“…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)
“… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (Philippians 2:12 NKJV)
Until this book is understood in its entirety, it is advisable not use any of its passages for supporting scripture, such as using Revelation 22:18, 19 to mean not add to or take away from the Bible. The things written in Revelation are designed for Revelation.
So even the parts that seem to be plainly said are often hyperbolic in nature, not necessarily meant as spiritual advice but to describe, define, or refer to something else written in the book or elsewhere. There is nothing in Revelation you can’t find in other biblical books better said.
Nonetheless, the language of Revelation 22:18, 19 is rather dramatic, in that God promises to add to you the plagues written in the book and or to take your name out of the book of life if you should mistreat the symbolic language. Breathe a little easy; these verses are somewhat hyperbolic in nature as well. Nonetheless, if you are teaching a false doctrine of man’s invention, even by accident, God will not treat your actions kindly (James 3:1).
Humans, by our nature, want to know. Nonetheless, sometimes we must wait for an answer. The prophets did not fully understand everything they prophesied (1 Peter 1:10-12 NKJV), and the world does not yet understand these complicated biblical mysteries. The answers to Revelation have waited almost two thousand years. The world will learn these answers according to God’s timetable. Until that time, spend time studying the Gospel of truth, the prophets of old, biblical history, and the letters. These will do you better than struggling to understand a thing God has well hidden according to his will.
Consider this: These difficult symbolisms, 666, thousand-year reign, etc, just might exist as a type of encryption gatekeeper, wherewith the reader cannot solve the meaning of the all until these few are solved. Ignoring them or explaining them away will not lead one through the wormhole into knowledge. Nonetheless, everything written in Revelation relates specifically to Revelation, so a thing seemingly written in plain language may also be more complicated than it appears.
As elusive as this mysterious book has been throughout its history, the answers may now be closer than you think. However, Revelation will probably say what you do not expect or want. Nonetheless, like the symbolisms that say one thing and mean another, the message produced may say one thing and mean another too.
However, no one will resolve Revelation’s mysteries without first considering the nature of the book. Revelation, Daniel, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 17, 21 are different than the rest of scripture. They are asides and should be treated as such.
A Note To The Authorities:
Many, such as the David Koresh’s of the world, use Revelation as a call to arms. However like those who hold the millennialism view, these miscreants create beliefs out of Revelation that contradict doctrine. For Paul wrote:
“For he [the government] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Rom 13:4 NKJV)
Turning Revelation into some call to rebel against one’s government is as spurious as making Revelation’s symbolic language say God will literally reign on earth for a thousand years, which could never be; because heaven is His throne and earth is His footstool (Isaiah 66:1 NKJV).
I will be writing extensively on Revelation, which is the thrust of my study. At no time, however, should anyone infer from my writings a manifesto, by word or insinuation, inciting rebellion.