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What is Revelation?
Revelation is the last book in the Bible and is a letter written to seven churches in what is today the country of Turkey. And it was written by John at Jesus’ direction. Beyond that, there are a wide variety of opinions as to which John wrote the book, how to interpret it, and its relevance for both the original audience and today’s readers.
Revelation is apocalyptic literature. It is filled with visions, symbolism, and conflict between good and evil. This genre is strange to modern readers but would have been familiar to first-century Judaism. For more information on apocalyptic literature, see Bible Gateway’s Encyclopedia of the Bible.
Not All People Avoid it
I think it is important to note that not all believers avoid reading Revelation. There are many who read it regularly along with the rest of the Bible. Typically, these folks are committed to a ‘Read through the Bible’ program that covers every book in the Bible over the course of a year.
There is another audience for Revelation that may spend more time there than nearly anywhere else. These readers are fascinated with end-time prophecy and examine Revelation closely to see if they can find anything in it that lines up with current events.
And, finally, there are those who just don’t read their Bible with any kind of regularity. They might only read their Bible to follow along with a sermon or to look up some specific passage to prove a point. These folks are not avoiding Revelation. But since it is seldom preached or taught, they are not familiar with it.
Reasons Why Some Avoid Reading Revelation
There are several reasons why many people who regularly read the Bible might avoid Revelation. Listed below are some of these reasons.
It is Confusing and Frightening
When the modern reader opens Revelation and begins to read, they likely will become quickly confused. Before you even get out of the first chapter, you find this description of the person speaking to John.
“and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”Revelation 1:13-16 NIV
And it does not get any better as you read through it. What are you to make of the four beasts, stars falling from heaven, dragons, many-headed and horned beasts, and great battles? It would be easy to imagine the author being high on drugs when he writes all of this.
And what about the locusts coming up out of the Bottomless Pit? That can be a terrifying picture to the uninitiated reader. After all, who wants to be tormented by one of them for five months? Reading Revelation can be the thing of nightmares for some.
It Is Often Not Taught or Preached
In the 60+ years I have attended worship services, I do not recall a single sermon preached from chapters 4-18 of Revelation. It may well be that I just don’t remember. But, typically, if a preacher ventures into Revelation, it is to look at the letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three, or the Great White Throne judgment and New Jerusalem at the end of the book. No doubt there are preachers who invest time in all of Revelation, and maybe an excessive amount of time. But that has not been my experience.
And, going along with that, Sunday school classes and church-organized Bible studies do not spend much time in Revelation. One of the men in the church I serve in wanted to teach a class about Revelation. But he was not allowed to because ‘it was too confusing with too many interpretations.
Is it any surprise, then, when a church avoids spending time in Revelation, that the members of that body also avoid it? They will likely consider it to be irrelevant to modern readers and see no reason to try and wade through it.
Wide Variety of Interpretations
Another factor that may keep people from reading Revelation is the wide variety of interpretations of this letter. Some understand it as a prophecy already fulfilled. Some as prophecies currently being fulfilled. Others as prophecy of events awaiting us in the future. And, still others, as primarily a letter of encouragement to suffering first-century churches in Asia Minor. Which of those frameworks you adopt will have a significant impact on how you understand what John was writing.
How do you interpret all the images throughout Revelation? Are they literal? Or symbolic? Is 144,000 a literal number of literal Jews? Or is it something else? When does the 1000-year period in Revelation 20 occur? And is it literally 1000 years? Or a very long time? Even among those who hold to a common framework for Revelation, there is a variety of opinions on what the images and visions mean.
One view that has become common in Evangelical Protestantism over the past 200 years is that believers are raptured from the world before the vast bulk of Revelation occurs. Those who adopt this view may feel like they can safely ignore Revelation since it doesn’t apply to them.
Can we safely avoid Revelation in our Bible reading and study? Does it really have any relevance to us today?
Revelation starts with an invitation to read it, and a blessing on those who do. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Rev. 1:3 NIV).
We should read Revelation along with the rest of the Bible. Although it was written to, and for, first-century churches, I believe that it is relevant for the church of today. But care should be taken in reading Revelation. Examine as many distinct views and sources as you can. And allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in understanding and applying this Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:1) to your life today.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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This article was first published in BibleStudyTools.com on October 27, 2019