Note on Christian prophecy and The Apocalypse

Digging into the difference of opinion noted in the re-post from Joel Rosenberg unearthed an interesting find – one connecting into what I wrote ten weeks ago today about the origin of this blog. I’ll say more about that later.

Some readers may have queried my covering comment to Joel’s post; (it) “includes opinions of a Bible teacher who thinks its prophecies have happened“.  This merely reflects the actual content of The Blaze interviews.

As Hank Hanegraaff’s online radio show is called ‘Bible Answer Man’, my remark may seem to question that title. Those reading the linked article would note journalist Billy Holloway’s statement that Hanegraaff has “a wildly different take on the matter” to that of Rosenberg for he, “rejected the notion that Revelation and other alleged prophecies apply to today’s world”.

How come? Aren’t both men Christians? A little elucidation is called for…

Doubtless both men meet the basic criterion for a born-again believer, as in the Spirit-inspired instruction of the apostles Paul and John:

if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Chapter 10 of Paul’s letter to the Romans; New International Version)

16 For God so loved the world (that’s you, my reader) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (Chpt 3 of the Gospel according to John; NIV)

So, to have faith in Christ it isn’t absolutely necessary to believe everything in the Bible. In fact, some believers disregard prophecy and scholars have various opinions upon this topic and when, if at all, predicted events will occur. Also, are such things to be taken figuratively?  The widest divergence in opinion is over the Bible’s closing book – ‘The Apocalypse’, or ‘Book of Revelation’. In the original Greek this Book opens as follows.:

‘Apocalupsis iEsou christou…’

‘The unveiling of Jesus Christ (anointed one)’, per the Greek Interlinear Bible, or as the New King James Version translates it:

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,  who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. 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. (Revelation 1)

John is thought to have been the closest disciple of Jesus, and could thereby personally attest to Jesus’ awesome origin, as in the first of three short letters to believers:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us(1 John 1)

The Apocalypse opens by stating its purpose: an unveiling of God’s plans that He gave to Jesus Christ, for sharing through his surviving first disciple several decades after he witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from death. This account tells how John acquired this information. He became Jesus’ amanuensis in writing exactly what Jesus dictated as personal letters to seven churches in Asia as a result of His having visited them.

White Door in SkyNext, John was caught up to God’s Throne Room in heaven where he heard and saw visions about what was going to happen shortly and in the distant future when the Age will be drawn to a close with the bodily return of Jesus Christ to rule and reign upon earth. John had to be reminded to write it all down!

NB: It is the only Book in the Bible to open with a blessing for all who read it and ‘keep’, or observe, what’s written therein, and closes with a curse (of loss of inheritance in the Kingdom) for anyone who tampers with its text and changes its message. The Book of Revelation is primarily for believers, not unbelievers.

In Unlocking The Bible, David Pawson defines this genre of literature as follows:

Unlocking The Bible‘Apocalyptic’ is history written from God’s point of view.  It gives the total picture.  It enlarges our understanding of world events by seeing them in the light of what is above and beyond our limited perception.  This gives us both insight and foresight…far beyond that of the normal historian.

He also gives this snippet:

God is working out his plans and purposes within time…He is the Lord of History.  But it is his pattern, which can only be discerned when he has revealed the missing pieces of the jigsaw. (Emphasis added)

(Now where did we come across that notion before?  See Invisible Jigsaw.)

He points out that the first characteristic of the ‘apocalyptic’ genre is that it’s basically moral. Secondly, that it’s often symbolical so the unknown can be communicated in terms of what is familiar, as in analogy or parable, because it involves not only information but also imagination. 

Interpretation of The Revelation

Thus, this complex ‘end-times’ revelation can only be understood with God’s overall purpose for humanity in mind. So, it’s not surprising that scholars are divided over the Book’s meaning and predictions for the end of 1st Century and any later events it may forecast for the world and the Church.

There are four main ‘schools’ of exposition based upon interpretations of when these predictions would be fulfilled, as below:

  1. Preterist  – during the first centuries AD with the decline/fall of Roman Empire
  2. Historicist – all centuries between the First and Second Advent of Jesus Christ
  3. Futurist – end of final century AD (held by early Church and evangelicals today)
  4. Idealist – any century AD, none in particular (treats the Book as spiritual ‘myth’).

We can now appreciate Hank Hanegraaff’s ‘preterist’ position that Revelation refers only to John’s days 1900 years ago and the persecutions that took place. But he fails to take the whole account into consideration because its closing chapters clearly refer to things that have not happened yet. For example, unprecedented global catastrophes, return of millions of deceased Christians alongside Jesus to overthrow Satan and rule upon earth, Satan’s final rebellion with many nations and demise in the lake of fire, the arrival of the ‘holy city’ and ‘wedding of the Lamb’!

So how are we to understand The Apocalypse? David Pawson suggests using the four ‘schools’  in conjunction for each of the three main time periods, the present, the near future and the far future (not ignoring the switching between earth and heaven).  Yet,

..the fundamental question is not ‘when?’ but WHY?

Pawson’s answer:

Not just to tell us what is going to happen but to get us ready for what is going to happen…Revelation is a ‘manual for martyrdom’…which is why this book becomes so meaningful to Christians under persecution. Maybe this is also why Western Christians in comfortable churches fail to find it relevant.

Structure of The Revelation

 “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. 19 Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  (Rev 1:17-19 NKJV)

  • The Present:
  • chpt 1. Vision of the Son of Man, the one ascended Lord
  • chpt 2-3. Letters to seven churches (and for all churches)
  • chpt 4-5. Vision of heaven, the Lion of Judah and the Lamb
  • The Near Future:
  • chpt 6-11. Judgements, great tribulation, martyrs and two witnesses
  • chpt 12-16. Woman, child, dragon, beast 666, antichrist, false prophet
  • chpt 17-19. Fall of Babylon, Messianic judgement of Armageddon
  • THE RETURN OF ‘THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS’ 
  • The Far Future:
  • chpt 20. The Millennium, Satan rebels/defeated, Judgement, lake of fire
  • chpt 21. New heaven and new earth, the Bride, the New Jerusalem
  • chpt 22. River of Life from God’s throne, Tree of Life for healing the nations.

David Pawson explains that each future period has bad news and things get much worse, but the good news is that things will get very much better afterwards. Through it all Jesus encourages his people to ‘endure’ and ‘overcome’ until He returns.

First, Jesus tells the churches they must deal with internal problems if they are to face external pressures. Compromise in belief of behaviour, tolerance of idolatry or immorality, weaken the Church from within. (LESSON FOR TODAY!)

For the 2nd period He shows the worst that can happen but believers will not have to go through anything worse! “And the very worst time ahead will be at most a few years”.

Then, Jesus reveals the wonders that will follow in the 3rd period when all believers will be with Him.

Conclusion

On a personal note, what impresses me is the comparison of this closing book with the Bible’s first book, Genesis.  Revelation promises a full restoration not only for those who believe in God, to life with Him, but also and because of that for the earth too. The Tree of Life is a main feature in the garden of Eden, in the beginning, but through it Satan perverted Adam and Eve’s relationship with their fatherly Creator and so they lost and fell from their glory. In the end that usurper gets his just desserts, the saved return to living in the glory of God in the New Jerusalem and the Tree’s leaves bring healing to all people, as it is written.:

But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26 And they shall bring the glory and the honour of the nations into it. 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Revelation 21 NKJV)

This short blog can never hope to do justice to the Book of Revelation. It is an awesome subject but you may wish to meditate upon it yourself along with suitable aids such as in the links below.

Acknowledgements – thank you to:

  • David Pawson, for Unlocking the Bible and books & audio series here and here.
  • Neil MacKereth, for several in-depth courses at Winchester Vineyard church using Chuck Missler’s and David Pawson’s extensive teachings.

PS – click to read about what happened after writing the above post!

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