If the Book of Revelation is primarily a prophecy to the first-century Church, is it of any value to Christians today? As a matter of fact, that question faces us with regard to every book in the Bible, not just Revelation; for all Scripture was written “to” someone else, and not ”to” us. But St. Paul stated a fundamental principle of Biblical interpretation: ”All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God’s judgment on Israel for her disobedience can happen to us as well, if we do not persevere in faith and works. If even Israel could be broken off from the covenantal Tree of Life, so can we: “They were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity; but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. 11:20-23).
The Book of Revelation therefore has continuing lessons for the Church of all ages. I have summarized some of these lessons below, providing references to the pages in the commentary where they are discussed. The following is not to be taken as an exhaustive list, but as a rough sketch for topical study and review.
The Interpretation of Prophecy
The purpose of prophecy is not simply “prediction”; rather, it is a summons to ethical living in terms of God’s standards (p. 11). It is therefore not “history written in advance” (pp. 27-29). Our standard for interpreting prophecy must be the Bible itself (pp. 29-31). The Book of Revelation is written in “signs,” i.e. symbols (p. 53). Symbolism is inescapable; in fact, everything is symbolic (pp. 32-33). Symbolism is analogical, not realistic; it is fluid, not a “code” (pp. 33-34). The primary controls on undue speculation must be faithfulness to the Bible’s system of doctrine, and faithfulness to the Bible’s system of symbolism (pp. 38-39).
The Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation has a contemporary focus; it is not about the Second Coming (pp. 39-44), but about the inauguration of the New Covenant era during the Last Days – the period A.D. 30-70, from the Ascension of Christ to the fall of Jerusalem (p. 51). Written sometime within the final decade of Israel’s history (pp. 3-6) in the distinctive form of the Biblical Covenant Lawsuit (pp. 10-20, 46-47, 49-50, 85-86, 141-44, 225-27, 379-82), its main prophecies were to be fulfilled shortly (p. 51-55). The prophecy was intended to be read in the liturgical setting of the first-century churches (p. 54), and so begins with Seven Letters to the churches of Asia Minor. Each Letter recapitulates the five-part structure of the historic Biblical covenants (pp. 85-86). Taken together, the Letters recapitulate all of Covenant history, from Adam to Christ (pp. 86-89); and they also foreshadow the entire structure of Revelation (pp. 89-91). The Seven Seals set forth the period of the Last Days in general (p. 181); the Seven Trumpets warn of the Tribulation, up to the first siege of Jerusalem under Cestius (pp. 252-53, 286); and the Seven Chalices reveal the final outpouring of God’s wrath upon Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 67-70 (pp. 383-84).
Revelation is written to comfort and instruct the churches that are plagued and oppressed by an occult, gnostic, statist form of apostate Judaism which had captured the religious hierarchy of Israel (pp. 94, 106-07, 115-16). St. John calls this movement various symbolic names – “Nicolaitans,” “Balaamites,” “Jezebelites,” and “the Synagogue of Satan” – but all these expressions refer to the same cult (pp. 98, 101-03, 107-08, 113-14, 127-28).
The meaning of the main symbols in Revelation may be summarized as follows:
The Seven-Sealed Book is the New Covenant, which Christ obtained at His glorious Ascension and “opened” during the period of the Last Days, climaxing in the destruction of Jerusalem (pp. 166-77). (The “Little Book,” which explains the Seven-Sealed Book, is the Revelation to St. John: p. 268.) The sealed multitude of 144,000 are the Remnant, the believing Jews of the first century (pp. 206-8, 355-59), the core of the innumerable multitude of the redeemed from every nation (pp. 213-16). The “Two Witnesses” represent the faithful Church of the Old Covenant, “the law and the prophets” exemplified in Moses and Elijah, culminating in the witness-bearing of John the Forerunner (pp. 276-85). The Woman clothed with the Sun is faithful Israel, the Mother of Christ (pp. 297-300). In spite of the Dragon’s wrath, the Messiah ascends to rule heaven and earth from the Throne (pp. 308-9). Christ’s defeat of Satan in His life, death, and resurrection is portrayed by Michael’s offensive “war in heaven” against the Dragon (pp. 311-18).
The Beast from the Sea is the Roman Empire, embodied in Nero Caesar (pp. 325-35); the Beast from the Land (also called the False Prophet) is Israel’s religious leadership (pp. 336-44); and the Image of the Beast is the apostate Jewish Synagogue (pp. 339-44). Babylon, the Great Harlot-City, is old, apostate Jerusalem (pp. 362-63, 414-16, 421-43). The New Jerusalem, the pure Bride-City, is the Church (pp. 473-75, 545-46, 552-63), which celebrates her Marriage Supper with the Lamb in the Eucharist, the Communion Feast (pp. 475-78); then she follows her Lord, who, as the Word of God, conquers all nations by the Gospel (pp. 481-92).
Satan was bound in Christ’s First Advent and thus prevented from prematurely instigating the eschatological War (pp. 499-508). The “Millennium” is Christ’s Kingdom, which began at the Resurrection/Ascension and continues until the end of the world (pp. 494-98, 508-19). The “new heaven and earth” is a picture of salvation: brought in definitively by the finished work of Christ, developing progressively throughout the present age, and coming finally, in absolute fullness, at the consummation of all things (pp. 535-45).
Old Covenant Israel
All Biblical covenants were provisional re-creations, looking forward to the definitive New Creation: the New Covenant (pp. 266-67). The meaning of Israel’s history is the bearing of the Manchild, Jesus Christ (pp. 297-300). Old Covenant believers carried the Testimony of Christ (pp. 512-13). The war between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent climaxed at the Cross and the Resurrection (pp. 307-8). Unbelieving Israel was excommunicated; and now the Gentiles are streaming in to the New Covenant (pp. 273-74). Israel will never have a covenantal identity apart from the Church (p. 269), for Old Covenant religion cannot be revivified; salvation is now only with Christ and the Church (pp. 448-49).
Christ’s Resurrection, Ascension,
and New Covenant Kingdom
The goal of Christ’s Advent was His glorious Ascension to the heavenly Throne (p. 309) – His definitive “Coming in the Clouds” (pp. 64-67). By His Resurrection and Enthronement, He defeated the devil and destroyed his works (pp. 315-17, 502-4), opening heaven to all believers (pp. 366-67). Having been inaugurated at His First Advent (p. 117), Christ is the Ruler of all the kings of the earth (pp. 62-64); His Kingdom has begun and is going on now (pp. 63-64, 68-69).
Jesus Christ’s definitive victory gives us progressive dominion (pp. 117-18, 178-79). His resurrection is the First Resurrection, in which all believers share (pp. 104, 516-19). The Kingdom is the Age of Regeneration (pp. 509-10), the era to be characterized by righteousness (pp. 543-45). All Christians are royal priests (pp. 64, 139, 508-9), ministering and reigning both in heaven and on earth (pp. 514-15).
Christ’s Ascension opened the New Covenant (pp. 169-74), the New Creation of heaven and earth – a description of both our present and future inheritance (pp. 538-45). The New Jerusalem is the Kingdom City, the Church: Christ’s Bride now and forever (pp. 525, 545-46). As the Old Covenant was the era of (relative) Night, the New Covenant is the era of the Day, for the world moves eschatologically from Darkness to Light (pp. 570-73). The New Covenant is thus the promised “age to come” (p. 473).
Orthodox Christians agree that Christ’s Kingdom goes from His Ascension to the end of the world (pp. 493-94). Orthodox Christianity is both amillennialist and postmillennialist (pp. 494-96): For, while Christianity has always been staunchly anti-revolutionary (p. 495), it has also been strongly optimistic regarding the power of the Gospel to convert the nations of the world (pp. 496-97). Orthodox Christianity is therefore not “pluralistic” with respect to the Kingdom, holding that all men, nations, and institutions must bow down before the Lord Jesus Christ, obeying His commands in every area of life and thought (p.496).
Judaism and the Fall of Jerusalem
The foremost enemy of the Church in New Testament times was apostate Judaism (pp. 106-7). First-century Judaism was not simply a continuation of Old Covenant religion; rather, it was an apostate religion, denying both the Old Testament and the New Testament (pp. 101-2, 336-37), promoting the heresy of salvation through chaos (pp. 115-16), committing idolatry by substituting the creation for the Creator (pp. 255-56). Israel’s rejection of Christ corrupted the rest of the world (p. 458), turned God’s blessings into curses (pp. 245-46), and led her into the slavery of occultism and statism (p. 465). Common Biblical metaphors for covenant-breaking are fornication and adultery; apostate Jerusalem is thus represented as the Great Harlot, the corrupter of the world (pp. 108-9, 114, 363-64, 421-30. Unbelieving Jews are therefore not God’s chosen people (pp. 127-28).
Israel’s greater privilege meant greater responsibility, and thus greater judgment (p. 128). After the Gospel was preached to the whole world (pp. 361-62), God poured out the Great Tribulation of A.D. 67-70 upon apostate Jerusalem and her Temple (p. 68), in direct response to the prayers of His Church (pp. 238-39). The destruction of Jerusalem was the sign to Israel and the world that the Son of Man is now reigning in heaven (pp. 286-87); and it was the necessary final act of ushering in the New Covenant (pp. 267-68). Christ brought in the Age of Righteousness after the fall of Jerusalem (p. 570); the salvation of the world came through Israel’s fall (pp. 241-42); indeed, Israel’s fall will eventually result in her own conversion (p. 388). The only way of salvation, for Jews and Gentiles, is in Jesus Christ (p. 128).
There is only one Covenant of Grace, operating through different administrations (pp. 555-56). With the coming of the New Covenant, God’s Glory was transferred from the Temple to the Church (pp. 552-53), and believing Jews and Gentiles united in one Body in Jesus Christ (p. 265). The Church is the True Israel (pp. 102-3, 152), the eschatological Synagogue (pp. 372, 392); as such, she is no longer tied to the earthly Jerusalem but multicentralized throughout the world (p. 83). In the Old Covenant, the world had been organized around the Old Jerusalem; the Church is the New Jerusalem, the City of God (p. 131), and so now the world is organized around the Church (p. 416). We cannot have God for our Father if we do not have His Church for our Mother (p. 474). The sanctification of God’s people is carried on by means of the Church, through her ministry and sacraments (pp. 292-93).
The Church ascended to heaven with Christ (p. 284), and now “tabernacles” in heaven (pp. 318, 332), with the saints and angels (pp. 358-59). A saint is one who has sanctuary privileges; all Christians through the Ascension have access to the sanctuary (pp. 291-92). Christians and angels are now on an equal level as members of the heavenly Council (pp. 479-80): All Christians are prophets, seeing God face-to-face (p. 382).
The Church is the definitive re-creation of the world, the New Covenant (p. 320); she is the City on the Hill, the Light of the world (pp. 562-63). Salvation will flow out from her gates to convert the world (pp. 566-67). All nations will stream into her with the fruits of their culture (pp. 561-62); indeed, rulers have the duty to support the Church (p. 563). When states forsake their responsibility and seek to destroy the Church instead, such persecution is never merely “political”; it is always religious (pp. 279-80). Satan’s persecution of the Church is not a sign of his power; rather, he attacks the Church precisely because Jesus Christ has already defeated him (p. 319). Therefore, the Church will be preserved through all her tribulations, and will gloriously overcome all her opposition (p. 322). There is therefore no excuse for failure: Christ condemns churches that are ineffective (pp. 134-35).
The heavenly Temple, the archetype for Israel’s Tabernacle and Temple (pp. 150-51), has been inherited by the Church (pp. 272-74). Since God’s will is to be performed on earth as it is in heaven, angelic activity is the pattern for our own (pp. 153-54, 557); in particular, the angels correspond to the pastors/bishops of the Church, and their judging/ruling activities are to be imitated by their earthly counterparts (pp. 81, 230-31, 361-62, 364).
The New Covenant inevitably resulted in a New Song: the New Covenant Liturgy (pp. 176-77). (The anti-liturgical bias is essentially pagan and Moslem in character, not Biblical: pp. 24-25). The Christian day of worship, “the Lord’s Day,” is the liturgical acting-out of the Day of the Lord (pp. 70-71); this is why the Book of Revelation has historically set the pattern for the Church’s worship (p. 24). Biblical worship is corporate, responsorial, and orderly: This requires a formal liturgy (pp. 162-64). Every week, on the Lord’s Day, the worshiping Church follows Christ in His Ascension to heaven (pp. 147-48); angels are present in our worship because the Church is standing in the Court of heaven (p. 231). Everything we do in worship has cosmic significance: According to the Scriptural pattern, our public prayer should be performed in a reverent physical posture (p. 219); and even our simple Amen is regarded as a legal oath (pp. 132-33). Because of the Ascension, all Christians are prophets, members of God’s Advisory Council (pp. 148-49). The faithful Church prays imprecatory prayers against her oppressors (pp. 194-95), and God brings judgments on the earth in response to the Church’s cries for justice (pp. 232-33).
Worship must be centered on Jesus Christ. This means the weekly celebration of the Eucharist, the heart of Christian worship (pp. 137-39,476-77). The Eucharist is the center of life, and should give “shape” to everything else we do (p. 478).
The Dominion Mandate, the task God assigned Adam, will be fulfilled by the triumph of the Gospel throughout the world (pp. 510-11). Christians rule with Christ in His Kingdom now, in this age (pp. 64, 68-69, 139, 508-11, 514-15), and Christianity is destined to take over all the kingdoms of the earth (pp. 287-88). God has given His people a “covenant grant” to take possession and exercise dominion over His creation (p. 85). All Christians are therefore commanded to overcome opposition; and, in fact, all Christians are overcomers (pp. 98-99). Political power, however, does not come first; the temptation to grasp it prematurely must be resisted (pp. 511-12). The Church is to take the initiative in fighting against the forces of evil-she must attack, and not merely defend – and she will be successful (pp. 313-14). She must pray for, expect, and rejoice in her enemies’ defeat (p. 459). God will give His Church enough time to accomplish her assignment (p.506).
The Conversion of the World
For the most part, the world is still pre-Christian, not post-Christian (p. 57). Jesus Christ came to save the world (pp. 213-15), and His Resurrection and Ascension guarantee the triumph of the Gospel (p. 216). Christ is destined to smite and conquer all nations by His Word (pp. 481-92). His Cross, the Tree of Life, will heal all nations (pp. 567-69), as the Feast of Tabernacles symbolically sets forth (pp. 221-24). The over-whelming majority of people will be saved (pp. 387-88), and even Israel’s fall will eventually result in her conversion (p. 388). The tendency in the New Covenant age is judgment unto salvation (p. 285).
Salvation and the Christian Life
The “age of accountability” doctrine is a myth; all men are accountable to God at every moment of their existence (pp. 124-25). From one perspective, the Book of Life is a baptismal-roll, a Covenant record-book from which apostates are erased (p. 125); from another perspective, however, it is the membership roll of those whom God has chosen from before the foundation of the world (p. 334). The Bible teaches perseverance, not “eternal security” (pp. 69-70). Perseverance requires faith in God’s righteous government of the world (p. 335).
The Bible does not teach salvation by works, but it does teach damnation by works. We are justified by faith alone; but true faith is never alone (p. 533). Wealth is a by-product of God’s Kingdom; the pursuit of it apart from Christ is idolatry (pp. 559-60). Christianity does not exempt us from suffering, but enables us to overcome it (pp. 220-21). Suffering does not produce godliness; only God’s grace does (p. 407). Our sufferings serve one of two purposes: they either prove us or they improve us (pp. 236-37). God is more than willing to answer our prayers; our problem is that we don’t pray (pp. 249-50). God has His secrets, but He has revealed what we need to know to obey Him (pp. 262-64).
Salvation is God’s victory over His enemies, in this world and the next (p. 386). Salvation redeems both the individual and the community in the City of God (p. 547). All life and culture flow from a religious center (p. 448). Christianity applies to every area of life; it renovates the world (p. 548).
God and His World
In the most absolute sense, God is independent of His creation (pp, 160-62). The unity and diversity of the created order are reflections of the Trinity, in which unity and diversity are equally ultimate (pp. 58-59). God knows the future because He planned it (pp. 52-53), The meaning of predestination is that all facts are created/acts, their meaning predetermined and wholly interpreted by God (p. 100). The opposite of predestination is not freedom but meaninglessness (p. 100). Although God is not responsible for sin, nothing happens outside His control (pp. 441-42).
Belief in autonomous “Natural Law” is the modern form of Baalism (pp. 156-58). Nothing in creation is autonomous; all things are personal and God-centered (p. 204). God rules His creation directly and personally (pp. 156-58). The very order of the constellations manifests the glory of God (pp. 158-60). God is King of the nations, and uses them to fulfill His purposes (p. 387); He rules even the heathen armies of the earth (p. 409). The world’s judgments proceed, directly and personally, from His Throne (p. 192). God imposes restraints on man’s wickedness; without these there would be no limit to hatred and warfare (pp. 188-89). God applies His standards of justice to the world, requiring multiple restitution (p. 450).
The devil is not his own master; in the final analysis, he is governed by Christ (pp. 507-8). When God chooses to release him, Satan will bring the final War at the end of history (pp. 519-25), but this last rebellion will be crushed immediately (pp. 525-26). Both sides, the righteous and the wicked, will mature up to the very end; this is called epistemological self-consciousness (pp. 527-28).
Orthodox Christianity has always held to a future Second Coming of Christ and God’s final Judgment of the world (pp. 263-64, 530-31). The Bible does not teach an absolute universalism; some people will never be converted and will perish everlastingly (p. 519). All those outside of Christ will be cast into eternal punishment (p. 534).
God is the great Warrior-King: He defeats His enemies, and uses the spoils of victory to build His Temple (pp. 535-36). The Dominion Mandate will be fulfilled, and earth will be completely “heavenized” (pp. 537-38). Salvation abolishes the Curse (pp. 569-70), and promises not only that Paradise will be restored, but that it will be utterly consummated (pp. 354-55): Our gain in Christ is much more than what we lost in Adam (p. 567). Christians will reign with Christ, not just for a “millennium,” but forever (p. 573).