We cannot afford to guess or superimpose our own personal opinions when it comes to understanding the Word of God. The things recorded in this book have to do with the eternity of our soul (see Revelation 21:10ff). Our eternal souls are too precious to squander away through ignorance, apathy, sloth, preconceived ideas, or deception. Consider the following approach to understand the book of Revelation. First, approach the book knowing that you can and must understand it (Revelation 1:3). Remember, the word "Revelation" means an uncovering or disclosure. God intends for readers to understand. Those who approach any part of God's word with the attitude that "it is too difficult" or that "only a select few can understand it" are destined for failure and personal confusion. The Apostle John tells us that all who read and understand the book of Revelation are blessed (see Revelation 1:3; 2:11; 3:13).
Secondly, approach the book intelligently and informed. Take note of the similarities that exists between the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. Daniel's visions and dreams dealt with prophecies that have already been fulfilled; however, the style of Daniel's writing is very similar to Revelation. If I can understand the meanings behind the book of Daniel I will more easily understand the style of Revelation. Take time to familiarize yourself with the books of Daniel and Ezekiel before studying Revelation.
Always cross reference the text of consideration. Cross reference the war of Gog and Magog at Revelation 20:8 with the book of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 and find the obvious meaning. When you read about various time frames and beasts in the book of Revelation look back to Daniel chapter 7 to gain greater understanding. You will find the exact wording of events in various books and gain greater insight into a passage under consideration. The more cross referencing you do and the more you search out texts of equivalence the more your eyes will be opened to the true meanings of this wonderful book. The best commentary for any book in the Bible is the Bible itself. When you let the Bible define its terms and explain why certain language is used in certain places you will not be left guessing, supposing, or presuming meanings. You will be armed with facts and you will come away from this study knowing the truth. (Continued on inside)
Thirdly, approach the book of Revelation with an understanding of why God used imagery and symbolism. Many are so baffled over the symbolic figures, numbers, and time frames that they conclude that the book is impossible to understand. The idea that the book of Revelation is written in a cryptic style so that only Christians would understand it and the Romans would not intercept it is Biblically baseless and mere conjecture.
Throughout the book of Revelation we will encounter various time frames. There is the time, times, and a half time, forty two months, 1260 days, 1000 years, one hour and so forth. The book of Daniel used the same type of teaching tool. For example, Daniel was showed events that were to transpire in the future at Daniel chapter 9. The angel of God tells Daniel that over a period of "seventy weeks" Jerusalem and the temple of God would be rebuilt, Christ would come into the world and then die, and the temple would be destroyed again. We know, being on this side of history that those events took approximately 500 years to accomplish. So why did God initially tell Daniel that this was a "seventy week' period of time? The answer is obvious. God gives general time frames of actual events that are to transpire in the future. The Lord does this because if man had exact dates he would not be so inclined to live a life of faith (Revelation 2:10). People may be tempted to wait to the very last moment to repent of sins because God is gracious and forgiving. Such an approach to spirituality fails to consider the uncertainties of life and death as well as God's will for man to live a life of faith (Revelation 2:10).
Jesus, speaking of the end of times said, "But of that day and hour knows no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36). The given time frames are intended to illustrate the truths of events happening yet God does not tell man exactly when those events will occur (see Deuteronomy 29:29). The faithful will believe and wait patiently in obedience until God's time frames unfold (see Isaiah 40:31 and 49:23).
The imagery and symbolism of Revelation is intended to get across various messages. We look to the description of Satan as a red dragon and conclude that he is indeed ferocious, dangerous, and powerful. We see the flaming eyes of Christ and take note of his fearful state of being. Jesus also used symbolic imagery in his teaching while on earth through parables. The Lord's disciples asked Jesus why he did this at Matthew 13:10. The Lord answered saying, "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given..." (Matthew 13:11). Jesus tells us that some have no true interest in God's mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Those who are interested will "desire to see" the meanings of these Biblical mysteries and dig deep to find the treasure (Matthew 13:17). Those really not interested will give no effort to search out the meaning of the veiled language. While apocalyptic and parable styles of writing are somewhat different the principle remains equal. Mysteries are being revealed and those who desire to know will find the meaning.
There is nothing overly mysterious about this book. What the book of Revelation does is gives us a taste of true Bible study so that we have the most difficult time putting it down. This book that you are about to study is immensely fascinating and the conclusions are eye opening. John C. Robertson