What Do We Believe
Now About the Book of Revelation?
One thing we know for sure when we leave
Jehovah’s Witnesses—the book of Revelation does not foretell the
insignificant modern-day history of the Organization. What
presumption to claim that the Cedar Point, Ohio, convention in 1922
or the constant harangue against Christian churches in a series of
tracts and resolutions had anything at all to do with the momentous
fulfillment of Bible prophecy! So after enduring all those boring
book studies and learning what Revelation doesn’t mean, what
are our options for understanding the book, now that we can think
It seems that the approach individuals
take to interpreting Revelation is based upon their approach to
interpreting the fulfillment of prophecy in the entire Bible. If
they believe that most of the Old Testament (OT) prophecies
regarding the nation of Israel are to be taken literally, then these
Christians fit the New Testament (NT) into the OT framework.
Dispensational Premillennialists fall into this category. On the
other hand, if Christians believe that the NT ushered in a new
understanding of OT prophecies as applying to spiritual Israel, then
they reinterpret the OT to fit into the framework of the NT.
Historical Premillennialists, Amillennialists, and
Postmillennialists fall into this latter category.
It is fascinating to me that convincing
arguments can be made for most of these differing views, so that
when all is said and done, many of us conclude that we are “Panmillemmialists,”
meaning that only God knows for sure what will happen in the future,
so we can be confident that it will all “pan out” in the end.
However, for those who would like a brief summary of the four major
interpretations of Revelation, I’ve done my best to put them in the
John received the Revelation “on the
Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10), which means the setting of the book
takes the reader into the future when “the Lord’s day” will
result in the destruction of the wicked at Jesus’ second coming
(1 Thess. 5:2-4).
John was shown the things that “must
shortly take place.” Since one day to God is as 1,000 years (2
Peter 3:8), then the remaining time to him before the end is
The purpose of God is to establish a
kingdom on earth at Christ’s second coming. This kingdom will
last for 1,000 years before it is merged with the eternal state
when Jesus hands all things back to the Father (1 Cor.
Before the kingdom is established,
there will be cataclysms of nature obviously caused by God, and
there will be seven years of tribulation ruled by the
anti-Christ (the last week of Daniel 9:24-27), during which time
a faithful remnant of Jews and numerous Gentiles will be saved.
During the millennium, Christ will
rule over the earth with the church, the OT saints, and the
tribulation martyrs. Jerusalem will be the seat of government
where the Shekinah light will again shine in the rebuilt
temple. A sovereign, inflexible Jewish state will rule over the
earth, where the saved, living Gentile nations (sheep of Matthew
25) will learn God’s laws and receive healing and long life.
At the end of the 1,000 years, Satan
will be released and will be joined by unfaithful humans to wage
a final war against Christ’s true followers. Then the final
judgment will take place, and Christ will deliver all back to
John received the Revelation “on the
Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10), meaning the first day of the week (when
Christians met together because it was the day on which Jesus
was raised [Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2]). As a result, some
translations say John received the Revelation “on Sunday.”
John was shown the things that “must
shortly take place.” “Shortly” means just that. Even though
the last few chapters of Revelation are describing future
events, most of the symbolic language and prophecies applied to
first century Christians who were being persecuted by Rome at
The OT prophet Daniel was told to
seal up his book because it prophesied about “the end of time”
(Daniel 12:4); whereas, John was told, “Do not seal up the words
of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Rev.
All promises made to Israel in the
OT were either fulfilled or have been forfeited through
disobedience (Joshua 21:43, 45; Jer. 18:9, 10). Although Romans
chapter 11 possibly means that the Jews will be converted in the
future, the NT does not predict a future restoration of Israel
as a nation. Rather, when the Jews rejected Jesus, he said the
kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to a
nation bringing forth good fruit (Matt. 21:43). That nation is
the church—“a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) in which “there is
neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28).
The 1,000 years mentioned in
Revelation chapter 20 is not a literal number. It pictures the
time period between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.
During this time, Satan has been abyssed or restrained only
in such a way that he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel or
use the nations to destroy the church. Just before Jesus comes
again to end all wickedness in the final battle, Satan will be
“released” so that he can deceive the nations into once more
coming against God’s people en masse. When this happens and
Satan and his forces are defeated, he will be thrown into the
lake of fire where all power will be taken from him.
Old Testament prophecies must be
interpreted in the light of the NT to find their deeper
meaning. Prophecies about the nation of Israel in the OT are
applied to the church in the NT, so that the church is now
spiritual Israel. (Rom. 2:28, 29; Phil. 3:3)
However, Romans 11:26 seems to say
that at some point the Jews will be converted, in the same way
as the Gentiles—by faith in Jesus as their crucified Messiah.
This conversion may take place in connection with the
millennium. The NT gives no details, so Historical
Premillennialists simply affirm the future salvation of Israel
and remain open regarding how and when God will accomplish it.
The NT does not make the reign of
Christ one that is limited to Israel in the millennium. Christ
has been reigning in his kingdom since his resurrection and
ascension (Heb. 1:3; 2:7, 8; Rev. 3:21), and his second coming
will simply be another aspect to his reign.
The book of Revelation is
apocalyptic literature, which has as its main concern the end of
the age and the establishment of God’s kingdom. The beast of
Revelation chapter 13 is both Rome and a future anti-Christ.
Revelation chapter 19 pictures the second coming of Christ, the
marriage of the Lamb, and his battle with the anti-Christ.
Revelation chapter 20 is the only NT
passage that talks about a millennium. Nowhere else does the
Bible explain its purpose in God’s redemptive plan. We know
there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and the millennium
will reveal to the world the glory and power of Christ’s reign.
God will make known the details when it suits his purpose. All
we know is that the millennium falls between Christ’s return and
the end when he hands back everything to the Father.
We are presently living in the
millennium. It is the period of time known as the Church Age
when the gospel is being preached throughout the earth, and the
kingdom has been established in the hearts of people.
Ultimately, the vast majority of
people in all nations will be converted to Christianity, so that
when Christ returns, he will find that his Great Commission
(Matt. 28:18-20) has been fulfilled. He will return to a golden
age of righteousness and peace, a truly Christianized world.
So far, the Church has been
negligent in making disciples. However, the redemption of the
world is a long, slow process overseen by the Holy Spirit, whose
regenerating work will be sure to triumph before Christ returns.
Even though the above four approaches to
the book of Revelation, and particularly to the millennium, differ
from one another, all share several concepts in common. The Bible
is the inspired Word of God; Christ came to this world a first time
as a sacrifice for our sins; He will come a second time, visibly and
in glory, to judge the world and to usher in a new heaven and a new
earth, wherein righteousness will dwell. These common concepts
involve our salvation; whereas, the various interpretations of how
events will unfold leading up to the end are matters for personal
For Nils and me, the freedom we now
enjoy to study the Bible with open minds has led us to some lively
discussions regarding the book of Revelation. Nils tends toward a
Dispensational Premillennialist view, and I tell him that his view
makes me smell a rat. All the proof-texting between the OT and the
NT, stringing together prophecies counting years, and painting a
very specific picture of future events transports me back to Witness
doctrine. Nils tells me that by arguing for Historical
Premillennialism (and sometimes for Amillennialism), I’m ignoring
strong indications from the Bible and from history that God has
never abandoned the Jews as a nation. He points out that Satan
appears to be on a mission to eliminate the Jews; yet, their
continued survival, especially now surrounded by their enemies, is
evidence that God is on their side.
Nils and I debate these issues, not only
because we have fun challenging each other, but also because we want
to remain alert regarding what is happening in the world, so that
Christ’s day does not take us by surprise (Matt. 24:42-44). The
Apostle Peter summed it up pretty well when he said we should hasten
the day of Christ’s return by keeping busy every day in “holy acts
of conduct and deeds of godly devotion” (2 Peter 3:11 NWT), which
activities lend themselves quite nicely to adopting a