How to sit with the Book of Revelation

I have just finished a first pass at Revelation, with the help of N.T. Wright’s “Revelation for Everyone”.

As a new Christian with a science background I have devoted some effort to Genesis, but it didn’t really occur to me until now, that I might find Revelation challenging!

It seems inescapable that Revelation is about a rectification of the Fall, including an end to death itself. This is hard to reconcile with an understanding that death actually has been an essential part of God’s very good creation for billions of years prior to the creation of humans.

Wright doesn’t seem to mind writing off much of Revelation as mysterious metaphor but when it comes to the end of death he’s quite insistent that we must not take this as figurative. That’s challenging.

And then there is the New Jerusalem, which he also wants to take literally. Larger than the Moon, and yet, a cube (now I know where Star Trek writers got the idea of the Borg from). Picturing a 1500 mile cube plonked on a sphere of only 4000 miles radius, it seems kind of clunky…???



Throw God’s purpose(s) for creation into the mix and see if this helps any (I’m not enamored of a literal cube!):

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I’m also not enamored of no more sea – I like this Spurgeon on that:

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If you “solve” Revelation, then tell us all about it.

One thing that intrigues me about death is how it is described (what is it?), as well as how is it destroyed. (I can destroy an enemy by making him disappear forever, or I can also ‘destroy’ him by turning him into a faithful servant or even a friend).

In the old testament (Isaiah 65) the new heaven and new earth are described … no longer will children die young, an old man will “fill out his days” and those dying before a hundred will be thought to have died young. But the point remains (even with death still happening in Isaiah’s version of it) that some essential suffering tied with death is now gone. It is a blissful state in which to exist. I think there are echoes of this in the New Testament where Jesus regularly refers to death as “sleep”, and both Jesus and Paul teach that death is a necessary doorway for us to go through if we are to have a hope of resurrected life. So there seems to be a whole dimension to death that is missed by simplistic readings which insist on death having one and only one (physical) significance, and in which it is only this one-dimensional enemy fit only for complete annihilation. (“Death shall be no more…” Revelation 21.) But the references in Revelation to things like “second death” also hints at different kinds of death which warrant our attention. As bad as physical death is, there apparently are worse things - which may be one of the main lessons of Jesus’ life. Somehow the bereavement and grief that is caused by physical death will no longer be present in that blessed new Creation. And that is a mystery worth hoping on.


Don’t have much use for most of Revelation. Besides the part advising the seven churches and the identification of the serpent with the devil as a fallen angel, most of it seems an open invitation for the cults to invent all sorts of stuff out of it. More trouble than it is worth frankly. For the most part I am simply using it to refute such – “no, it does not say what you are claiming.”

Genesis on the other hand is one of my favorite books. The story speaks to us. It may not say the same things to all of us and perhaps that was intentional, but it does speak to us.


We are studying Revelation in a non-denominational men’s Bible study, and it is interesting, though I have avoided it in the past due to some of the flakey interpretations that seem to be popular. One thing I note is that it is difficult to keep in mind that this is a vision/dream and we try to make it material and physical, as that is all we know how to do, for the most part.


Hey Russell2!
I hope I can offer you some help, and some hope with this challenging, mind-boggling book.
First, relax. Not in an apathetic way, but in trust in your Savior. If you figure it all out this week or not, you are still in the best hands.
Second, be patient. Hard to do, I know. I thought I was patient, until I had to wait for things to happen. Revelation refers to lots of parts of the Bible and the historical context in which it was written . There is stuff to learn. It takes time. Learn to enjoy learning about the Lord and his dealing with his creation and creatures.
Third, remember the thing you already know: The Bible is not a science book. And also that science doesn’t explain much of the Bible. In that vein, Wright would be approaching any biblical question as a theologian, not a scientist. Take your time to reconcile these two worlds. That’s what we’re doing here.

Here is a brief, and I think, extremely helpful article to frame Revelation. It’s also helpful to remember that the really, really main point of the book is the glory of God our Savior, and the incomprehensible joy we face with Him.

The article:

How should we understand the book of Revelation? Dr. Thomas Keene shares the important things to keep in mind when studying Revelation and encourages believers not to be intimidated by its symbolism.

Revelation is a very challenging book to read, and it’s intimidating at spots. When you get into the depth of the imagery there, it can be very disorienting to read. Yet the first five verses tell you everything you need to know about this book, because in the first five verses, the very beginning of the book, John tells you exactly the kind of book that you’re reading. There’s three components to it. You’re reading three kinds of things.

Revelation Is a Letter

Biblical prophecy is not just about telling us the future. It does do that, but it’s telling us the future in order to motivate us in the present.You’re reading, first of all, a letter. This is something we sometimes miss. But Revelation is, from the beginning, intended to be a letter. It doesn’t just contain letters—the seven letters in Revelation 2—Revelation is a letter to those seven churches. Any interpretation that severs meaning from those seven churches is one we should be cautious about. We need to make sure that our interpretation is available and accessible to them. It might have nuances in development and applications that they aren’t aware of, but we can’t sever the letter of Revelation from its original audience. If we make it too much about 21st-century politics and not about the universal struggle of Christ and his church against the forces of darkness, then we’ve taken a misstep. It’s a letter.

Revelation Is Prophecy

Secondly, it’s a prophecy, and particularly it’s biblical prophecy, and biblical prophecy has its own contours to it. Biblical prophecy is not just about telling us the future. It does do that, but it’s telling us the future in order to motivate us in the present. It’s calling us to do something on the basis of some future reality. In particular with Revelation, it is a reminder that Jesus wins, that he will conquer the forces of darkness no matter how dark it gets, no matter how troubled you might be, nevertheless, he is our white rider, and he will come and he will bring victory to us and to his church. That reminds us of his victory and as a result, it encourages us to persevere to the end.

Revelation Is Apocalyptic Literature

So it’s a letter, it’s prophecy, and the third thing is that it’s apocalyptic. This is perhaps the most difficult one to understand because we don’t have this genre or any kind of parallels to it in our own modern context, but apocalyptic literature is just highly symbolic literature. It’s talking about the present and the future. It’s talking about the real world, but it’s doing so in highly symbolic ways. This is sometimes very disorienting, very scary. How do I interpret all these symbols? What do all of these horns mean? What does all of this detail entail? But the way to interpret symbolism is actually pretty straightforward: let the narrative drive your interpretation.

The way to interpret symbolism is actually pretty straightforward: let the narrative drive your interpretation.I remember trying to get into Pilgrim’s Progress. I had the hardest time getting into Pilgrim’s Progress until I read this article by Leland Ryken over at Wheaton who said that the way to get into Pilgrim’s Progress is to not get stuck into the weeds of what each symbol means and the theological meaning behind each and every component of the narrative. The way to get into Pilgrim’s Progress is to read it as a story. The symbolism comes out of the story, and it needs the framework of the story to make sense.

There’s a real parity there with Revelation. Revelation is one single story: the story of the world from the first resurrection, the resurrection of Christ, to the second resurrection, the resurrection of those who belong to him. It is one single story. When we read it within that context, the symbolism will make more sense. We’ll be more oriented to be able to understand this challenging but also incredibly important and motivational book.


Amen!! Thanks :pray:

I sit with it as the greatest example of apocalyptic, standing on the literary giant shoulders of that of the anonymous Book of Daniel.

The book of Revelation is obviously filled with symbols. The determination of what those symbols represent or point to has been the bane of the Church ever since it was included in the canon. But there are some passages that appear to be literal, causing even more confusion. Unless you have some sort of “ red lettter” edition demarking what is symbolic and what is literal you will always have problems.

I personally stick with the idea that the whole book is symbolic and was understood best by those to whom it was written. Unfortunately they did not provide us with a Symbol dictionary and here we are two millennium later wasting our time trying to write one. Can you seriously imagine the early church having Revelation seminars, thanking God that he gave them information relevant for those living two thousand years later so that they would not be left behind? They were surely doing their best to not be killed by the beast as they lived and spread the gospel. We might do well to do likewise.


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