Copyright 1997MWSC/Jeanie C. Crain All rights reserved.

Hints for Interpreting Revelation


Revelation is apocalyptic literature:

--biblical figure relates revelatory visions about the future or heavenly world or both

--makes broad distinction between present evil world and immanent future age of blessing

--unfolds conflict between righteous minority (remnant) and wicked majority (hostile forces)

--represents clash between good and evil, often translated as God and Satan

--shows vindication and reward following conflict and suffering

--appeals to universal human race (Rv 7:9)



1. Probably written in the time of Nero (54-68 CE) or Domitian (81-96 CE)--tenuous, contradictory, inconclusive

--Christians in Rome were persecuted by Nero

--two myths developing after Nero's death: had not died, but gone to lead the Parthians, Rome's enemies, against Rome; died but would be revived (Revelation 13.3 beast's mortal wounds were healed; Revelation 17.8-12 the beast was and is not.)

--Revelation 17.10 of seven kings, five have fallen: Nero was fifth emperor; successor is Galba (68 CE), succeeded by Otho and Vitellius in the same year.

--Nero committed suicide in 68 CE.

2. Revelation 13.1 if ten diadems refer to ten emperors, then Revelation would have been written in time of Titus, tenth emperor.

3. Domitian asked to be addressed as Lord and God and banished or executed those who did not take part in the emperor cult.


Important Symbolism




--numerical schemes (1260 days 11.3,12.6; 42 months 13.5; both equal 3 and a half years; beast =666 13.18; twelve, for faithful, mentioned twenty-three times; four, for all parts of the world, mentioned nineteen times; three, eleven times; seven, for completeness, fifty-five times)

--horns (power) 12.3, 13.1, 17.3

--eyes (knowledge) 2.18, 4.6

--sword (Word) 2.12, 16;19.21

--white (purity) 6.11, 7.9

--black (famine, death) 6.5, 12

--crowns (victory, dominion) 2.10, 3.11

--horses (calamity) 6.2-8


Special Unifying Symbols and Themes

1. Door--entrance between two worlds: Revelation 3.7, 8 the true one has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut and I have set before you an open door; 4.1 there in heaven a door stood open; Rv:3:20: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Readers will recall that Matthew 22.45 (a conversation of Jesus with the Pharisees) establishes that David called Jesus Lord. The Pharisees are looking for an earthly king descended from David; the issue is whether Christ is a descendent of David or existing before David. That the Pharisees always misunderstand the spiritual, settling for the physical and literal truth, suggests that they are, once again, blinded to truth.

2. Sea of glass--separation, distance: Rv:4:6: And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.

Rv:15:2: And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.

Rv 10.2 I saw another mighty angel setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.

Rv. 10. 5 Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand.

Rv 20.11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his presence earth and sky fled away.

Rv:21.1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more... Behold the dwelling place of God is with men.

Importance of symbolism: distance between infinite/eternal and finite/temporal is removed. Movement in these verses reveal the intermediaries (angels) bringing together two realms; unity is the bringing together of the two with no sea (distance) between them remaining. There shall be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. 21.1 The first heaven and earth have passed away.

3. Mid-heaven: mid-way between finite (temporal) and infinite (eternal): Rv 14.17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven; 14.13 I heard a voice from heaven; 10.1 I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire";7.2 I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun.

4. eagle: soars mid-way between two worlds 4.7 the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle; 12.14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle; 1.17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice, he called to all the birds that fly in mid-heaven.

5. Dominion: 19. 1 Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 12.10 Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come. Human time has ended; God's time resumes.

6. Temple 21.10 Holy city Jerusalem coming down from out of heaven from God; 21.22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb; 11.19 God's temple in heaven was opened.

7. Marriage: 20.9 Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb; 21.9 Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb; 22.17 The Spirit and the Bride say, Come; 12.1,2 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child; 21.2 New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 22.17 the Spirit is Christ is groom.

Marriage is an important metaphor for unity. Revelation brings together humankind: 1.7 all tribes of the earth; 5.9 from every tribe; ch. 7 brings together Hebrew/Jewish tradition (144,000 sons of Israel) and Gentile/Christian great multitude which no one could number. Rv. 6.11 Asking how long, the martyrs awaiting vindication are told to rest a little longer, until the number is to be complete.

8. Lion become lamb: 5.5 Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals (Mt. 22.25);between the one on the throne and the four creatures is a Lamb: I saw a Lamb standing as though it had been slain... he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne...

Little doubt remains here that the kingdom of David is subsumed in the sacrificial Lamb, a bringing together of the Hebrew and Christian traditions.

9. Whore: 14.8 Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of her impure passions. Ch. 17 depicts judgment of the great harlot, with ch. 18 revealing the great whore as identical with Babylon, the wicked city, suggesting farther, the wickedness and rebellion of unrepentant human beings.

The metaphor of the whore is a standard Old Testament image used to suggest that which is pagan and alien to God; it works with the marriage metaphor for unity to suggest rebellion, a falling away, separation, and disunity.

10. Water of Life: 22.1 And he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God; 22.17 Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. 1.16 John hears the one on the throne as having a voice like the sound of many waters; 7.17 he will guide them to springs of living water; 21.6 To the thirsty, I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.

11. Tree of Life: 2.7 To him who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life , which is in the paradise of God; 22.2 In the middle of New Jerusalem will be the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit continually (each month) and its leaves healing the nations.

12. Light: the brighter the light, the more complete the unity, the achievement of the eternal: 1.16 his face was like the sun shining in full strength; 1.20 seven stars in his right hand, seven golden lamp stands for the earthly churches. Interestingly, the higher the body, the closer, God's eternal kingdom; 4.5 From the throne issues flashes of lightning, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire;7.2 angel arises from the sun. 10.1 another mighty angel comes down from heaven wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire... when he called out, seven thunders sounded; 22.16 The root and offspring of David (both before and after David) is the bright morning star; 22.5 There shall be no night; the faithful will need no lamp, for the Lord God will be their light; 21.23 The city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb; 21.10, 11 The city of Jerusalem comes down out of heaven, having the glory of God its radiance like a most rare jewel, like jasper or crystal.

Note: John is carried away to a high mountain in order to view the New Jerusalem (21.10)

Ch. 9 describes Abaddon, Apollyon, destruction as at the center of the earth (Sheol) but originally as a star fallen from heaven to earth, given the key of the shaft of the bottomless pit.

13. Second death: the lake that burns with fire and sulphur will be the second death (spiritual death);1.5 Jesus is described as the first born of the dead and the ruler of kings on earth. Interestingly, first born, suggests rightful succession, first in immortality; the metaphor is an extended one: first birth, second birth; first death, second death; first immortality and succession into and completion of inheritance.