Today we have a reading from the book of the Revelation. Most conservative scholars believe that the apostle John wrote the book through a vision he received, as he was exiled on the island of Patmos. As you might know Revelation is a hard book to interpret, and there are generally four camps of interpretation. As a caveat there is no way to thoroughly treat each of these views, so these are given as an overview and are not exhaustive.
The "historicism" method seeks to describe the prophecies in the book in light of history, past, present and future. Even certain symbolic persons have been associated with historical figures, spanning many different centuries.
The "preterist" school interprets prophecies in the bible as events that have already happened. I.e. The prophecies in Revelation relate to things that have happened in the first century. An example of this would be the Emperor Domitian, who we know persecuted and killed 1st century Christians, as one of the anti-Christ figures in the book.
Futurists believe these prophecies in Revelation refer to future events that will happen as part of what will lead to Jesus' second coming. Futurists usually believe in "Pre-millenianism" that happens after Christ's return, which is a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ, a golden age of peace before the end occurs. The futurist view is generally interpreted through a more literal reading of book of Revelation. The Futurists are also usually related to those who believe in "fundamentalism" and "dispensationalism", also related to a more literal reading of the bible.
Finally, we have the "idealists" who interpret Revelation, as merely symbolic, or allegorical. They see it as the battle between good and evil and ultimately triumph of good over evil. As such it would be a "non-literal", figurative interpretation. The events and figures in the book, are more symbolic of a higher essence of truth.
So what are we to make of all of these views? Which one is right? Which one should guide us as we read this book? For instance in chapter 7 there are the 12 tribes of Israel of 12,000 people each. This represents 144,000 in total who will be sealed on their foreheads with a mark, to avoid the wrath the angel is bringing. Someone said to me once when I was in high school, how hard we had to work as Christians to make sure we are in the 144,000. This really scared me and made belief in Jesus more about me making the 144,000, or else!
But then in the passage below it says there are multitudes from every nation, tribe, and language and people too numerous to count that will be saved. So do we take this literally, symbolically, or it has already happened. And how does this change the way we think as believers today? So you can see this book is not so easy to study or interpret, but that doesn't mean we should be afraid of it either. And it is still God's Word.
I've always laughed at the T-Shirt, "Jesus is coming back, look busy!" Of course it is not meant to be joke, but I do think it has something to say. Meaning I think we can get so caught up about trying to figure out when, where and how Jesus is going to return, we might be missing the point. Since even the bible says no one knows the day or the hour, isn't the more important question are we ready for him to return anytime? Because tonight could be the night, or it could be many years from now. What counts is are you ready? I think this is the question we should be trying to figure out. And we know it is only Jesus who makes us ready, by what He did for us on the cross.
The Great Multitude in White Robes
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[a]
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b]
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]”