INTRODUCTION TO REVELATION
by W. T. Russel
The Bible has been translated into many languages for the benefit of many people of various tongues down through the ages. The Greek name for this book is Apocalupsis. The Latin name is Revelatio, and the English name, of course, is Revelation. All these titles in their respective forms literally mean—the unveiling. A veil hides from view and is a covering. So the name of this book in any language signifies exactly what it is; namely, an uncovering or unveiling. It is different from most being symbolic or figurative. Whether spoken or written, regular or ordinary prophesy is the word of communication of the prophet just as God spoke to him through the Spirit. Apocalyptic prophesy is pictorial. The pictures are symbolic of what is being prophesied. It is received by trance of vision by the Spirit of God.
All will agree the Book of Revelation contains figures or symbols which are shadows or representatives of the substance. Two major sources of confusion of the teachings of Revelation in the past and now are (1) the different methods of interpretation, and (2) the place it occupies in time.
There are those who strive to interpret the figures and symbols literally which make it utterly impossible to arrive at the truth. Examples of this are the interpretation of the woman in the twelfth chapter to be the virgin Mary and the man-child she bore Jesus Christ. A woman given as a symbol in this book can never be interpreted as a real woman. We can understand this by referring to the allegory which Paul used in the fourth chapter of Galatians. Hagar was a real woman, but Paul said she represented “The Jerusalem that now is.” Sarah was a real woman, but Paul said she represented “The Jerusalem which is above.” It is impossible to rightly interpret the Book of Revelation unless we recognize it to be symbolic apocalyptic prophesy and steer clear of interpreting the symbols literally.
If we have studied the Old Testament, we will recognize many symbols related to ancient Hebrew symbolic imagery in Revelation. Some of these are found in Daniel, Ezekiel, Zecchariah, and others. If we will but take time to read these Old Testament truths, we can see more clearly the use of symbols in Revelation which are related, in many cases, to ancient Hebrew examples.
Since it is truth we are concerned about, I would like to point out the experience of the Apostle Peter on the housetop in a vision. This experience was in symbolic order which we will do well to study for a better approach to the use of symbols in this book. Peter, in his vision, saw as it were a sheet, knit at the four corners, let down from Heaven containing all manner of four footed beasts of the earth, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice saying, rise Peter, slay and eat. But Peter said, not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. This happened three times before Peter got the message. It was said unto him, what God hath cleansed, call not thou common.
We must understand that this was to prepare Peter for a call to go preach the gospel to the Gentile household of Cornelius. Notice that which was shown Peter by symbol, revealed to him that God was no respecter of persons. Peter was a devout Jew, and under the law, was under obligation never to eat certain beasts, only such as had cloven feet and chewed the cudd, and all others were regarded as unclean and common. Now the strict Jew regarded the Gentile as common, and it was unlawful for a Jew to visit with a Gentile. So the lesson Peter was to learn was that God put no difference between Jew and Greek, that the same Lord over all was rich unto all that called upon him. So you see if this vision were interpreted literally, what would we have? All manner of four-footed beasts and creeping things in Heaven, for God drew them back up into Heaven.
I would like to discuss another example of symbolic prophesy in Isaiah. I cannot agree with the interpretation by many. Some would like us to believe Isaiah 11:6-7 teaches there will come a time when the wolf, lion, leopard, and bear will be as tame as a house cat. Let us examine this in the light of Peter’s vision as the fulfillment of prophesy.
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”
If this teaches what some claim it teaches, isn’t it strange that in both of these verses a clean beast and an unclean are mentioned together? The wolf and the lamb—leopard and the kid—calf and young lion—fatling cow and the bear. This is prophesy of the very same lesson Peter learned on the housetop.
What then was the lesson? Peter was a Jew and had grown up under the instruction that only the natural seed of Abraham were respected of God, and the Gentiles were disregarded. Yet God assured Peter that the Gentiles had his respect the same as the Jew. This is the fruit of figurative interpretation rather than literal. The lion eating straw like the ox simply means both Jew and Gentile have and enjoy the same spiritual food.
You will notice in the first chapter of Revelation that Jesus uses the symbols, seven stars, seven golden candlesticks, as well as Alpha and Omega. He tells us in plain words what they represent, but he leaves the other symbols in the book for us to determine.
Truly, we are entering into the study of a book of symbolic imagery, and we are under the same obligation to strive to rightly divide its teachings as any other book. I do not desire to stand before God in judgment having added to or taken away from this book or any other.
Three things we must not overlook concerning this revelation. John was told in 1:19, “Write the things which thou has seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.”
That which John saw, of course, was the condition of things at that time; also, things that were to be afterward. He saw his glorified Lord in relation to the churches at that time, chapters two and three. He saw the revelation of the throne of grace in chapters four and five. The things to come to pass thereafter from chapter six to the end.
We may not understand thoroughly all the types, figures and symbols in this book as they were able to in John’s day; however, if looked at with the right viewpoint, the substance and basics can be reasonably understood.
As I have said before, it is a spiritual warfare between the true churches of our Lord and the counterfeit organization. We, as well as the churches in that day, are shown the ultimate victory of truth over falsehood and the true church over the counterfeit. Before there can be a counterfeit anything, there must be the real thing.
The illustrations used and positions taken in this book are honest sincere applications of what I truly believe. Some may be confused about some of these things. I, too, was greatly confused for a long time in reading this book, but years of study have helped me to understand at least part of it. In the past, I have had to back up on a few things I have preached. Regardless of how earnest you may feel about some scriptures, when proven wrong by the scriptures, we need to be honest enough with ourselves and God to give it up. I feel I can afford to give up error anytime