I’ve previously read through Revelation, but as I’ve been studying it more specifically, I have to stop to process everything. This isn’t because the Eastern symbolism is overwhelming (it can be, but that isn’t quite the scope of this post). The most significant things I’m noticing are the abundance of “soon” terminology, as in the gospels and epistles, and the correlating imagery.
As I studied the gospels, I noticed that Matt, Mark, and Luke all have similar versions of Jesus’ prophetic words (i.e. the Mount of Olives discourse). John’s gospel however had a peculiar absence of this. While reading Revelation, I realized that it was heavily synonymous with the synoptic gospels—John’s Revelation is an expansive view of the prophetic “Day of the Lord.” We see this portrayed in Rev 1:10. Note, John was already in the vision here and then he sees and is made aware that it is the “Lord’s Day.” This wasn’t referencing Sunday or the Sabbath as may first be assumed. This is the same manner of “day” language that is used throughout the rest of the N.T as well as the prophecies of the O.T. It is the return of Jesus in judgment.
In Rev 1:7, we see the first signs of some of the audience to whom this was originally intended—“those who pierced him” (the Jewish people that had him crucified), and “All the tribes”—both references to Israel as in Matt 23:36-39 and 24:30. Here we see the repeated symbolism and message’s intent in reference to Israel.
Additionally, we see seven churches in Asia Minor specifically referenced in chapters 2-3 (see below). This letter may have well circulated widely to many of the churches of the time as it had directed implications for all Christians of that day.
In all of these passages, there is a urgency that something is coming and something needs to be done. In Rev 1:19, we see a loose, yet directed, timeline stated: what you have seen, what is, and what is about to take place after (μέλλει γενέσθαι μετὰ ταῦτα—are about to take place after these). The context here is that everything is going to happen soon as relevant to the audience.
There is an additional factor of timing that places the writing of this book to 95/96 AD. This view creates a mess of the whole text though. In this case, we get what might be a popular view today—that none of the prevalent and overwhelming soon language of the N.T. actually meant soon. If this is true, then we can take the Bible to mean whatever we want it to. If soon doesn’t mean soon, then what meaning would any of the words of the Bible have?
Outside of the Biblical text itself, the historical evidence can be contradictory and confusing. Ironically, it seems when we attempt to force external data into this book, we get confusion. Perhaps this is part of what is meant by not adding to or taking away from it (Rev 22:18-19). That said, Eusebius is rumored to have recorded that the town of Laodicea (as well as Colossae and Hierapolis) were destroyed sometime around 60-64 AD by a massive earthquake, consequently during the reign of Nero. As well, there are historical recordings that John was exiled to Patmos under the reign of Nero which would have been well before the fall of Jerusalem (Nero died in 68) and would line up with the rest of the timing and pertinence of Revelation. As stated, these are mostly inconsequential though as the internal evidence in Revelation and the rest of the Bible is more than enough to substantiate the relevance of the timing. In light of the disagreements about historical records, these arguments can’t really be relied on to prove either position. In turn, we would have to rely on the text itself.
Summary This is some of the framework, mainly from the book itself, that places the Revelation and the rest of the Bible into an appropriate context. Admittedly, this approach tends to make some assumptions:
1. that when Jesus said soon, he meant soon.
2. that Jesus spoke in a way the disciples could understand (though their mindset had to be altered) and he wasn’t intentionally trying to confuse them or be evasive (Mark 8:17-18, 21).
3. that the apostles were inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell the 1st century Christians that Jesus was returning soon.
4. that neither the disciples, apostles, or Jesus would give false hope to the Christians that were under such severe persecution during this time.
5. that the Bible is a trustworthy resource that can be interpreted within its’ own pages.
Taking these into consideration, I greatly encourage anyone reading this to research the Bible, with the Holy Spirit, to make determinations for oneself as to their validity. I only wish to point out a view that might make more sense as to what the references in the Bible mean as a whole. For me, this view has, and is, clarifying many formerly confusing passages once they were viewed from these contexts. In other words, perhaps it is better to let the Bible interpret the Bible instead of attempting to retrofit current world situations to passages that were written to an entirely different society.