We often ask people if they are a “big picture” person or a “details” person. Knowing this info helps in placing people in right job. It is important that we do our job reading the Book of Revelation correctly, so we must ask the question, “Are you a big picture reader or a details reader?” It is my belief that the best way to read and interpret the Book of Revelation is by taking a look at the book as a whole and not get bogged down in or speculate about the details. We need to keep before us the big picture. So, let’s recap what is going on so far in the Book of Revelation.
In chapters 1-3, we have the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. The church is suffering persecution and martyrdom. In chapters 4-5, we get a view of the heavenly throne room. God and the lamb are in control. In chapters 6-16, we find God’s judgment depicted in the opening of the seven seals, then in the blowing of seven trumpets, and, finally, in the pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath. As NT Wright and others point out, these are three descriptions of the same event told from different angles and with different symbols. The basic message in this repetitive cycle is that those that oppose God and his Kingdom and align themselves with Satan and the powers of this world will suffer defeat and be crushed by the power of God. In chapters 17-19, we see this defeat and the saints rejoice over the fall of these mighty powers. In chapters 20-22, we have the judgment of the world and the vision of a new heaven and earth. Jesus promises to come back soon and fulfill all that is written in this book. Remember that all of this is saturated with metaphors, symbols, figures of speech, and allusions to OT texts and events. It is dangerous to take what is meant as symbolic and apply it literally. Care should be given not to make too much of the details.
In chapter 16, during the pouring of the sixth bowl of wrath, we are told about demonic frogs, who preform signs to sway the kings of the world to battle against God Almighty. This is popularly known as the battle of Armageddon. Much has been made of this. The problem of being a detailed reader surfaces at this point. Bruce Metzger, a NT scholar, notes that no one knows what the name Armageddon means. We don’t know the correct spelling of the word. We don’t even know the exact location of Armageddon. It is a symbol used by John to denote the final conflict between the Kingdom of God and the forces of evil. We find out from 19:13 that this is not a military conflict, but a victory for the Word of God. Here in chapter 16, the only details we get of this battle is the rather terse phrase, “It is done” (v. 17). Hopefully you can see that all the speculation surrounding the battle of Armageddon is just that – speculation. We can say the same for the return of Christ.
Inserted in the middle of chapter 16 are words marked in red letters in most bibles. They are the words of Jesus. This is what he says about his return: “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed are those who stay awake and keep their clothes on, so that they may not go naked and be shamefully exposed” (16:15). Not a lot of detail. The return of Christ is kept very general. He will come like a thief. Keep your clothes on. Don’t be shamefully exposed. This fits well with what is said about the return of Jesus in the rest of the NT. We are told already that we are in “the Last Days” (Acts 2:17; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; 1 Jn. 2:18-19). There are signs of Jesus’ return, but most are very general (Mk. 13; Mt. 24:1-51; Lk. 21:5-36). Jesus himself said that he did not know the time or hour (Mk. 13:32-34). The Apostle Paul did not know the time or hour; Jesus will come suddenly like a thief (1 Thess. 5:1-11). Jesus said simply, “Be ready!” (Mk. 13:35-37). Before his ascension, Jesus said not to focus on dates and timetables, but on ministry (Acts 1:6-8). And at the end of Revelation Jesus says, “the time is near” (Rev. 22:10).
These passages mitigate against those who want to make the Book of Revelation a roadmap to Armageddon, a chronology of the end times, or a blueprint for the return of Christ. If Jesus doesn’t know the day or hour of his coming, how does some preacher or biblical interpreter know the day and hour? What we do know is that Jesus is coming again. He tells us that he will come surprisingly. He tells us to be ready. He invites us to help him heal the world. In my view, it is best to keep the big picture, the big picture.¬¬¬