Imagine if someone blindfolded you, took you to stand one metre away from a mural which covered the whole length and height of a huge wall, and then removed the blindfold. You would be able to see the detail of what was directly in front of you, but little else. Imagine further the absurdity of someone then asking you to explain the meaning of the entire mural. To do that you would at least have to move backwards until you could see the whole work. Even then, you have a problem; you would be able to see the big picture, but you would be too far away to discern the details. You would have to make many journeys up nearer to the mural, but once you had seen the whole picture, your trips to the wall would be planned and specific.
To be able to interpret the book of Revelation, you must first see the big picture. However, the apocalypse is not like a flat two-dimensional mural; it’s more like a 3D movie – no, more than that, it’s like a three-dimensional holographic image. So, using this analogy, you will have to walk around it as well as up to and away from it.
Like a holograph, the book of Revelation has three dimensions to it – a heavenly dimension, a worldly dimension, and an ecclesiastical (church) dimension. In order to present the big picture as best I can, I am going to attempt to describe these three dimensions separately, yet in such a way that they overlay each other.
The Heavenly dimension
The book of Revelation unveils the underlying reality of the heavenly realm, and describes how this reality manifests on Earth. It depicts a throne at the very centre of all things, and this throne is not empty! God rules and reigns over all domains, realms, and times. Everything which exists in space and time is an expression of the reality which exists in the heavenly realm, and that in turn is an expression of God’s creative will. Angels and the spirits of the deceased children of God populate this heavenly dimension. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, He expelled the rebellious spirits from heaven into a spiritual realm associated with the material creation in which we now live. Angels loyal to God traverse between these non-material planes, and also interact with the physical creation, executing the will of God and aiding believers in this life.
This is all set out in Revelation chapters 1, 4, 5, 12:1-12, 15, 19 and 20
The Earthly dimension
On the cross of Calvary Jesus cancelled Satan’s authority on Earth. Since then the devil has fought tooth and nail to remain, illegally, in control of the world system. The book of Revelation records the strategies and tactics he uses to try to achieve this objective in the face of the execution of the righteous purposes and judgments of Almighty God. The devil wants to be a god and to remain in control of a world over which he has no legal title. He is like a squatter given notice of eviction, who uses the residents of the property to protect his illegitimate interests. Satanically energised peoples are primarily concerned with obtaining power and wealth, and they attempt to achieve this through conquest, which inevitably leads to conflict and war. War leaves a legacy of famine and plague. When people reap the devastating harvest of conquest, war, famine, and plague, they blame and persecute the believing church as a scapegoat for the consequences of their greed. When persecution has run its course, only God’s judgment remains, and this, in turn, sets up the conditions for the start of a new cycle. These cycles repeat throughout history, but become more and more intense as the end of the age approaches. They are pictured in Revelation chapter six as seals broken open one after the other and they represent the devil’s attempts to remain in possession of man’s birthright and inheritance.
Seals reveal, but trumpets warn. The results of mankind’s quest for power and wealth, under Satan’s guidance and empowerment, serve well to warn of the ultimate consequences of rebellion. Since the time of Christ, humanity has been systematically destroying and polluting the earthly habitat. Mankind has ravaged the vegetation, animal life, oceans, rivers, and the atmosphere, and their sorry condition is as clear a warning as any cosmic trumpet blast. These conditions affect the physical condition of humankind and are depicted in Revelation by angelically sounded trumpets, but two other woes directly blight both soul and spirit. Humanism, consisting of materialism, hedonism, politics, science, philosophy, economics, and the military, has taken a terrible toll on humanity over the last two thousand years. Humanism is essentially the enthronement of self and the denial of the sovereignty of Almighty God. It serves as a powerful satanic weapon for both enslaving unregenerate people and disempowering believers. The second woe is religion in all its forms. Religion consists of the occult, apostate Christianity, cults, eastern mysticism, and other religious systems. Where humanism attacks the soul, religion attacks the spirit. In essence, religion is the enthronement of Satan and the denial of the Lord Jesus Christ. The devastating effects of these two woes serve as powerful warnings to people of all generations, and none more so than those alive today.
Revelation chapters 8 and 9.
There is a satanic trinity at work in the world today. The Devil, who seeks the place of God the Father, the False Christ who imitates Jesus, and the False Prophet who seeks to take the place of the Holy Spirit. Humanism is satanically energised humanity’s attempt to obtain power and wealth through physical means. It has been elevated in our age to almost divine status, in terms of which many view science and knowledge as saving and redeeming influences. It is a false Christ, and is, in its very nature, opposed to the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation pictures this humanistic false Christ as a monstrous beast rising out of the sea. Humanism is patently aggressive, but religion, disguised as a lamb, is more subtle. The False Prophet, religion’s ‘mouth’, has occult power and displays miracles and signs in order to deceive and enslave. Religion points to humanism and authenticates its status in much the same way as the Holy Spirit points to the Lord Jesus Christ. In its turn, humanism supports and maintains religion’s powerbase. The book of Revelation pictures this false religious prophet as a beast which rises from the land.
Revelation chapter 13.
Seals reveal, trumpets warn, but the bowls in Revelation represent the outpouring of God’s judgment. The consequences of man’s devilish pursuit of power and wealth escalate until they become the means by which God executes punishment. Plague and disease, wholesale destruction of marine life, poisoned rivers and water sources, and calamitous ozone depletion serve as veritable bowls of wrath. Humanism, that false messiah which promises to usher in the dawn of a new age, brings instead humanity’s dark night of the soul. Religion, like a malignant philosophical army marching into civilisation’s corporate mind, brings destruction of the spirit and alienation from God.
Revelation chapter 16
Chapters 17 and 18 of the Revelation paint a horrific picture of the judgmental destruction of religion. Having served her nefarious purpose of deceiving the world, humanism turns on her and brutally destroys her. Chapter 19 depicts the defeat of Satan’s world system with the second coming of Christ in triumphal and powerful procession.
Revelation chapters 17 and 18
The Ecclesiastical dimension
The book of Revelation records the glorious victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, through the agency of the church, over the devil and his followers. He attains this victory not through force or might, but through the overcoming power of love, faith, and hope. The church is the ordained light-bearer to the world throughout all ages. The Lord Jesus is active through the agency of the Holy Spirit, encouraging, correcting, empowering, and rebuking his earthly representatives. The church will encounter hardships and persecution, but its task is to overcome and, through service and humility, evict the devil from humanity’s inheritance. The greatest assaults on the church through all ages have been the infiltration of religious ritual, liturgies, and laws, together with humanistic values principles, and priorities.
Revelation chapters 2 and 3
Although much of organised Christianity will become increasingly apostate by succumbing to Satan’s infiltration tactics, those who are true to the Lord Jesus will be set apart and ‘sealed’. Chapter 7 presents a picture of the church on Earth complemented by the church in Heaven.
The church of the Lord Jesus has a distinctly prophetic function in the world, pictured in Revelation as the ministry of two great witnesses. God has called the church to shed light through testimony, deed, and the pronouncement of his word and will to a sin-sick world. Throughout the ages, God has called the church to exhibit both an apostolic and a prophetic function. However, as apostasy has taken its toll, this leadership and declarative role has become more and more neglected. But, as the end of the age approaches, the church will rise up once again with miraculous power and vigour. Humankind, ravished by the devastations of its own greed for power and wealth, will seek peace and world unity at almost any cost. People will perceive this unity as a unification of both political and religious power – one world government and one world religion. This is Satan’s master plan and his vehicle for assuming personal control of the nations of the world. The only group which will oppose this plan and denounce the false messiah will be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. At that time, those who have not accepted the twin lies of humanism and religion will pronounce a three-fold prophetic message to the world – (i) worship only God and repent for the time is short; (ii) religion and humanism offer no hope of salvation; (iii) those who are immersed in the world system will receive the terrible judgments of Almighty God. Because of these bold declarations, a devastating persecution will arise, crush the church, and silence its prophetic voice. The world will see this as a great defeat for the church, but it will in fact be its greatest victory. Like its Lord before it, the world will put the church to death, but like Jesus, it shall rise up again, its work completed, and ascend into Heaven. The end will come in two distinct but almost simultaneous phases – the removal of the faithful church from the world, and the awful punishment of all who remain.
Revelation chapters 7, 10, 11, 12:13-17 and 14 followed by chapters 21 and 22.
The last two chapters of the book of Revelation present a wonderful picture of a new heaven and a new earth. The church has always been an expression of this ‘new age’ on Earth, but in the very end, God will again dwell universally with man. He will ‘wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away!’