Key Principles in Interpreting the Book of Revelation


(Based on Dennis E. Johnson’s book "Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation")

1. Revelation is given to reveal. It makes its central message so clear that even those who hear it can take it to heart and receive the blessing it promises (1:1-3).

2. Revelation is a book to be seen, a book of symbols in motion. Because the appearance of individuals and institutions in everyday experience often masks their true identity, Revelation is given in visions full of symbols that paradoxically picture the true identity of the church, its enemies, and its Champion (1:11; 2:9; 3:17; 11:7; 13:7).

3. Revelation makes sense only in light of the Old Testament. Not only the visions of such prophets as Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah but also historical events such as creation, the fall, and the exodus provide the symbolic vocabulary for John’s visions. (Compare Chapters 1 and 10 with Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 9-10; Chapter 13 with Daniel 7; Chapter 11 with Zechariah 4).

4. Numbers count in Revelation. Since numbers are used symbolically in Revelation, we must discern the meaning they convey rather than trying to pull them as numbers directly into our experience, measured by calendars and odometers. Number 7 is very common. So are numbers 10 and 12 and their multiples.

5. Revelation is for a church under attack. Its purpose is to awaken us to the dimensions of the battle and the strategies of the enemy, so that we will respond to the attacks with faithful perseverance and purity, overcoming by the blood of the Lamb (See 2:10; 3:10-11; 14:12).

6. Revelation concerns “what must soon take place.” The book opens and closes with the announcement that it concerns matters that were to occur “soon” (1:1; 22:6,7,20). However, we must seek an understanding that touches the experience of our brothers and sisters in seven first-century congregations scattered in the cities of western Asia Minor. Revelation is not about events and hostile forces remote from their struggle.

7. The victory belongs to God and to his Christ. Revelation is pervaded with worship songs and scenes because its pervasive theme – despite its gruesome portrait of evil’s powers – is the triumph of God through the Lamb (See 4:8, 11; 5:9-10,12,13; 7:10-12; 11:15-18; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:1-7). We read this book to hear the King’s call to courage and to fall down in adoring worship before him.

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