Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
The point is, we are people who need something radical to change a bad habit to something according to God’s will. This is true spiritually too, and God does it through this book. How does God get us to be radical through the book of Revelation.
Is Revelation symbolic or literal?
Expect to interpret it figuratively until you are forced to interpret it literally. Look at v. 1. God has “made known” (or “communicated”). The word can mean either “communicated/made known” or “signified.” How do we know what it means? Daniel 2:28-29. The Greek word is used in Daniel 2:45. In discussing the statue in Daniel 2, it is symbolism. Verse 1 or Revelation 1 is saturated with Daniel 2 language. The “make known” of Revelation 1:1 is “signify” signaling a need for symbolism to be understood in the book. Over and over in Revelation when God says, “I will show you,” is symbolic and not an actual literal thing that is seen the way it is described.
This is the apocalyptic default computer setting. We should turn the “interpret literal until we are pushed to figurative” on its head and “interpret figurative until pushed to literal” – because I take verse one literally, I will take the book more symbolically. How should we interpret the symbols. Some symbols are clearly defined by John. In chapter 11, the two witnesses are churches going back to chapters 1-2. Most of the symbols are unexplained in the book. How do we interpret them? Go to the OT. 8.5 times out of 10 the OT will help you. Jesus does not have a literal sword that he’s swinging with his neck (Beale imitates it with a pen in his mouth).
Why does John have so much symbolism? The visions could not be expressed by words alone. It is also there for the people of God to dig deeper. They symbolism connects to the OT. The main reason is because John is a prophet and Jesus is a prophet and we must understand the way the prophets and Jesus communicated will help us understand what John is doing.
Symbolism was like flags being raised that judgment was coming while those being warned would not heed it. But for believers, they here the parabolic word and are shocked out of complacency, idolatry, and insensitivity. So God is calling them to come home and repent and turn around. The elect and true believers will hear and turn around.
The prophets role – One particular situation
Why have they become spiritually insensitive? Idolatry is alive and well in the world and in the church.
Ezekiel 3:27 – then in chapter 4, Ezekiel is to perform a symbolic act (a “semeion”). It is a sign of judgment on those who will not hear and will warn the remnant. So the parables show judgment upon the nation that will blind some and jolt others back to living the life of faith. When the prophets used symbolic language, it was a sign of judgment on Israel. The literary form of symbolic parable are preceded by this hearing but not hearing and seeing but not seeing. When you see sensory organ malfunction, then expect parables. Isaiah 6, then his son. Ezekiel 3-4, and 11-12 You see this prophetic pattern in Jesus in Matthew 13:1-52. Notice that the parables also shock people into their faith. The remnant is seeing this (Matt 13:16-17) though the audience is in spiritual inability because they have become like their idols.
Symbolic warnings are to wake up the church. Idolatry is alive and well in our churches, traditionalism being one idol. We wouldn’t have the epistles if the early church did not have idolatry and false teaching.
Mark 8:14ff – The disciples are being shocked into faith. Jesus question shows they are not going to be stuck in their darkness and misunderstanding. Israel is being rejected as God’s people and Jesus is the apple of God’s eye. Notice Matt. 13:43, he who has ears let him hear. So symbolic parable enlightens believers and blinds the majority. So the call to hear and then the parables.
Chapters 4-22 is symbolic shock treatment for the church. You are to expect the parables after the call to hear for each church. Now this is sobering, the church, the new Israel, had begun to be like the old Israel in idolatry and was beginning to enter into the judgment of God. The judgments of Revelation are directed to the persecutors of the church and are equally, if not more directed toward compromisers in the covenant community. This is sobering and the view of Revelation. People are anesthetized and insensitive to their sinful and dull lives. If Revelation is to be understood as a letter, then 4-22 is interpreted by the 7 letters and the 7 letters interpret 4-22. There is future aspect in 4-22, but so also is there present and past stuff there. The church is not good. In the chiasm, 1 and 7 are not good, 2 and 6 have no accusation, and the 3 middle are not good also. The church is not doing well at this point in history.
Revelation 2:23 – this is the center of the chiasm of the 7 churches. “Give to each according to her deeds” (cf. Jer. 17:9-10, judgment for idolatry). The majority of the church is in bad shape. There is a remnant within the remnant, just like in Israel.
The literal hermeneutic is existential. If I have not experienced it, then it must not be yet but still future.
Revelation symbols either sedate or shock us about the seriousness of sin.
We are to look at the picture, analyze it, and apply it to our lives. God doesn’t want us to blame shift or make excuses or apply it to others but to look at the picture, get the message, and apply it to ourselves.
Nathan uses a parable to convict David. What are some areas of our lives to which we are spiritually insensitive. Some of us have not been to the extreme poverty stricken areas of the country. If people could see pictures of aborted babies, then they may do something about it. Will you and I be sedated or shocked? These pictures are about how you and I are doing with the Lord. Yes there is a future element, but there is a message for us right now.
Turn to Revelation 2:19-20.
19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants  to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
We have churches who accept homosexuality and even ordain ministers. Look at 17:1-6. In other words, if you allow the woman to teach at your church Thyatira, then you are allowing Babylon to teach at your church. The woman, is bad, drunk with the saints of blood, dressed like a priest (17:4) and like the bride, and John was confused whether she was a good figure or a bad figure, but maybe he was like Thyatira was also and continued to let her go on in the church. What’s the significance? You know who you’re allowing to teach at your church, the woman in 17:1-6! Have ears to hear and eyes to see that this woman looks like an ok teacher when she has the world’s values and false teaching and she brings it into the church. She’s the opposite of the pure woman in 12:1-2. The teaching that is false is in 12:15-16, the flood waters of false teaching. Pray for change and reform and a God-pleasing church. If you are complacent and sedated, then pray and see the pictures of Revelation and be shocked into faith in Christ and obedience to him. False teaching is absolutely dangerous and shocking and horrible!