Dear Student of the Word,
I was supposed to teach last night but the class was cancelled due to bad weather. That gave me the time to complete this latest installment from my Revelation study. One of the main points I emphasize in the study is that unless the Bible assigns a meeting to the symbols used in Revelation, we must avoid attaching a meaning. That would mean that many who have profited greatly from wild interpretations that have stirred up fear and misunderstanding have made a serious, though lucrative, mistake. In this week's study, available to download below, I wrote the following about Revelation 8:7.
7The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
8:7 – This is a strange mixture: hail, fire, and blood, which cannot be taken literally. Over the centuries, there have been many wars and calamities that undoubtedly had their origins in heaven, no doubt. The Old Testament shows clearly that God is involved in famines, droughts, and other acts of God through nature. This verse is meant to show that the Lord is in control, even when things are out of control to us.
Some have concluded that this storm is a depiction of nuclear weapons being launched at some point in the future, for a nuclear bomb could conceivably cause the kind of damage described in this verse. My response is that it isn’t necessarily the case. Revelation is not a book of future events, but a picture of heaven working behind the scenes of human history to bring about God’s will. To speculate about a nuclear holocaust and then write books that make money off such speculation is foolishness indeed.
Let’s assume that Revelation is a book of symbols so that the uninitiated would read and not understand, thus protecting the saints. If that’s true, then we must think symbolically, without insisting that our interpretations are the exact ones implied by the Bible. Unless the Bible explains itself, we must be careful not to impose meaning on what we read. When I read verse seven, I think of two other verses that say,
"I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal men, the sons of men, who are but grass?” (Isaiah 51:12)
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8).
There have been events in human history when there was great loss of human life – World War II, the Black Plague, Communist oppression and persecution, just to name a few. While this verse is not pointing to any one event that brought that result, it is nonetheless a fact of human history that this has happened again and again. We are not to fear during those terrible times. God will have the final say.
There have been other times when the word of the Lord has been rare or misrepresented by human institutions, including the Church. Once again, this verse is not pointing to any one time in history, but rather that this phenomenon of a lack of grass to feed on, so to speak, will regularly occur.
The interesting image of these verses is the role that prayer plays in bringing them about! It was the fire from the prayer altar that started the trumpets sounding and the other awesome events taking place!
Are there predictions that came true in the Bible? Yes, but they came true in Bible times, but were not part of a mystical book called Revelation whose secrets would be revealed thousands of years in the future. Most of the predictions were focused on the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, and His earthly life. To think that the Bible would then make predictions about historic events that would take place after the Bible was written is a mistake.
Thus, when some see Russia, Iran, the United States, or some other modern state in the book of Revelation, they are making a serious mistake of interpretation. The Bible is about history but it is not a history book. It is a book exalting the name and work of God through Jesus Christ. If an interpretation does not contribute to that end, it is useless speculation that detracts from and does not build up the faith of the saints.
As always, I welcome your comments to this week's study. For additional Bible studies, check out my website archive, which contains a complete collection of all my verse-by-verse New Testament studies, along with the daily devotional entitled Your Life Matters: Daily Reflections from the Book of Psalms. Thank you and soon I will begin sending you my edited studies from James' epistle. After that, we will only have the book of Revelation to complete before the entire New Testament is on the site where this study is posted.