The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 6

Interpretation of the Apocalypse

The main problem with the book of Revelation – the Apocalypse – has always been the question of how to interpret it.  Interpretations of Revelation have been so numerous and varied that many earnest Christians have concluded that the book is simply impossible to understand.  Thus they have missed the great blessing promised to those who do read and understand the book.

It may seem presumptuous for one who is not a professional theologian to undertake yet another exposition of a book which has already generated so many differing interpretations.  I hope my background in science can provide certain needed insights.  If there is anything really new in this commentary, however, it is its literal approach to Bible study, one that assumes the best interpretation to be no interpretation.  That is, it is assumed that John and the other Bible writers, like most other writers, wanted to communicate to their readers.  So they wrote plainly, saying exactly what they wanted to say and what they believed would be most effective in communicating definite and explicit truth to all the generations who would read their writings.

They wrote for their own generation, of course, but they also realized that they were writing the inspired Word of God and that their words would eventually have to be read and understood, then believed and obeyed, by people in all nations through all time.  Or, at least, if they did not understand this, the Holy Spirit who was inspiring their writings did, and He would see to it that the inspired words did actually communicate the great truths God desired His people to know.

I am not the only one who has advocated a literal interpretation of the book of Revelation by any means.  However, it could possibly be the most literal, since even literalist and futurist expositors seem often to resort to doubtful symbolic and figurative interpretations here and there throughout their expositions.  Actually, a “literal interpretation” is a contradiction in terms, since one does not interpret (that is, “translate” saying “this means that”) if he simply accepts a statement as meaning precisely what it says.  Furthermore, the terms “more literal” or “most literal” are redundancies.  Literal is literal.

The exposition in this commentary is based throughout on the premise that the writer (John directly, ultimately the Holy Spirit) was primarily, intensively, carefully concerned to communicate precise truth to the reader.  This does not, of course, preclude the use of symbols or figures of speech when these can serve more effectively to that end, but it does mean that the interpretation of such figures is not left up to the reader’s imagination or ingenuity.  They must be defined and explained, unambiguously, either in the immediate context or in the broader context of the historical and prophetic Scriptures which John could assume his readers should already have mastered.

One will find that this approach to the exegesis of Revelation effectively eliminates most of the difficulty in understanding it.  But, as someone has said, “The Book of Revelation isn’t hard to understand – it’s hard to believe!”  The main reason why so many have resorted to allegorical interpretations is that they have found the literal meaning of its prophecies difficult to accept, scientifically and aesthetically, and have tried to “explain” them on some less offensive basis.  This stratagem, however, in the absence of any contextual guidelines for such interpretations, has led to precisely that jumble of variation among the commentaries on Revelation, and this is what we explicitly seek to avoid in this commentary.

At the same time, it is certainly true that many “spiritualizing” commentaries, written by sincere and godly men who loved the Lord and His Word, contain much material of great value.  While any given passage of Scripture has only one interpretation, the one intended ultimately by the Holy Spirit, it may well lead to many other illustrations and applications, or even to useful analogies and broad principles.  This seems to be the case with many of these alternative – sometimes quite fanciful – interpretations of the Apocalypse. 

Therefore, even though this present commentary will not follow them in its primary exposition, it is acknowledged that many valuable insights can be obtained using other approaches.  God’s character and principles never change and we can see many parallels between His dealings with His people in the Apostolic period, His dealings with His people throughout history and His dealings with His people in the prophetic future.

The various primary methods that have thus been used in interpreting the Book of Revelation are summarized below:

1.  Preterist (Past) Interpretation.  This interpretation regards the Book of Revelation as applying specifically to the problems and persecutions of the early church existing at the time of its writing.  The many symbolic expressions in the book represent devices to encourage the church throughout its trials under the imperial Roman Empire and were deliberately intended to prevent the book from being understood by any who were not believers.

2.  Historical Interpretation.  By this approach, the events symbolically described in Revelation represent the chronological sequence of historical events from the time of its writing until the coming of Christ and the establishment of His eternal kingdom.  Much of it, especially the sections dealing with Babylon and the “beast,” are identified in particular with the Roman Catholic Church and the pope, with other symbols tied to such events as the rise of Islam and the Napoleonic wars.

3.  Futurist Interpretation.  Futurist interpreters, though differing among them-selves in various details, generally regard all Revelation from Chapter 4 to 22 as describing events at the very end of the Church Age and thus still future.  Many futurists still employ much symbolism, while others take most of these future events in a very literal sense.

4.  Cyclic Interpretation.  This interpretation seeks to combine the chronological interpretations of the above-described past, present and futurist schools by noting a cyclic repetition of similar prophetic sequences (seals, trumpets and bowls), each beginning with the early church, proceeding through history and culminating in the coming kingdom.

5.  Idealist Interpretation.  No attempt is made by idealistic or mystical interpreters to relate the events described in Revelation to any historical events at all – past, present or future.  Rather, it is all treated as a series of parables or allegories de-signed to encourage troubled believers to trust in the ultimate triumph of good over evil and of Christ over Satan.


Since the preterist and idealist interpretations are not committed to predictive prophecy in Revelation, they tend chiefly to be advocated today by liberal or neo-orthodox interpreters.  To them, Revelation is merely a statement of faith in sociological progress and the eventual triumph of a more equable world order.

Historical or cyclical interpreters have dominated Protestant thought for centuries, using the Book of Revelation as a sword against Roman Catholicism, which they judged to be symbolized by Babylon the Great.  In fact, probably the first preterist interpreters arose among the Catholics as a reaction against this system.  The problem, however, with the historical interpretation is that the correlation of events with prophecy is far too ambiguous.  None of the symbols which supposedly prophesied certain historical events could never have been used to anticipate those events.  Even in retrospect, the correlation is so vague and uncertain that hardly any two historical interpreters agree.  Even with regard to Babylon, Protestants may interpret it as Romanism, while the Catholics may interpret it as Protestantism.

It is inevitable that literalistic expositors of Revelation will be primarily futurists since practically none of the events of Revelation 4-22 have yet taken place in any literal sense.  Many futurists do accept a cyclical development in the various sequences, but probably most (including myself) follow a strictly chronological approach.  This seems required by the actual sequential terms accompanying the events, except occasionally when the context demands a retrospective view at the beginning of the particular prophecy.

It is also evident that literalistic expositions of Revelation will usually be premillennial, rather than amillennial or postmillennial.  The millennium – the thousand-year reign of Christ with His resurrected saints, as outlined in Revelation 20:1-7 – can only be future if it is literal.  Amillennialists spiritualize the millennium, while postmillennialists spiritualize the resurrection which precedes it.

Thus, since this commentary is based on belief in full verbal inspiration and the straightforward natural meaning of all the verses in Revelation, it is necessarily also both futuristic and premillennial.  It does recognize many valuable insights and implications from other schools of interpretation and seeks to incorporate them wherever helpful.  Nevertheless, the events described in the Book of Revelation are real events, just as sure to take place in future history as the events in Genesis, and all the other historical books of Scripture, took place in past history.  Since each reader of these pages must inevitably participate to at least some degree in some of these great future events, he needs to know about them and to prepare for them.  To help him appreciate the absolute reality and importance of these coming events is the purpose of this commentary.

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