So you’ve read all the other “Leadership Bible Study” studies. You’ve learned how to read the Bible, how to pray in public, how to plan a study on any topic, and how to mentor people and handle problems. Now, you have to put it all together. This study is designed to show you how to get the information and how to put it together. This study is on Revelation, which is probably one of the more difficult topics to lead a Bible study on. If you can learn how to lead a study on the Book of Revelation, you should be ready for anything!
Study Guide 1 – Leader’s Guide
Letter to the Churches, Revelations chapters 1-3
Opening Monologue: The point of this study is more to help you understand how to read Revelation yourself; to show you the background of the symbolism and the major ways in which the book has been understood in the past. Please note also that we won’t be making specific predictions in this class; so don’t expect this Bible Study Leader’s version of how the end times are going to play out. People have been trying to see how the end times would go from this book for 1900 years, and so far no one’s gotten it right yet (in 1st century Rome, they thought the end times were around the corner, in 999 they thought that Christ was coming back, in 18th century Holland, they thought the end times were going to be next year, etc).
There are four main ways of interpreting the book; we’re mostly going to just mention 3 of them and skip the 4th (because it’s not very popular at the moment in Protestant circles). I’m going to give you the scholarly name for each way here, but I’m usually just going to refer to them by their main proponents since that’s easier to keep straight.
Modern/Liberal: This view, originating in 18th century Germany, holds that the book of Revelation primarily refers to the political situation of its day and should not be used to predict the future, although it is still a wonderful testimony to God’s love and care for his people in this view. This is very popular in Protestant mainline, more liberal churches and seminaries.
Dispensational: Dispensationalism is a way of making sense of the Bible that relies heavily on an understanding of “church ages,” or dispensations, which affect how we should interpret the Bible (Footnote: for instance, was Jesus’ command to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” just for those before the age of grace, or does it apply equally to all people in every time? Some Dispensationalists would say no, that message was to those people in that time, but most other Protestants would seek an explanation that doesn’t get us off the hook.). Dispensationalism is usually associated with extremely conservative groups, and authors like Tim LaHaye of the “Left Behind” series. Concerning Revelations, Dispensationalists generally hold to a belief in the Rapture, a tendency to seek contemporary explanations of the book’s symbolism, and a belief in the immanent return of Christ.
Historist view: This view holds that the book of Revelation has been slowly but progressively fulfilled throughout history. In this view, Hitler might be one beast, and a future Anti-Christ another. Interpreters look throughout history for various fulfillments. This view was popular for so long among Protestants that it was even called “the Protestant view” at one point. However this view is more commonly held by the Catholic Church today, which holds that many of the prophecies in the book are being worked out through the True Church, ie, the Roman Catholic one. We won’t be studying this one much since the Dispensational view has pretty much supplanted it as the popular Protestant view.
Reformation: This refers to classic Reformed Theology and its main proponents, men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, et al. The book of Revelation played a much larger role in the formation of Protestantism than most people realize (even though Luther wanted to exclude it form the Bible and Calvin died before finishing his commentary on the book). Just about everyone who’s not Catholic or Eastern Othodox is a Protestant, whether you know you are or not, so this should be helpful in understanding our own views. The Reformers and their followers tend to spiritualize the symbolism in Revelation to make it relevant to the church of their day, and are more likely to see doctrinal issues than is popular now
Really, whatever your view, you’re going to read it into everything in the book. The bad thing about symbolism is that you can more or less get it to mean what you want it to mean if you’re willing to be a little selective. Therefore, I don’t want to get too bogged down in the meaning of the symbols, but rather give you a framework for understanding their origin and some of the most important interpretations.
Read vv. 1-3
According to v. 1, who is the book written for? v. 1, the servants of Jesus Christ. Is that you? According to v. 3, what does it promise? v. 3, a blessing to those who read and obey.
As hard to understand as it can be, this book is addressed to us and there is a special promise of blessing attached to reading it. Is this book written to just the wise? Just to those with seminary degrees? Just to those with special knowledge or years of experience? Who then can expect to receive the blessing this book promises? One of the nice things about studying Revelation is that even really wise people don’t really understand much more than you do for sure ;).
Read v. 1 again. Who’s this book about? John wrote it down, but it’s called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” so this is His book even if John did the writing, right? It’s His story, His “revelation.”
History of Interpretation:
Let’s look at another phrase from verse 1 as an example of those different ways of reading this book I mentioned at the beginning of the class: “things which must shortly take place.”
Let’s take a look at a few different translations:
NRS Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place
YLT Revelation 1:1 A revelation of Jesus Christ, that God gave to him, to show to his servants what things it behoveth to come to pass quickly;
NAS Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place;
What do you think this phrase, “must soon take place,” means?
Modern: Obviously if you think that Revelation refers mostly to events that happened in the past, you’re going to be really happy about this verse. Modern/liberal folks might say that this refers to events that were about to happen in short order in John’s day, either the fall of Jerusalem or Rome, depending on when you think the book was written. This actually makes more sense than some Dispensational views, since obviously these words were originally written to Christians of the late first century, not to the present day church. It makes more sense that Jesus is showing John things which must take place in the next 15 years and calling that shortly than it does to assume he said “shortly” but meant 2000 years or more later.
Dispensational: Again, obviously if you think that the end times are just around the corner, you read this and say “ah ha, I knew it!” Of course most serious dispensational scholars are aware of the difficulties outlined above, and would therefore point out that the word translated here as “shortly” can also mean “quickly” or “suddenly.” So Jesus could be referring to events that are going to take place in a relatively short period of time instead of ones that will happen soon. Most dispensationalist theologians would put this time at around 7 years (time, times, and half a time, or 3 and ½ years, times two). This runs afoul of v. 3, however, which states, “the time is near.”
Reformed: The classic Reformed position on this dilemma is that in a sense the time is always near. Since there is application for the entire church in this book, it’s true in some sense for every age of the church that “the time is near.” There’s always a crisis or the risk of judgment for us, and yet always a Word from the Lord of concern.
NLT Revelation 1:4 This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne;
NIV Revelation 1:4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,
Who sends their grace and peace in v 4? What on earth does that mean? Let’s read Is. 11:1-2
NRS Isaiah 11:1-2 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
How many spirits does this verse mention? (7) Who are they resting on? The “Root of Jesse”, aka Jesus.
What does this tell us about the passage we are reading? There are a lot of different directions to go here depending on what you want to teach. Besides telling us about the character of Christ, (and therefore of mature Christians) this also reveals to us for the first time an interpretive key to the book of revelation. We think of Rev as being the most “NT” of the NT books, because it’s far out. In actual fact, no other NT book is as rooted in the OT’s imagery and references.
One thing I should probably note: there are tons of questions I’m not asking, mostly because they don’t fit with what I’m trying to present. Because this is a complex book, there just isn’t time to cover it all, so I had to make choices.
Who was the one who spoke to John (v. 13)? The Son of Man.
What significance does that phrase have? Who is this, and what does this say about him? What does that mean for us?
Daniel 7:9 “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.
Daniel 7:13-14 13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
What do you think the significance of the “double edged sword” is? (v. 16) What does that tell us about what we’re about to read?
Hebrews 4:12 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
What do you think this means: I have the keys of Death and of Hades? (v 18) What does it mean to have the key to something? If you have the key to your car, what does that mean? You have control over it, right?
What does this mean for us? We’re set.
Discussion point: expect symbolism. How much of the first chapter is symbolic and how much is literal? (literal in the sense that it refers to a specific future event, etc) You’ll notice that we’re not even past the first chapter, and yet we’ve already encountered plenty of symbolism and colorful imagery. What do you think that this says about what we can expect in the rest of the book? (so don’t take things too literally). Presbyterian Church, Hyde park also arranging effective and heart touching bible studies at a regular time interval.