As with most books in the Bible, there are different schools of thought regarding the book of Revelation. Since my recent group study of the book I must say that I have drastically changed my beliefs regarding this book. I now have a difficult time applying the book to futuristic events that will effect Christians. If you get the time frame wrong regarding this book it definitely skews the interpretation.
The other disturbing thing about Revelation is the number of "biblical experts" who try to interpret its symbolism to be one hundred percent locked in while they pinpoint the exact date and time of when events will occur. Jesus told us the no one will know the hour and date of his coming (Mark 13:32) so people who continue to try to nail it down when all events will take place are in direct contradiction to his teachings. We are to be ready, but not to be preoccupied with accelerating events to speed up his arrival.
If you follow the belief that is most popular today it is that the book is written around 95 A.D. But if you believe it was written between 60 and 90 AD that drastically changes the interpretation. Here's why.
John addresses his letter to the seven churches. There was only a short window of time when there actually were exactly seven churches (the ones mentioned in the letters). Any earlier then only a few existed. Any later and then less that that number existed.
John starts off by stating the time is near. Thousands of years later people think it applies to us. If the time is near, and this prophecy wasn't sealed up as in the prophetic book of Daniel, then there is a sense or urgency.
John was addressing the persecution of Christians happening at that time and there are specifics that apply to the symbolism that relate to the different locations of the churches and who was in rule in their regions at that time. So, for instance, the reference to the Beast, may refer to the Emporer Domitian who persecuted Christians. (It was actually his nickname during that time.) The mark of the beast may refer to the mark people had to wear in order to sell in the market place. If they didn't comply and express their loyalty, they wouldn't receive the mark which meant they couldn't sell. Not selling meant hunger and poverty. Today's interpretation of Revelation and the Beast make him more the anti-Christ and people are always trying to figure out exactly who that anti-Christ is. Adolph Hitler, Obama, you name it. I've heard it all.
Why was Revelation written with so much imagry and symbolism? Why didn't God just give direct instruction to John? What possible purpose could the crypticness serve?
Here's a guess on my part. The only means of communication John had to warn these churches was through letters. And his purpose was to warn them about coming tribulation and looming destruction. If he had been straight forward without the coded symbols and the letters had fallen into the wrong hands, the bearer, the churches, and John could have been arrested and executed. As it was, he put forth these documents to both encourage the churches to hold fast to the true teachings of Christ, to resist the onslaught of pagan beliefs they were surrounded by, and to impress upon them the importance of following Christ's teachings without becoming luke warm or distorting them which was already taking place among some of these bodies of believers.
Here we go again.I said this before, the Bible is not a novel. When you piece together a cohesive storyline you are forcing jigsaw puzzle pieces together that do not fit and yet Christians do it all the time.
I am not going into a detailed break down of the book. But I do want to address the Left Behind series. Some Christians have been sucked into this series hook, line and sinker. These stories are literally scaring the hell out of people. I think it's way off the mark. A couple of writers let their imaginations run wild. It touts the popular and unbiblical teaching of the rapture based on just a few verses of scripture such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, then the mash it all together with all the apocalyptic events in Revelation. One of the reasons people are being suck is is because of the Christian desire to see their faithfulness to God rewarded while everyone else's avoidance of him gets their just rewards. Who doesn't want to feel vindicated and yet this angry vengeful God and warrior Christ, seem at odds with what we know about the God/Jesus we see in the gospels. Somethings not right here.
Again, we have to look at the primary filter of our biblical understanding through the lens of Jesus. I am presently going through the gospels to see more on what Jesus has to say about everything, including judgment and his coming again. Will it be this bloody battle scene such as we see in Revelation where the blood runs as deep as a horses bridle? Knowing Jesus' character and that he reflects the true nature of God, I have to say I question it. I will know more in the coming months. I invite you to dig for yourself, just be sure to keep what you study in the context of the time and the audience for whom it was written.
What can can take away from Revelation is this. First, we should never let our culture water down Jesus' teachings. That we should be ready to meet Christ when he does come but we should live every day in complete devotion to his teachings. That we should share this good news by being a reflection of Christ to everyone we come in contact with.
If you want to listen to the podcasts from A Place to Talk where we just finished a study of Revelation, there are recordings of these sessions. It's a very interactive church so lots of dialogue. This is the intro http://aplacetotalk.net/weeklytalks/page/2/. I think the second podcast in the series may talk about the time frame. The things about these discussions any time we have them is that we don't feel we have to say we have nailed it down. We leave conclusions open ended.In many ways I feel that's healthier.