My pastor at the Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet has been doing a Wednesday night study of Revelation for about three months now that has been fascinating. I have studied Revelation before under different teachers and am always captivated by the end times prophecies.
One element that my pastor has added to this present study of Revelation that I have never heard taught before is the context in which this final book of the Biblical canon was penned. This has really helped me understand Revelation better than I’ve ever understood it.
Granted, Revelation is not an easy book to grasp. Much of it seems cryptic and shrouded, and even the most learned Biblical scholars, if they are honest, will tell you that despite their careful interpretation, there may be some parts they get wrong. But there is still much we can accurately decipher if we understand one thing.
John was an elderly man who was being held prisoner on the island of Patmos when, in the late first century A.D., he was given the vision (or series of visions) that he wrote about, and that we know as Revelation. Remember, the events that were foretold then still have not yet occurred (although we are closer now than we ever have been before). So the technology in warfare is going to be at least as advanced as it is now, if not even more advanced. Of course, John was seeing things that he could never known about, things he simply did not know how to accurately describe given his limited first century vocabulary.
For example, last evening we were reading through chapter 9 and came across this description in verse 19: “For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails, which resemble snakes, have heads, and they inflict injury with them.” Now, it is highly unlikely that John saw a literal horse. Perhaps he was describing this vision he had been given of some sort of machinery used in warfare that would be familiar to us in 2016, but not to John. So he described it as a horse because he had no idea what else to call it.
Revelation is a violent book, and there are descriptions like this scattered throughout the book of beasts that sound to us like something other-worldly. But really John was just doing his best to describe his vision given the limited vocabulary that existed during his time.