The book of Revelation was “signified” to John (Rev 1:1), and as such, is a symbolic book – if it is read and interpreted literally, the intended meaning will be missed. In fact, if we read Revelation literally we will misinterpret the book, which is tragically ironic, since that is what commentators such as I are accused of doing.
To be sure, “symbolic” doesn’t mean “pretend”; we believe that Revelation prophetically communicates future events, but the actual meaning needs to be discovered by understanding keys provided in the rest of the Word of God, in this order:
- Adjacent verses
- Adjacent chapters
- The same book
- The same author
- The same writing style, i.e., poetic, prophetic, historical
- The same testament
- The entire Word of God, old testament and new
So while we don’t believe in a literal dragon arising out of the sea (Rev 13), we do believe that the dragon is symbolizing an actual being, Satan, and the sea is emblematic of ‘storm-tossed humanity.’ The passage is true, its just not literal. Much of the book interprets itself, so we don’t have to speculate on the meaning. If it does not we then apply the aforementioned exegesis.
I have used the New American Standard translation since it, over the widest scope of scripture, is still the most literal and accurate of the English translations. While other translations and paraphrases may be fine for devotional use and shedding light on particular passages, the NASB is the best choice for my approach.
This intro will eventually be expanded and will connect to a Revelation Chapter 1 verse by verse commentary once it is created. In the meantime, follow the link below to Chapter 5.