When it comes to studying the Scriptures, one of the most exciting sections is the revelation from Jesus Christ, which God made known by sending his angel to his servant John. Through the years, these 404 verses (as previous generations have divided them) have been the source of intense study, many questions and no little controversy.
A few years ago I came across something helpful in a book by Homer Hailey. In the following excerpt, Hailey suggests three rules for studying and interpreting the Book of Revelation.
What did the book mean to the people of that day to whom it was written? Any interpretation that omits or overlooks this point is invalid. This approach involves (a) some understanding of the conditions under which the saints lived, and (b) the spiritual needs of the hour, which were: revelation and instruction of Christ’s present rule, and encouragement and assurance of victory in the midst of trials.
A second help is an understanding of the Old Testament, particularly the prophets and especially the prophets Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah and their use of symbols and signs. If one does not have an acquaintance with these, he should try to acquire some knowledge of them, or be directed by one who has made such a study. It is variously estimated by students of Revelation that the book contains from two hundred sixty to more than four hundred allusions to the Old Testament; but it is acknowledged by all that there is not a single direct quotation from it.
In giving to the church a revelation of truth in visions and symbols, there would necessarily have to be some divine basis on which to interpret the message. The total Old Testament revelation and the writings of the New Testament is that basis. As God showed to John vision after vision and allowed him to hear voice after voice, the Holy Spirit directed him in recording these. The visions and message of the voices were so patterned after the revelations God had made known through the centuries that these writings become our guide and basis of interpretation. The Spirit uses symbols and revelations of the past without slavish duplication of them, but uses them as they serve God’s present purpose in providing the New Testament apocalypse.
A third rule is that all interpretations must be consistent and harmonious with the total teaching of the remainder of the New Testament. There must be no conflict or contradiction between the two.
When these three simple rules are kept in mind and followed, the careful student will find a rich reward and blessing from his study and will not be led astray and become lost in the quicksands of error.
(Homer Hailey, Revelation, An Introduction and Commentary, Barker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pages 52-53)
Well, what do you think? Are you aware of additional guiding principles which have proven to be beneficial when studying the Book of Revelation?