Revelation In Context

The book Revelation In Context, by Irene Belyeu, is a literary and historical commentary on the Biblical Book of Revelation with supporting referents and notes.

Although you will find many helpful articles and blog posts regarding this historical and inspirational book on this website, seekers of the truth of the Revelation will want to study and explore more in depth by purchasing the book.  There are two editions of the book available.

  • Volume 1 — This book is for the serious seeker of the truth of the Revelation and would be ideal for a class setting where each student has a copy of Volume 1 also with access to the Complete Edition as a reference work. (397 pages)
  • Complete Edition — This book contains all of Volume 1 and, in addition, all of the Referents and Notes from the Bible, Rabbinic writings, the Apocrypha, and Enoch. (657 pages)

Printed versions of the book may be purchased online at: Xulon Press and the Complete Edition from Amazon; and Volume 1 from Amazon. It is also available at Living Word

What Is Prophecy?-Part 2

True Prophecy Presents A Choice

True prophecy does not announce a future fate but rather offers a choice. True prophecy is a declaration based upon the spiritual forces and conditions at work. Just as there is cause and effect in the physical world, so also is there in the spiritual dimension. Therefore, true prophecy predicts the future consequences of present spiritual choices, according to the Word of God, Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15.

Prophecy is God’s means of forewarning people of the dangers of wrong decisions so that they might turn from their sins. The prophet’s message is always: “Turn ye! Turn ye! Why will ye die?” and “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Thus in true prophecy, the choice of good and evil is set before the people, rather than a fatal decree. Typically, there is one predicted fate for sinners and another for the righteous. The individual chooses into which category he shall fall. The choice must answer the question: “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?”

Faith Is The Determining Factor

The determining factor is faith in the Word of God and His holiness. For example, the Jews of the time of Christ failed to recognize this principle and so depended upon a fleshly lineage instead of repentance and righteousness by faith. Christianity, in the true prophetic tradition, declared that according to God’s Word sinners were destined to receive the cursings while the righteous were destined to receive the blessings, regardless of fleshly lineage. The individual was not predestined; he had the power of choice. The categories of sin and righteousness, however, were predestined for evil or for good. To trust in the flesh was to be lost; to trust in Christ was to be saved.

Not An Immutable Decree, But A Personal Choice

Martin Buber in The Prophetic Faith* says: “The true prophet does not announce an immutable decree. He speaks into the power of decision lying in the moment, and in such a way that his message of disaster just touches this power. The unformulated primal theological principle of the Garden of Eden story about the divine-human relationship, namely that created man has been provided by the Creator’s breath with real power of decision and so is able actually to oppose YHVH’s commanding will– this mysterious article of faith rises now to awfully practical force.

“The divine demand for human decision is shown here at the height of its seriousness. The power and ability are given to every man at any definite moment really to take his choice, and by this he shares in deciding about the fate of the moment after this, and this sharing of his occurs in a sphere of possibility which cannot be figured either in manner or scale; it is to this personal decision of man with its part in the power of fate-deciding that the prophetic announcement of disaster calls. The alternative standing behind it is now taken up into it; only so can the prophet’s speech touch the innermost soul and also be able to evoke the extreme act: the turning to God.”

* (New York, N.Y, Macmillan, 1949, p. 103-4)

What Is Prophecy?-Part 1

Revelation 1:3. “The words of this prophecy.”

This phrase establishes that the Book of Revelation is a prophecy. What is true Biblical Prophecy? A true prophecy is the testimony of Jesus Christ according to Revelation 19:10.

In order to understand the Book as a prophecy, we must know the characteristics of true prophecy. Some of the relevant questions are:

  • How is prophecy related to prediction?
  • What is the purpose of prophecy?
  • How was a true prophet recognized?
  • Does fulfilled Biblical prophecy still have relevance to our times?

Is Prophecy Merely Prediction?

Many commentators understand Biblical prophecy as merely prediction of the future. Therefore, they mistakenly assume that the entire Book of Revelation was a “prediction of the future” when it is actually a testimony of Jesus that, as the Word of God, has eternal relevance.

Since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, there is an element of prediction in the testimony of Jesus Christ, but the primary purpose and meaning of ‘prophecy’ is not prediction, but rather”testimony.” The predictive element of Biblical prophecy was not to foretell events just for the sake of demonstrating a supernatural power, as a fortune-teller would do, but rather to demonstrate that the word of God is eternally relevant and Jesus Christ is Lord.

Prediction is a forecast of future events based upon observations of trends, movement of various forces and judgment of how these forces will interact with each other. When the observer has good access to all of the relevant information and is well trained to interpret these facts, his predictions may be highly reliable and accurate, as for example, a good weatherman. Good predictions are based upon knowledge as well as understanding of how to interpret that knowledge.

Biblical Prophecy Is Based Upon Spiritual Insight

Biblical prophecy, however, is based upon spiritual wisdom which requires an understanding of the basic spiritual laws that pertain. While weather may be predicted based upon knowledge of the physical forces that are interacting, human events can only be predicted based upon the spiritual forces at work. Discernment of these spiritual forces comes only through divine revelation.

The Biblical events that were foretold were significant in demonstrating God’s eternal power and purposes. For example, when the prophets foretold the birth of Christ, the prophecies were based upon the Word of God, even as far back as to Eve in the garden promising a deliverer. The event foretold was eternally significant.

Prophecy Is Foretelling

Although Biblical prophecy is not merely foretelling, there can be no doubt that prophecy, in the Biblical sense, does include the element of foretelling.  Unbelieving critics say that Biblical history was written only after the event; however, the Bible text makes it clear that true prophets did foretell.

In the beginning God Himself foretold future events. He told Adam, “In the day that ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die.” He foretold to Cain that if he did well, he should be acceptable, but if not then the beast (sin) lying at his door should devour him. He foretold to Noah that the flood would come. He foretold to Abraham that Israel would go down into Egypt for four hundred years and that afterward He would give them the land of Canaan. He foretold also to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they should possess the land of Israel. He foretold to Moses that He would deliver the people from Egyptian bondage. Indeed, the ability to foretell events is one thing that distinguishes the true God from idols according to Isaiah 41:21-29.

Sinai A New Era In Prophecy

However, with Moses at Sinai, a new era began in prophecy. Here God spoke to the whole congregation of Israel. The event inspired such fear that the people requested of Moses that he receive the oracles of God and transmit them indirectly to them rather than endure again the awesome direct presence and voice of God: “Let not God speak with us lest we die.” From that time forward to the time of Christ, God spoke to the people through prophets, (Exodus 19:9; 20:19; 24:2; 33:11; 34:3, 29-35).

Prophecy’s Purpose:  Declaring The Word of God

But prophecy is not merely foretelling. Moses, as a prophet, foretold future events. He foretold that they should inherit the Promised Land but that they should in time go after other gods and be taken into captivity, (Deuteronomy 27-30 and 32). Every prophet from that time forward foretold events which were yet future in his time. But the aspect of foretelling is a mere adjunct of the essence of prophecy. Biblical prophecy is primarily forth-telling – declaring or speaking forth the Word of God.

Its purpose is to be God’s voice, and to make God’s will and nature known to the congregation. The prophet foretells on the basis of cause and effect: God has spoken, therefore it must be. God’s Word is the creative cause and is certain to produce an effect. God cannot speak in vain. Foretelling is merely a means of forth-telling.

Soothsayers, diviners, astrologers and other idolaters saw man as fated by the gods and their future as pre-determined, but true prophecy is based upon the creative force of God’s Word, His authority, infallibility, holiness and power to perform. False prophets attempt to know the future in order to work out their own salvation; God’s people wish to know His will in order to conform to His eternal plan.

The Great Falling Away

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4:

“Let no man deceive you in any way for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god, or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God,” (RSV)

The passage in  2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, (written about 51 AD), concerning “the great falling away,” (KJV), “the rebellion,” (RSV), is speaking of that pending rebellion of the Jews against Rome which resulted in their final war. The “man of lawlessness” is the wicked High Priest who actually fomented the rebellion.

Just as righteous Lot was called out of Sodom before the city could be destroyed, and just as Israel was called out of Egypt and did not suffer the plagues upon it, so now the Christians are being called out of Jerusalem, (Revelation 11:12). Clearly it is the wicked city Jerusalem that is intended in Revelation 11:8 where it is “allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” The literal city of Jerusalem had become Sodom and Egypt.

The Jewish War Against Christians

The war for the Christians, however, was not only the Jewish rebellion against Rome, but also the war of the “Jews” against the Christians. That war, as recorded in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, had been waged throughout the New Testament era and was especially vicious in the days immediately following Pentecost. After the martyrdom of Stephen, the Christians were dispersed, (Acts 8:1), and were persecuted throughout the empire wherever they went to preach in the synagogues.

The Jewish war against the Christians flared up again in Jerusalem in the year 62 AD when James, brother of Jesus, was executed by official action of the High Priest. This opened a new era of Jewish persecution of Christians which intensified until its climax in the destruction of the city in 70 AD, a period of approximately seven years. This fulfilled the “time of trouble” foretold by Daniel, (12:1), and Jesus, (Matt. 24:21). In Daniel 7:25 the saints “shall be given into his hand for a time, two times, and half a time,” the 3 ½ years before their deliverance.

Roman Persecution

Roman persecution of Christians was actually the result of the Jewish war against the Christians. The image of the Church throughout the empire had been greatly damaged by the false accusations from the Jewish synagogues. Also, Nero’s wife, Poppaea, had become indoctrinated by Jewish priests and would, therefore, have adopted their hatred of Christianity. Nero, perhaps at Poppaea’s instigation, began his persecution of Christians, as distinct from “Jews,” after the great fire in Rome in 64 AD.

When the Romans knew that the Christians were a group distinct from the Pharisaical Jews, then they became subject to the enforcement of worship of the emperor. Since the Jews had been granted the status of a privileged cult, they were exempt from emperor worship. Christians were allowed this status also so long as they were considered “Jews.” But, when the Christians began to deny that they were “Jews” it left them without the covering of the privileged status from Rome.

At about this time, however, the Jews revolted against Rome and declared their independence, forcing Rome to move militarily against them. This left the Christians in the position of disobedience to Rome because of their refusal to worship the emperor and enmity to Judaism because of their refusal to deny Christ. They were faced with two powerful enemies who were also at war with each other, – a time of trouble such as the nation had never seen!

Blessings To The Hearers And Keepers

Revelation 1:2Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near, (RSV).

Hebrew Writing

The blessing to “he who reads aloud the words of this prophecy” further indicates that it originated in written form rather than the oral form often used by the other prophets. Since John was in exile it was necessary that he address his audience in writing. Since their native tongue was Hebrew/Aramaic, the letter was probably written in Hebrew. Why would he, being a Jew and writing to Jews, not write in Hebrew? Furthermore, it was at that time thought that all true prophecy must be written in Hebrew.

What is the special blessing for those who read, hear and keep the words of this prophecy?

This blessing is related to the fact that “the [appointed] time, (kairos), is near.” If we take “the appointed time” to mean the time foretold by Daniel and confirmed by Christ of the judgments of God upon Jerusalem, then we can see that the special blessing is that those who heed this prophecy will be delivered from the “wrath to come,” and will escape the judgments coming upon Jerusalem.

The Oracle

Eusebius tells us that there was an “oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons,” that ordered the Christians to leave the city, just before the Roman siege. This oracle was circulated in Jerusalem at the time of the Roman invasion (Eusebius 3.5.4). What was that “oracle ” that was so influential as to cause the entire local church to emigrate? I believe that “oracle given by revelation” is, or is contained in, the Book of Revelation which we now have as the final book of our Bibles. The word “revelation” or apokalupsis may also be translated “oracle.”

Eusebius says that the war began in the twelfth year of Nero, which Williamson notes was 66 AD,* and that the Christian exodus was “before the war began.” He no doubt means the Roman war against Jerusalem to put down the Jewish rebellion against Rome that had been going on for some time. The historians Kee, Young, Froelich, says: “Presumably it was just before the siege began that the Christians decided to flee to a place of safety.” The time of the flight, therefore, may have been at some point “before the siege,” which began in April 70 AD. Other indications are that it may have been in the summer of 68 AD.* (See also my Commentary at 18:4 “Flight to Pella.“)

How Did The Christians Escape?

Other accounts show that after the city was under siege and Titus offered their life to anyone who would voluntarily come out to him, the warring factions of Jews inside the city stood guard at the gates and did not allow anyone to pass out to Titus. Some they robbed and some they ripped open in order to obtain any gold pieces they might have swallowed in their effort to get it out of the city. It thus became impossible to leave the city.

However, the account goes, this band of Christian Jews “were found” in another place across the desert from Judea. This may have involved a bodily translation as in Acts 8:40: “…but Philip was found at Azotus,” which may indicate that he was bodily translated from one place to the other. This may well have been the signal fulfillment of the “catching away,” or “rapture” that points to the fact that it can, and has, happened whenever it becomes necessary for Christians to be so delivered.  Indeed, we have modern accounts of saints being bodily translated. It can happen when needed.

*The discrepancy between the dates 66 and 68 AD may be that one was using lunar years and the other solar years.

Hear, Deliverance Promised, End Of The Age

1:3: Hear: “Blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein,” (RSV).

Just as God does not speak without results, so in Biblical thought, man does not truly hear without keeping, or observing, what has been heard. To “keep” that which was heard requires an appropriate response. In Biblical communication, if the response is lacking, one has not completed the act of hearing. The Hebrew meaning of “hear” is more like our word “heed;” that is, you become a doer of the word.

The hearing of the ears initiates a challenge to the will. The will then must either assent or dissent. To assent is to accept or comply passively. This is the first step toward “keeping” or “doing” the Word. However, according to opportunity there must also be, not only the readiness to will, but also a performance of the deeds. Only with the performance is the act of “hearing” complete.

The great shema to Israel was not only an admonition to “hear” but also to “do”: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

The controversy concerning faith versus works is due to the lack of understanding, amongst the Christians from gentile backgrounds, of the Biblical meaning of “hearing.” James taught the true sense of the word, declaring that “…faith without works is dead,” (James 2:26). And: “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves,” (James 1:22).

Blessing Of Deliverance Promised

The message of Revelation gives the blessed assurance of Christ’s deliverance, reminiscent of Christ’s words in Luke 21:28: “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near,” (RSV).

The passage in Luke 17:34-37 seems to indicate that deliverance is not to be merely a matter of one’s own volition, or watchfulness, but that some “will be taken” while others “will be left.” In reading Josephus’ account it seems that indeed there were people who did escape the City and others who could not. These passages themselves would have been sufficient to warn the Christians to avoid the City, or flee from it where possible.

The End Of The Age For The Whole Earth? Objections

Some will object that the “end of the age” does not pertain only to the fall of Judea and Jerusalem but to the whole earth. For example, “for it (that day) will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth,” (Luke 21:35 RSV). There are two things that must be pointed out in this regard:
(l) the word ‘earth,’ in the Hebrew is ’eretz which is sometimes translated “earth” and sometimes “land.” It could therefore refer to the whole land of Judea, or to the whole planet earth.
(2) It may in fact refer to both in their proper time and order; that is, first to the whole land of Judea in the first century, then to the whole planet after the Gospel has gone to the whole world. This is according to the pattern: “The Jew first and also the Greek (Gentile),” (Rom. 2:9-10).

A further objection is that, at His “coming,” Christ is to establish His Kingdom in the earth. This may be answered by pointing out that, at the destruction of the fleshly nation, Christ’s Kingdom fully replaced it in the earth. After that time, there was no other nation of Israel, no other heirs to the promises. We find in Revelation chapter 22 that the New Jerusalem has come down to the earth and God is again dwelling in the midst of His people.

But just as the physical nation had occupied a limited space in the world, so Christ’s kingdom at that time was not all-pervasive of the world systems. His kingdom has, however, like the little stone cut out by no human hands that broke in pieces the great kingdoms of the earth in Daniel 2:34, continually increased and will ultimately fill all the earth and replace every kingdom of this world, the Blessed Kingdom of those who hear the message of Revelation.

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this,” Isaiah 9:7.

Revelation in Context is available locally at the Living Word Bookstore in Shawnee, Oklahoma or www.Amazon.com, or www.XulonPress.com.
Free downloads are also available at www.revelationincontext.sermon.net.