I promised in my last blog article that I would deal with the subject of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 and 14. That I will do very soon, but I felt that I needed to explain first the pilgrimage I began years ago that has led me into a new understanding, not only of the Book of Revelation, but of God’s grand plan of redemption.
Having been nurtured spiritually on the New Scofield Reference Bible and educated in the Classic Dispensational system of interpretation, I found it hard to consider anything but a literal view of the numbers and names in the Book of Revelation, even though dispensational commentators themselves admitted that the book contains much symbolic language. The dispensational mission board with whom I served for twenty years required missionaries to sign their statement of faith every year, and that dampened any impulse to question the validity of pre-millennial dispensationalism. Still dispensational interpretations of certain Scriptures always bothered me.
When I became chaplain of the Hiawatha Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, it happily occurred to me that my employer, the State of Michigan, was no longer requiring me to adhere to a particular doctrinal position. I could explore every issue, every doctrine, in light of Scripture, allowing commentators from differing viewpoints to have their input. As a result, the Scriptures took on new life! My wife and I had new enthusiasm in our Bible study. We also saw prophecy and apocalyptic Scriptures in a new light.
I saw more clearly than ever that each Bible student views the Scriptures through a set of prisms that organize the data into a system. That is not necessarily bad, but we need to be careful that our system doesn’t take on the authority of Scripture itself, that we realize that our understanding is never infallible. I recently bought an instrument that most people consider a toy: a kaleidoscope. I hadn’t looked through one since I was a kid. The kaleidoscope holds a lesson for everyone who wants to interpret and understand the Bible. The same little pieces of plastic lie in the bottom of the lens, yet as you look through the scope and turn the outer chamber, ever so slightly, the whole pattern changes! What might be predominantly red and purple flowers in separate groups suddenly transform into one large pattern of green and yellow mixed with flecks of red and orange! Now don’t take this illustration too far: I’m NOT SAYING that the Bible can mean different things. I’m just illustrating how the same bits of information – Scriptural statements and passages – can form different patterns depending on our presuppositions, and if we never bother to turn the “prism,” we would never see anything but the one pattern. I decided to turn the prism on prophetic and apocalyptic Scripture, and it has been very rewarding.
One of the first books I explored was a very helpful book titled, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic, by D. Brent Sandy. Another helpful book was Four Views on the Book of Revelation, C. Marvin Pate, Gen. Ed. That was followed by Understanding Dispensationalists, by Vern S. Poythress. Then I took the bold step of buying and reading Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism. Most recently I have been working my way through G. K. Beale's commentary on the Book of Revelation, along with my own studies in the Greek text of Revelation.
What I have discovered has been a blessing beyond my expectations! The Book of Revelation itself promises: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy . . .” (Rev 1:3a). Yet, according to the Classic Dispensational viewpoint, the Church is gone after Rev. 4:1, raptured, and God returns to dealing with ethnic Israel. What’s more, the numbers in Revelation were to be taken largely as literal. When I began to question that presupposition, Scripture in general began to make more sense to me, not only, but especially, the Book of Revelation.
I found that there is great blessing in the imagery and symbolism of Revelation, and it’s not difficult to understand. There is sound exegetical and hermeneutical grounds for the symbolic interpretations. The Book of Revelation was intended by God to be an encouragement and a preparation for His people as we face the trials and challenges of serving Christ in this increasingly godless world. We know that The Lamb of God will overcome! His Kingdom will come! “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20b)
Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Jones
 Sandy, D. Brent. Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
 Pate, C. Marvin, Gen. Ed. Four Views on The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.
 Poythress, Vern S. Understanding Dispensationalists, 2nd Ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994.
 Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillenialism: Understanding The End Times. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003.
 Exegesis is the process of observing what a text is actually saying, literally “reading out” a text, as opposed to reading something into a text! Hermeneutics is the science of interpreting a text.