Each of us that comes to the book of Revelation would do well to consider the words of Paul to the Corinthian church:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able. (1Cor. 1Cor. 3:1-2)Although Paul is admonishing the Corinthian believers regarding their lack of maturity, as evidenced by relational confrontation among them (1Cor. 1Cor. 3:3), the inability to teach mature subjects to immature believers is also evident. The writer to the Hebrews echoes this principle:
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. Heb. 6:1-3)The writer hopes to avoid conveying the same foundational knowledge previously related, but to go on to more advanced principles.
There is a progression found in Gods Word. Many of its foundational truths are extremely simple and readily understood. Other truths are less evident and require a long-term foundation of Scriptural knowledge upon which the Holy Spirit builds our understanding. As Gregory the Great succinctly observed: Holy Scripture is a stream of running water, where alike the elephant may swim, and the lamb walk.1
This explains why Gods Word is fresh and powerful for both the new believer and the elderly saintthe lamb is refreshed in the shallows of the stream while the elephant plunges into the depths. But a problem may develop when the lamb decides to take matters into its own hands and undertake a short-cut straight for deeper waters. It will quickly find itself out of its depth, and in the case at hand, confused.
There is a head-on collision between the fast-food, instant-gratification mentality of our society and the way in which the Holy Spirit reveals the truths of Gods Word to the diligent student. In our rush to plumb the depths of Scripture, we neglect the reality that the truths therein are often presented like peeling an onionlayer by layer God leads us deeper in His Word. He is not a God of our making and most certainly not a God of the short-cut. He is the antithesis of have it your way and instead favors the spiritual tortoise over the hare.
Numerous times we have observed eager believers who are not yet truly acquainted with the basics of Gods Word charge ahead attempting to master the book of Revelation. This is guaranteed to be unfruitful and even dangerous. God owes us nothing! Let us keep that in mind as we approach this book! If we are not ready for certain revelation and understanding, so be it!. Lets rest in that fact and trust God to give us what we need when we need it. To attempt to push into the book or to cram for long hours to force the understanding from the text is manifestly sin as it substitutes our selfish desire for elevated knowledge over trust in the gentle leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit as we invest daily in Gods Word.
Ultimately, if we persist in a strong-armed insistence in obtaining the goods from a passage which we are not spiritually ready for, it may even become dangerous. We become open for deception as Satan or our flesh will readily provide a substitute for that which God, in His ultimate wisdom, has not yet given us. Thus, by pressing too hard or too soon to master a passage, we often wind up with an incorrect or superficial understanding of its true contents. The damage comes when we turn around and teach that which we dont understand. We also suffer as we grow satisfied and rest in an understanding which is in fact not a true understanding.
Instead, why not allow for puzzlement and wonder in our exploration of the book? When we encounter things we dont understand (not if, but when), why not simply put them on the shelf and pray about them? Over time, God will bring the key that helps unlock the puzzle. In the meantime, enjoy the journey and depend upon His Spirit to gradually bring your understanding to maturity.