5 Strategies for Reading Revelation without Anxiety

Contributing Writer
5 Strategies for Reading Revelation without Anxiety

Revelation is not a popular book to study or use in sermons. For many, the hesitation to read this book of the Bible stems from the view that it is too complicated or mysterious to understand. Christians might also worry that delving too far into the pages of Revelation could lead to arguments with other believers about interpretation and eschatological systems.

Some churches have increased this problem by intentionally using Revelation and eschatology to induce fear. Many individuals have experienced trauma because they were made to believe that they will be left behind in the rapture to experience all the terrible plagues and judgments during the Tribulation. Their churches may have been trying to use the threat of being left behind as an evangelistic method. However, such a method is harmful. These traumatized believers avoid reading Revelation altogether.

It does not have to be this way.

If 2 Timothy 3:16 is correct, that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” then Revelation is worth studying. The book might have a lot of mystery and controversy around it, but that does not make it any less important.

Taking some strategic steps, we can read Revelation without anxiety and fear.

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Yellow flowers growing out of cracked, dry earth

1. Keep the Original Purpose of Revelation in Mind

People often treat Revelation as if it belongs in a unique category, but John’s vision is included in an epistle. He wrote to the seven churches in the province of Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey, and included a vision that Jesus revealed to him while exiled on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:4, 9-11). The specific messages in chapters 2-3 were for the churches, but so was the rest of the book.

These churches, like the Apostle John, were encountering persecution and needed encouragement to persevere and stay faithful. Revelation was written to meet these needs. As John wrote at the beginning of the epistle, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). To the Christians in the first century and to us today, reading and obeying the words in this book brings blessing.

How different this purpose is from the idea that Revelation is meant to frighten and confuse people. God led John to write down the prophecy to strengthen the faith of Christians enduring suffering. He meant for the words to bring blessing and comfort to those who read them. Of course, this does not mean there are no difficult passages or intense parts of the vision. However, the original intent of Revelation was to encourage believers to keep the faith despite the pain of persecution.

Knowing this can put our minds at ease when studying Revelation. God never intended this part of His Word to bring anxiety. He wants us to read and benefit from the prophecy, just as the first-century believers did.

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2. Familiarize Yourself with Other Books of Prophecy in Scripture

Many of us read with dread about the stars falling from the sky in Revelation 6 or the strange beasts in Revelation 13. What does all of it mean? How do these symbols relate to the rest of Scripture?

A strategy that can help dispel our dread is to take time to study other books of prophecy in the Bible either before or during our study of Revelation. When we do, we discover that many other books mirror the imagery and prophecies found in John’s vision. Revelation is not some bizarre, scary book. Instead, it stands with other books of prophecy in the Bible.

For example, Zechariah includes many similar symbols and images that are found in Revelation, such as the four horses (Zechariah 6:1-3 and Revelation 6:1-8) and the lampstand with the two olive trees (Zechariah 4:1-2 and Revelation 11:3-4). The prophet Joel wrote about cosmic upheavals like the sun turning black and the moon turning red (Joel 2:31 and Revelation 6:12). Likewise, Isaiah described how the stars will fall like figs and the sky will recede like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4 and Revelation 6:13). Daniel wrote about strange beasts that mirror the beasts that John described in his vision (Daniel 7 and Revelation 13).

Not only does this show us that God is consistent in what He has revealed to prophets throughout time, but it reassures us about the nature of Revelation. It is an epistle that contains a prophetic vision that draws from important images and symbols in the Old Testament.

Familiarizing ourselves with the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament in preparation for reading Revelation sounds like a lot of work that will take time. However, students of Scripture will find the experience enlightening and encouraging. When we consider this book in the context of the other works of the prophets, we can erase a lot of the misconceptions and fears about the images and symbols found in Revelation.

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3. Remember That Interpretation Is Important

Since individuals argue over different methods of interpretation and what certain events or symbols in Revelation refer to, many believers assume it is better not to get involved. They avoid reading this book of the Bible, afraid they will become embroiled in debates or will get confused by elaborate systems. However, interpretation is important. We do not have to automatically choose a system of eschatology, like premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism, or preterism. What we can do is focus on using interpretation techniques that make the book more accessible.

One such technique, which is vital, is to remember that John was conveying what he saw in a vision. He specifically says that while he was on the island of Patmos on the Lord’s day, he was in the Spirit (Revelation 1:10). In this state of being in the Spirit, he saw the glorified Christ who told him to “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later” (Revelation 1:19). This includes the messages to the seven churches, his vision of heaven, and the other events included in Revelation.

Because John wrote down a vision that was revealed to him, a lot of what is included in Revelation is conveyed in symbols and imagery. To clarify, this does not mean that everything in the book is symbolic, that we can dismiss the imagery as meaningless, or interpret it however we want. Symbols stand for something and are meant to be understood. John explained many of the images, the meaning of which were usually revealed to him, such as the seven lampstands as a symbol of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20).

Another example is when John saw a lamb that looked like it had been slain, which is a reference to Jesus (see Revelation 5:6). Christ is not a literal lamb because He remains fully God and perfect man. However, Jesus is known as the innocent Lamb of God who fulfilled the imagery of the Passover lamb (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19). He is the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We recognize the symbolic imagery, but through a normal reading of Scripture that does not try to exaggerate or dismiss the vision.

At times, though, John included specific details, like numbers, heights, and widths. Some Christians try to search for elaborate explanations of these numbers, such as the meaning of the 144,000 chosen men from Israel (Revelation 7:4). Instead of trying to allegorize the numbers or the meaning of “Israel,” we should consider that perhaps what John meant is that a specific number from the tribes of Israel will be divinely protected during the judgments of the Tribulation (Revelation 14:1-5). Or when we read of the dimensions of the New Jerusalem, that the Apostle was merely including the measurements he had been shown (Revelation 21:15-17).

Trying to complicate the reading only leads to further confusion and frustration that fuels anxiety. We probably will not understand everything we read, but we can stay vigilant for explanations of symbols and utilize an interpretation that is not overly exaggerated or fanciful.

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4. Consider Reading the Judgment Sections Alongside Judgments from the Old Testament

Anxiety over being left behind in the rapture is a common reason many Christians avoid Revelation. They have been influenced to think that somehow, they could do something to miss the rapture and that they will then endure the terrifying tribulation. Outside of the fact that Revelation does not mention the rapture, fear-inducing interpretations fail to recognize that the judgments of God have a purpose. If we understood them better, maybe many of us would not be as afraid of reading the final pages of the Bible.

A way to better grasp the purpose of the judgments is to read Revelation alongside other sections of Scripture that include God’s divine judgment. For example, reading about the plagues of Egypt could provide us with perspective. God was not being cruel or petty by judging Egypt. In addition to bringing about the deliverance of His people, the Lord was using these plagues to show the Egyptians that He alone is God (Exodus 7:5). All their different gods were false and worthless, which is why Bible scholars believe each plague targeted specific gods to show the Lord’s greatness. Yahweh is the true God, who controls the elements of nature, weather, light, and life (Exodus 7-12).

Or a person could read Jeremiah and Ezekiel to gain deeper insight into why God sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem as a judgment against Israel. He had given the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel multiple chances to repent and return to Him, but they repeatedly forsook the Lord. Those in Jerusalem committed many atrocities – acts that did not go unnoticed by our holy and just God.

Ezekiel records the terrible wickedness that occurred in Jerusalem, including the killing of children as sacrifices to idols, oppressing the poor and needy, raping women (including close relatives), defiling the temple and Sabbath, committing extortion, and forsaking the Lord (Ezekiel 22:1-12). As the Lord said, “I strike My hands together against your unjust gain and against the blood you have shed in your midst. Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you? I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will act” (Ezekiel 22:13-14).

We need only consider history and look around at the world today to know that atrocities have been committed. The world is filled with sin, and it will be judged, which is what Revelation describes. Jesus opens the seals and sends the judgments to punish the world of sin, with the hope that many will repent and turn to Him, including the Israelites. Yet, John recorded that the people will curse the Lord after many of the terrible plagues instead of acknowledging and placing faith in Him (Revelation 16:9).

Neither Satan nor the Antichrist will send the judgments recorded in Revelation. Our good and loving Lord Jesus opens the scroll and sends out the judgments (Revelation 5:1-10). He does so for a reason, bringing people to see the severity of their sins with the desire that they will turn to Him. At the end of the Tribulation, we know that some will do so. People will look on Him whom they pierced and repent (Revelation 1:7; see also Zechariah 12:10).

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5. Be Encouraged That Revelation Is Applicable to Life Today

The future can be frightening to think about, let alone when we add in discussions about the Tribulation, the sea turning to blood, or the Antichrist taking over. Since Revelation includes prophecy, it tells us about what is to come. However, our anxiety over these end times events can be lessened when we remember that Revelation also has practical application to our lives today.

What better motivation do we have to persevere in times of suffering and pain than the promise of the New Heaven and New Earth? We know that when God makes all things new, He will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). Meditating on the certainty of that reality can give us the strength to keep going in faithfulness.

The truth that Jesus is coming again soon also impacts our lives today. At the end of John’s vision, Jesus told him, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12). As believers in Christ’s death and resurrection, we know that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We do not earn our salvation. However, Jesus’ return should compel us to greater holiness. Believers should want to be like the wise stewards whose Master finds them ready and doing His work when He returns (Luke 12:42-48).

Another area that has practical implications for our lives is the final triumph of good over evil. Jesus will defeat the Antichrist, False Prophet, Satan, and all who oppose Him (Revelation 19:11-21; 20:7-10). This is a great reminder in times of injustice and evil. Right now, evil might seem as if it is prevailing. The oppressor appears to prosper while those being oppressed continue to suffer. Yet, we can trust that it will not always be this way. In God’s epic finale of history, He will show that light always overcomes darkness, and that light can break into the most wicked places and people. His dwelling on the New Earth with transformed and redeemed people demonstrates that truth.

As we read Revelation, let us note how the words of prophecy impact our lives now. How do they encourage us, lead us to greater holiness, and enflame a desire to worship the Lord? Seeing the active fruit in our lives from studying Revelation will dispel any remaining fears about this book.

Then we will understand that God included Revelation as part of the Bible for our good and His glory.

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Sophia Bricker is a writer. Her mission is to help others grow in their relationship with Jesus through thoughtful articles, devotionals, and stories. She completed a BA and MA in Christian ministry, which included extensive study of the Bible and theology, and an MFA in creative writing. You can follow her blog about her story, faith, and creativity at The Cross, a Pen, and a Page.