I recently had the honor of conducting an interview with Reformed Theologian and respected Revelation expositor Kenneth Gentry who answers my questions concerning problematic issues related to this book and its interpretation. Enjoy!
What’s your response to Bible-reading Christians who for various reasons avoid Revelation at all costs? What advice do you have for Christians who do not have the slightest clue on how to approach this text?
Kenneth: I would remind those who avoid Revelation that: (1) it is a part of God’s word and therefore deserves consideration; (2) it has a special blessing attached to reading it (Rev. 1:3; 22:7); and (3) it is the subject of much discussion (and abuse) today which should lead the concerned Christian to a deeper awareness of it.
For those Christians who have no clue about approaching Revelation, I would encourage them to avoid the temptation to leap into the dramatic portions of the book (the four horsemen, beast, harlot, etc.). Rather I would urge them to carefully consider the first four verses as crucial to getting oriented to the book: (1) Rev. 1:1 and 3 both relate John’s statement that he expects the events to occur soon, obviously within his lifetime. (2) Rev. 1:1 states that the book was “sent and SIGNIFIED [sign-ified, symbolize]” (NKJV), which requires that we understand it as symbolic and discourages our taking its dramatic images literally. (3) Rev. 1:3-4 shows that it was expressly sent to seven first-century churches and that John expected THEM to “hear [understand]” and “keep [obey]” the things within because it was written directly to them. We should never remove the book from its own stated setting.
Why do you think many believers are afraid of this book? On the opposite end of the spectrum, why do you think so many seem to obsess over Revelation?
Kenneth: Many believers fear Revelation because it involves so much difficult, strange symbolism, which is especially confusing to modern, Western Christians. We must understand that even John had difficulties understanding some of its visions (Rev. 7:13-14; 17:6-7).
Many Christians obsess over Revelation because they (wrongly) believe the events apply to our own day and are therefore dangerously relevant to our times in a special way.
Why is it that even in scholarship the views on interpreting the bizarre imagery are so widespread? Why is Revelation such a divisive book?
Kenneth: Even scholars hold a widely differing views on Revelation. Again this is because of its fundamentally symbolic nature. Symbols are open to various alternative interpretations.
Revelation becomes divisive when Christians pridefully become “know-it-alls” regarding its prophecies. Pride leads to arrogance which causes division.
Do you think that the unreceptiveness of Revelation in the West has something to do with the fact that we live in comfort in comparison to the two-thirds world?
Kenneth: I believe Revelation is especially disrespected in the West because of the dominance of humanism. Humanists write-off religious convictions and deny the possibility of divine truth. Also this book has been so dangerously abused by cranks in history that many people do not want to even consider it.
Have you always loved Revelation? If so, why? If not, when did you first start to become drawn to this letter and what attracted you?
Kenneth: I first became especially interested in Revelation when I took a course on it in seminary. The professor dug deeply into its grammar and historical setting, removing the book from the field of “prophecy experts” and cranks. If the book is approached carefully, it becomes much more appealing.
Thank you for your time and insight, both of which are greatly appreciated!
Having written or contributed to over thirty books, Kenneth Gentry is a retired Presbyterian minister. Though having written on a wide array of topics, he is best known for his work on eschatology and has worked extensively on Revelation. His two volume 1700 page commentary on Revelation is set to be released this year (undertaken by Tolle Lege Press). Other works of his on Revelation include Before Jerusalem Fell, The Beast Of Revelation as well as He Shall Have Dominion. He is also the author of the 2016 release As It Is Written: The Genesis Account: Literal or Literary? and blogs here.