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The prophecies contained in the books of Daniel, Revelation, and the Gospels have many levels, each of which is valid; but only if approached from a sincere desire to know and obey the truth. The Revelation is an integral part of the whole message of God in the Bible, and the key to understanding the book of Revelation is the teachings of Jesus.

There are three main ways of interpreting the prophecies in Daniel and the Revelation, and they are all valid to some extent, as long as they are taken in their proper perspective. The first, and least valid, interpretation is that the events prophesied in the Revelation have already been fulfilled. Certainly, the events of 70 A.D. fulfilled Jesus' prophecy about the destruction of the temple (Luke 21:6) and about the encirclement of Jerusalem by the Roman armies (Luke 21:20). It is debateable whether there were great signs and earthquakes and distress at the time of the Roman conquest, but if you were a Jew in Jerusalem at the time you could, no doubt, give a convincing argument that this was what Jesus was talking about.

Then there was the year 1666, with its ominous '666'. It was the culmination of a time when an entire third of the earth's population perished though the Plague; London was destroyed in a cataclysmic fire; and many Christians from small communitarian sects were burnt and persecuted as heretics by a tyrannical institutional "Church".

All through the ages there have been religious groups proclaiming the end of the world and the time of the fulfilment of the prophecies. However, the major and crucial point against the argument that the prophecies have all been fulfilled is that Jesus says, "And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:27) near the end of a sermon about the fulfilment of the endtime prophecies. It is emphasised in Matthew's version of the same sermon that this second coming is visible and tangible to all people, (Matthew 24:27, Matthew 24:30) and that it marks the destruction of all who rebel against God.

The Revelation says that it is the beginning of the thousand year reign of Christ on earth. (Revelation 11:15, Revelation 19:11-21, Revelation 20:1-4). These events obviously have not happened yet.

The second way of interpreting the prophecies is to skip over historic occurrences and view them as symbolic of the battle between good and evil, where love appears to lose, but ends up magnificently triumphant. Every Christian has his or her own Tribulation to go through, (2 Timothy 3:12) and we each experience the coming of Christ in our own life, if we hold onto the truth. The Revelation appears to speak of the judgement that is relevant to people of all times, not just the end times. (Revelation 20:12-13)

This is a safe interpretation; but there are too many specifics about times and events for it to be the only valid interpretation. These prophecies consistently predict a worldwide crisis of a magnitude beyond any ever seen in history, and one that will never come again. (Matthew 24:21, Mark 13:19, Daniel 12:1) It is a time which represents the peak of power for the forces of evil; but it ends with the supernatural destruction, or at the very least the imprisonment of, these same forces. (Revelation 6:16-17, Revelation 11:18, Revelation 20:10-15)

One basic theme of the Revelation is that the meek, loving "Lamb" which was slain (Jesus) is victorious over the "Dragon" (Satan) and the "Beast". This not only refers to the spiritual victory of love over hate, but also appears to refer to a future world empire and/or leader (the Beast) that follows and is possessed by Satan.

The time for the historical fulfilment of many, if not most, of the prophecies in the Revelation may be in the near future. However, some have already been partially fulfilled, simply because the cornerstone of today's society is the same as that which has existed since the time of ancient Babylon. The forces which are leading to the fullness of the prophecies' fulfilment are around right now. It is just that today sees the culmination of many historical developments which have been working together to lead us toward a new world empire. (1 John 2:18)

This coming world empire is not an altogether new development. It is simply the culmination of all the human governments of history. In one of the most accurate and verified prophecies ever, Daniel foresees all the world empires from his time until the Kingdom of Heaven comes and destroys the final empire. (Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:18) Daniel interprets a dream about a statue, predicting the Persian, Greek and Roman empires (Daniel 2). Later on, he sees four beasts, which symbolise in turn the four empires: the Babylonian empire of his day, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire (Daniel 7). Daniel notes that the fourth beast is, "diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful..." and the main emphasis of the rest of the prophecies in the Revelation, as well as Daniel's, is about this beast: the Roman Empire or, more accurately, a unique empire (represented by the ten toes) which rises from the ruins of the Roman Empire.

It appeared that the Roman empire fell a few hundred years after Christ, but it actually divided into "East" and "West" divisions that remain to this day, and which were actually predicted by Daniel. The two legs of the statue in Daniel's dream fit perfectly with the continuation of the Roman Empire as it co-opted (and almost destroyed) Christianity in two forms: The Byzantine Empire (which was the origin of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches) and the Holy Roman (Catholic) Empire. The two major world powers today are direct descendants of these two empires. Although the communists have supposedly thrown off their feudal Byzantine heritage, the same spirit of tyranny remains; and although Protestant capitalism supposedly left Catholic feudalism behind, the same hoarding of wealth that was the shame of the Church is even more the definitive characteristic of the Western world. In the same way that the iron and clay in the feet of Daniel's statue would not mix, the present system of man is divided, yet still possesses the strength of the Roman Empire. (Daniel 2:43)

But these divisions will be overcome in the final empire to emerge. The fourth beast has ten horns, a characteristic that links this empire to the one spoken of in Revelation 17 (and Revelation 12:3, and Revelation 13:1) which has seven heads and ten horns. An angel explains to John that these heads symbolise seven world empires, of which five are fallen, (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece), one is, (Rome) and the other is yet to come. This last one appears to be a future world government which gives rise to a world leader, who will be the most powerful earthly leader there has ever been. He will be totally against God, and he will gain his power directly from Satan. (Revelation 13)

Even though this final empire only appears to last for a few years right at the end of history, it is the ultimate empire, in that it embodies all of the worst (and perhaps the best as well) in all of the empires of human history. It certainly is the most significant one in prophecy.

Revelation 17 goes on to say that this beast (i.e. the last world empire) is red (Revelation 17:3) and that a prostitute called Babylon the Great sits on it. An angel tells John that the prostitute is a great city that reigns over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18). Another angel goes on to explain that the main feature of this city is its wealth and importance as a place for trade (Revelation 18).

An interpretation that fits well with modern day events is that the beast is Russia (red = communist) and the whore is the U.S.A. Like a prostitute America talks of love (represented by institutional Christianity), but it really only wants money. Today, the U.S. has political and economic dominance over the entire world; but according to prophecy, the beast (The Soviet Union) will one day " her flesh, and burn her with fire." (Revelation 17:16) Then the Soviet Union, working in union with other nations, which will give it power to rule the world, will go on to become the fulfilment of the rest of the endtime prophecies about the final, terrible Beast.

Many of the things mentioned in the Revelation were simply impossible until less than a hundred years ago. Who could have considered even 200 years ago that it would be possible for men to destroy the earth (Revelation 13:18), but today we have grown accustomed to the threat of annihilation hanging over our heads, through the threat of nuclear war. John hears about an army of 200 million people (Revelation 9:16). This has only really become possible since post-Mao China. Nuclear strikes now make passages of destruction by fire sound more plausible. (Revelation 8:7-11, Revelation 16:8, Revelation 18:8-10) With 90% of the scientists that have ever lived being alive today, ours is certainly an age of many people running to and fro, and knowledge being increased. This is another sign of the end, according to Daniel 12:4. Only with today's worldwide telecommunications, has it been possible for this prophecy to be fulfilled: "...The people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies" (referring to the two witnesses). (Revelation 11:9).

There are some other interesting things occurring right now that could be signs that the time is coming closer. The number 666 (Revelation 13:16-18) appears as a fundamental code built into the Universal Product Classification System (known as the "bar-code"). This is a development of technology that is amenable to some sort of universal person classification system, and a cashless society based on a mark (perhaps some form of bar-code) without which one cannot buy or sell. The star which falls to earth and makes the waters "bitter" so that many men die is called Wormwood, which is translated as Chernobyl in Ukrainian. Radiation poisoning of water fits this prophecy perfectly, although the level of death which actually occurred (at least so far) is nowhere near the level prophesied. (Revelation 8:10-11)

These occurrences are not total fulfilments of the prophecies, but their similarities are perhaps indications of what is to come. A pattern is certainly coming together, and as the time comes closer, the fullness of the prophecies will be revealed more and more. The statistics of population growth, energy consumption, non-renewable resource consumption, species extinction, desert expansion, arms production, environmental destruction and pollution show an exponential growth towards inevitable disaster. In fact, the longer there is no worldwide crisis to "fix" the problem, like widespread famine, war, or plague to cause death to a large proportion of the world's population, the greater the crisis will be when it comes. It is impossible to physically maintain the present exponential growth of both greed in the developed world, and population in the developing world.

Of course, there are more than enough resources for double the present population's needs, but the scenario presented here assumes that the world systems will not change their basic attitudes, and it is a reasonable hypothesis in the light of history. It is even more reasonable if we observe that there was only one government system that was ever even slightly in line with God. That was the ancient Jews; yet their claim to being God's kingdom was lost with their rejection of the higher revelation of God's kingdom through Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2:28-29)

Actually, there is much in prophecy to suggest that the Antichrist will, at least initially, claim to be the Messiah, coming to usher in the Millennium of peace, with his government posing as the visible kingdom of heaven: bringing peace and prosperity (Daniel 8:23-25), and deceiving people into believing that he is the Christ. (Revelation 13:11, Matthew 7:15, Matthew 24:24)

One of the most widespread themes of the increasingly popular and mainstream New Age movement is that disaster (Great Tribulation) can be averted if enough people change their consciousness to align with an emerging thought pattern, which arose in the 60's. This new pattern, at first, appeared to be more in tune with the practical applications of the teachings of Jesus. It included such emphases as simple living, a caring attitude, sharing, being against the system, and a lack of the hypocrisy so prevalent in the churches. However, as we go into the 90's, the New Age movement is becoming increasingly materialistic and increasingly aligned with the system, and with such an alignment, it is quickly gaining momentum and respectability . Indeed, because it doesn't even claim to be Christian, its potential excesses are far beyond that of the church; and its emphases on hedonism, the occult and spiritism leave the door wide open to acceptance of Satan himself as the new Messiah. Its philosophy is a perfect vehicle for the Antichrist, through which he can claim to fulfil the misplaced hopes of a lukewarm population who want, at any cost, to avoid suffering. Perhaps Daniel hints at this when he says, " peace he shall destroy many" (Daniel 8:25).

The doctrine of avoiding suffering is contrary to the message of Christianity. Indeed, it is a fairy tale. Yet this doctrine is almost universal; not only with the New Age movement, but also with Pre-Tribulation Rapture theorists.

One thing in the prophecies is sure: everyone will suffer. The fundamental question is whether we shall suffer for obeying God, or for disobeying God. If we choose to break ourselves on the Rock of the teaching of Jesus, we pay now, and we suffer persecution for our decision; but even in this life we will have spiritual comfort and deep satisfaction from being true to our conscience; and in the future we will have infinite eternal reward. God promises to correct us, often painfully, as an expression of His love. (Revelation 3:19, Hebrews 12:4-11) If we choose to avoid suffering in the short term, we will pay much more later, and there will be no reward. In this case the best we can hope for is a speedy annihilation; and we will probably suffer the unbearably torturous wrath of God, with total despair and hopelessness. It ends with us being crushed to dust by the Rock. (Luke 20:18, Revelation 14:9-11, and Revelation 16)

The doctrine of suffering and enduring is central to Christianity. Not only did Jesus provide the ultimate example of dying for love and God, but we are clearly taught to do the same. There is a fire that is coming; for the unbelieving it is a fire of destruction (Matthew 13:49-50, Revelation 16:8); for the obedient it is a fire of purification. (Mark 9:49) To the Christians who endure to the end, in obedience to God, and who "overcome", belong rewards that include eternal life, salvation, sitting on the throne with Jesus, being God's children, and other things that are hard to understand at present, probably because the dimension of heaven is quite different from what we are used to on earth. (Revelation 2:26, Revelation 3:5, 12, 21)

The Revelation talks of a time of great persecution of Christians by the Antichrist. (Revelation 12:13, 17) At this time it will seem that the Antichrist has totally destroyed the Christians. (Daniel 7:21, Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:7) Many who were thought to be true Christian leaders will lose their faith (Daniel 11:35), but this is only so that Christians will be truly tested, to see if their ultimate faith was in God (Revelation 13:10) or whether it was in their religious leaders. The testing will also be to see if we will truly obey, endure and overcome, no matter what. It is hard to say for sure exactly how difficult these times will be. It seems that God will leave it up to our free will whether or not we shall disobey Him. The Bible says that he will not give us testings beyond which we can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13) However what we think is "unendurable" is not always what God thinks we are capable of enduring.

A central passage of The Revelation talks about a universal marking system without which, " man might buy or sell..." (Revelation 13:17) Those who accept this mark "...shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and ... be tormented with fire and brimstone..." (Revelation 14:10). God's people are described as those who "...had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name..." (Revelation 15:2). The number of the beast is 666 (Revelation 13:18), and this number is an important clue to understanding the way which God uses to separate His children from the devil's.

There is only one other place in the Bible where the number 666 appears; it is the number of talents of gold that Solomon received in a year (1 Kings 10:14) . The connection between the two verses is that they are both referring to a means of exchange, or money, the love of which is the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Money is a subject that Jesus continually spoke about. It is the basis of all the empires of man, and the antithesis of faith in God. (Matthew 6:24) We are urged to not worry about any of our material needs (Matthew 6:25-31) and to seek above all what God wants (Matthew 6:33). This is the solution to the puzzle of the book of Revelation, for it is by living by faith in God that we come out of Babylon (Revelation 18:4) and it is by living by faith in God that we are able to refuse the mark of the Beast. Most people will not believe they can live without the mark, just as today most people do not believe they can live without money. If we live without owning possessions (Luke 12:33, Luke 14:33) and if we trust in God for our food and clothes (in accordance with Christ's teaching) it will be a lot easier to obey the command to instantly run away, not even stopping to gather anything up, in the day when the "...Son of man is revealed." (Luke 17:31-36)

The book of Revelation talks of the true church (the woman) fleeing to a prepared place in the wilderness for the time of the Tribulation (Revelation 12:6) by means of the wings of an eagle (Revelation 12:14). Jesus mentions cryptically in Luke's passage about fleeing, that, "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." (Luke 17:37) This seems to be a reference to the true church being taken to the wilderness and protected (at least to some extent). Perhaps the eagles are some form of air transport that will bring scattered Christians together, away from the system. Time will tell.

The concepts of not working for money, working for love, and trusting God all work together to form a theme that not only solves the puzzle of the Revelation, but that is a recurring theme throughout the whole Bible. The wilderness faith of the Christians in the Tribulation is paralleled by the experience of the Jews in the Exodus from the Egyptian Empire (Exodus 12 onwards) where they were fed manna which fell from heaven for 40 years. In the very beginning of the Bible was the curse that God put upon disobedient Adam and Eve; most of the curse involved having to work in the dust for food (agriculture) instead of eating freely from the Tree of Life. But Jesus has set us free from the curse of working for food! (Galatians 3:13) He even commands us not to do so. (John 6:27)

After the events of the Tribulation, the faithful people who did good works (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20:12-13) receive the Tree of Life back again, with the curse totally lifted. (Revelation 22:2-3)

The book of Revelation is part of the overall message of the Bible, and it has great relevance to how we should live our lives right now, as well as having relevance in the times of the end. Even if the time of the fulfilment of the prophecies was not about to come, it would still be relevant, because the book is really "The Revelation of Jesus Christ", and it is specifically for those who obey Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1, and Revelation 22:6) As John says, "...the time is at hand" (Revelation 1:3). There is teaching in this book which we are urged to keep. (Revelation 1:3, and Revelation 22:7) Obedience to the teachings of Jesus is a major key to understanding this book... especially, but not exclusively, in the end times. It seems that the rewards are for all of God's people throughout history. The price is all that we have (Luke 14:33) but the reward is more than we can possibly imagine. (Matthew 19:27-30, and Revelation 21:7)

"And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life." (Revelation 22:12-14) "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Revelation 21:7).

(See also Wisdom.)

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