According to Dr. David L. Cooper, in order to interpret the Book of Revelation in regard to its numerous themes and symbols, one must "follow the Golden Rule. . .for when the plain sense of the Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. . . take every word as its primary. . . literal meaning unless the facts. . . studied in the light of related passages and. . . fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise" (84-85). Thus, if this "Golden Rule" is obeyed, then the basic guidelines for interpreting many of the signs, symbols and themes in Revelation will be an easy task.
However, Dr. Cooper has overlooked one very important aspect-namely, that the Book of Revelation was obviously written under extreme subjectivity, meaning that the themes and symbols are based on human experience and interpretation. Also, if one considers the influence of faith, then the themes and symbols become even more ambiguous which makes it rather difficult to interpret these literary devices in any coherent fashion.
In order to fully understand the true nature of the various themes in the Book of Revelation, especially those related to the judgment and worship of God, the defeat of evil, patience and endurance, purity/impurity, the faithfulness of those who remain true and unwavering to the "Word of God" and other pertinent themes, one must appreciate the four types of interpretation used by religious scholars, historians and theologians in the modern world.
First, the futurist view accepts the Book of Revelation as prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled. This view was held by the early church during most of its evangelistic history and is widely accepted by most Biblical scholars today. Yet some scholars hold to the notion that Revelation must be interpreted as literal truth unless the "facts" are to the contrary. In this view, literal truth is wholly subjective in nature, for one person will interpret the themes differently than another which can lead to great confusion.
Second, the historical view suggests that the Apostle John, the most venerated Christian leader in Asia Minor during the last half of the 1st century a.D., is describing the major events that will occur during the existence of the church just before Jesus Christ re-appears on Earth. Yet this view requires that some historical events must be re-shifted to fit within the prophetic paradigm discussed in Revelation.
Third, there are scholars who feel that the Book of Revelation should be viewed as figurative language filled with metaphorical excursions, meaning that the Apostle John was describing spiritual conflicts within man himself and not physical manifestations. And lastly, the preterist view maintains that the Apostle John wrote Revelation just before the destruction of the temple in 70 a.D. By the Romans and is speaking of events that occurred during his own lifetime. All of these views do contain relevant and positive traits, yet the true nature of the Book of Revelation remains unclear unless one is prone to Christianity and holds a faith-based view of the book and the events described within it.
In regard to the judgment or wrath of God as described in Revelation, there are what is called the Seven Bowl Judgments, being the judgments that God will bring about on Earth during the last part of the so-called Tribulation. As a theme, these judgments have come under extreme criticism as to exactly what they represent. Some scholars maintain that four of these judgments have already occurred on Earth, particularly in ancient Egypt during the times of the ten plagues brought about by the prophet Moses against the Egyptian monarchy. A portion of the sixth judgment, being the evaporation of the waters in the Euphrates River and the producing of frogs, may also have occurred during the times of Moses when he struggled valiantly to free his people, the Israelites, from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
The first of these judgments has to do with sores upon human beings in revelation 16:2 and some scholars maintain that these sores are the same as those seen in the Old Testament in the form of boils in the story of the Egyptian plagues. Harry a. Ironside states that "only those containing the mark of the beast and those who worship his image will be selected for these awful sores" (156) which indicates that believers will not suffer from this judgment. Metaphorically speaking, these sores could be more spiritually-based than physical, meaning that the minds of men and women who worship "the beast" will be decadent in spirit and thus unbelievers.
The second judgment is when the sea turns to blood in Revelation 16:3 which in effect kills every living thing in the sea. Such a catastrophe is truly frightening, for such an event would bring untold diseases into the world and even destroy a good portion of the food supply. Yet the use of blood, being the color red, is imagery and is usually associated with death and decay. Metaphorically, blood and the color red symbolize the ultimate form of death, yet blood is also the source of life.
The third judgment concerns when the rivers and fountains turn to blood in Revelation 16:4-7. This is obviously an extension of the seas turning to blood in Revelation 16:3. As another metaphor, some believe that this signifies the actions of the Antichrist who will presumably put Christians to death during the first half of the Tribulation, a time when all Christians that lived before the Tribulation have been taken from the Earth and into heaven to be with God and Jesus Christ. Thus, this is "God's earthly vindication of the suffering martyrs from the earliest times to the present in response to the prayers of Christian men and women" (McGee, 178).
The fourth judgment concerns the scorching heat of the sun as found in Revelation 16:8-9 which like those above will occur during the Tribulation. In the Book of Malachi in the Old Testament, Malachi states that "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace (and) all the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble and that day that is coming will set them on fire" (Malachi, 4:1-2). The fifth judgment is that of darkness which may be in relation to the Antichrist, for during the Tribulation, his kingdom will be plunged into darkness.
The sixth judgment relates to the drying up of the Euphrates River and the preparation for the Battle of Armageddon as spoken in Revelation 16:12-16. This will also make it possible for the armies of the world to convene in the valley of Megiddo with the aim of opposing God and all that He represents. The final judgment is the wrath of God, signifying the end of the Tribulation and the conclusion of God's wrath on those who oppose Him, being the ungodly and the wicked. J. Vernon McGee declares that this judgment "will destroy the great cities; all nations will collapse and the cities of the world will be wiped out. . . every island will vanish as well as the mountains" (214).
Thus, these seven judgments against mankind all contain several similarities as far as metaphorical structure is concerned. Sores, blood, heat, darkness, dehydration and destruction in the form of earthquakes and volcanic activity-all of these symbolize death and the end of the world as we know it. It is interesting to note that all of these "judgments" are part of the natural world, meaning that sores are related to various communicable diseases; heat, darkness and dehydration delineate solar activity, the setting of the sun and the evaporation of water via the sun's energy upon the earth. Perhaps the Apostle John, due to living in a very non-technological world, could only describe these judgments in relation to nature, something that he encountered every day of his life in the Middle East, especially Asia Minor, made up primarily of Greece, Turkey and Albania. The imagery in these "judgments" is also quite profound and illustrates not only the power of God but also Mother Nature via her ability to destroy man and his environments.
In Revelation 8:3-5, the worship of God is discussed at some length through more symbolism and imagery. In these passages, an angel is described as holding a golden censer filled with incense which symbolizes the prayers of the saints and of those that worship them. These prayers also stand as pleadings from God's people to avenge Himself on those who blaspheme against Him by denouncing His son and abusing His people, being the Israelites.
But more importantly, as pointed out in Revelation 4:11, the worship of God is transposed to that of Jesus Christ who is described as sitting on a throne in the role of the King of Heaven which makes Him the object of worship by those on Earth. Symbolically, these prayers of worship are linked to the idea that upon the commencement of the Rapture, being the time when all true believers will be lifted bodily…