Lesson 3 - Biblical Interpretation




Interpreting and applying scripture is both the most important aspect of Bible study and, at the same time, the most dangerous aspect of Bible study.  If we are going to study God’s word and get the most out of it that we can without venturing into theological error, there are a number of important concepts we have to understand and keep in mind, the first of which is context.




We have already spoken to a certain degree about context in the prior lesson.   The three filters that were discussed – the Central Person of Scripture, the Central Message of Scripture, and the Central Command of Scripture – are context.  They represent the highest, over-arching level of biblical context for God’s Word. 

Scripture is alive and active and sharper than any two edged sword.  Its meaning can be multi-faceted and complex.  However, we have to understand that scripture cannot mean to us today what it did not mean to those who originally read it.  For that reason, we need to read scripture in its proper context and understand how it was original intended.   Therefore, in addition to the biblical context discussed in the prior lesson there are two other important contexts to keep in mind.

The first is literary context.  The Bible is literature and therefore it has a proper literary context.  One of the greatest dangers in studying God’s word is taking a verse out of its literary context and so developing and understanding and meaning that is inconsistent with how it was originally intended to be applied.  We must keep in mind that scripture was not written in chapter and verse format, but rather as literature.  The chapter and verse divisions we have in our Bibles today was added hundreds of years later to help us be able to navigate through and reference God’s word.  It is easy to isolate out a particular verse because of its chapter and verse reference, but the chapter and verse divisions were never intended to be used as a reason for isolating any particular verse (or set of verses) from its literary context.  Scripture was intended to be read in its proper literary context. 

One of the most prominent examples of scripture that is taken out of its literary context and misapplied can be found in Revelation 3:20, which says:


 “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”


This passage of scripture is very often taken out of its literary context and used to say that Jesus is knocking at the door of sinners’ hearts, waiting to be invited in so that they can be saved.  You may have even seen paintings depicting this scene.   That, however, is not what this passage of scripture is about.   If you take the time to read the surrounding text, you find out that this verse was written to a church – and presumably to those who are already believers.   The passage, in its proper literary context, is about churches and believers who have drifted away from Christ – essentially shutting him out of their lives – and so are in need of revival and renewal.   The passage is a warning to us as Christians not to grow cold in our relationship with Christ, striving to maintain an intimate relationship with him.

To properly understand the right literary context, therefore, we need to consider the following contextual relationships:

·      Verse – Paragraph:  How does the verse fit into the overall message of the paragraph in which it resides?

·      Paragraph – Chapter:  How does the paragraph fit into the overall message of the chapter in which it resides?

·      Chapter-Book:  How does the chapter fit into the overall message of the book in which it resides?

·      Book – Whole Bible:  How does the book fit into the overall central message of scripture – that is, the Biblical contexts we discussed in Lesson 2?


Consider the following example from Philippians 3:15, which says


“Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”


One could take this verse out of its literary context and interpret it to mean that those who are spiritually mature are always right; younger Christians may disagree with them, but God will eventually show them otherwise.  However, in the broader context of the surrounding verses, Paul is specifically talking about the fact that a Christian should never stop pressing on towards Christ-like sanctification. And in the even broader context of the chapter, Paul is talking about how in our sanctification we have to cast aside past accomplishments and be wary of religious ritual, focusing on faith in Jesus Christ as the means of reaching our goal of Christ-likeness.  And in the much bigger context of the book of Philippians, we have to understand that Paul is encouraging the Philippian church to live out their Christian life in joy.  Philippians chapter three begins by reminding us to rejoice in the Lord and so we understand from this chapter how our pressing on towards Christ-likeness should help bring about joy in our lives. The spiritually mature know that striving with our whole heart for God brings great joy.  Sometimes, however, the spiritually immature have not let go of worldly things, and so they don’t quite see how giving up those things can bring them joy.  Instead of seeing the Christian journey as joyful, they may see it as restrictive and oppressive.  This changes as they mature in Christ.  By understanding the proper literary context, this simple verse takes on much greater – possibly even different – meaning than if it were simply read in isolation.


The second context to consider is historical context.  Just like it is easy to take a verse out of its literary context and misinterpret it, taking a verse out of its historical context can create problems as well.  Understanding the historical context of scripture can play an important role in developing a fuller understanding of scripture. Sometimes, understanding the historical context can even bring a whole new dimension to that understanding.

Consider for example Revelation 19:16, which says:


And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King Of Kings, And Lord Of Lords.


What does is mean to say that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?  Of course we know it means that he is above all others.  However, there is historical context to those terms that help us understand the phrase more fully.

In biblical times, the great military powers and empires would set up vassal kingdoms because their empire was too great to control directly.  They would come in and conquer the land, but instead of annexing the land into their country, they would depose the king and set up a vassal king that would remain loyal to the conquering king.  In this way, as the king captured more and more territories, he becomes known as a king of kings or a lord of lords.  In some cases, these conquerors would even begin to ascribe to themselves a sense of divinity – claiming to be a god – so much so that these king of kings would be worshipped by their subjects.  King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was called a king of kings - as was King Artaxerxes of Persia.  The Roman Caesars were also considered king of kings.  Knowing this historical context gives us a better understanding of the phrase.

Another good example of the benefits of knowing historical context is the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John chapter 4.  What do we think about when the woman asks Jesus why he, a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan woman?   Understanding the historical context helps us understand why she asked this question and then gives us a more powerful sense of what is happening in the story.   Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies and had been for hundreds of years.  They despised each other. They did not speak to each other.  Jews would not even travel through Samaria if it could be avoided.   The very fact that Jesus would pass through Samaria gave some Jews the impression that he was secretly a Samaritan (see John 8:48).  Samaritans believed they were the chosen people of God, properly descended from Abraham.  They believed their worship of God was more proper than the Jewish worship of God.  As a result, the Jews rejected Samaritans completely and considered them societal outcasts.  Furthermore, in biblical times, women were often treated as secondary citizens and in many cases they were even treated as property.  It was often considered inappropriate for men to even speak to women because they were lesser members of society; but Jesus often spoke to women, elevating their status.  More importantly for this story, however, the Samaritan woman was coming to the well at lunch time – by herself.  Culturally, the women usually went to the well together during the early morning so that they would have the water they needed for the day.  This woman was clearly not welcome to come to the well with the other women of the city.  She had to come by herself during the middle of the day while others were having lunch.  We can see, therefore, that this woman was an outcast among the outcast of an outcast people.  Why would Jesus speak to her?  He spoke to her because there is no one, no matter how outcast she or he may be, who is beyond the reach of our savior.


Distance from the Original Scripture


The second concept we need to know and understand in order to properly interpret scripture is the distance we have from the original text of the scripture compared where we are in our world today.   This distance manifests itself in cultural and language differences that can get lost in translation.  We do not live in Palestine in the first century AD, so our lives are very different than the lives of those to whom the Bible was originally written.  Every culture is different and every language is different. 

Cultural Distance.  We need to be careful not to automatically interpret scripture in light of our own cultural norms.  We have to understand the differences between our cultural and the norms of biblical times to understand whether something applies directly to us as a command or applies indirectly to us as a general principle.

A great example of this is the Old Testament command to establish Cities of Refuge.  The Mosaic Law required that Israel establish Cities of Refuge so that someone who accidentally caused the death of another person could run to that city and seek refuge until their guilt or innocence could be ascertained.  This may seem strange to your culture.  It is certainly strange to someone in a western culture.  Are we to understand this as a command to establish cities of refuge as well?  To truly understand this part of the law requires you to understand their culture.  They did not have an established legal system with due process.  Typically, “justice” was carried out by family and friends.  If someone from your family or community was killed, the community banded together and sought out vengeance in the name of justice.  As a result, someone who caused the death of another person could be killed in retaliation before the truth about their guilt or innocence could be determined.   In well-ordered societies with strong systems of justice, such places of refuge are not necessary.  We can therefore understand the Mosaic requirement to establish cities of refuge not as a direct command to us to do the same thing but rather a principle that we should not seek either revenge or justice without first seeking to discover the truth of the circumstances.

Without a good understanding of the cultural distance between the stories and words of scripture and our own cultural context, we cannot get as full of an understanding of God’s word as we can when we consider that cultural distance.

Language Distance.  The same is true of language distances as it is of cultural distances.  No matter what our opinion about translations of the Bible, we have to understand that scripture has been translated into our native language from another language – sometimes through multiple translations.  It is important that we remain very careful about meanings that might have been lost or slightly altered in the translation process.  Certainly, we trust in the Holy Spirit’s participation in that translation process and we believe in faith that the core meanings of the translated word remains true, but even with as perfect a translation as possible, there are still language limitations that can come into play.  This can come in two forms.  First, there may be phrases or idioms that had meaning in the original language that do not have meaning in your language.  Some translations try to take this into account, but it can be an issue regardless of the language into which the scripture is being translated.  The second is the truth is that certain words and meaning may not necessarily translate into every language the same way.

A great example of the first type is found in John chapter 2, when Jesus and his disciples go to a wedding in Cana.  When Jesus’ mother tells Jesus that there is no wine, Jesus responds by saying “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4).  In Western culture – especially in English – this sounds very disrespectful.  However, Jesus was in no way being disrespectful to his mother.  In the language of their culture, the way Jesus in which Jesus spoke to his mother was considered polite, but distant. It was a way of expressing mild concern over her action without being disrespectful.

Likewise, there is a great example of the second type in the English language as well.  The original Greek language is very precise about certain words.  One of those words, faith, is very important to us as Christians.   Faith has a very specific meaning in the Greek.  It carries with it the idea of bearing weight and of being so convicted in one’s beliefs that it fundamentally alters their lives and encourages them to take action and live differently based on those beliefs.  It involves a deep inner confidence that cannot be shaken.  Furthermore, it has both noun and verb meanings – you can both “have” faith and “do” faith.  

Unfortunately, the word faith in the English language does not have the same fullness of meaning.  In fact, it does not even have a verb form in the English language such that we even understand what it means to “do” faith.  In English, you would never say that you “faith” something.  Rather, you would either say that you “believe” something or that you “trust” in something.  Unfortunately, “believe” is a much weaker word than faith and trust is only marginally better.  You can believe in something, but not hold deep convictions about it.  You can believe something, but not be willing to put your full trust in it.  “To believe” is simply not the same thing as to “faith.”  However, in the English translation of the Bible, there are many, many places where we are taught to believe – to believe in Jesus or to believe in God.  In the original Greek the actual word used was the Greek verb form of the word faith – in words somewhat foreign to the English ear, to faith in Jesus or to faith in God.   Without a proper understanding of this difference, someone reading the Bible in English may be tempted to understand the command to believe as being a simple, barely meaningful mental assent rather than a deep, convicting, life changing, faith.  As a result many Christians live their lives under the easy belief concept rather than the deep, life changing concept because, after all, they do actually believe – they just don’t faith.

Regardless of what language we speak, we must be able to understand language differences such as these that may exist in our Bible translations and how they impact our understanding of the true meaning of scripture. 

One may ask, though, how do I learn about these cultural differences and how to I know when there are language differences such as these?  This is a very good question and its answer can be quite complicated – especially if you have never had the opportunity to study Greek or Hebrew.  The simple version of the answer is this:  Most of this work has been done for you already and can usually be found in a good Bible commentary or Bible Dictionary.  Unfortunately, no everyone has access to these resources.   Fortunately, if you have access to the internet, there are a number of good commentaries available online.  To help you in this regard, the Designs For Hope Pastor Training Networks has a number of such commentaries available in its reference section.  These are available for your convenience and use.


Genres of the Bible


The last concept we want to discuss is that of how to read and interpret the various genres of the bible.  There are a number of different types of literature (or genres) in the bible.  To properly understand scripture, we need to look at each type of literature differently.  This will ensure that we are properly applying those scriptures to our everyday lives.

There are numerous ways of breaking down the literary types in the Bible, but for our purposes of this lesson, we are going to focus on the following major literature genres:

       Old Testament (OT) Law

       Historical Narrative







Old Testament Law 

Old Testament Law is found mainly in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, although strictly speaking Genesis and Numbers are categorized as law as well.   OT Law can be some of the most difficult scripture to interpret and apply to our daily lives.

Our very nature tells us we must obey the 10 Commandments, but what about the other 600+ laws?  What about all of the interpretations of those laws made by the Jewish leaders?  Our nature tells us that we should obey some of them, but some seem archaic and no longer applicable.  How do we tell them apart?

Paul tells us in Romans 5:14-15 that we do not live under law but under grace.  However, Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come to abolish the law.  Instead, he said he came to fulfil the law.  Does that mean we keep none of the law – or all of the law?   Paul says in Romans 3:31 “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”   So we are responsible for upholding the law, but we don’t live under it and Jesus has fulfilled it.  What does this mean and how do we interpret this part of scripture? The key is thinking of the OT law in its three parts: the Moral Law, the Civil Law, and the Sacrificial Law.

Moral Law.  The 10 Commandments and many of the other laws fall into a category called the Moral Law.  Moral law represents absolute behavioral boundaries for God’s people.  These are universally true – that is, they are just as applicable to us today as they were the Israelites in the OT - because they reflect the nature and character of God himself.  They are all essentially reinforced by Jesus in his teachings and fall under the general category of the Great Commandment and the Second Great Commandment – love God and love others.

Civil Law.  A number of the OT Laws are essentially civil in nature and applied to Israel as a Theocracy (that is, a country ruled by God).  They speak to how Israel was to behave as a society rather than how individuals were to behave.  These were put in place mostly to distinguish God’s people from the nations around them (for example, slavery laws and Cities of Refuge).   They apply directly to the historical nation of Israel, but do not apply directly to individual Christians today.  However, they do provide us a picture into God’s intentions for how society should function.  As such, while we should not expect our society to enforce laws exactly the way the civil law requires, we should strive to influence our society to function in a manner that God finds acceptable.  In many ways, the civil law provides a model for how that should be done.

Sacrificial Law.  These are the ceremonial laws associated with religious ritual and atonement.  They were established by God to provide for the forgiveness of sins for the people of Israel.  However, we know from the book of Hebrews that they really could not grant us true forgiveness, and they are mainly just a foreshadowing of the one true sacrifice, Jesus Christ.   These laws were fulfilled once and for all through Jesus Christ.   The book of Hebrews goes into great detail about how Jesus is the once and for all fulfilment of the sacrificial law.  The destruction of the Temple in 70AD is proof that God no longer requires these rituals from his people.


The real problem – about which there will always be disagreement among well-meaning Christians – is how to differentiate between these three categories of law.  For example, when Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos, is that moral law that applies to all Christians or is it civil law that only applied to Israel?  In general, the sacrificial laws are easy to identify.  Likewise, the civil laws – the ones that clearly address societal organization – are fairly easy to identify.  But there are some laws that can be difficult to categorize.  Christians disagree over these frequently, so the following recommendations are offered for your consideration when reading Old Testament Law:

       Remember that we live by faith and not by the law.

       Remember that Jesus says we keep God’s law by keeping the two greatest commandments – love God and love others.

       We interpret all of the Old Testament laws in view of Jesus’ work on the cross first and the two greatest commandments after that.

       We act in faith based on that interpretation believing that our actions will be pleasing to God because they are in faith.

       We are charitable towards those who may disagree with us in these matters.

       We NEVER let ourselves fall into the trap of legalism.


Historical Narrative

Historical Narrative is scripture that tells a story of history for a purpose.  It is not trying to give a complete historical account.  Rather, it is merely giving you the historical information you need to hear the message that God intended to reveal.  For example, the book of Acts is giving you the history of how the early church spread through the ancient world.    A major portion of the Old Testament is made up of historical narrative.

The key to understanding Historical Narrative is that unless there is a specific directive given to us within the narrative, we should not assume that the events in the narrative necessarily have a direct impact on our lives.   It may just be important context to the redemptive story of Christ.   However, they are more than just mere stories.  Most of the stories have some general principles that may apply to our lives.

As a ridiculously extreme example, consider the story of Abraham and Isaac.  God commanded Abraham to take his son and offer him as a sacrifice.  This story does not tell us that we should go out and sacrifice our children - even with the hopes that the angel of the Lord will stop us.  God has not called us to sacrifice our children the way he asked Abraham.   Instead, the story of Abraham and Isaac is a picture of how God gave his son as a sacrifice for us – the shock and horror at the thought of sacrificing our children helps us better relate to the significant cost that God paid when he sacrificed his son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation.   Beyond this, though, there is also a general principle that we need to understand:  We ought to be willing to sacrifice or give absolutely anything for God – even our own family.

Or consider this example: In the book of Joshua, God commanded Israel to wipe out and destroy all the people of Canaan and destroy their religious symbols and artifacts.   This story points out how Israel’s failure to remove all outside religious influences and how their disobedience to God’s commands had long-lasting consequences on Israel as a nation - ultimately leading to their own downfall and destruction.    This story does not suggest that God somehow desires that we kill everyone around us who does not worship him.  However, the principle that we can learn from this story is that God is calling us to destroy and put to death everything in our lives that distracts us from serving him.

To help you understand Historical Narrative better, ask yourself these questions as you are reading it.

       How does the story fit into the overall redemptive history (i.e., how does it ultimately relate to the advent of Christ)?

       What message (lesson, promise, command, etc.) is God trying to convey through this story?

       What principles can I take away from the story to help me live better for Jesus Christ?



Wisdom literature actually has a number of sub-genres, including poems, psalms, songs, and wisdom statements (maxims).  Wisdom and poetry occurs all throughout the Old and New Testament.  However, it is highly concentrated in the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes – and by some scholars’ account, the Epistle of James.

The Psalms are basically songs.  The proverbs are maxims or wisdom statements.  But regardless of the sub-genre, all of the wisdom literature can be treated the same. Generally speaking, wisdom and poetry literature do not command us to do anything nor are they necessarily promises that we can hold as universally applicable.  However, there are many theological truths throughout all of the wisdom literature.  For example, Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  We know from our own personal experience that this is not universally true.  It is not a promise.  Rather, it is a good general principle to live by. 

Practically speaking, wisdom literature reveals and relates to our emotions, tells us about God’s emotions, and suggests general courses of action for our lives.  In effect, wisdom literature helps us deal practically and emotionally with the circumstances we face from day to day.

To help you understand Wisdom and Poetry better, ask yourself these questions as you are reading it.

       What is the emotional state of the author and how do I relate to his emotional state?

       What is the passage telling me about God’s viewpoint.

       What guidance is God trying to give me for my life from this passage?

       How can I use this scripture to deal with my current circumstances?



In the Old Testament, we have a number of books that we consider to be books of prophecy.  However, as a genre of scripture, prophecy is not a type of book, but a form of literature within a number of the books – in both Old and New Testaments.

It is very common and natural for us to think of prophesy in terms of foretelling the future.  Many people as well as bible scholars look at prophecy with precisely that mentality.  There is not anything necessarily wrong with that; and, in fact, prophecy does often involve a foretelling of the future.  Sometimes that foretelling is very specific.  Sometimes it is very abstract and general.  But it is a mistake to say that the purpose of prophecy is to tell the future.

Strictly speaking, prophecy is not about revealing the future.  There are other genres of scripture, such as apocalypse/Revelation, that are also written to foretell the future, but prophecy is different from apocalypse or Revelation literature.  Generally, apocalypse and Revelation are meant to encourage us (see section below on apocalypse literature).  By contrast, prophecy is almost universally written with the express purpose of calling God’s people to repentance - to draw people back to God – sometimes by means of warning the reader of impending doom. The key phrase for prophecy is “Thus says the Lord God” and almost always involves an indictment by God – pointing out the people’s sin.  As such, prophecy generally involves a pronouncement of judgment, followed by a call to repentance.  Most of the time, prophecy also involves promises of future blessings to those who turn back to God.

This biggest mistake people make when reading prophecy is to attempt to associate the foretelling aspect to actual historical or future events.  This is a very natural tendency.   However, the focus of reading prophecy should not be to figure out when (or how) the prophecy was (or will be) fulfilled, but rather to find out what has angered God.  The goal of reading prophecy should be to make sure we are properly aligned with God’s will.

To help you understand Prophecy better, ask yourself these questions as you are reading it.

       What sin is being called out and how does my life reflect this sin as well?

       Can the judgment apply in some way to my life if I do not change?

       What do I need to repent for or what do I need to do to stay in line with God’s will?



The gospels include the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The gospels are neither history nor biography; they are Christology.  The gospels are not meant to tell us about every aspect of Jesus’ life.  Instead, they tell us about his redemptive work, his ministry, and his instruction to us.  Because they reveal the character of Jesus, they also reveal the character of God.  Therefore, they reveal the character that we should be building in our lives as well.

John 21:25 tells us that Jesus did so many things that the whole world could not contain the books that could be written about them.  That means the events in Jesus’ life that are recorded in the gospels were not put there systematically by a historian trying to write a biography.  Perhaps the gospel of Luke comes fairly close to that, given that Dr. Luke himself says he was writing down the events of Jesus’ life “in order” (Luke 1:3); but even then, that is not the real intent.  At the same time, though, they were not put there haphazardly or without thought.  Rather, the events recorded in the gospels (including Luke) were carefully selected by God to reveal something very specific to us about the nature and work of Jesus Christ.  The accounting of his life reveals to us his divinity, his humanity, his teaching and commands to us, and his great salvation for us. Whenever we read any specific story or account in the gospels, we ought to ask ourselves “why did God reveal this aspect of Jesus’ life to us?”

To help you understand the Gospels better, ask yourself these questions as you are reading it.

       What does this passage tell me about the life, work, and ministry of Christ?

       What does this passage tell me about how I should be living my life?

       How does this passage reveal to me God’s plan of salvation?



Epistles are letters written by apostles or other early church leaders to the early church - or in some cases to individuals within the early church.  They include all of the New Testament books from Romans through Jude.

Any letter, whether it be a handwritten letter you mail to someone, an email you may write to a friend, or one of the epistles in the Bible, is written for a very specific purpose.   The key to interpreting the epistles, therefore, is to first understand the why the letter was written.  Think back to our earlier discussion of context.  The purpose for why the letter was written is a good clue to the context for whatever you read in that book.  Almost all of the epistles will tell you somewhere in the body of the letter why the letter was written.  It may be directly stated in the text or it may be inferred from the text, but you should always be able to determine the purpose of the letter.  Some epistles were written to address a problem in the church.  Others were written to instruct the church on some doctrine or to give theological instruction.  Whatever that purpose may be, everything else in the letter is somehow related to it.  Working down from that purpose, we can then establish how to apply the specifics within the epistle.  Because epistles are so purpose dependent, scholars will often disagree as to whether everything within the epistles is directly applicable to us.  In some cases, some scholars will claim that certain aspects in the epistle relate only to addressing the local problem addressed in that letter and so may not necessarily apply to us.  This can be a difficult thing to ascertain and we often rely on the work done by others as outlined in the commentaries to explain to us the different views so that we can make that determination ourselves.  Nevertheless, because they are letters addressing practical issues in the early church, there is tremendous practical teaching and instruction contained within the epistles.

To help you understand the Gospels better, ask yourself these questions as you are reading it.

       What was the purpose for the Epistle being written?

       Are the circumstances reflected in the Epistle applicable to me or to my church – or could they be?

       How do I apply the teachings of the Epistle in my cultural context?



The last genre we will look at will be apocalypse, which consists primarily of the book of Revelation.  However, there are a few other places in scripture where apocalyptic literature exists.  For example, portions of the book of Daniel, as well as passages in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah are often classified as apocalyptic literature.

In general, apocalyptic literature tells about End Times, revealing prophecies about the distant future when God will restore all things.  However, much like prophecy, the purpose of apocalyptic literature is not to specifically reveal the future.  If it were, apocalyptic literature would not be so full of imagery and symbolism, but would instead be more easily understood.  Rather, apocalyptic literature is always written during times of persecution and so is typically less clear in its actual meaning. Its purpose is not intended to be specific about the future, but to remind us of God’s Sovereignty.  It is intended to be an encouragement to those going through harsh persecution that no matter how difficult their circumstances, they can rest assured that God is still in control.

There are many, many ways to interpret apocalyptic literature.  Some think it should be interpreted literally.  Others think it should be interpreted symbolically.  Either way, it is clear that apocalyptic literature is full of imagery and symbolism even if interpreted literally. However, trying to interpret apocalyptical literature either literally or symbolically misses the point.  The basic idea behind apocalyptic literature is to show us that GOD WINS.  Therefore, do not try to read apocalyptic literature to find out about what will happen in the end times or when it will happen.  Instead, read apocalyptic literature to determine how we are going to live and react today in light of the persecutions we may be facing.  We are to read it in order to be encouraged by the fact that the events foretold in the apocalypse will one day come to pass.  So the big question we must ask ourselves when reading apocalypse is not when will this happen, but rather are you ready for it to happen?