THE BOOK’S NAME
In our English versions the last book of the Bible is usually called “Revelation.” (Note that there is no “s” at the end of the name.) The name comes from the first words of the book: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” Sometimes the book is also called the “Apocalypse.” That name means “an uncovering” or “an unveiling.” “Apocalypse” is the first word in the original Greek text; it is the word most commonly translated “revelation.”
THE AUTHOR OF REVELATION
Of the five New Testament books which the Apostle John wrote, Revelation is the only book in which he names himself as the author. He gives his name three times in the first chapter and once in the last chapter.
THE FORM OF THE BOOK
Revelation is written in the form of a letter just like many of the New Testament letters. The writer names himself; he names the ones addressed; there are words of greeting (1:4ff); there is also a closing blessing as a farewell (22:21). But we normally do not classify Revelation among the New Testament Epistles; we classify it by itself as a book of prophecy because of its special prophetic messages. There is something else about the form of the Book of Revelation which we notice very quickly. Its form or style of writing probably seems very different and strange and even puzzling. Its pages are filled with visions of beasts, bowls and scrolls, lamp stands, a lamb and a striking white-haired man, etc. There are symbolic numbers like three, seven, twelve, one thousand and one hundred forty-four thousand. This form of writing which makes much use of visions, dreams, pictures, symbolic numbers and generally figurative language is known as “apocalyptic” or “apocalyptic prophecy.” You will remember from Old Testament Lesson 21 that the Book of Daniel also contains much apocalyptic prophecy. Apocalyptic writings were written when God’s people were suffering persecutions and it looked as though His Kingdom would be destroyed by its enemies. The purpose of apocalyptic prophecy was to bring hope and comfort to God’s persecuted people, to assure them that God’s mighty hand is in control at all times, and to promise God’s certain victory over all the enemies of His people. There are some non-Biblical apocalyptic writings whose message cannot be trusted because they are only the works of men. The Book of Revelation, however, is Jesus’ own “apocalypse” (“uncovering”) of God’s plan to rescue His faithful people for eternity. It can be completely trusted since the Holy Spirit delivered the Book of Revelation to us through the inspired pen of the Apostle John. The form may seem strange at first with its visions and symbols. But the effect is that the Christian reader in a powerful and striking way is assured that God is in sure control of His Church and is victorious over all enemies.
WHEN AND WHERE WRITTEN?
Irenaeus, the early Christian writer, said that John wrote Revelation near the end of the reign of Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). About A.D. 95 is the probable time of writing. The time that John wrote was clearly a time of persecution for Christians. John himself was persecuted and banished to the Island of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). Other Christians were also being persecuted and some even killed (2:13; 6:9-10). Emperor Domitian was one who enforced the practice of emperor worship. Many Christians may have been forced to make a decision to either worship the emperor or Christ the King. To choose Christ would mean persecution and even death. At a time like that, Christians needed strong encouragement to remain faithful. They needed to know that it was worth it even to die for their faith, since Christ and his faithful would prove finally victorious. John received his revelation when he was on the Island of Patmos (1:9ff.). He may have written the whole Book of Revelation while still on Patmos.
WRITTEN TO WHOM?
John answers this question directly in 1:11, “to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” These seven cities were all located in the province of Asia. (Find them on a map.) John gives their names in the order in which a letter carrier might go to each of them. Moving clockwise from city to city, he would make a half circle to reach all of them. Christians in these cities were being persecuted or would soon be persecuted and needed a message of hope. They also needed individual messages of warning or comfort, depending on the situation in their church (chaps. 2-3).
JOHN’S PURPOSE IN WRITING
John’s overall purpose in writing was to comfort persecuted Christians with the promise of the sure victory of Christ and His church over all enemies. He also wrote to warn and admonish some churches who were slipping in their doctrine, their love or their commitment to Christ.
SOME GUIDELINES FOR READING REVELATION
- Remember that much in Revelation is figurative and is not meant to be taken literally. (The “dragon” of Rev. 20 is not a literal dragon but means the devil; the “thousand years” is not a literal thousand years but means an indefinite period of time.) Remember, Revelation is inspired apocalyptic writing that uses much figurative language.
- Remember that the clear, literal parts of the Bible must be used to explain the meaning of the unclear figurative parts.
- We should not be too proud to say, “I don’t know what this means,” when reading a difficult passage. To make strange and fanciful interpretations does no good and may do harm.
- Revelation does not say that it presents events in chronological order. The book often tells again of the same events but in different terms.
THEME, OUTLINE AND BASIC CONTENTS
It should be kept in mind that Revelation covers the history of the Church from the time of Christ’s work of redemption until the end of this world. It covers the past, present and future.
“CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH WILL BE VICTORIOUS OVER ALL THEIR ENEMIES”
- The Victory of the Church over the Evil Powers of this World (1-11)
In these chapters the struggle between the Church and the world is stressed. There are three visions of John recorded here:
- The vision of the seven letters to the seven churches (1:9-3:22)
- The vision of the seven seals (4-7)
- The vision of the seven trumpets (8-11)
A few well-known passages from this section:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (3:15-16)
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (3:20)
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (5:12b)
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: `Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'” (7:9-10)
“These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (7:14b)
- The Victory of Christ over the Devil and his Forces (12-22)
In these chapters the stress is on the struggle between Christ and the devil. There are four visions of John recorded here:
- The vision of the devil and his helpers and of the Lamb (12-14)
- The vision of the seven bowls of God’s wrath (15-16)
- The vision of the fall of the devil’s forces (17-19)
- The vision of the devil’s everlasting doom and the everlasting victory of Christ’s Kingdom celebrated in heaven (20-22)
A few well-known passages from this section:
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people.” (14:6)
“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, `Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ `Yes,’ says the Spirit, `they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.'” (14:13)
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” (20:1-2)
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (21:1-2)
“Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.” (22:7)
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