The Book of Revelation
The Greek ‘apokalypto’ or Apocalypse means ‘reveal’ or ‘uncover.’ The book of Revelation reveals things that might otherwise remain unknown.
To know about The Book of Revelation as Apocalypse, please read The Apocalyptic Literature. The Revelation of John fits all the characteristics of Apocalyptic except for one – The Revelation is not pseudonymous. John felt no need to follow the regular formula here. He made himself known to his readers and, through the letters to the seven churches (chaps. 2-3), he spoke to known churches of Asia Minor, people who were his contemporaries and companions in suffering. Moreover, he was told not to “seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near” (22:10).
Background of the Book:
Author: It was attributed to John as early as the middle of the 2nd century. He was well known to the recipients (1:1, 4, 9), traditionally identified as the people, the son of Zebedee (Matt. 10:2).
John writes from Patmos, a rocky and rugged island about six miles wide and ten miles long, some forty miles southwest of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea. The island was used by Roman authorities as a place of exile, and John indicates that this was his reason for being there: “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). Early tradition (e.g., Origen) says that the emperor himself condemned John to exile in Patmos, but it is more likely, considering John’s extensive ministry in Asia Minor, that it was a local Roman official from this region who sent John to Patmos in order to get him out of the way.
Purpose: John writes to encourage the faithful to resist staunchly the demands of emperor worship. He informs his readers that the final showdown between God and Satan is imminent. Satan will increase his persecution of believers, but they must stand fast, even to death. They are sealed against any spiritual harm and will soon be vindicated when Christ returns, when the wicked are forever destroyed, and whenGod’s people enter an eternity of glory and blessedness.
Despite appearances to the contrary, God is in absolute control of history; although God’s people are destined for suffering in the present, God’s sure salvation belongs to them; God’s judgment will come on those responsible for the church’s suffering; in the end (Rev. 21-22) God will restore what was lost or distorted at the beginning (Gen. 1-3).
Date of Writing: Fee & Stuart date the writing in ca. A.D. 95 (according to Irenaeus [ca. 180]). While Carson, Moo, and Morris date the book in the reign of one of four different Roman Emperors.
Early Christian Writings and the Date of the Revelation
- Ruled: 41-54
- Sources dating Revelation by Emperor: Epiphanius, Haer. 51.12.
- Ruled: 54-68
- Sources dating Revelation by emperor: Syriac versions of Revelation.
- Ruled: 81-96
- Sources dating Revelation by Emperor: Ireneus (Adv Haer. 5.30.3) (“toward the end of the reign of Domitian”); Victorinus, Apoc. 10.11; Eusebius, H.E. 3.18; Clement of Alexandria (Quis div. 42) and Origen (Matt. 16.6) both locate Revelation in the reign of “the tyrant,” probably referring to Domitian.
- Ruled: 98-117
- Sources dating Revelation by Emperor: a synopsis of the life and death of the prophets, attributed to Dorotheus; Theophylact on Matt. 20:22.
Recipients: John’s readers are the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia which incorporated approximately the western third of Asia Minor, and who show a mix of fidelity and internal weaknesses. These churches were probably personally known to John from years of ministry in the area. His reason for selecting these seven churches, as well as the order in which the churches are listed, probably has to do with geography and communications. The cities in which the churches are located are all centers of communication; a messenger bearing Revelation to the cities would arrive from Patmos in Ephesus, travel by secondary road north to Smyrna and Pergamum, and then go east on the Roman road to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Ramsay, 171-96).
Occasion: The early Christians’ refusal to participate in the cult of the emperor (who was acclaimed “lord” and “savior”) was putting them on a collision course with the state; John saw prophetically that it would get worse before it got better and that the churches were poorly prepared for what was about to take place, so he writes both to warn and encourage them and to announce God’s judgments against Rome.
The cult of the emperor or emperor worship, flourished in the province of Asia more than elsewhere in the empire; the result was that by the end of the first Christian century, the church in all its weaknesses was headed for a shutdown with the state in all its splendor and might. By the Spirit, John sees that the martyrdom of Antipas (2:13) and John’s own exile (1:9) are but small foretaste of the great havoc that the state will wreak on the church before it is all over.
Content: The Book of Revelation is Christian prophecy cast in apocalyptic style and imagery and finally put in letter form, dealing primarily with tribulation (suffering) and salvation for God’s people and God’s wrath (judgment) on the Roman Empire.
The book opens with a prologue (1:1-20). After a brief introduction, address and salutation (1:1-8), John proceeded to write a vision of the glorified Christ (1:9-20). (Which also serves as an introduction to the letters to the seven churches).
John is commanded by the risen Christ to address messages to seven churches in seven cities within the Roman province of Asia:
- Ephesus (2:1-7)
- Smyrna (2:8-11)
- Pergamum (2:12-17)
- Thyatira (2:18-29)
- Sardis (3:1-6)
- Philadelphia (3:7-13) and
- Laodicea (3:14-22).
In 4:1-5:14, John writes about a vision of heaven. He is taken up to heaven “in the Spirit,” where he sees the sovereign God seated on the throne and receiving worship. God’s transcendence depicted in this vision sets the stage for the drama that unfolds: He sees a sealed scroll in God’s hand, and only a “Lamb, looking as if it had been slain,” is accounted worthy to break the seven seals and open the scroll.
Chapters 6:1-8:5 describe the seven seals:
- Conquest (6:1-2)
- Slaughter (6:3-4)
- Famine (6:5-6)
- Death (6:7-8)
- Martyrs crying out for justice (6:9-11) and
- Natural disasters, signifying the “wrath of the Lamb” (6:12-17). Before the 7th seal is described, John sees two visions, each of them depicting a great mass of people: 144,000 from the tribes of Israel who had been sealed by God, and an innumerable multitude who had “come out of the great tribulation” (7:9-17).
- The opening of the seventh seal brings silence in heaven and the introduction of the seven trumpets.
In chapters 8:6-11:19, John describes the seven trumpets which are actually disasters that come upon the earth as angels blow each of the trumpets:
- Hail and fire from heaven (8:7),
- A mountain thrown into the sea (8:8-9),
- A great star falling from the sky (8:10-11),
- Astronomical changes (8:12-13),
- Destructive locusts (9:1-12), and
- A huge conquering army (9:13-21). Again, John interjects two visions before before he narrates the events connected with the seventh trumpet. He sees an angel with a little scroll that he is instructed to eat (10:1-11) and two witnesses, who prophesy, are killed, and are raised again (11:1-14).
- The 7th trumpet contains no specific event but inaugurates hymns that praise God for his triumph and judgments.
Chapters 12:1-14:20 narrates seven significant signs.
- A woman who gives birth to a son (12:1-6);
- A war in heaven between Michael and his angels and a dragon, identified with Satan, who is cast out of heaven (12:7-12);
- A war on earth between Satan and the woman and her child (12:13-13:1a);
- The worldwide worship of a beast who comes out of the sea (13:1b-10);
- The worldwide domination of a beast who comes out of the earth (13:11-18);
- The praise of the Lamb from the 144,000 (14:1-5); and
- The harvesting of the earth, done by “one ‘like a son of man’” and angels (14: 14-20). Another insertion was made again between the sixth and the seventh in this series (14:6-13).
The seven bowls in 15:1-16:21 is seen by John as coming from heaven, “in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues” (15:1). Those who had triumphed over the beast sing praises to God (15:2-4) as the angels come out of the temple with the plagues (15:5-8)
The plagues are described with the imagery of bowls that the angels pour out on earth (16:1):
- Successive painful sores “on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image” (16:2),
- A turning of the sea into blood (16:3-7),
- Scorching heat from the sun (16:8-9),
- Destruction of the beast’s dominion (16:10-11),
- The drying up of the Euphrates River
- and the coming of evil spirits in preparation for “the battle on the great day of God Almighty” at “Armageddon“ (16:12-16), and
- Climactically, the “it is done” of utter earthly destruction (16:17-21).
Chapters 17:1-20:15 record the triumph of Almighty God. These visions describe and celebrate the triumph of God in the world, as his sovereignty, seen by John in heaven in chapter 4, is now manifested in the world.
A new heaven and a new earth (21:1-22:5). The passing of the first earth leads to John’s vision of a “new heaven and a new earth,” where God lives with his people (21:2-5), and the righteous are separated from the wicked (21:6-8). John sees the “bride, the wife of the Lamb,” in the image of a new Jerusalem, whose features and dimensions are described in considerable detail (21:9-21). There will be no need for temple or sun or moon in this city, for God and the Lamb are there, and there will be no wickedness (21:22-22:5).
In the epilogue (22:6-21), John is promised that the message contained in the visions he has seen is “trustworthy and reliable” and that there will be reward for those who are faithful and true. This reward is brought by Jesus himself, who is “coming quickly.”
Carson, D.A., Moo, Douglas J., and Morris, Leon. An Introduction to the New Testament. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature Inc., 2002.
Fee, Gordon D. & Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible Book by Book. A Guided Tour. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature Inc., 2004.
Fee, Gordon D. & Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature Inc., 2004.
NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.