Why Read Revelation?
“Why read this strange book? John gives a good clue in the first phrase, which introduces this book as “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation gives a unique picture of Jesus Christ, and the New Testament would be incomplete without it. The Gospels describe Jesus’ life on Earth from four different viewpoints. The letters discuss the deep significance of the resurrected Christ and what he accomplished. But Revelation shows Jesus Christ from a new perspective: as the mighty ruler of the cosmic forces of good. When John saw him in this exalted state, he fell at Jesus’ feet as though dead (1:17).
Although Revelation does not remove the mystery surrounding Jesus’ return and the end of the world, it does throw light on those events. It cannot be reduced to a mere timetable of events; it speaks lasting truths to every generation of readers. Revelation tells of Christ’s future triumph over all the evil in the universe. This crucial message of final hope was needed by its original readers in the first century and is still needed by us today.” —NIV Student Bible
Who wrote Revelation? John the Beloved Apostle (see Rev 1:1)
DATE: A.D. 96? There is some dispute about this though. From the Harper Collins Study Bible’s notes we learn “Many early Christian writers thought that Revelation had been written toward the end of Domitian’s reign (81–96 ce), but a few later writers thought that John had written a generation earlier, during the persecution that occurred in 64 under Nero (54–68 ce). Evidence supporting both dates can be found in the book. In favor of the earlier date, 11.1–3 suggests that the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (destroyed by the Romans in 70) was still standing when the book was written. Further, the code name of the beast in 13.18 is 666, widely thought to symbolize the name Nero Caesar. Other data, however, suggest a date late in the first century. For example, there are several allusions (13.3; 17.9–11) to the legend of Nero’s return, which circulated throughout the eastern Mediterranean during the two decades following his suicide in 68. Further, Revelation frequently uses “Babylon” as a code name for Rome (14.8; 16.19; 17.5, 18; 18.2, 10, 21), but the evidence suggests that Jews used this code name only after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70.”
As a general rule, I favor the dating of approximately 96 A.D. We need to remember that there is, oftentimes, an already but not yet in prophecy. John certainly wrote to comfort Christians who were already under persecution but he also wrote to comfort those under persecutions yet to come.
The spiritual decline of the 7 churches (chaps. 2, 3) also argues for the later date. Those churches were strong and spiritually healthy in the mid-60s, when Paul last ministered in Asia Minor. The brief time between Paul’s ministry there and the end of Nero’s reign was too short for such a decline to have occurred. The longer time gap also explains the rise of the heretical sect known as the Nicolaitans (2:6, 15), who are not mentioned in Paul’s letters, not even to one or more of these same churches (Ephesians). Finally, dating Revelation during Nero’s reign does not allow time for John’s ministry in Asia Minor to reach the point at which the authorities would have felt the need to exile him.
THEME: The theme of the Revelation is Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1) in all His post-resurrection glory and majesty. He is presented in a threefold way: (1) As to time: “which is, and which was, and which is to come” Rev 1:4); (2) as to relationships–the churches Rev 1:9 through Rev 3:22), to the tribulation Rev 4:1 through Rev 19:21), to the kingdom Rev 20:1 through Rev 22:21); (3) in His offices–High Priest Rev 8:3-6), Bridegroom Rev 19:7-9), King-Judge Rev 20:1-15).
Christ is the central theme of the book, but all of the events move toward one consummation, the bringing in of the covenanted kingdom. The key-phrase is the prophetic declaration of the “great voices in heaven” Rev 11:15), lit, “The world kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ has come.”
The three major divisions of Revelation must be clearly held if the interpretation is to be sane and coherent. John was commanded to “write” concerning three classes of “things” Rev 1:19):
I. Things past, “the things thou hast seen,” i.e. the Patmos vision, Rev 1.1-20.
II. Things present, “the things which are,” i.e. things then existing–obviously the churches. The temple had been destroyed, the Jews dispersed: the testimony of God had been committed to the Churches (1Ti 3.15). Accordingly we have seven messages to seven representative churches, Rev 2.1 through Rev 3.22. It is noteworthy that the church is not mentioned in chapters 5 through 18.
III. Things future, “things which shall be hereafter,” lit. “after these,” i.e. after the church period ends, Rev 4.1 through Rev 22.21. The third major division, falls into a series of six sevens, with parenthetical passages, making, with the church division, seven sevens. The six sevens are:
(1) The seals, Rev 4.1 through Rev 8.1.
(2) The seven trumpets, Rev 8.2 through Rev 11.19.
(3). The seven personages, Rev 12:1-14:20.
(4). The seven vials (bowls), Rev 15.1 through Rev 16.21.
(5). The seven dooms, Rev 17.1 through Rev 20.15.
(6). The seven new things, Rev 21.1 through Rev 22.21.
The parenthetical passages are:
- The Jewish remnant and the tribulation saints, Rev 7:1-17.
- The angel, the little book, the two witnesses, Rev 10:1 through Rev 11:14.
- The Lamb, the Remnant, and the everlasting Gospel, Rev 14:1-13.
- The gathering of the kings at Armageddon, Rev 16:13-16.
- The four alleluias in heaven, Rev 19:1-6. These passages do not advance the prophetic narrative. Looking backward and forward they sum up results accomplished, and speak of results yet to come as if they had already come. In Rev 14:1, for example, the Lamb and Remnant are seen prophetically on Mount Zion, though they are not actually there till Rev 20:4-6.The end of the church period Rev 2 through Rev 3.) is left as indeterminate. It will end by the fulfillment of 1Th 4:14-17. Revelation 4 through Rev 19 are believed to synchronize with Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Dan 9:24). The great tribulation begins at the middle of the “week,” and continues three and a half years Rev 11:3 through Rev 19:21). The tribulation is brought to an end by the appearing of the Lord and the battle of Armageddon Mat 24:29, 30; Re 19:11-21). The kingdom follows Re 20:4, 5); after this the “little season” Re 20:7-15), and then eternity.
As we study Revelation we should bear in mind two important passages: 1Pe 1:12; 2Pe 1:20, 21. Doubtless much which is designedly obscure to us will be clear to those for whom it was written as the time approaches.
THEORIES OF INTERPRETATION: There have been many approaches to this book, but these can be divided into four major theories:
- Preterist theory: All of Revelation has been fulfilled in the past. It had to do with local references in John’s day. It had to do with the days of either Nero or Domitian.
- Historical theory: Fulfillment of Revelation is going on in history, and Revelation is the prophetic history of the church, according to this theory.
- Historical-spiritual (Symbolic) theory: This theory is a refinement of the historical theory and was advanced by Sir William Ramsay. It states that the two beasts are Imperial and Provincial Rome. The point of the book is to encourage Christians. According to this theory, Revelation has been largely fulfilled and there are spiritual lessons for the church today. Amillennialism, for the most part, has adopted this view. It dissipates and defeats the purpose of the book.
- Futurist theory: This theory holds that the Book of Revelation is primarily prophetic and yet future, especially from Revelation 4 on to the end of the book. This is the view of all premillennialists and is the view which we accept and present.
We should note that at least 10 Themes in Scripture find their consummation in Revelation
- The Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15)
- The church (Matthew 16:18)
- The resurrection and translation of saints (1 Thessalonians 4:13- 18; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52)
- The Great Tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30, 31)
- Satan and evil (Ezekiel 28:11-18)
- The “man of sin” (Ezekiel 28:1-10)
- The course and end of apostate Christendom (Daniel 2:31-45; Matthew 13)
- The beginning, course, and end of the “times of the Gentiles” (Daniel 2:37; Luke 21:24)
- The second coming of Christ (Jude 14, 15)
- Israel’s covenants (Genesis 12:1-3), five things promised Israel
Christ in Revelation
Revelation has much to say about all three Persons of the Godhead, but it is especially clear in its presentation of the awesome resurrected Christ who has received all authority to judge the earth. He is called Jesus Christ (1:1), the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth (1:5), the First and the Last (1:17), He who lives (1:18), the Son of God (2:18), holy and true (3:7), the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God (3:14), the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (5:5), a Lamb (5:6), Faithful and True (19:11), The Word of God (19:13), KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (19:16), Alpha and Omega (22:13), the Bright and Morning Star (22:16), and the Lord Jesus Christ (22:21).
This book is indeed “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) since it comes from Him and centers on Him. It begins with a vision of His glory, wisdom, and power (1) and portrays His authority over the entire church (2; 3). He is the Lamb who was slain and declared worthy to open the book of judgment (5). His righteous wrath is poured out upon the whole earth (6–18), and He returns in power to judge His enemies and to reign as the Lord over all (19; 20). He will rule forever over the heavenly city in the presence of all who know Him (21; 22).
The Scriptures close with His great promise: “‘Behold, I am coming quickly!’” (22:7, 12). “‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).
Keys to Understanding Revelation
The Revelation of the Coming of Christ
The purposes for which Revelation was written depend to some extent on how the book as a whole is interpreted. Because of its complex imagery and symbolism, Revelation is the most difficult biblical book to interpret, and there are four major alternatives: (1) The symbolic or idealist view maintains that Revelation is not a predictive prophecy, but a symbolic portrait of the cosmic conflict of spiritual principles. (2) The preterist view (the Latin word praeter means “past”) maintains that it is a symbolic description of the Roman persecution of the church, emperor worship, and the divine judgment of Rome. (3) The historicist view approaches Revelation as an allegorical panorama of the history of the (Western) church from the first century to the Second Advent. (4) The futurist view acknowledges the obvious influence that the first-century conflict between Roman power and the church had upon the themes of this book. It also accepts the bulk of Revelation (4–22) as an inspired look into the time immediately preceding the Second Advent (the “Tribulation,” usually seen as seven years; 6–18), and extending from the return of Christ to the creation of the new cosmos (19–22).
Advocates of all four interpretive approaches to Revelation agree that it was written to assure the recipients of the ultimate triumph of Christ over all who rise up against Him and His saints. The readers were facing dark times of persecution, and even worse times would follow. Therefore, they needed to be encouraged to persevere by standing firm in Christ in view of God’s plan for the righteous and the wicked. This plan is especially clear in the stirring words of the epilogue (22:6–21). The book was also written to challenge complacent Christians to stop compromising with the world. According to futurists, Revelation serves the additional purpose of providing a perspective on end-time events that would have meaning and relevance to the spiritual lives of all succeeding generations of Christians.
Revelation 1:19 and 19:11–15
“‘Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this’” (1:19).
“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (19:11–15).
When the end of history is fully understood, its impact radically affects the present. In Revelation 19–22 the plans of God for the last days and for all of eternity are recorded in explicit terms. Careful study of and obedience to them will bring the blessings that are promised (1:3). Uppermost in the mind and deep in the heart should be guarded the words of Jesus, “Behold, I am coming quickly.”