The opening verses of the book of the Revelation plainly claim the book was written by John, identified almost universally in the early church as the Apostle John. The apostolic authorship of the book has, nevertheless, been questioned ever since the time of Dionysius of Alexandria in the third century.
Dionysius challenged the traditional view that John the Apostle was the author on the ground that the book of Revelation had numerous cases of bad grammar. Dionysius said, “I perceive that the dialect and language is not very accurate Greek, but that he uses barbarous idioms, and in some places solecisms which it is now unnecessary to select.”1
Beginning with Dionysius those who object to Johannine authorship or to inclusion of the Apocalypse in the canon have tended to magnify the problems of grammar and alleged inaccuracies. Impartial scholarship has admitted that there are expressions in the book of Revelation which do not correspond to accepted Greek usage, but this problem is not entirely confined to this book of the Bible. Conservative scholarship has insisted that infallibility in divine revelation does not necessarily exclude expressions which are not normal in other Greek literature and that such instances do not mar the perfection of the truth that is transmitted. Swete, after acknowledging “that the Apocalypse of John stands alone among Greek literary writings in its disregard of the ordinary rules of syntax,” goes on to say that it does so “without loss of perspicuity or even of literary power. The book seems openly and deliberately to defy the grammarian, and yet even as literature it is in its own field unsurpassed.”2 It is important to note, however, that some of the supposedly bad grammar in Revelation was used in contemporary Koine literature, as is revealed by discoveries in the Papyri.
When due allowance is made for the character of the book, as H. B. Swete has noted, there are remarkable similarities in some respects between the Fourth Gospel and the book of Revelation and that fact “creates a strong presumption of affinity between the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse, notwithstanding their great diversity both in language and in thought.”3
The arguments for rejecting the apostolic authorship stem largely from the theological climate of the third century. At that time the Alexandrian School of Theology, including Dionysius, opposed the doctrine of the millennial kingdom which is plainly taught in chapter 20 with its reference to the thousand years. An attack by them on the authorship of John tended to weaken the force of this prophecy. Another early objection to the view that John the Apostle was the author of this book was occasioned by the fact that he never describes himself as an apostle, but rather as a “servant.” Many scholars, motivated by other reasons, have advanced the theory that the John of the book of Revelation is another person known as John the Presbyter or John the Elder, mentioned by Papias in a statement preserved in the writing of Eusebius. Another author considered but rejected by Dionysius of Alexandria was John Mark.
The substantiating evidence for any other author than John the Apostle, however, is almost entirely lacking. While notable scholars can be cited in support of divergent views, the proof dissipates upon examination. It seems clear that the early church attributed the book to John the Apostle. Justin Martyr quotes John’s view that Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem.4 Irenaeus quotes every chapter of the book of the Revelation.5 In like manner, Tertullian cites the author as “the Apostle John” and quotes from almost every chapter of the book.6 Hippolytus quotes extensively from chapters 17 and 18, attributing them to John the Apostle.7 Many other early fathers can be cited in similar fashion, such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen. The latter not only quotes from the book but confirms that John the Apostle was on the Isle of Patmos.8
The first commentary on the book of Revelation to be preserved, written by Victorinus, regards John the Apostle as the author. Though the book of Revelation was not commonly received by the church as canonical until the middle of the second century, it is most significant that the Johannine authorship was not questioned until the strong antichiliastic influence arose in the Alexandrian School of Theology at the end of the second century.
The evidence for the Johannine authorship is based first on the fact that four times the writer calls himself by the name John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). Describing himself as a “servant” (1:1) and “your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (1:9), John never states that he is an apostle. Taking into consideration, however, that in the Fourth Gospel there is a similar anonymity, this does not seem to be strange. Most conservative expositors regard the name John as genuine rather than a pseudonym as is common in nonscriptural apocalyptic books. There is really no solid evidence against accepting John the Apostle as the author, and there is much that confirms it. In fact, it may be argued that the reference to John without further identification would presume a familiarity on the part of the readers which would make naming him unnecessary.
The evidence for John the Apostle hangs largely on the question whether the Apostle John actually was exiled on the Isle of Patmos, as the author of this book claims (1:9). There is good historical evidence in support of this claim. Clement of Alexandria refers to the Apostle John as returning from the Isle of Patmos.9 Eusebius not only affirms John’s return from the isle but dates it immediately following the death of Domitian, which occurred in a.d. 96.10
Irenaeus adds his confirming word when he states that John lived in Ephesus after returning from Patmos until the reign of Trajan.11 Though the Scriptures do not dogmatically confirm that John the Apostle is the author, the existing evidence is heavily in favor of this conclusion.
Related to the total problem is the question of date of the book. Though the tendency among conservative scholars has been to regard the date as a.d. 95 or 96, some have contended for an earlier date, such as 68 or 69, a conclusion supported by such worthies as Westcott, Light-foot, Hort, Salmon, and others.12 The early date is supposedly supported by a statement attributed to Papias to the effect that John the Apostle was martyred before the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. Swete in his thorough discussion of this point feels that if the statement of Papias is to be considered genuine, “it disposes of the apostolic authorship of the Apocalypse.”13 Accordingly, Swete concludes that if the evidence of Papias be acknowledged, the probability is that John the Elder is the John referred to in the book of Revelation.
The evidence for the early date, before a.d. 70, which depends both upon the genuineness of the quotation from Papias and the question whether Papias knew what he was talking about, has been challenged by many conservative scholars. The majority opinion seems to be that the traditional date of 95 or 96 has better support. The historical evidence previously cited from Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and Irenaeus would be left without any explanation if John the Apostle actually suffered martyrdom before the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. As previously noted, Irenaeus placed the writing of the book in the reign of Domitian, which ended a.d. 96.
The weight of evidence is against accepting the testimony of Papias as valid and is for setting the date as 95 or 96. In any case, there is little tendency among scholars who accept the inspiration of the Apocalypse to place the date later as some liberal scholars have attempted to do. It is most significant that in many cases the theological bias against the chiliastic teaching of the book of Revelation seems to be the actual motive in rejecting the apostolic authorship. Based on the historical evidence, the date, therefore, must be before the death of Domitian, who was assassinated in a.d. 96, as the apostle was apparently released from his exile shortly after this. Interpretative problems, such as those raised by the identification of the seven kings of Revelation 17:10, are not of sufficient weight to challenge the historical evidence for the traditional date. The contents of the book fit this time.
In contrast to other apocalyptic books, the revelation recorded by John the Apostle is presented as having a solid historical basis in his exile on the Isle of Patmos. It was there these visions were given to him and in obedience to the command to write them and send them to the seven churches, John recorded the prophecies of the book. It would seem entirely reasonable that in the midst of persecution the church should be given a book of such assurance as that embodied in the content of the Revelation, which holds before them not only a realistic explanation as to why persecution is permitted but also a promise of ultimate triumph and reward.
Because the book of Revelation was addressed to seven different churches, it would be only natural that each of these churches would want its own copy, and thus the circulation of the entire book would be given a good start. Some believe that Ignatius (110-17) and the early Epistle of Barnabas contained allusions to the book though Swete considers it uncertain.14 In the literature of the second half of the second century, evidence begins to reveal wide circulation of the Apocalypse. Andreas quotes Papias about Revelation 12:7 ff.15 Irenaeus refers to old copies of the book and to people who knew John.16 Other early authors who mention the book are Justin, Eusebius, Apollonius, and Theophilus the Bishop of Antioch.17 It is referred to a number of times in the Epistle of the Churches of Vienne.18 Other references to the book abound. Tertullian, according to Swete, quotes from eighteen out of the twenty-two chapters of the book, and cites it as Scripture.19 Some literature from the period seems to refer to the book using similar phraseology, e.g., the Shepherd of Hermas, which refers to the great tribulation, and the Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas, which according to Swete abounds in imagery similar to the book of Revelation.20 The circulation and wide use of the book as Scripture are evident by the beginning of the third century.
It is true, nevertheless, that Revelation was slow in gaining universal recognition as Scripture. Important in the reasons for this is opposition to the chiliasm which is expressly taught in Revelation 20. Other theological objections arose from various sects which for the most part were heretical. The more orthodox churches seem to have had less difficulty in accepting it as Scripture. The reasons for a slower reception arose principally from the unusual character of this book, the only apocalyptic book in the New Testament. As previously noted, critics also were quick to point to grammatical difficulties and to cite apparent discrepancies. Swete in his thorough discussion of the vocabulary, grammar, and style demonstrates that most of these objections have a suitable explanation and do not have real weight against acceptance of the book as inspired Scripture.21
As Thiessen has shown, most of the objections and difficulties dissolve upon study and do not militate against either apostolic authorship or the inspiration of the book itself.22 The fact is that the early church, in spite of certain objections, generally accepted the book of Revelation by the end of the second century and the eastern church soon followed suit. Among conservative scholars, there is little disposition to exclude the book of Revelation from the canon, even though Luther, Zwingli, and Erasmus considered it nonapostolic.23 For the purpose of the present study, the inspiration of the book is assumed.
Blunt, in his preface, like a number of others, comments on the fact that Joseph Scaliger, a sixteenth century French critic, complimented John Calvin thus: “… he has shown his sense as much by not commenting on the Book of Revelation as he had by the manner in which
he had commented on the other Books of the Bible.”24 Most of the difficulty in the interpretation of this last book in the Scriptures has come from treating it as an ordinary piece of literature produced by a variety of human authors. With such presuppositions, the book becomes a literary monstrosity devoid of any real revelation from God. Simcox points out, “Many orthodox readers are content to leave at least the bulk of the book absolutely uninterpreted.”25
When approached as divinely inspired and to be interpreted by the phraseology and symbolism of other portions of the Bible, the depth and breadth of Revelation become immediately apparent. The book offers knowledge far beyond the investigating power of man and claims revelation not only in relation to spiritual and moral truths, as in the letters to the seven churches, but revelation extending to visions of heaven and earth and prophetic revelation of the future including the eternal state. If a human invention, the book is of little value; if divinely inspired, it is an open door into precious eternal truth.
If the inspiration of the book and its apostolic authorship be accepted, there still remain, however, serious exegetical problems illustrated in the variety of approaches found in conservative scholarship. These have often been divided into four categories.
1. The nonliteral or allegorical approach. This point of view, originating in the Alexandrian School of Theology represented in Clement of Alexandria and Origen, regarded the book of Revelation as one great allegory going far beyond the natural symbolism which is found in the book. They understood in a nonliteral sense much of what other expositors interpreted literally. They were motivated by their antichiliastic premises which led them to take in other than literal sense anything which would teach a millennial reign of Christ on earth. They claimed that their view was the true “spiritual” interpretation as opposed to the literalism of their opponents.
Though the Alexandrian School in the early church is generally regarded as heretical, its leaders undoubtedly influenced such men as Jerome and Augustine and were responsible for turning the early church from its previous chiliastic position. The interpretative method of the Alexandrian school in its entirety has found little favor with modern interpreters, but there is a persistent tendency to return to some use of this method to avoid the premillennial implications of the book of Revelation, if understood more literally. Cady H. Allen, like many others, regards the book only as a form of spiritual encouragement and assurance of the ultimate
triumph of Christianity to those of the first century; but he feels the book is not intended to predict the future.26
The more moderate form of allegorical interpretation, following Augustine, has achieved respectability and regards the book of Revelation as presenting in a symbolic way the total conflict between Christianity and evil or, as Augustine put it, the City of God versus the City of Satan.
The modern liberal point of view expressed by Niles emphasizes a contemporary meaning of the book, averring that even the final consummation of the triumph of righteousness has already begun. Niles states
But there is a distinction between prophecy and apocalypse, for whereas prophecy is a thrust of the Word of God into the present, apocalypse is also an unveiling of the meaning of the present in the light of the final end. Christian apocalypse is written from the standpoint of the contemporaneousness of the Church to the Christ who is risen and who will come again.27
Though the book is still regarded as somewhat prophetic, its specific character as prophesying definite future events is thus dissipated.
Lenski in the introduction to his exposition of the Revelation denies that any chronology is intended in the book.
As far as the writer is able to see, the visions, from the first to the last, present lines or vistas. These start at various points, but like radii or rays all focus upon the final judgment and the eternal triumph. The final visions (chapters 21 and 22) present the triumph at length. All history is covered, but not as we read history, only as God sees it. The veiling clouds open now and again, allowing us to see vision after vision, till at last our eyes behold in vision the Holy City itself. Times and seasons are not for us (Acts 1:7) but the sure triumph, glorious over and amid them all, is.28
2. The preterist approach. In general, adherents of this point of view hold that the book of Revelation is a record of the conflicts of the early church with Judaism and paganism, with the closing chapters (20-22) constituting a picture of the contemporary triumph of the church. Though similar in some ways to the allegorical method, it considers Revelation as a symbolic history, rather than prophetic. Though some in the early church may have had similar views, credit is usually given to the Jesuit Alcasar (d. 1613) as originating this view, which was held also by Grotius, famous theologian of the Netherlands. A variation of this is the idea that Revelation is descriptive rather than predictive. David Brown writes concerning the design of the Apocalypse, “There are but two possible theories of what the Apocalypse is written for. It is either essentially predictive or purely descriptive.” In keeping with his post-millenial
viewpoint, he follows almost completely the descriptive interpretation.29
Hendriksen dismisses both the historical and the futurist interpretations of the book of Revelation on the assumption that the book was intended for the use of first century Christians to whom a detailed prophecy of the entire church age would have been meaningless. Hendriksen instead seems to follow the view that the book is a symbolic word of encouragement to early Christians suffering persecution and a general assurance of ultimate triumph in Christ;30 hence he is only partially a preterist.
The preterist view, in general, tends to destroy any future significance of the book, which becomes a literary curiosity with little prophetic meaning. Contemporary liberal works usually follow a combination of the preterist and symbolical methods of interpretation, disregarding the strictly historical interpretation as well as the futurist. Illustrative of this tendency is Laymon’s work, The Book of Revelation, which significantly does not include a single premillennial work in its bibliography.31 Even universalists have attempted commentaries on the book of Revelation in which they explain away all judgment upon sin and make all future judgment contemporary, as in the work of Whittemore written over a century ago.32 Milligan regards the Apocalypse as a statement of principles with no time periods or specific events in view: “While the Apocalypse thus embraces the whole period of the Christian dispensation, it sets before us within this period the action of great principles and not special incidents.”33
3. The historical approach. Adherents to this theory consider Revelation as a symbolic presentation of the total of church history culminating in the second advent. Though it had earlier disciples, Joachim, a Roman Catholic scholar, is largely responsible for this as he was also the originator of the first forms of postmillennialism. This method of interpreting the book of Revelation achieved considerable stature in the Reformation because of its identification of the pope and the papacy with the beasts of Revelation 13. Thiessen cites Wycliffe, Luther, Joseph Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, William Whiston, Elliott, Vitringa, Bengel, and Barnes as adherents of this approach. It has undoubtedly influenced a large number of subsequent expositors, especially those of the postmillennial point of view.34
The historical method of interpretation has achieved the status of respectability and in some ways is superior to the other two methods in
that it provides a profound philosophy of history as well as a guide to the general principles of divine providence. Its major difficulty is that its adherents have succumbed to the tendency to interpret the book as in some sense climaxing in their generation. As many as fifty different interpretations of the book of Revelation therefore evolve, depending on the time and circumstances of the expositor.
Moses Stuart wrote more than one hundred years ago of the distress engendered in his day by the historical interpretation of the book of Revelation with its many conflicting theories resulting in the opinion that the book is impossible of plain exposition. Stuart raised the question:
Must this state of things always continue? This is a question of great interest to those who believe that the Apocalypse rightfully belongs to the Canon of Scripture. Hitherto, scarcely any two original and independent expositors have been agreed, in respect to some points very important in their bearing upon the interpretation of the book. So long as the Apocalypse is regarded principally as an epitome of civil and ecclesiastic history, this must continue to be the case. Different minds will make the application of apocalyptic prophecies to different series of events, because there is something in each to which more or less of these prophecies is seemingly applicable. Such has always been the case, in past times, whenever this method of interpretation has been followed; and why should anything different from this be expected for the future?35
The very multiplicity of such interpretations and identifications of the personnel of Revelation with a variety of historical characters is its own refutation. If the historical method is the correct one, it is clear until now that no one has found the key. As Gehman has pointed out, in the historical interpretation of Revelation,
variations exist in an almost endless stream… touch every aspect of the book [and] even on major themes there is little agreement:… the inescapable conclusion is that historical interpreters are on the wrong highway of interpretation.36
Abraham Kuyper in his last work, written after he was seventy-six years of age, interprets the book of Revelation in a devotional and spiritual sense. The translator, John Hendrik de Vries, in his introduction has this interesting criticism of the historical method of interpretation of Augustine that both he and Kuyper reject:
He who has made a serious study of the marginal notes of Revelation has been impressed of necessity with the uncertainty into which Augustine’s method brings him. He is told again and again that this one finds this and the other one that in it. As the several figures present themselves the expositor can not make up his mind whether one king is meant or another, this pope or another, or whether the
writer refers to a persecution of the past or to one that is still to come. Moreover it breaks the thread of devotional reading when the mind is continually diverted by historical and numerical calculations of dates, which as pawns on a chessboard are moved back and forth, and in any case lie outside the horizon of the devout among God’s people. Again, this method of interpretation leads to results which reflect the time in which the expositor lives. S. Augustine, who knew nothing of the papal hierarchy, is reminded of the early persecutors of the church and of the great heresies of those early days, while the writers of the marginal notes, who were reared in the heat of the struggle with Rome, had in mind almost exclusively what had gone out from Rome’s seat against God’s counsel. All this breeds uncertainty and confusion. It turns exegesis into an artful play of ingenuity. And when men of such eminent piety as Bengel devote years of their life to the calculation that the final period was to begin in 1836; or locate the end of the world in a year that is long past; we realize that such exegesis can not meet what God’s church expects from this particular part of Scripture.37 Kuyper attempts to combine the historical and the idealistic, and in his spiritual interpretation, the book of Revelation is considered primarily a message of comfort to a suffering church.
Typical of contemporary amillennialism is the viewpoint of McDowell equating the millennium with the present age and more particularly to the intermediate state to which martyrs go after death. McDowell writes:
The binding of Satan (20:1-3) for a thousand years represents the cosmic result of the defeat of Satan in history. The defeat of the beast and his allies is a defeat for Satan and signalizes the limitation of his power for a long, indeterminate period of time (1,000 years). The reign of the martyrs and saints begins in this period of struggle. Those who are faithful to Christ in this struggle go from this earth at their death to reign with Christ for a long, indeterminate period of time (1,000 years): “This is the first resurrection” (20:4-6).38
McDowell’s point of view is a combination of the historical and the spiritual interpretation of the book of Revelation, characteristic of contemporary amillennialism.
4. The futuristic approach. Limited to conservative expositors who are usually premillennial, this point of view regards Revelation as futuristic beginning with chapter 4 and therefore subject to future fulfillment. Some have attempted to make even chapters 1, 2, and 3 futuristic and the seven churches as future assemblies, but the great majority of futurists begin with chapter 4. Under this system of interpretation, the events of chapters 4 through 19 relate to the period just preceding the second coming of Christ. This is generally regarded as a period of seven years with emphasis on the last three and one-half years, labeled the
“great tribulation.” Chapter 19, therefore, refers to the second coming of Christ to the earth, chapter 20 to the future millennial kingdom which will follow, and chapters 21 and 22 to events either contemporary or subsequent to the millennium
In contrast to the other approaches to the book of Revelation, the futuristic position allows a more literal interpretation of the specific prophecies of the book. Though recognizing the frequent symbolism in various prophecies, the events foreshadowed by these symbols and their interpretation are regarded as being fulfilled in a normal way. Hence, the various judgments of God are actually poured out on the earth as contained in the seals, trumpets, and vials. Chapter 13 is considered a prophecy of the future world empire with its political and religious heads represented by the two beasts of this chapter. The harlot of chapter 17 is the final form of the church in apostasy. In a similar way all other events of Revelation relate to the climax of history contained in the second coming of Christ.
Objections to the futuristic view often stem from the claim that it would rob the early church of practical comfort. Summers expresses a common point of view when he states,
I do not believe that any interpretation of Revelation can be correct if it is meaningless and if it fails to bring practical help and comfort to those who first received the book. To start from any other view-oint is to follow the road which leads away from the truth of the ook rather than the road which reveals the marvelous message of truth here given to troubled hearts.39
It is questionable whether any view, even the most extreme futuristic view, denies that there is a present value to the study of the book of Revelation. Summers is adroitly begging the question. The point is that portions of the book of Revelation can be appreciated and understood now. Other portions will not be understood until they are fulfilled. The general tenor of the book, even in unfulfilled sections, however, is the assurance that God will ultimately triumph, the saints will be blessed, and sin will be judged. To use the argument that the book must be understood by the first generation of Christians completely as a refutation of the futuristic position is not reasonable nor backed by the study of prophecy in Scripture in general. Summers himself adopts the combination of the preterist and historical views which obviously gives the interpreter a great deal of freedom but leaves his results mostly subjective.40
Milligan makes a similar objection to the futuristic system, that, if the main body of the book deals with the period immediately preceding the second coming of Christ, it robs the reader of immediate blessing.41 It is
strange that such an objection should be considered weighty. Much of the prophecy of the Bible deals with the distant future, including the Old Testament promises of the coming Messiah, the prophecies of Daniel concerning the future world empires, the body of truth relating to the coming kingdom on earth as well as countless other prophecies. If the events of chapters 4 through 19 are future, even from our viewpoint today, they teach the blessed truth of the ultimate supremacy of God and the triumph of righteousness. The immediate application of distant events is familiar in Scripture, as for instance 2 Peter 3:10-12, which speaks of the ultimate dissolution of the earth; nevertheless the succeeding passage makes an immediate application: “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent…” (2 Peter 3:14). Milligan’s substitution of the spiritual interpretation of the book of Revelation in effect robs it of its prophetic character.
Though the premillennial conclusions of the futuristic view seem to have been held by the early church, the early fathers did not in any clear or consistent way interpret the book of Revelation as a whole in a futuristic sense. In fact, it can be demonstrated that the principal error of the fathers was that they attempted to interpret the book of Revelation as being fulfilled contemporaneously in the trials and difficulties of the church. Subsequent history has shown that the events which would have naturally followed did not come to pass, and the assumption of contemporaneous fulfillment was thereby discredited. The futuristic school has gained a hold upon a large segment of interpreters of prophecy in conservative evangelicalism largely because the other methods have led to such confusion of interpretation and have tended to make Revelation a hopeless exegetical problem. The futurist approach is rejected by most amillenarian and postmillenarian scholars, but is normally held by contemporary premillenarians who tend to follow the futuristic form of interpretation. Though many difficulties and obscurities remain, the futuristic school has the advantage of offering a relatively clear understanding of the principal events of future fulfillment, and tends to treat Revelation as a more normative piece of literature than the other interpretative principles.
One of the common assumptions of those who reject the futurist position is that the Apocalypse is the creation of John’s thinking and was understandable by him in his generation. Moses Stuart expresses this:
The original and intelligent readers of this book, beyond all reasonable doubt, could understand the meaning of the writer; else why should he address his work to them? Their acquaintance with the circle of things in which he moved, and their familiarity with the objects to which he refers, superseded the use of all the critical apparatus which we must now employ.42
The difficulty with this point of view is twofold: (1) Prophecy, as given in the Scripture, was not necessarily understandable by the writer or his generation, as illustrated in the case of Daniel (Dan. 12:4, 9). It is questionable whether the great prophets of the Old Testament always understood what they were writing (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). (2) It is of the nature of prophecy that often it cannot be understood until the time of the generation which achieves fulfillment. The assumption, therefore, that the book of Revelation was understandable in the first generation or that it was intended to be understood by that generation is without real basis.
The second and third chapters of the book, however, are primarily a message to the seven historic churches of Asia. Inasmuch as these exhortations are set in the prophetic context of the chapters which follow, the book of Revelation is therefore seen to be designed for the church at large. If it were not for the book of Revelation, the New Testament canon would have ended with an obviously unfinished character.
The book of Revelation is in many respects the capstone of futuristic prophecy of the entire Bible and gathers in its prophetic scheme the major themes of prophecy which thread their way through the whole volume of Scripture. The scope and plan of the book as contained in the opening phrase “to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (1:1) indicate that the primary intent of the book was to prepare the way for the second coming of Christ. The book, therefore, has a special relevance for the generation which will be living on earth at that time. Because that event is undated, it constitutes a challenge to each succeeding generation of believers.
The book of Revelation, beginning as it does with the Greek word apokalypsis, by its very title is apocalyptic in character, that is, a book which claims to unfold the future, the unveiling of that which would otherwise be concealed. The nature of such a revelation requires a supernatural understanding of future events. Although the book of Revelation is the only apocalyptic book of the New Testament, many other apocalyptic works preceded its appearance; and there were others which followed.
A sharp distinction should be observed between apocalyptic works outside the Bible and apocalyptic works which are Scripture, whose writing was guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Apocalyptic literature outside the Bible can be classified as pseudepigrapha. They were works pretending to emanate from characters of the Bible who are cast in the role of predicting the future. The actual authors, however, often lived long after the character to whom the work is ascribed. Among the most important pseudepigrapha are Ascension of Isaiah, Assumption of Moses, Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees, The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, Letters of Aristeas, III and IV Maccabees, Psalms of Solomon, Secrets of Enoch, Sibylline Oracles, The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, and Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. These works are usually dated as beginning about 250 B.C. and as continuing into the period following the apostolic church. A great many other apocalyptic works are sometimes cited as of lesser importance, such as: The Apocalypses of Adam, Elijah, and Zephaniah; and Testament of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob.
It is characteristic of apocalyptic literature outside the Bible to have a pessimistic view of the contemporary situation and to paint the future in glowing terms of blessing for the saints and doom for the wicked. The real author’s name is never divulged in apocalyptic works outside the Bible.
Apocalyptic portions of the Scriptures are in sharp contrast to these pseudepigrapha. The more important apocalyptic works of the Old Testament are Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, and Zechariah. Liberal scholars have sometimes drawn unfair comparisons between the apocalyptic writers outside the Bible and those within the canon. For instance, a common assumption is that the book of Daniel was not actually written by Daniel, as the book purports to be, in the sixth century B.C., but rather in the period of the second century when much of the book of Daniel would have been history. This, however, has been refuted by adequate conservative scholarship, and the apocalyptic character of scriptural books is not a just ground for denying the historical content or the authorship indicated. It is an unwarranted assumption to conclude from the pseudoauthorship of apocalyptic writings outside the Bible that the same principle also applies to Scripture.
H. B. Swete although making unwarranted concessions,43 such as the late date of Daniel, points out that the Apocalypse of John is a new departure from former apocalyptic writings in the following particulars:
(1) The Jewish apocalypses are without exception pseudepigraphic; the Christian apocalypse bears the author’s name. This abandonment of a long-established tradition is significant; by it John claims for himself the position of a prophet who, conscious that he draws his inspiration from Christ or His angel and not at second hand, has no need to seek shelter under the name of a Biblical saint.
(2) In contrast to the pseudepigrapha whose actual dates are often impossible to determine, Swete states:
The Apocalypse of John, on the contrary, makes no secret of its origin and destination; it is the work of a Christian undergoing exile in one
of the islands of the Aegean; and it is addressed to Christian congregations in seven of the chief cities of the adjacent continent, under circumstances which practically determine its date.
(3) The Apocalyptist differs from his Jewish predecessors in that
he has produced a book which, taken as a whole, is profoundly Christian, and widely removed from the field in which Jewish apocalyptic occupied itself. The narrow sphere of Jewish national hopes has been exchanged for the life and aims of the society whose field is the world and whose goal is the conquest of the human race. … In the Apocalypse of John the presence of the Spirit of Revelation is unmistakably felt, and the Christian student may be pardoned if he recognizes in this book a fulfillment of the promise of a Paraclete who shall declare … the things that are to come.44
The Apocalypse of John stands in sharp contrast not only to apocalyptic writings outside the Bible which preceded it but also to the Christian apocalypses which followed, such as Anabaticon and Pauli, the Revelations of St. Steven and Thomas, the Decree of Gelasius, The Apocalypse of Peter (which for a brief time in the early church seems to have been considered genuine), The Apocalypse of Paul, A Spurious Apocalypse of John, The Apocalypse of Sedrach, and The Apocalypse of the Virgin. The reverent student, however, has little difficulty distinguishing the superlative and inspired character of the genuine Apocalypse of John from these apocalyptic writings which followed.
Symbolisms occur throughout Scripture as a vehicle for divine revelation, but it is undoubtedly true that the final book of the New Testament because of its apocalyptic character contains more symbols than any other book in the New Testament.45 In this particular it is similar to the book of Daniel to which, in many respects, it is a counterpart, and also to Ezekiel and Zechariah in the Old Testament. Many apocalyptic books appeared prior to as well as contemporary with the book of Revelation. The fact that Revelation was included in the canon and all other contemporary apocalyptic books were excluded is in itself a testimony to the unusual character of Revelation. Among the apocalyptic books produced in the early church were the Apocalypse of Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Zechariah, and others like them, which though similar in style are not inspired and are far inferior as vehicles of conveying truth. These writings should not be confused with the genuine Pauline
and Petrine epistles and the book of Zechariah in the Old Testament. Apocalyptic books in general are so designated because they reveal truth expressed in symbolic and guarded language.
The symbolism of the book of Revelation has been explained on many principles. One of the most probable and popular, however, is that it was necessary to state opposition to the Roman Empire during the persecutions of Domitian by expressing the revelation from God in symbolic terms which would not be easily apprehended by the Roman authorities. Ethelbert Stauffer explains the need for symbolism in the Apocalypse in this way:
We may read the Book of Revelation with new understanding when we see it as the apostolic reply to the declaration of war [on Christianity] by the divine emperor in Rome. And when we realize the perilous political situation in which the book was both written and “published” (22:10), we understand the reason for its mysterious and veiled pictorial language and its preference for words and pseudonyms from the Old Testament.46
The exposition of this point of view is expressed by Stauffer in his account of the developments during the reign of Domitian ( a.d. 81-96). As Stauffer notes, Domitian gradually applied to himself all the attributes of God and established a form of religion which was anti-Christian. As Stauffer states,
Domitian was also the first emperor to wage a proper campaign against Christ; and the Church answered the attack under the leadership of Christ’s last apostle, John of the Apocalypse. Nero had Paul and Peter destroyed, but he looked upon them as seditious Jews. Domitian was the first emperor to understand that behind the Christian “movement” there stood an enigmatic figure who threatened the glory of the emperors. He was the first to declare war on this figure, and the first also to lose the war—a foretaste of things to come.47
Stauffer traces the development of Domitian’s opposition to Christianity and his claim of divine attributes on the coins which were issued during the reign of Domitian and which were used as an important propaganda vehicle to communicate to the people Domitian’s assumption of divinity. Almost every aspect of nature is used as well as grotesque nonnatural forms as a vehicle of the symbolism of the book of Revelation. Hence, from the animal world, frequent symbols appear, such as the horses of Revelation 6, the living creatures seen in heaven, Christ as the Lamb, and the calf, the locust, the scorpion, the lion, the leopard, the bear, the frog, the eagle, the vulture, birds, fish, as well as unnatural beasts, such as those in Revelation 13. There is also allusion to the botanical world, and trees and grass are mentioned in a context of reference to earth, sky,
and sea. The sun, moon, and stars in the heavens; the thunder, lightning, and hail of the atmospheric heavens, as well as rivers and seas on earth often form a vehicle of divine revelation. Various forms of humanity are also mentioned, such as the mother and child of Revelation 12, the harlot of Revelation 17, and the wife of Revelation 19. Weapons of war such as swords are named as well as reapers with their sickles. Trumpeters with their trumpets are introduced as well as the flute and lyre. In many cases John had to use unusual expressions to describe scenes in heaven and in earth which transcend normal human experience.
Some items allude either to biblical background or to the geography of the Bible, but much of the imagery found in the book of Revelation is familiar also to students of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. The golden lampstand of the churches of Asia has some correspondence to the lamp-stand of the Tabernacle and Temple. Allusions to the heavenly Tabernacle and Temple, to the altar, ark, and censer, all have Old Testament background. Geographic descriptions refer also to Old Testament names and places such as the River Euphrates, Sodom, Armageddon—the hill of Megiddo—Jerusalem, Babylon, Egypt, and to Old Testament characters such as Balaam and Jezebel. In many cases there are indirect allusions to Old Testament ideas and situations.
A fair analysis of this compilation of symbols furnishes proof of frequent allusion to the Old Testament. In the center is Christ as the Lamb and Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David. The twelve tribes of Israel are mentioned. As Snell states,
In the Revelation, THE LAMB is the centre around which all else is clustered, the foundation on which everything lasting is built, the nail on which all hangs, the object to which all points, and the spring from which all blessing proceeds. THE LAMB is the light, the glory, the life, the Lord of Heaven and earth, from whose face all defilement must flee away, and in whose presence fulness of joy is known. Hence, we cannot go far in the study of the Revelation, without seeing THE LAMB, like direction-posts along the road, to remind us that He who did by Himself purge our sins is now highly exalted, and that to Him every knee must bow, and every tongue confess.48
It is nevertheless true that much of the imagery of the book of Revelation is new; that is, it is created as a vehicle for the divine revelation which John was to record. To attempt, as many writers have done, to consider this symbolism as allusion to extrabiblical apocalyptic literature, is to press the matter beyond its proper bounds. It is also true that some items, while partially symbolic, may also be intended to be understood literally, as in numerous instances where reference is made to stars, the moon, the sun, rivers, and seas. While there will never be complete
agreement on the line between imagery and the literal, the patient exe-gete must resolve each occurrence in some form of consistent interpretation.
Very prominent in the book of Revelation is the use of numbers, namely, 2, 3, 3½, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 24, 42, 144, 666, 1,000, 1,260, 1,600, 7,000, 12,000, 144,000, 100,000,000, and 200,000,000. These numbers may be understood literally, but even when understood in this way, they often carry with them also a symbolic meaning. Hence the number seven, used fifty-four times, more than any other number in the book, refers to seven literal churches in the opening chapter. Yet by the very use of this number (which speaks of completion or perfection) the concept is conveyed that these were representative churches which in some sense were complete in their description of the normal needs of the church. There were not only seven churches but seven lampstands, seven stars, seven spirits of God, seven seals on the scroll, seven angels with seven trumpets, seven vials or bowls containing the seven last plagues, seven thunders, 7,000 killed in the earthquake of chapter 12, a dragon with seven heads and seven crowns, the beast of chapter 13 with seven heads, seven mountains of chapter 17, and the seven kings. Next in importance to the number seven and in the order of their frequency are the numbers twelve, ten, and four. Some of this stems from the fact that there are twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve thousand were sealed from each of the twelve tribes. The elders of chapter 4 are twice twelve or twenty-four. The new Jerusalem is declared to be 12,000 furlongs wide and long, and its wall twelve times twelve, or 144 cubits in height.
From these indications it is clear that the use of these numbers is not accidental. Though the symbolism is not always obvious, the general rule should be followed to interpret numbers literally unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. The numbers nevertheless convey more than their bare numerical significance.
Of special importance is the reference to forty-two months or 1,260 days, describing the precise length of the great tribulation. This is in keeping with the anticipation of Daniel 9:27 that the last half of the seven-year period would be a time of unprecedented trouble. Endless speculation has also risen over the number 666, describing the beast out of the sea in Revelation 13:18.49 The most natural and simple explanation of this number, however, is that the beast is characterized by the number six, just falling short of the number seven and signifying that he is only a man after all. Possibly the threefold occurrence of the number six is in vague imitation of the trinity formed by his association with the devil and the false prophet.
The wide use of symbols is attended, however, by frequent interpretations in the book of Revelation itself either by direct reference or by implication. Symbols can often be explained also by usage elsewhere in Scripture. The following list may be helpful:
The seven stars (1:16) represent seven angels (1:20).
The seven lampstands (1:13) represent seven churches (1:20).
The key of David (3:7) represents the power to open and close doors (Isa. 22:22).
The seven lamps of fire represent the sevenfold Spirit of God (4:5).
The living creatures (4:7) portray the attributes of God.
The seven eyes represent the sevenfold Spirit of God (5:6).
The odors of the golden vials symbolize the prayers of the saints (5:8).
The four horses and their riders (6:1 ff.) represent successive events in the developing tribulation.
The fallen star (9:1) is the angel of the abyss, probably Satan (9:11).
Many references are made to Jerusalem: the great city (11:8), Sodom and Egypt (11:8), which stand in contrast to the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city.
The stars of heaven (12:4) refer to fallen angels (12:9).
The woman and the child (12:1-2) seem to represent Israel and Christ (12:5-6).
Satan is variously described as the great dragon, the old serpent, and the devil (12:9; 20:2).
The time, times, and half a time (12:14) are the same as 1,260 days (12:6).
The beast out of the sea (13:1-10) is the future world ruler and his empire.
The beast out of the earth (13:11-17) is the false prophet (19:20).
The harlot (17:1) variously described as the great city (17:18), as Babylon the great (17:5), as the one who sits on seven hills (17:9), is usually interpreted as apostate Christendom.
The waters (17:1) on which the woman sits represent the peoples of the world (17:15). The ten horns (17:12) are ten kings associated with the beast (13:1; 17:3, 7, 8, 11-13, 1&-17).
The Lamb is Lord of lords and King of kings (17:14).
Fine linen is symbolic of the righteous deeds of the saints (19:8).
The rider of the white horse (19:11-16, 19) is clearly identified as Christ, the King of kings.
The lake of fire is described as the second death (20:14).
Jesus Christ is the Root and Offspring of David (22:16).
In many instances, where symbols are explained in the book of Revelation, they establish a pattern of interpretation which casts a great deal of light upon the meaning of the book as a whole. This introduces a presumption that, where expressions are not explained, they can normally be interpreted according to their natural meaning unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. The attempt to interpret all of the book of Revelation symbolically ends in nullifying practically all that entails the book and leaving it unexplained, as in the work by Lilje, written during the early days of World War II and completed while the author was in prison in Germany.50
The problems of interpretation of Revelation have often been made far greater than they really are. They frequently yield to patient study and comparison with other portions of Scripture. The linguistic study of Revelation is an endless task but offers rich rewards to the patient student.
Few books of the Bible provide a more complete theology than that afforded by the book of Revelation. Because of its apocalyptic character, the emphasis of the book is eschatological in the strict sense of dealing with last things (note “the word of this prophecy,” Rev. 1:3). More specifically, however, it is Christological, as the material of the book relates to the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” The objective is to reveal Jesus Christ as the glorified One in contrast to the Christ of the Gospels, who was seen in humiliation and suffering. The climax of the book is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Events preceding the second coming constitute an introduction, and all events which follow constitute an epilogue. The wide range of revelation, however, deals with many subjects not specifically eschatological or Christological. In all important fields of theology, there are major contributions and, though written with the imagery and Hebraisms of the Old Testament, the revelation is definitely New Testament.
Bibliology. The doctrine of Scripture of the Apocalypse is deduced mostly by implication in that there are frequent allusions to other books of the Bible. One does not proceed more than a few verses, however, before a special blessing is pronounced upon the reader and hearer in a context which refers to the book as “the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:3). John claims divine authority and
inspiration both for the book itself and for the revelation it contains. The book of Revelation, however, is not only Scripture itself but is saturated with Old Testament references. Swete cites Westcott and Hort to the effect “that of the 404 verses of the Apocalypse, there are 278 which contain references to the Jewish Scriptures.”51
Swete submits a table demonstrating the richness of Old Testament reference which proves that most of the books of the Old Testament including all of its three major divisions are referred to, with emphasis on the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, with Daniel having the greatest number of references.52 The fact that the Apocalypse is saturated with Old Testament references in itself tends to tie the book to the rest of Scripture and makes it a fitting climactic volume, a terminal for major lines of Scripture revelation.
Theology Proper. Apart from its eschatology, the Apocalypse contributes more to the doctrine of God than to any other field. The study of its contribution to the doctrine of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit would in itself merit a volume of considerable proportions. God is presented in all the majesty of the Jehovah of the Old Testament, who is holy, true, omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal. There is emphasis on the righteousness of God and His divine judgment upon sin, with comparatively little mention made of His love and mercy. The character of God is in keeping with the role in which He is presented as the divine Judge of men.
Though there is reference to both the Father and the Son, the central revelation concerns Christ, in keeping with the title of the book. Many allusions are made to His human origin as coming from the tribe of Judah and the house of David and to His humiliation while on earth as represented in the symbol of a slain lamb. Always, however, Christ is depicted as triumphant over death, the eternal One of infinite power and majesty who is worthy of all honor and adoration. Before His glorified humanity the apostle falls as one dead.
The supreme revelation is continued in chapter 19 where He is described as descending from heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords to slay the wicked, to deliver the righteous, and to accomplish His righteous purpose in the earth. Though the Apocalypse contains no defense of the deity of Christ, no book of the Bible is more plain in its implications, for here indeed is the eternal God who became man. This is, of course, confirmed by His relationship to God the Father described in 4:2-3 and 5:1, 7. Complementing the revelation of Christ is that of the Spirit through whom John received the revelation (1:10) and who appears frequently in various symbols, as in the seven horns and seven eyes
of 5:6, and the seven spirits of 1:4 and 4:5, and who is seen in the special relationship to Christ in 3:1 and 5:6. It is fitting that the book of Revelation should close with another reference to the Spirit in 22:17 climaxing other indirect references to the Spirit throughout the book.
Anthropology and Hamartiology. The emphasis on the doctrines of man and of sin in the book of Revelation is apparent. Man is revealed in his utter need of the grace of God as righteously deserving the judgment of God for sin, in partaking, even in his best form, of the limitations of the creature. Few books of the Bible describe man in greater depravity and as the object of more severe divine judgment. The acme of human blasphemy and wickedness is portrayed in the beast and the false prophet who are the supreme demonstration of Satan’s handiwork in the human race.
Angelology. No other book in the New Testament speaks more often of angels than the book of Revelation. They are the principal vehicle of communication to John of the truth which he is recording. The holy angels are seen in power and majesty in sharp contrast to the wicked or fallen angels also described in the book. Angels are prominent in the scenes of heaven in chapters 4 and 5, and they reappear to sound the seven trumpets in chapters 8 through 11. The truth of chapter 11 concerning the two witnesses is transmitted to John through an angel, and the warfare against the wicked angels is described dramatically in chapter 12. The seven vials of the wrath of God are also administered by the angels in chapters 15 and 16, and the judgment upon Babylon is related to angelic ministry. Angels apparently accompany the Lord in His second coming in chapter 19. The final message of the book recorded in chapter 22 comes to John through the ministry of angels.
Soteriology. The redemptive purpose of God is constantly in view in the Apocalypse, beginning with the reference in 1:5 to Christ as the One who “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” His crucifixion is mentioned in 1:7, and constant allusions follow as Christ is presented as the slain Lamb, as the One who redeemed mankind by His blood out of every kindred, tongue, and nation in 5:9, and the One whose blood can make white the robes of the martyrs in 7:14. It is because of His finished work in sacrifice that the invitation of the Spirit and bride of 22:17 can be made to anyone who chooses to partake of the water of life without cost. Salvation is ascribed to God three times (7:10; 12:10; 19:1). Emphasis is on the doctrine of redemption, and the saints are declared to be a redeemed people.
Ecclesiology. A major section and contribution to ecclesiology is found in the opening chapters of Revelation with the incisive letters to the seven churches. Here the emphasis is on practical truth and holy living, in keeping with their relationship to the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Reference to the New Testament church as the ekklesia is not to be found in chapters 4 through 18, but the church as the wife of the Lamb reappears in 19:7-8 and is included in the mention of the apostles in the description of the new Jerusalem, which the church shares with saints of other ages. As in other books of the New Testament, ekklesia, when used in a religious sense referring to saints in the Body of Christ, is nowhere found in Revelation from 3:14 to 22:16; rather, the general word hagios (“saint”) is used to include the saved of all ages. This tends to support the concept that the church as the Body of Christ is raptured before events pictured in the book of Revelation beginning in chapter 4. The true church is in contrast to the harlot of chapter 17, and it is to be distinguished from the saints described as Jews or Gentiles. The peculiar hope of the church, in contrast to that of other saints, is alluded to only obliquely and is not the main substance of the revelations in chapters 4 through 19.
Eschatology. Undoubtedly, the principal contribution of the book of Revelation is in the realm of eschatology. Here is presented not only the eschatology of the church in a few scattered references to the doctrine of the rapture of the church (2:25; 3:10-11) but the majestic completion of the prophetic program of the times of Gentiles and Daniel’s program for Israel, both culminating in the second coming of Christ. Nowhere else in Scripture is there more detailed description of the period just before the second coming with special reference to the great tribulation. The events immediately preceding and following the second coming are also spelled out in detail.
Here alone the millennial kingdom is declared to be one thousand years in length, and a clear distinction is made between the millennium and the eternal state which follows. Emphasis in the book is on the second coming of Christ itself, which stands in sharp relief against the sphere of humiliation depicted in the Gospels. Prominent also are the doctrine of divine judgment upon sin, the doctrine of resurrection, and the doctrine of reward. No book of Scripture more specifically sets before the believer in Christ his eternal hope in the new heaven and earth and gives greater assurance of God’s triumph over wickedness, rebellion, and unbelief. In a word, the book of Revelation is the eschatological section of the New Testament. Every major theme of prophecy is treated to some extent in this book, with special attention to completion or fulfillment of the prophetic program of God. For this reason the book of Revelation cannot be understood apart from the sixty-five books which precede it, although it is in itself a Bible in miniature.
1 Cited by Paton J. Gloag, Introduction to the Johannine Writings, p. 301.
2 Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of Saint John, p. cxx.
3 Ibid., p. cxxv; cf. pp. cxxi-xxv.
4 Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” chap. 80, Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, 239.
5 Henry C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 317.
7 Hippolytus, “Treatise on Christ and Antichrist,” sect. 36-42, Ante-Nicene Fathers, V, 251-53.
8 Cf. Thiessen, pp. 317-18.
9 Clement, “Who Is the Rich Man?” XLII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, II, 603.
10 Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical History,” III, xx, The Fathers of the Church, I, 168.
11 “Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” III, iii, 4, Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, 416.
12 Swete, op. cit., pp. cii-vi.
13 Ibid., p. clxxx.
14 Ibid., pp. cvii-viii.
15 Ibid., p. cviii.
17 Ibid., pp. cviii-ix.
18 Ibid., p. cix.
19 Ibid., p. cx.
21 Ibid., pp. cxx-xxx.
22 Thiessen, pp. 319-20.
23 Ibid., p. 319.
24 Henry Blunt, A Practical Exposition of the Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia, p. v.
25 William H. Simcox, The Revelation of S. John the Divine, p. lii.
26 The Message of the Book of Revelation, pp. 13-15.
27 D. T. Niles, As Seeing the Invisible, p. 27.
28 R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation, p. 25.
29 The Apocalypse: Its Structure and Primary Prediction, p. 26.
30 W. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, pp. 11-15.
31 Charles M. Laymon, The Book of Revelation, pp. 165-66.
32 Thomas Whittemore, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John.
33 William Milligan, Lectures on the Apocalypse, p. 153.
34 Thiessen, p. 325.
35 A Commentary on the Apocalypse, p. v.
36 W. T. Gehman, “A Critique of the Historical Interpretation of Revelation,” p. 47.
37 Foreword, The Revelation of St. John.
38 Edward A. McDowell, The Meaning and Message of the Book of Revelation, p.
39 Ray Summers, Worthy Is the Lamb, p. vii.
40 Ibid., pp. 45-51.
41 Milligan, pp. 135-39.
42 Stuart, p. v.
43 Swete, p. xxiv.
44 Ibid., pp. xxviii-xxx.
45 Among the excellent treatments of the symbolism of the book of Revelation, the work of Swete, The Apocalypse of John, pp. cxxxi-xxxix, may be mentioned along with Merrill Tenney’s Interpreting Revelation, pp. 186-93. Difference of opinion often exists whether an expression is a symbol, a figure of speech other than a symbol, or a literal reference.
46 Christ and the Caesars, p. 176.
47 Ibid., p. 150.
48 H. H. Snell, Notes on the Revelation, p. xvi.
49 For further discussion, see exposition of 13:18; cf. also J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 206-7; Swete, p. cxxxviii.
50 Hanns Lilje, The Last Book of the Bible.
51 Swete, p. cxl.
52 Ibid., p. cliii.