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An Introduction To The Book Of Revelation

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I. TITLE:

A. Revelation is often described as a “the Revelation of John” meaning the revelation to John1

B. It is actually a revelation of Christ2 (1:1)

C. The English title comes from the Latin revelatio which in its verb form means “to reveal or unveil that which has previously been hidden.” The was the title given to the book in the Latin Vulgate3

D. The Greek title is Αποκαλυψις taken from the first word in the text.

II. AUTHORSHIP: Although there is some debate, the author is probably The Apostle John of the sons of Zebedee

A. External Evidence:

1. There was a unanimous agreement as to the Apostle John as its writer by the early church before Dionysius.4

a. It was affirmed by Justin Martyr

b. It was affirmed by Clement of Alexandria

c. It was affirmed by Hippolytus

d. It was affirmed by Origin

e. It was affirmed by Irenaeus

2. In accordance with the writer’s statement that he was in exile on the isle of Patmos (1:9), the church Fathers identify this John as the Apostle John5

3. In chapters 2--3 the writer seems to be over the churches of the province of Asia and strong tradition places the Apostle John in this position6

4. Style is a major objection to apostolic authorship, however, this can be answered:7

a. The solecisms may be deliberate due to the book’s poetic nature

b. The work reflects a lot of apocalyptic reading behind it

c. If it was written in exile, the tools for a scholarly approach may have been absent

d. There is a mood of emotional excitement which may not have lent itself to polished prose

e. There may have been the help of an amanuensis

f. It is not written as an Apostle, but as a prophet

g. The curious language may be related to the setting forth of divine oracles and visions

B. Internal Evidence:

1. The writer calls himself John (1:4, 9; 22:8)

2. The writer speaks with great authority as a prophet (1:3; 22:6-10, 18-19)

3. The writer demonstrates himself to be a Palestinian Jew steeped in temple and synagogue rituals, the OT and the Targum

4. The writer calls himself John without any further description, therefore, he must have been well known8

5. Many similarities exist between the Apocalypse and other writings of John:

a. Both use the term λογος (Jn 1:1; Rev 19:13)

b. Both use the imagery of “the lamb,” “the water of life,” “he that overcomes,” “keeping the commandments,” and the adjective “true,”

c. There is an invitation to “him that is thirsty (Jn 7:37; Rev 22:17), a commandment received by Christ from the Father (Jn 10:18; Rev 2:27), white clothing for angels, (Jn 20:12f) and the worthy (Rev 3:4)

d. There is the sharp contrast between good and evil9

III. DATE: While it is not possible to be dogmatic, it seems best to place its writing under Domitian (AD 95-96)

A. There are two primary views concerning the time this book was written

1. Early in the seventh decade of the first century during the reign of Nero

2. Late AD 95-96 during the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96). This is probably the better choice:

a. The churches of Asia Minor have a considerable history (2:4; 3:1)

b. The persecution of Domitian was more universal than that of Nero which was centralized in Rome

c. The worship of the ‘beast’ may have been prefigured by Emperor worship which became official policy during Domitian’s reign10

d. Early tradition puts it in Domitian’s reign when Irenaeus says that the Apocalypse, “was seen no such long time ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian”11

e. If Revelation 17:8, 11, concerning the beast has the Nero redivivus myth in mind, then this too would support a Domitian date since it would probably take until the time of Domitian for the myth to fully develop12

IV. PLACE OF WRITING: internally and externally the evidence seems to support Patmos, an island off the coast of Asia Minor not far from Ephesus as the place of writing (Rev 1:9)13

V. THE RECIPIENTS: The seven churches of Asia Minor and the Church today.

A. The immediate destination for the book was the churches of Asia Minor described in chapters 3--4

1. Perhaps these were chosen by the great circular road which linked them

2. Their order is due to their appearance on the road

B. Since this letter is from the Lord of the Church, it has application to all of the Church

VI. INTERPRETATIONS: There are several different schools of thought regarding the interpretation of the book of Revelation:

A. The Preterist school sees the book as having already been fulfilled by AD 312 with the conversion of Constantine

B. The Historical school sees the book as “a panorama of the history of the church from the days of John to the end of the age”14

C. The Idealist school sees the book as a conflict of the age-long principles of good and evil with non historic elements

D. The Futurist school sees the book from chapters four on as proclaiming prophecies yet to be fulfilled--this is the position of this writer

VII. THEME OF THE BOOK:

A. Throughout the book there is a conflict of earthly personalities and people directed and energized by demons and especially Satan in order to overthrow Christ’s rule on earth

B. But the book climaxes with God’s ultimate triumph through Jesus Christ to overthrow evil and establish the kingdom15

C. This is accomplished by John taking the reader behind the scenes to see the power which rests in the line of Judah, the Lamb that was slain being angry, the throne room of God and by addressing sub-themes such as judgment (14:77; 20:11-15), redemption (1:5; 5:6; 7:14; 12:11) and the kingdom (5:10; 11:177; 12:10; 20:4)16

VIII. There are many ways in which the structure of the book can be determined:

A. It can be outlined literally as Tenny did using “in the spirit”17

B. It can be outlined by means of recapitulation wherein chapters 12--19 recapitulate chapters 6--1118 or by having the seven trumpets and bowls recapitulating the seven seals

C. It can be outlined on the basis of 1:19 wherein chapter one refers to the ‘things seen,’ chapters two through three refer to the ‘things which are’ and chapters 4-22 refer to the ‘things hereafter.’19 This is the outline which will be followed in the ensuing argument even though some argue against it:

1. Some argue that it is too unbalanced--the third point is out of proportion.

But since the book has such a prophetic emphasis, this use of proportion could be intentional

2. Some argue that such an emphasis on chapters 4-22 makes the bulk of the book irrelevant to the seven churches

However, since the seven churches did not know when Christ was going to return, it would be as relevant to them as is today--especially since it was written in light of their persecution (1--3).

3. Within the last major division of the book concerning the ‘things which will be hereafter’ (4:1--22:21) there seems to be a basic chronological development:

a. This section begins with a prologue in 4:1--5:14

b. Then it moves through the tribulation in 6:1--19:21 wherein judgments are delivered

These judgments are part of the historical development of the book being themselves telescopic wherein the seventh seal introduces the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet introduces the seven bowls which conclude the tribulation

c. Then in chapter 20 the millennium is described culminating in the eternal state (21--22)

IX. PURPOSES OF THE BOOK:

A. To complete the prophetic theme presented earlier in the prophecies of the Old Testament20

B. In view of the early addresses in chapters 2--3 to the churches John desires to comfort and encourage believers in the midst of suffering and persecution at the hands of evil ones by assuring them that Jesus Christ, and thus they themselves, will ultimately and finally triumph

C. To challenge the churches to godly living in view of the certain return of Christ and the certain judgment of evil


1 Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John: An Introduction and Commentary, 1, 5.

2 There are those such as Thiessen who understand the genitive to be objective referring to a revelation about Christ (Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, 316 cited by Harold W. Hoehner, “Analysis of Bible Books: The New Testament,” DTS, 249)but it is more probably a subjective genitive referring to a revelation by Christ. The reason for this is basically twofold: (1) the contents go far beyond Jesus Christ Himself with respect to the beast, the harlot, the two witnesses et cetera, and (2) the next clause in 1:1 which describes the revelation as being that which the Father gave to Christ would seems strange if the revelation was about Christ. Why would the Father need to give a revelation about the Son to the Son (Stanley D. Toussaint, class notes of student in 308 Pauline Epistles and Revelation, DTS, Spring 1984. Therefore, the genitive is probably subjective.

3 Harold W. Hoehner, “Analysis,” 249.

4 Ibid., 12:404; Toussaint; Gary G. Cohen, Understanding Revelation, 19.

5 “Clement of Alexandria says that the Apostle John returned from this island; Eusebius says that he returned after the death of Domitian, and Iranaeus says that he remained in Ephesus after his return until the times of Trajan” (Thiessen, p. 49).

6 Toussaint.

7 Morris, 27-31.

8 Alvan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” EBC, 12:405.

9 Morris, 31; Toussaint.

10 Guthrie, NTI, 950; Toussaint.

11 Guthrie, 956.

12 Morris, 37.

13 Thiessen, cited by Hoehner, 250.

14 Ryrie, 8; Also see John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 15-23 for a more complete study.

15 Don Sunukjian, “Analysis of Bible Books: New Testament.” Unpublished Project, DTS, 353; Toussaint, 3.

16 Toussaint, 3.

17 Toussaint, 4.

18 Sunukjian, 358.

19 Toussaint, 4; Ryrie, 16; Walvoord, 47-48.

20 Walvoord, “Revelation,” BKC, 927.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines