Mistakenly called "Revelations" (plural), this book of the Bible is correctly known as Revelation. It has also been called the Book of the Apocalypse.
Author and Date
The book of Revelation was written by the apostle John on the island of Patmos. A common dating of the book is toward the end of Domitian's reign, at about the year 95 A.D. This is based largely on the following comment by Irenaeus (emphasis added):
"We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian’s reign". ^^ Others propose a date prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Such a dating is favoured by postmillennialists, who see the destruction of Jerusalem as the fullfilment of much of the prophecy within Revelation. Those with this view propose that Irenaeus was either:
- Wrong; or
- Referring to John by the pronoun "that", rather than the apocalyptic vision. That is to say, John was seen toward the end of Domitians reign, though he had had the vision many years earlier.
Revelation is written in 'apocalyptic' form, a type of Jewish literature that uses symbolic imagery to communicate hope (in the ultimate triumph of God) to those in the midst of persecution. The events are ordered according to literary, rather than strictly chronological, patterns
Revelation is generally divided into two distinct parts:
- The letters to the churches (1:1 - 3:22)
The vision John received opens with instructions for him to write to seven churches. He both commends them for their strengths and warns them about their flaws. Each letter was directed to a church then in existence, but also speaks to conditions in the church throughout history. Both in the church and in our individual lives, we must constantly fight against the temptation to become loveless, immoral, lenient, compromising, lifeless, or casual about our faith. The letters make it clear how our Lord feels about these qualities.
- Message for the church (4:1 - 22:21)
This revelation is both a warning to Christians who have grown apathetic and an encouragement to those who are faithuflly enduring the struggles in this world. It reassures us that good will triumph over evil, gives us hope as we face difficult times, and gives guidance when we are wavering in our faith. Christ's message to the church is a message of hope for all believers in every generation.
Major themes contained in Revelation include:
- God's sovereignty - God is sovereign. He is greater than any power in the universe. God is not to be compared with any leader, government, or religion. He controls history for the purpose of uniting true believers in loving fellowship with him. Though Satan's power may temporarily increase, we are not to be led astray. God is all-powerful. He is in control. He will bring his true family safely into eternal life. Because he cares for us, we can trust him with our very lives.
- Christ's return - Christ came to earth as a "Lamb," the symbol of his perfect sacrifice for our sin. He will return as the triumphant "Lion," the rightful ruler and conqueror. He will defeat Satan, settle accounts with all those who reject him, and bring his faithful people into eternity. Assurance of Christ's return gives suffering Christians the strength to endure. We can look forward to his return as King and Judge. Since no one knows the time when he will appear, we must be ready at all times by keeping our faith strong.
- God's faithful people - John wrote to encourage the church to resist the demands to worship the Roman emperor. He warns all God's faithful people to be devoted only to Christ. Revelation identifies who the faithful people are and what they should be doing until Christ returns. You can take your place in the ranks of God's faithful people by believing in Christ. Victory is sure for those who resist temptation and make loyalty to Christ their top priority.
- Judgment - One day God's anger toward sin will be fully and completely unleashed. Satan will be defeated with all of his agents. False religion will be destroyed. God will reward the faithful with eternal life, but all who refuse to believe in him will face eternal punishment. Evil and injustice will not prevail forever. God's final judgment will put an end to these. We need to be certain of our commitment to Jesus if we want to escape this great final judgment. No one who rejects Christ will escape God's punishment.
- Hope - One day God will create a new heaven and a new earth. All believers will live with him forever in perfect peace and security. Those who have already died will be raised to life. These promises for the future bring hope. Our great hope is that what Christ promises will come true. When we have confidence in our final destination, we can follow Christ with unwavering dedication no matter what we must face. We can be encouraged by hoping in Christ's return.
- Life Application Bible - New International Version. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. and Zondervan Publishing House, 1989.
- Fortner, D., Discovering Christ in Revelation. Evangelical Press, 2002.