Introduction to Revelation
Author and Date
Jesus Christ is the divine author of this “revelation” (1:1). He describes coming events to his servant John. John, son of Zebedee, was the “beloved disciple” who also wrote the Fourth Gospel and 1, 2 and 3 John. Most scholars believe John recorded these visions while imprisoned on the island of Patmos in the mid-90s a.d. Revelation is addressed specifically to seven first-century churches in the Roman province of Asia (now western Turkey), but the message is for all churches everywhere.
The word “Revelation” translates the Greek word apokalypsis, which means “disclosure” or “unveiling.” Revelation unveils the unseen spiritual war in which the church is engaged: the cosmic conflict between God and his Christ on the one hand, and Satan and his evil allies (both demonic and human) on the other. In this conflict, Jesus the Lamb has already won the decisive victory through his sacrificial death, but his church continues to be assaulted by the dragon, in its death-throes, through persecution (the beast), deceptive heresy (the false prophet), and the allure of material affluence and cultural approval (the prostitute). By revealing the spiritual realities behind the church’s trials and temptations, and by affirming the certainty of Christ’s triumph in the new heaven and earth, the visions of Revelation fortify believers to endure suffering. The reader of Revelation is encouraged to stay pure from the defiling enticements of the present world order.
- Through his sacrificial death, Jesus Christ has conquered Satan, the accuser. Jesus has redeemed people from every nation to become a kingdom of priests, gladly serving in God’s presence (1:5, 18; 5:5–10; 12:1–11).
- Jesus Christ is present among his churches through his Holy Spirit. He knows their trials, triumphs, and failures (1:12–3:22).
- World history, including its disasters, is under the control of Jesus, the victorious Lamb (5:1–8:1).
- God is presently holding back his wrath and preventing his enemies’ efforts to destroy the church. He patiently gathers his redeemed people through their witness for Jesus (6:5–11; 7:1–3; 8:6–12; 9:4–6, 18; 11:3–7; 12:6, 13–17).
- Present disasters are warnings of increasing judgments to come (6:3–17; 8:6–13; 11:13; 16:1–21; 20:11–15).
- Believers will continue their faithful testimony to the death. They will conquer both the dragon and the beast. The martyrs’ victory is now hidden, but it will be obvious when Christ returns (2:10–11, 26–29; 3:11–13; 6:9–11; 7:9–17; 11:7–12, 17–18; 12:10–11; 14:1–5; 15:2–4; 20:4–6).
- Satan attacks the church’s perseverance and purity through persecution, deceptive teaching, and the temptations of wealth and sensual pleasure (2:1–3:22; 13:1–18; 17:1–18:24).
- At the end of the age, the church’s opponents will increase their persecution. Jesus, the triumphant Word of God, will defeat and destroy all his enemies. The old heaven and earth, marked by sin and suffering, will be replaced by the new heaven and earth. The church will be presented as a pure bride to her husband, the Lamb (16:12–16; 19:11–21; 20:7–22:5).
Revelation contains four series of seven messages or visions. These include letters to churches (chs. 2–3), seals on a scroll (4:1–8:1), trumpets (8:2–11:19), and bowls of wrath (chs. 15–16). There is a general movement from “the things that are” to “the things that are to take place after this.” Yet the visions sometimes return to subjects from the previous sections. The order in which John received the visions does not necessarily indicate the order of the events they symbolize.
- Prologue (1:1–8)
- Body (1:9–22:5)
- Epilogue (22:6–21)
The Setting of Revelation
c. a.d. 95
John addressed the book of Revelation “to the seven churches that are in Asia,” namely Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, although there were undoubtedly other churches elsewhere in the province of Asia (e.g., Miletus and Colossae, see Acts 20:17; Col. 1:2). John had apparently been exiled from Ephesus to the island of Patmos, southwest of Ephesus, and it was probably there that he recorded his visions.