The Book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse (from the first word of the Greek text), unveils for us the things that must come to pass that lead to the return of Christ. With His return, all things are brought to the final conclusion. In Genesis, we learn of the beginning of all things, the creation of the universe, of Adam and Eve, and of Paradise. The beauty did not endure, for man disobeyed God and the whole world was plunged into sin and death. The history of redemption follows in the rest of the Scriptures. Here in Revelation we see the end of all things, the new heaven and earth. Here the angel does not bar the way to the tree of life; rather its leaves are for the healing of the nations. The water of life flows freely. The devil does not lurk in the background to tempt, he is cast into the lake of fire. The New Jerusalem is the city foursquare which radiates the glory of God in the new heavens and earth. Truly the victorious Christ has come and made all things new.

AUTHOR AND DATE

The author identifies himself as John (see John 1:1, 4, 9; John 22:8). He does not call himself John, an apostle of Jesus Christ, but, “servant of Christ,” “brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus.” Because of this there is a debate as to whether the same John authored the gospel, epistles, and the Revelation.

Other things enter into this discussion as well. We summarize the things that favor Revelation being authored by John the apostle as follows:

1. There are many similarities between the gospel, epistles, and the Apocalypse. Examples: use of the name Jesus without the article, use of words such as logos, lamb, witness, and true are common in all these works. The vocabulary and structure are similar.

2. The author is familiar with the churches in Asia Minor. The Apostle John came to Ephesus around A.D. 69 and 70. He centered his labors in Ephesus as he reached out to surrounding cities (where we find the seven churches). He was exiled to Patmos during the fifteen years of Diocletian and returned to Ephesus during the reign of Nervius.

3. The early church fathers accepted the authorship of John the apostle, e.g. Irenaeus and Clement.

Certain other things seem to mitigate against John the apostle as being the author. Such things as:

1. There are differences between the Apocalypse and gospel (letters). Such things as vocabulary and grammatical structure. The sentence structure in Revelation seems awkward and sometimes crude in style in comparison to the gospel.

2. The fact that John does not identify himself as “apostle” seems contrary to his usual custom of doing so.

3. Some of the early church fathers questioned and even denied that John the apostle was the author.

It certainly is reasonable to conclude with the church of the past that John, the apostle, the author of the gospel and letters also wrote the Revelation (Netherlands Confession Article 4). He was familiar with the seven churches, having labored among them extensively. The differences in grammar and style may be attributed to two things. First, John was writing about a vision. The heavenly character was difficult to describe. Secondly, some even suggest that John may have used a secretary to write his gospel and letters, but now while imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos, he had to write with his own hand, and this accounts for the differences. While thus suffering for the stake of the gospel, he viewed himself, not so much as apostle, but as partner in the tribulation.

OCCASION AND DATE

There are two suggestions given as to the date of the writing.

The first is as early as A.D. 68-70. This would place it near the end of Nero’s reign. We summarize the arguments cited in Harrison’s Introduction to the New Testament. This is the view of Wescott, Hort, Lightfood, and Salmon, among others.

1. Jerusalem is mentioned in Revelation 11 as though it were still standing (these men interpret it literally). Furthermore, an event of such magnitude as the fall of the city would surely have been noticed in the Apocalypse if it had occurred.

2. Appeal is made to the statements in Revelation 17:9-11 to the effect that five kings have fallen, one is, and one is yet to come. The beast that is to come is one who was and is not, one who is an eighth, and yet of the seven. This reflects the current legend concerning Nero, that he did not really die, but would appear in the East and assert his power.

3. Some interpret Revelation 13:18, the number of the beast 666 as an example of gematria, that the numbers of Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters have numerical value yielding exactly the required sum of 666.

4. An early date is thought to be in accord with the rather uncouth character of the Greek of the Apocalypse. John refined his writing later on when he wrote the gospel and letters.

Arguments in favor of a later dating, toward the end of the reign of Domitian, around the year A.D. 96 are as follows:

1. This was the understanding of the ancient church in the main. The church father Irenaeus, e.g., says, referring to the Revelation, “It was seen not very long ago, almost in our own generation, at the close of the reign of Domitian.”

2. This later date agrees with the condition of the churches in Asia as reflected in the letters of the churches. Ephesus had left its first love. Sardis was virtually dead. Laodicea was lukewarm. A considerable interval had taken place between the founding of the churches and the time of the writing of Revelation.

3. It was during the reign of Domitian that the worship of the living emperor began to be promoted in Asia. Nero’s persecution seems to have been confined to Rome and was mostly political. Domitian loved to be addressed as “Lord and God,” and doing so became a mark of loyalty to the emperor. Refusal to participate was sufficient grounds for proceeding against the recalcitrant.

4. Laodicea appears as a prosperous city (Revelation 3). In the reign of Nero it was destroyed by earthquake, but rebuilt by the time of Domitian.

The main reason for rejecting the early dating of the writing lies in their wrong interpretation of the symbols of the book. Historically the evidence favors the later dating of A.D. 95 or 96.

Since the book is addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Revelation 1:4), the question arises as to how broadly we should apply this. The churches are explicitly listed. Yet, we know they were not the only churches in Asia Minor. Why did the Holy Spirit select these seven? We must answer this along these lines. The word addressed to them was for all the churches of that time. These seven were selected as representative of all the rest. These seven were selected as representative of all the rest. Each church had its own strengths and weaknesses so that, taken together, they form a composite of the spiritual needs of the church at any age. The number seven symbolizes the covenant, hence these churches represent God’s covenant people in this world, struggling to maintain the cause of Christ. The message, then, is for the church of all ages. We must examine ourselves to determine whether we are strong or weak and heed the admonition of Christ, “He that hath ears, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

This leads us to point out that the purpose of this letter is threefold.

1. It was written to correct and encourage the church of Christ as she does battle with the forces of evil. The greatest enemy is within the church: apostasy, spiritual decline, heeding seducing spirits. Well may we listen to the warning of Christ to repent and remember from which we are fallen.

2. Persecution loomed large upon the horizon, and the church needed encouragement. The worship of Domitian as god posed a great threat for all Christians. As persecution became the practice of Imperial Rome, the saints needed to look to Christ to remain faithful.

3. The greatest hope for all saints is this, Christ is coming again. The whole book of Revelation unfolds before us the great future of the saints. It explains that Christ will come in the way of tribulation. In all these things, the church is more than conquerors through Christ, Who loves us. His call, “Behold, I come quickly,” stirs us on to faithful obedience. A careful reading and study of this book prepares us to endure unto the end.

METHOD OF INTERPRETATION

As part of the introduction to this book of Revelation, we face the question as to how it is to be interpreted. Various writers have used different methods, and this has contributed to the confusion in trying to understand the meaning of this important book. Some methods used are:

1. Spiritual method: an attempt to allegorize much of the book. Some in the early church taught a literal return of Christ to earth for a thousand year reign. In rejecting this, these men spiritualized the book (reduced it to a struggle between good and evil) and rejected any historical application.

2. Praeterist Method: All prophecies of the book have been fulfilled during the early Jewish conflict and during the time of Nero. It was written for the church of that time, and only Revelation 20-22 are future.

3. Continuous-Historical Method: By symbolic language, the book explains all history, from John to the end of the world. As example, the first two trumpets of Revelation 8:7, 8 are interpreted as reference to the attack by the Saracens and Turks on Rome. The beast of Revelation 13 is the Pope. By trying to fit the details into a historical sequence, there arise endless differences as to what symbol of the vision fits what historical event.

4. Futuristic Method: All details of Revelation 4-22 refer to some events that must yet take place. It all refers to events connected with the one event, the return of Christ.

The book of Revelation must be viewed as prophecy that pictures in symbolic form what has and will take place in history in connection with the eventual return of Christ. We are not given the details as to who or when, rather what takes place and how it affects the church as she looks for the return of her Lord.