The Book of Revelation, a Prophecy of Warning and Hope

Introduction to the Last Book of the Bible

Babylon's destruction from the Book of Revelation artist rendering.

Phillip Medhurst/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

The book of Revelation is by far one of the most challenging books in the Bible, yet well worth the effort to study and comprehend. In fact, the opening passage contains a blessing to everyone who reads, hears, and keeps the words of this prophecy:

"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near." (Revelation 1:3, ESV)

Book of Revelation Prophecies

Unlike all other New Testament books, Revelation is a prophetic book concerning the events of the last days. The name comes from the Greek term apokalypsis, meaning “unveiling” or “revelation.” Unveiled in the book are the invisible forces and spiritual powers at work in the world and in the heavenly realms, including forces at war against the church. Although unseen, these powers control future events and realities.

The unveiling comes to the Apostle John through a series of magnificent visions. The visions unfold like a vivid science fiction novel. The strange language, imagery, and symbolism in Revelation were not quite as foreign to first-century Christians as they are to us today. The numbers, symbols, and word pictures John used held political and religious significance to believers in Asia Minor. These followers were familiar with the Old Testament prophetic writings of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and other Jewish texts. Today, we often need help deciphering these images.

To further complicate the book of Revelation, John saw visions of both his present world and of events yet to take place in the future. At times John witnessed multiple images and different perspectives of the same event. These visions were active, evolving, and challenging to the imagination.

Interpretations

Scholars assign four basic schools of interpretation to the book of Revelation:

  • Historicism interprets the writing as a prophetic and panoramic overview of history, from the first century until the second coming of Christ.
  • Futurism sees the visions (with the exception of chapters 1-3) as related to end times events still to come in the future.
  • Preterism treats the visions as dealing with past events alone — specifically, events in the time John was living.
  • Idealism interprets Revelation as primarily symbolic, providing timeless and spiritual truth to encourage persecuted believers.

Author of Revelation

The book of Revelation starts with “this is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John” (NLT). So, the divine author of Revelation is Jesus Christ and the human author is the Apostle John.

Date Written

John, who was exiled on the Island of Patmos by the Romans for his testimony about Jesus Christ and nearing the end of his life, wrote the book in approximately A.D. 95-96.

Written To

The book of Revelation is addressed to believers, “his servants,” of the churches in seven cities of the Roman province of Asia. Those churches were in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadephia, and Laodicea. The book is also written to all believers everywhere.

The Landscape of the Book

Off the coast of Asia in the Aegean Sea on the Island of Patmos, John wrote to the believers in the churches of Asia Minor (modern-day western Turkey). These congregations were standing strong, but facing temptations, the constant threat of false teachers, and intense persecution under Emperor Domitian.

Themes

Revelation is a glimpse into the invisible spiritual battle in which good battles against evil. God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ, are pitted against Satan and his demons. Jesus has already won the war, but in the end, he will come again to Earth. At that time, everyone will know that he is the King of Kings and Lord of the Universe. Ultimately, God and his people triumph over evil in a final victory.

God is sovereign. He controls the past, present, and future. Believers can trust in his unfailing love and justice to keep them secure until the very end.

The second coming of Christ is a certain reality; therefore, God’s children must remain faithful, confident and pure, resisting temptation.

Followers of Jesus Christ are cautioned to stay strong in the face of suffering, to uproot any sin that may be hindering their fellowship with God, and to live clean and undefiled by the influences of this world.

God hates sin and his final judgment will put an end to evil. Those who reject eternal life in Christ will face judgment and eternal punishment in hell.

Followers of Christ have great hope for the future. Their salvation is sure because Jesus conquered death and hell.

Christians are destined for eternity, where all things will be made new. The believer will live forever with God in perfect peace and security. His eternal kingdom will be established and he will rule and reign forever victorious.

Key Characters

  • Jesus Christ
  • The Apostle John

Key Verses

Revelation 1:17-19, NLT

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, 'don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. ‎I am the living one. I died, but look — I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. ‎Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.'"

Revelation 7:9-12, NLT

"After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar: 'Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!' And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. They sang 'amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.'"

Revelation 21:1-4, NLT

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. ‎And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. ‎I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying 'look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.'"

Outline of the Book of Revelation

  • Salutation and Introduction, Revelation 1:1-20
  • Letters to the Seven Churches, Revelation 2:1-3:22
  • Visions of the End of the Age and the New Heaven and Earth, Revelation 4:1-22:5
  • Conclusion and Benediction, Revelation 22:6-21

Sources

  • "Book of Revelation." Holy Bible. English Standard Version, Bible Study Tools, 2019.
  • "Revelation 1." Holy Bible. "New Living Translation," Bible Gateway.