The Book of Revelation

I. Title

        The title comes from the first word in the letter, apokalypsis, translated "revelation". From the Greek word comes the alternative title for the book: The Apocalypse. The Greek word itself means "to expose that which was formerly hidden, veiled or secret". In the New Testament, it is used exclusively in the religious sense of a divine disclosure.

II. Author and Setting

A. Author and Date

        The author of Revelation identifies himself as John in 1:1, 4, 9 and 22:8. Justine Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, and Origen attribute the authorship to John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee. This seems reasonable, since the only other Johns we know about in the New Testament are John the Baptist and John Mark, neither of whom seems a likely candidate as the author, anymore than the suggestion that it was written by another, otherwise unknown person named John.
        The language and grammatical style of Revelation are different from what one finds in the Gospel of John and his three letters; however the imagery, literary forms, liturgical framework and symbolism bear a resemblance to what one finds in the other works attributed to John. Perhaps the differences in language and style can be explained by a different amanuensis.
        It is difficult to be precise on the date of the book of Revelation. Dates of composition of either AD 54-68 or AD 81-96 seem most likely.

B. Interpretive Approaches
1. Futurist

        With the exception of chapters one through three, the book of Revelation is to be understood as describing the period around the second advent of Jesus Christ and the end of the age. The seals, the bowls, the trumpets, the plagues refer to events yet to be. The beasts of chapters thirteen and seventeen relate to the coming Antichrist. Antichrist will arise just before the end of all things, and then Jesus will arrive, defeat him, and set up his earthly millennial kingdom.
        It is the viewpoint held by early expositors such as Justin Martyr (died AD 165), Irenaeus (died about AD 195), Hippolytus (died AD 236) and Victorinus (died about AD 303). Today, it is the most popular view among evangelical Christians.

2. Historicist

        An interpretation that apparently began with Joachim of Floris who died in 1202. In his view, the book was a prophesy of the events of Western history from the times of the apostles until the end of time. Generally, the papacy is viewed as the Antichrist. This interpretation was popular with the early reformers Luther and Calvin.
        It is not a popular point of view today, principally because of a lack of consensus among various exegetes as to the historical identification of the various events in the book.

3. Idealist

        An interpretation which takes Revelation as basically poetic, symbolic and spiritual. The book of Revelation does not predict any specific historical events, but rather simply sets forth the timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil that rages throughout the church age. The approach is similar to the general allegorizing principles of interpretation used during the middle ages; it is not a particularly widely held viewpoint today, again because of its general subjectivity and lack of consensus among exegetes.

4. Preterist

        An interpretation which sees Revelation as related to what happened during the time it was written. The main contents of chapters four through at least nineteen are viewed as describing events that happened during the times of the Roman Empire, either during the lifetime of John or shortly thereafter; the book of Revelation is then seen as belonging to the genre of Jewish apocalyptic literature, designed as a "tract for the times" to encourage faithfulness during persecution. Only chapters nineteen through twenty-two are viewed as still future in our day.
        The beasts of chapters thirteen and seventeen are identified with imperial Rome and the imperial priesthood.
        The interpretation was apparently first developed about 1614 by the Spanish Jesuit Alcasar. This is the view held by the majority of scholars today.

III. An Outline of Revelation

I. Introduction 1:1-8
II. Seven letters 1:9-3:22
III. Sevens 4:1-19:10
IV. The end 19:11-22:5
V. Conclusion 22:6-21

Questions on Revelation

1. List the seven churches that letters were written to, and summarize the content of each letter.
2. John says in his letter to Pergamum that Pergamum is where Satan dwells and has his throne. What does that mean?
3. Should Revelation be understood to be organized chronologically or thematically?
4. What are the major approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation?
5. List the seven seals.
6. List the seven trumpets.
7. List the seven bowls (or vials).
8. Who is the Beast?
9. Who is the False Prophet?
10. Who are the 144,000?
11. Who is the Woman on the Beast?
12. What is Babylon?
13. What are the major approaches to interpreting the Millennium?