Book Of Revelation

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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]

Revelation, Book Of . This single representative of the literature of apocalypse (Gr. apokalypsis , whence the alternating name, ‘ The Apocalypse ’) preserved in the NT belongs to a large group of Christian writings of a similar sort. It was characteristic of the early Church to build up a literature about the names of the various Apostles. Normally this literature consisted of a narrative, an apocalypse, and some form of doctrinal writing; as, for example, the Gospel of Peter , the Apocalypse of Peter , and the Preaching of Peter . With the exception of the present book, no Christian apocalypse is held to be even possibly authentic.

1. Canonicity . The Revelation was not universally accepted by the early Church as canonical. There is no evidence of its existence worthy of consideration in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, although it is just possible that Papias may have known of it. By the middle of the 2nd cent., however, Revelation is well known, and is declared by Justin to he by the Apostle John ( Dial . lxxxi. 15). It is also used, among others, by Melito, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, and attributed to the Apostle John by the first-named as well as by Irenæus. The fact that it appears in the Canon of the Muratorian Fragment is evidence that by the middle of the 2nd cent. it was accepted in the West. After its defence by Hippolytus its position was never seriously questioned except in the East. Jerome is, in fact, the only Western theologian of importance who doubts it, and he puts it among those books which are ‘under discussion,’ neither canonical nor apocryphal.

In the East, as might be expected, it was rejected by Marcion, and, because of disbelief in its Apostolic authorship, by Dionysius of Alexandria (middle of the 3rd cent.). Palestinian and Syrian authors ( e.g. Cyril of Jerusalem) generally rejected it, in large measure because of the struggle with the Montanists, by whom Revelation was used as a basis of doctrine. It does not appear in the lists of the Synod of Laodicea, the Apostolic Constitutions , Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom, the Chronography of Nicephorus, the ‘List of the Sixty Books,’ or in the Peshitta version of the NT. It was included by the Gelasian Decree at the end of the 5th cent. as canonical, and was finally recognized by the Eastern Church. Yet as late as 692 a Synod could publish two decrees, the one including the Apocalypse in the Canon, the other excluding it. It was not held in high repute by the reformers Carlstadt, Luther, Zwingli, all of whom doubted its Apostolicity, or apparently by Calvin, who omitted to comment upon it. At most, the first two of these theologians were apparently inclined to recognize a division of sacred writings similar to that of Jerome.

2. Authorship . The title, ‘Revelation of John,’ which occurs in several MSS, including the Codex Sinaiticus, is an obvious expression of a belief regarding authorship. This John was believed by many in the early Church to be the Apostle. Whether this view was correct or not is to-day a subject of lively debate. The book itself contains little internal evidence serving to substantiate this claim, for the author simply states that he is named John (  John 1:1;   John 1:4;   John 1:9; john 22:8). Justin ( Dial . lxxxi. 15) distinctively states that Revelation is by ‘John, one of the Apostles of Christ,’ and Tertullian along with the Western Church generally held to its Apostolic authorship. Eusebius, however, suggests that it may have been written by John ‘ the Presbyter ,’ mentioned by Papias but otherwise unknown. At the present time the belief is divided as to whether the author of Revelation is John the Apostle or John the Presbyter. The chief argument against the view that the author is John the Apostle lies in the differences existing between Revelation and the Gospel and the Epistles of John, both in style and in method. Notwithstanding the use of the term ‘Logos’ (19:13), these divergences are too obvious to need specifying. If Johannine authorship be assigned the Gospel and Epistles, it is difficult to claim it for Revelation; but, on the other hand, it is difficult to believe it to be either pseudonymous or written by the mysterious John the Presbyter. As the case now stands, criticism seems to have reached an impasse , and the plain reader may best use the book in disregard of questions of authorship, a procedure the more justifiable because its teaching is independent of personal matters.

3. Date . Although the fixing of the date of Revelation presupposes conclusions as to its composition and purpose, it may here be said that in all probability the book reached its present form in the latter part of the reign of Domitian (a.d. 81 96).

4. Composition . The prevailing hypotheses may be grouped in three classes.

(1) The currently accepted view that it was written entirely by the Apostle John . Such a view is, however, open to serious objections, because of the similarities, if not identities, existing between Revelation and other apocalyptic literature of the period, as well as because of the evidences of composite character of the writing, implying sources of different origins and dates, such as the various breaks in the process of the vision (the lack of any single historical point of view is seen by a comparison of   Revelation 12:3;   Revelation 13:1;   Revelation 17:3 , in an effort to identify historically the two breaks, or in a comparison of   Revelation 11:1-13 with   Revelation 17:11 ).

(2) The view that the work, while essentially a literary unit, is a Christian redaction of a Jewish writing . This view would attribute to the Christian redactor the first three chapters and important sections like   Revelation 5:9-14;   Revelation 7:9-17;   Revelation 13:11 ff;   Revelation 22:6-21 , in addition to separate verses like   Revelation 12:11;   Revelation 14:1;   Revelation 14:5;   Revelation 12:13;   Revelation 12:15;   Revelation 16:15;   Revelation 17:14;   Revelation 19:9-10;   Revelation 19:13 b,   Revelation 20:4-6;   Revelation 21:5-8 . The difficulties with this position are not only those which must be urged against any view that overlooks the evidences of the composite authorship of the work, but also the impossibility of showing that ch. 11 is Jewish in character.

(3) Theories of composite origin . These are of various forms ( a ) The theory according to which an original work has been interpolated with apocalyptic material of various dates (  Revelation 7:1-17;   Revelation 11:1-13;   Revelation 12:1-17;   Revelation 13:17 ) and subjected to several revisions. ( b ) The view that Revelation is a Christian book in which Jewish apocalypses have been framed. ( c ) The theory according to which Revelation is composed of three sources, each of which has subdivisions, all worked together by a Christian redactor. ( d ) Notwithstanding the difficulty in determining the sources, critics are pretty thoroughly agreed that, as the book now stands, it has a unity which, though not inconsistent with the use of older material by its author, is none the less easily recognized. Some of this older material, it is now held, undoubtedly represents the general stream of apocalyptic that took its rise in Babylonian mythology. The structural unity of the book appears in the repetition of sevenfold groups of episodes, as well as in a general grammatical and linguistic similarity. In achieving this remarkable result, the redactor so combined, recast, and supplemented his material as to give the book an essentially Christian rather than Jewish character.

5. Analysis . As it now stands, literary and critical analyses do not altogether coincide, but until criticism has finished its task, literary analysis must be of primary Importance. Authorities here differ, but the following analysis does not differ fundamentally from that of other writers.

i. Introduction (ch. 1).

ii. The message of the Spirit to the Seven Churches (chs. 2, 3).

iii. The period of struggle and misery (chs. 4 7).

iv. The final Messianic struggle (chs. 8 14).

v. The victory of the Messiah (chs. 15 20).

vi. The vision of the Messianic Kingdom (chs.  Revelation 21:1 to   Revelation 22:5 ).

vii. Epilogue ( Revelation 22:6-21 ).

6. Interpretation . No Biblical writing, with the possible exception of the Book of Daniel, has been so subjected to the vagaries of interpreters as Revelation, ( a ) On the one extreme are those (‘Futurists’) who have seen in its pictures a forecast of universal Christian history, as well as all the enemies of Christianity, both within and without the Church. To such interpreters the book has been a thesaurus of that chiliastic doctrine which the Greek as well as the modern scientific attitude of mind has found so repugnant. ( b ) At the other extreme there are those interpreters who see in Revelation simply a reference to the historical conditions of the first century of the Christian era. ( c ) There is a measure of truth in each of these two methods, but the real method of interpretation must be independent of dogmatic presuppositions. As narrative matter must be interpreted by the general principles applicable to all literature of its class, so must Revelation be interpreted in accordance with the general principles applicable to apocalypses as a form of literary expression. The fundamental principles of such interpretation involve the recognition of the facts (i.) that apocalypses are the outgrowth of definite historical situations; (ii.) that they attempt to stimulate faith by an exposition in symbolic terms of the deliverance which God will give His suffering people from actually existing sufferings; (iii.) that the message of deliverance gains authority because of its claim to superhuman origin reinforced by pseudonymous authorship; (iv.) that the deliverance which is thus supernaturally portrayed is dependent upon the introduction of a new age whose conditions are set miraculously by God rather than by evolving historical forces, and is not described with the same detail as are the conditions from which God is to deliver His people.

An application of these principles to the interpretation of Revelation demands (1) that an historical interpretation be given the pictures describing the miseries of the Church. The conditions of such interpretation are most naturally fulfilled in the persecution under Domitian (81 96), although there may be references to that under the dead Nero. The persecuting force is clearly Rome, as represented both by the Emperor and by Emperor-worship, whatever the origin of the pictures with which the oppression of the Church is set forth. A point of departure for the identification of the historical figures who are to be subjected to the Messianic punishment might be thought to be the number of the Beast 666 that is to say, the Emperor Nero, who was expected to return from the dead (see Beast [in Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] ]). Pseudo-Nero did, in fact, appear in Asia Minor in a.d. 69, and among the Parthians in 79 81 and 88. The identification, however, is not altogether satisfactory, as the Hebrew letters, whose numerical equivalents give by the process of Gematria 666, are not precisely those in Cæsar Nero. If the correct reading be 616, the equivalent is Gaius Cæsar. Another interpretation would make ‘the Latin or the Roman Empire.’ The best that can be said, however, is that if the interpretation by Gematria is unsatisfactory, the interpreter is forced back upon the general references of ‘the hills,’ ‘the city,’ and ‘the horns’ or kings, as a basis for regarding Rome as the great enemy of the Christian and his Church.

A further difficulty in formulating precisely the historical situation, arises from the fact that the author, though producing a book of great literary unity, has embodied sources which refer to conditions of different times. Thus  Revelation 11:1-13 would naturally infer the existence of the Temple, which was destroyed in 70; ch. 13 may have come from the days of Caligula;   Revelation 17:10 most naturally implies some time in the reign of Nero;   Revelation 17:11 apparently implies Domitian, the eighth emperor;   Revelation 17:8 would also argue that the book was written during the period that believed in Nero redivivus . The redactor (or redactors) has, however, so combined these materials as to give a unified picture of the approaching Messianic struggle.

(2) On the other hand, the deliverance of the Church is, like all apocalyptic deliverances, miraculous, and described transcendentally. Besides the martyrs, the only identification possible in this connexion is that of the conquering Lamb with Jesus the Christ. The fall of Rome is foretold definitely in ch. 17, but the seer is true to the general apocalyptic form in that he makes Rome and its religion the agents of Satan. The ultimate victory of the Church is similarly portrayed as the victory of God, and is identified with the return of Jesus to establish His Messianic Kingdom.

Such a method of interpretation, based upon general characteristics of apocalypses, preserves the element of truth in both the futurist and the historical methods of interpretation, the pictures of persecution symbolizing actual historical conditions, but the forecast of deliverance reverting to the general Messianic expectation of events lying outside of history.

The sublime theme of Revelation thus becomes evident the victory of the Messiah over the Roman Empire, together with the miseries to be inflicted on His enemies and the blessings to be enjoyed by His followers.

7. Religious value . If properly interpreted, Revelation is of really profound religious value. It cannot serve as a basis of theology, but, like any piece of imaginative writing, will serve to stir the emotion and the faith of the Christian. Its literary form is so remarkable, the passages descriptive of the triumph of the Messianic Kingdom are so exquisite, its religious teaching is so impressive, as not only to warrant its inclusion in the Canon, but also to make it of lasting value to the devotional life. More particularly the Letters to the Churches are of value as criticism and Inspiration for various classes of Christians, while its pictures of the New Jerusalem and its insistence upon the moral qualifications for the citizens of the Messianic Kingdom are in themselves notable incentives to right living: Stript of its apocalyptic figures, the book presents a noble ideal of Christian character, an assurance of the unfailing justice of God, and a prophecy of the victory of Christianity over a brutal social order.

Shailer Mathews.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [2]

As its title suggests, the book of Revelation reveals things that might otherwise remain unknown. The revelation came from God and the risen Christ by way of the book’s writer to first century Christians, and it concerned things that were soon to take place ( Revelation 1:1). The traditional view is that the person named John who wrote the book was the apostle John, though no statement in the book makes this identification certain.

Background to the book

The church of the first century was persecuted almost from the beginning. Persecution at first came mainly from the Jews, but as the century progressed, civil authorities also turned against the Christians. The two main periods of persecution from the Roman Emperors came in the sixties under Nero and in the nineties under Domitian. It was during this latter period that John, having been imprisoned for his Christian testimony, received the revelation recorded in this book ( Revelation 1:9-10).

Patmos, the place of John’s imprisonment, was an island off the coast from Ephesus in the west of Asia Minor. Upon receiving the revelation, John wrote it in a book, then sent it with a messenger to the mainland to deliver to a group of seven churches in Asia Minor. The order in which the churches are listed probably represents the order in which they were visited by the messenger who delivered the letters. From these centres the message would no doubt spread to other churches of the region ( Revelation 1:11; for map see Asia ).

By this time the government was enforcing Emperor worship as a settled policy, with the result that Christians were being imprisoned, tortured and even killed ( Revelation 2:10;  Revelation 2:13;  Revelation 6:9-11). People in general were becoming anti-Christian. To make matters worse, false teachers were troubling the churches by encouraging Christians to participate in pagan religious practices ( Revelation 2:14;  Revelation 2:20-21). Some Christians were renouncing their faith, others losing heart. Many were confused, for it seemed that Jesus Christ, the almighty king whom they expected to return in triumph, was either unable or unwilling to save them from the power of Rome.

Through John, Jesus reassured the suffering Christians that he was still in control, though he did not want them to build up any false hopes. He gave no guarantee of quick relief. Rather he prepared them for greater endurance, by revealing the extent of the troubles yet to come and the eternal reward for those who stood firm for him. In God’s time he would return to punish all enemies, save his people, and bring in a new and eternal era.

Interpretation of the book

The book of Revelation belongs to a category of literature known as apocalyptic. (The name comes from the Greek apokalypsis, the word translated ‘revelation’ in  Revelation 1:1.) In apocalyptic literature God gives revelations to people by means of strange visions explained by angels. The visions often feature fearsome beasts and mysterious numbers, and are usually concerned with great conflicts out of which God and his people triumph (see Apocalyptic Literature ).

Because Christians of the first century were familiar with apocalyptic literature, they would have readily understood Revelation, but Christians of a different era and culture usually find the book difficult to interpret. Some interpret it as applying wholly to the time of John; others interpret it as applying wholly to the future, when God will bring the world’s history to an end. Some see the book as a continuous history of the world from John’s time to the end; others see it not as a record of historical events but as a presentation of the victory of the gospel in symbolic pictures. There are countless variations in the interpretation of the book, both as a whole and in its details.

In an attempt to solve the difficulties of the book of Revelation, some people simply choose the scheme of interpretation that suits them and reject the rest. But this is not the best way to understand the book’s message. The book is not a collection of puzzles designed to amuse Christians in their spare time by giving them mysteries to solve. It is a book given to strengthen and guide Christians in a time of persecution. The pictures are taken from life under Roman rule as the Christians of John’s time knew it, but the principles are applicable in any era.

Anti-Christian persecutions and divine judgments have been repeated throughout the church’s history, from John’s time to the present. But in every era Christians have triumphed through their troubles because of Christ’s victory on the cross ( Revelation 12:11). Opposition will continue till the world’s last great crisis comes and Jesus Christ returns. In that day the triumphant Saviour will banish evil, save his people, and bring in a new age of peace and joy ( Revelation 19:13-16;  Revelation 22:1-5).

Contents of the book

John begins by greeting the seven churches to whom the book is sent (1:1-8), then describes his vision of the risen and exalted Christ, who is Lord of all the churches (1:9-20). Then follow the seven letters. Each of the letters consists of a greeting from the risen Christ, a statement concerning the state of the church, a warning, an instruction and a promise (2:1-3:22). John then has two visions. In the first the Almighty is seated upon his throne and is worshipped as the Creator (4:1-11). In the second the Lamb is victorious out of death and is worshipped as the Redeemer (5:1-14).

After this are three series of judgments, each based on the symbolic number seven. In the first series a seven-section scroll is unrolled section by section by breaking one seal for each section. As the scroll is unrolled, each section reveals a vision relating to some aspect of suffering and judgment. There is an interval before the breaking of the final seal, when further visions reassure the faithful. No matter what they suffer, God will preserve them for his heavenly kingdom (6:1-8:5).

In the second series of judgments, each of the seven visions is announced by the blowing of a trumpet. Again there is an interval before the final vision, when further visions reassure the faithful of victory. They may suffer persecution, and perhaps martyrdom, but because of Christ’s victory they are triumphant (8:6-11:19).

Before the third series of judgments, John receives a number of visions to show the conflict and ultimate triumph that God’s people can expect. One vision is of a dragon that tries to destroy a woman and her child (12:1-17); another is of a beast that rises out of the sea to fight against God and his people (13:1-10); and a third is of a beast that rises out of the earth in support of the previous beast (13:11-18). However, the redeemed, not the beasts, are the victors (14:1-5), while the wicked suffer destruction (14:6-20).

The third series of judgments then follows, with seven angels pouring out seven bowls of God’s anger upon a rebellious world (15:1-16:21). The overthrow of this rebellious world is then pictured in the destruction of a prostitute (17:1-18) and the burning of Babylon (18:1-19:5). The triumph of God and his people is pictured in a wedding feast, the victorious reign of Jesus Christ, the defeat of Satan and the last great judgment (19:6-20:15).

Finally, John has a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, where God dwells with his people in a new order of existence (21:1-22:5). In view of the salvation and judgments that lie ahead, the book urges Christians to be faithful to God, and urges others to accept God’s offered mercy (22:6-21).

Easton's Bible Dictionary [3]

The date of the writing of this book has generally been fixed at A.D. 96, in the reign of Domitian. There are some, however, who contend for an earlier date, A.D. 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero. Those who are in favour of the later date appeal to the testimony of the Christian father Irenaeus, who received information relative to this book from those who had seen John face to face. He says that the Apocalypse "was seen no long time ago."

As to the relation between this book and the Gospel of John, it has been well observed that "the leading ideas of both are the same. The one gives us in a magnificent vision, the other in a great historic drama, the supreme conflict between good and evil and its issue. In both Jesus Christ is the central figure, whose victory through defeat is the issue of the conflict. In both the Jewish dispensation is the preparation for the gospel, and the warfare and triumph of the Christ is described in language saturated with the Old Testament. The difference of date will go a long way toward explaining the difference of style." Plummer's Gospel of St. John, Introd.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [4]


he book that winds up the accepted canon of Holy Scripture, of the fulfilment of the prophecies of which there are three systems of interpretation: the Præteritist, which regards them all as fulfilled; the Historical, which regards them as all along fulfilling; and the Futurist, which regards them as still all to be fulfilled. The first is the one which finds favour among modern critics, and which regards it as a forecast of the struggle then impending between the Church under the headship of Christ and the civil power under the emperor of Rome, though this view need not be accepted as excluding the second theory, which regards it as a forecast of the struggle of the Church with the world till the cup of the world's iniquity is full and the day of its doom is come. The book appears to have been written on the occurrence of some fierce persecution at the hands of the civil power, and its object to confirm and strengthen the Church in her faith and patience by a series of visions, culminating in one of the Lamb seated on the throne of the universe as a pledge that all His slain ones would one day share in His glory.