The Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament corpus. The
title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek:
apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation" (the author himself not
having provided a title). It is also known as the Book of the Revelation of
Saint John the Divine or the Apocalypse of John, (both in reference to its
author) or the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (in reference to its
opening line) or simply Revelation, (often dubbed "Revelations" in contrast
to the singular in the original Koine) or the Apocalypse. The word
"apocalypse" is also used for other works of a similar nature in the
literary genre of apocalyptic literature. Such literature is "marked by
distinctive literary features, particularly prediction of future events and
accounts of visionary experiences or journeys to heaven, often involving
vivid symbolism." The Book of Revelation is the only apocalyptic document in
the New Testament canon, though there are short apocalyptic passages in
various places in the Gospels and the Epistles.
The author of Revelation identifies himself several times as "John". The
author also states that he was on Patmos when he received his first vision.
As a result, the author of Revelation is sometimes referred to as John of
Justin Martyr (c. 100165 AD) who was acquainted with Polycarp, who had been
mentored by John, makes a possible allusion to this book, and credits John
as the source. Irenaeus (c. 115202) assumes it as a conceded point. At the
end of the 2nd century, it is accepted at Antioch by Theophilus (died c.
183), and in Africa by Tertullian (c. 160220). At the beginning of the 3rd
century, it is adopted by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen of Alexandria,
later by Methodius, Cyprian, Lactantius, Dionysius of Alexandria, and in the
5th century by Quodvultdeus. Eusebius (c. 263339) was inclined to class the
Apocalypse with the accepted books but also listed it in the Antilegomena,
with his own reservation for identification of John of Patmos with John the
Apostle, pointing out there were large difference in Greek skill and styles
between the Gospel of John, which he doubtlessly attributed to John the
Apostle, and the Revelation. Jerome (347420) relegated it to second class.
Most canons included it, but some in the Eastern Church rejected it. It is
not included in the Peshitta (an early New Testament in Aramaic).
The traditional view holds that John the Apostleconsidered to have written
the Gospel and the epistles of Johnwas exiled on Patmos in the Aegean
archipelago during the reign of Domitian, and there wrote Revelation. Those
in favour of apostolic authorship point to the testimony of the early church
fathers and similarities between the Gospel of John and Revelation. For
example, both works are soteriological and possess a high Christology,
stressing Jesus' divine side as opposed to the human side stressed by the
Synoptic Gospels. In the Gospel of John and in Revelation, Jesus is referred
to as "the Word of God", although the context in Revelation is very
different from John. The Word in Rev 19:13 is involved in judgement but in
John 1:1, the image is used to speak of a role in creation and redemption.
Charles Erdman (18661960) advocated apostolic authorship and wrote that
only the Apostle John fits the image of the author derived from the text.
More recent methods of scholarship, such as textual criticism, have been
influential in suggesting that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist and
John of Patmos were three separate individuals. Differences in style,
theological content, and familiarity with Greek between the Gospel of John,
the epistles of John, and the Revelation are seen by some scholars as
indicating three separate authors.
The English Biblical scholar Robert Henry Charles (18551931) reasoned on
internal textual grounds that the book was edited by someone who spoke no
Hebrew and who wished to promote a different theology to John's. As a
result, everything after 20:3, he claims, has been left in a haphazard state
with no attempt to structure it logically. Furthermore, he says, the story
of the defeat of the ten kingdoms has been deleted and replaced by 19:9-10.
John's theology of chastity has been replaced by the editor's theology of
outright celibacy, which makes little sense when John's true church is
symbolised as a bride of the Lamb. Most importantly, the editor has
completely rewritten John's theology of the Millennium which is "emptied of
John Robinson in "Redating the New Testament" (1976) has heavily criticised
Charles' position and accepted apostolic authorship, dating John's Gospel
before the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. He also argues that John's "poor"
Greek is a literary device since Galileans were known to have excellent
Greek. He says: "The Greek of the Apocalypse is not that of a beginner whose
grammar and vocabulary might improve and mature into those of the
evangelist. It is the pidgin Greek of someone who appears to know exactly
what he is about [to say]".
It has also been contended that the core verses of the book, in general
chapters 4 through 22, are surviving records of the prophecies of John the
Baptist. In this view, the Lamb of God references and other hallmarks of
Revelation are linked to what is known of John the Baptist, though it must
be confessed that little information about him is known.
According to early tradition, this book was composed near the end of
Domitian's reign, around the year 95 AD. Others contend for an earlier date,
68 or 69 AD, in the reign of Nero or shortly thereafter. The majority of
modern scholars accept one of these two dates, with most accepting the
Those who favour the later date appeal to the earliest external testimony,
that of the Christian father Irenaeus (c. 150-202), who wrote that he
received his information from people who knew John personally. Domitian,
according to Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263339), started the persecution
referred to in the book. While some recent scholars have questioned the
existence of a large-scale Domitian persecution, others believe that
Domitian's insistence on being treated as a god may have been a source of
friction between the Church and Rome.
The earlier date, first proposed in modern times by John Robinson in a
closely argued chapter of "Redating the New Testament" (1976), relies on the
book's internal evidence, given that no external testimony exists earlier
than that of Irenaeus, noted above, and the earliest extant manuscript
evidence of Revelation (P98) is likewise dated no earlier than the late 2nd
century. This early dating is centered on the preterist interpretation of
chapter 17, where the seven heads of the "beast" are regarded as the
succession of Roman emperors up to the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70
John W. Marshall dates the book to 69 or early 70 AD, saying it predates any
formal separation of Christianity and Judaism, and that it is a thoroughly
Some interpreters attempt to reconcile the two dates by placing the visions
themselves at the earlier date (during the 60s) and the publication of
Revelation under Domitian, who reigned in the 90s when Irenaeus says the
book was written.
Revelation was accepted into the canon at the Council of Carthage of 397 AD.
Revelation's place in the canon was not guaranteed, however, with doubts
raised as far back as the 2nd century about its character, symbolism, and
2nd century Christians in Syria rejected it because Montanism, a sect which
was deemed to be heretical by the mainstream church, relied heavily on it.
In the 4th century, Gregory of Nazianzus and other bishops argued against
including Revelation because of the difficulties of interpreting it and the
risk of abuse. In the 16th century, Martin Luther initially considered it to
be "neither apostolic nor prophetic" and stated that "Christ is neither
taught nor known in it", and placed it in his Antilegomena, i.e. his list of
questionable documents, though he did retract this view in later life. In
the same century, John Calvin believed the book to be canonical, yet it was
the only New Testament book on which he did not write a commentary. It
remains the only book of the New Testament that is not read within the
Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, though it is included in
Catholic and Protestant liturgies.
According to Merrill Unger and Gary N. Larson, in spite of the objections
that have been raised over the years, Revelation provides a logical
conclusion, not just to the New Testament, but to the Christian Bible as a
whole, and there is a continuous tradition dating back to the 2nd century
which supports the authenticity of the document, and which indicates that it
was generally included within the, as yet unformalized, canon of the early
Revelation spans over three literary genres: epistolary, apocalyptic, and
prophetic. Using the Greek Septuagint, the author uses 348 allusions, or
indirect quotes, from 24 canonized books of the Hebrew Bible, predominantly
from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Psalms.
In terms of being apocalyptic, there is no clear evidence that the author
drew from noncanonical Jewish apocalyptic literature, even though Revelation
has been compared with other non-biblical Jewish writings from 200 BC to AD
200. Revelation makes use of symbolism and visions, mentions angelic
mediators, has bizarre imagery, declares divine judgment, emphasizes the
kingdom of God, prophesies a new heavens and a new earth, and consists of a
dualism of ages.
In terms of being prophetic, the author of Revelation uses the words:
prophecy, prophesy, prophesying, prophet, and prophets twenty-one times in
these various forms throughout the text. No other New Testament book uses
these terms to this extent.
There are approximately 230 Greek manuscripts available for the
reconstructing of the original reading of the Apocalypse. Major texts used
are: the uncial scripts - Codex Sinaiticus (4th century), Codex Alexandrinus
(5th century), and Codex Ephraemic (5th century); the papyri, especially
that of p47 (3rd century); the minuscule (8th to 10th century); the church
father quotations (2nd to 5th centuries); and the Greek commentary on
Revelation by Andreas (6th century).
Some have argued that the author originally wrote Apocalypse in Aramaic and
was later translated into common Koine Greek. However, due to evidence of
semitic words and phrases used throughout the book, it stands to reason that
Revelation is good Jewish Greek used in 1st century Palestine. Though not
proven, it may explain the numerous grammatical imperfections of the text.
In terms of literary structure, Revelation consists of four visions, each
involving John seeing the plan of God unveiled,[1:9; 4:1, 17:1, 21:9] with
an epilogue that concludes the book.[22:6-21]
In terms of content, the structure of Revelation is built around four
successive groups of seven: the messages to the seven churches, the seven
seals, the seven trumpets, and finally, the seven bowl judgments. The
repeated occurrence of the number seven contributes to the overall unity of
Revelation. While several numbers stand out: 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 24, 144, 1000,
the number seven appears to have a special significance. In fact, there are
twenty-four distinct occurrences of the use of "seven".
One half of seven, 3½, is also a conspicuous number in Revelation: two
witnesses are given power to prophesy 1,260 days, or exactly 3½ years,
according to the Hebrew year of 360 days;[11:3] the witnesses are then
killed, and their dead bodies lie in the streets of Jerusalem for 3½
days;[11:9] the "woman clothed with the sun" is protected in the wilderness
for 1,260 days, or 3½ years;[12:6] Gentiles tread the holy city underfoot
for 42 months, or 3½ years;[11:2] and the beast is given authority to
continue for 42 months, or 3½ years.[13:5]
In terms of narrative criticism, the details surrounding the narrator of
Revelation, leads the reader to view him as a Jewish Christian. Thus, the
story must be related to this point of view of the author-in-text. The main
plot of Revelation is the battle between good and evil, God and Satan.
The story starts with the introduction of the main character, John of Patmos,
followed by a series of events that lead to the resolution of the main
problem, which is the defeat of evil and the establishment of New Jerusalem.
The hero, or protagonist, is Jesus. Satan is the antagonist, the ultimate
The setting presents elements that are external to the main character,
conveying messages through archetypal imagery and symbolism.
Figures in RevelationIn order of appearance:
John of Patmos
The angel who reveals the Revelation of Jesus Christ
The One who sits on the Throne
Twenty-four crowned elders
Four living creatures
The Lion of Judah who is the seven horned Lamb with seven eyes
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Four angels holding the four winds of the Earth
The seal-bearer angel
Seven angelic trumpeters
The star called Wormwood
Angel of Woe
Four angels bound to the great river Euphrates
Two hundred million lion-headed cavalry
The mighty angel of Seven thunders
The Two witnesses
Beast of the Sea having seven heads and ten horns
The woman and her child
The Dragon, fiery red with seven heads
Michael the Archangel
Lamb-horned Beast of the Earth
Image of the Beast of the sea
The False Prophet
Whore of Babylon
Death and Hades
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
The Revelation of Jesus Christ is communicated to John of Patmos through
prophetic visions. (1:1-9)
John is instructed by the "one like a son of man" to write all that he hears
and sees, from the prophetic visions, to Seven churches of Asia. (1:10-13)
The appearance of the "one like a son of man" is given, and he reveals what
the seven stars and seven lampstands represent. (1:14-20)
Messages for seven churches of Asia
Ephesus: From this church, those "who overcome are granted to eat from the
tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." (2:1-7)
Praised for not bearing those who are evil, testing those who say they are
apostles and are not, and finding them to be liars; hating the deeds of the
Nicolaitans; having persevered and possessing patience.
Admonished to "do the first works" and to repent for having left their
Smyrna: From this church, those who are faithful until death, will be given
"the crown of life". Those who overcome shall not be hurt by the second
Praised for being "rich" while impoverished and in tribulation.
Admonished not to fear the "synagogue of Satan", nor fear a ten-day
tribulation of being thrown into prison.
Pergamon: From this church, those who overcome will be given the hidden
manna to eat and a white stone with a secret name on it." (2:12-17)
Praised for holding "fast to My name", not denying "My faith" even in the
days of Antipas, "My faithful martyr".
Admonished to repent for having held the doctrine of Balaam, who taught
Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel; eating things
sacrificed to idols, committing sexual immorality, and holding the "doctrine
of the Nicolaitans".
Thyatira: From this church, those who overcome until the end, will be given
power over the nations in order to dash them to pieces with the rule of a
rod of iron; they will also be given the "morning star". (2:18-29)
Praised for their works, love, service, faith, and patience.
Admonished to repent for allowing a "prophetess" to promote sexual
immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols.
Sardis: From this church, those who overcome will be clothed in white
garments, and their names will not be blotted out from the Book of Life;
their names will also be confessed before the Father and His angels. (3:1-6)
Admonished to be watchful and to strengthen since their works haven't been
perfect before God.
Philadelphia: From this church, those who overcome will be made a pillar in
the temple of God having the name of God, the name of the city of God, "New
Jerusalem", and the Son of God's new name. (3:7-13)
Praised for having some strength, keeping "My word", and having not denied
Admonished to hold fast what they have, that no one may take their crown.
Laodicea: From this church, those who overcome will be granted the
opportunity to sit with the Son of God on His throne. (3:14-22)
Admonished to be zealous and repent from being "lukewarm"; they are
instructed to buy the "gold refined in the fire", that they may be rich; to
buy "white garments", that they may be clothed, so that the shame of their
nakedness would not be revealed; to anoint their eyes with eye salve, that
they may see.
Before the Throne of God
The Throne of God appears, surrounded by twenty four thrones with
Twenty-four elders seated in them. (4:1-5)
The Four Living Creatures are introduced. (4:6-11)
A scroll, with seven seals, is presented and it is declared that the Lion of
the tribe of Judah, from the "Root of David", is the only one worthy to open
this scroll. (5:1-5)
When the "Lamb having seven horns and seven eyes" took the scroll, the
creatures of heaven fell down before the Lamb to give him praise, joined by
myriads of angels and the creatures of the earth. (5:6-14)
Seven Seals are broken off
First Seal: A white horse appears, whose crowned rider has a bow in which to
Second Seal: A red horse appears, whose rider is granted a "great sword" to
take peace from the earth. (6:3-4)
Third Seal: A black horse appears, whose rider has "a pair of balances in
his hand", where a voice then says, "A measure of wheat for a penny, and
three measures of barley for a penny; and [see] thou hurt not the oil and
the wine." (6:5-6)
Fourth Seal: A pale horse appears, whose rider is Death, and Hades follows
him. Death was granted a fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with
hunger, with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (6:7-8)
Fifth Seal: "Under the altar", appeared the souls of martyrs for the "word
of God", who cry out for vengeance. They are given white robes and told to
rest until the martyrdom of their brothers is completed. (6:9-11)
Sixth Seal: (6:12-17)
There occurs a great earthquake where "the sun becomes black as sackcloth of
hair, and the moon like blood" (6:12).
The stars of heaven fall to the earth and the sky recedes like a scroll
being rolled up (6:13-14).
Every mountain and island is moved out of place (6:14).
The people of earth retreat to caves in the mountains (6:15).
The survivors call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall on them, so as
to hide them from the "wrath of the Lamb" (6:16).
Interlude: The 144,000 Hebrews are sealed.
144,000, from the twelve "tribes of Israel", are sealed as servants of God
on their foreheads. (7:1-8)
A great multitude stand before the Throne of God, who come out of the Great
Tribulation, clothed with robes made "white in the blood of the Lamb" and
having palm branches in their hands. (7:9-17)
Seventh Seal: Introduces the seven trumpets (8:1-5)
"Silence in heaven for about half an hour" (8:1).
Seven angels are each given trumpets (8:2).
An eighth angel takes a "golden censer", filled with fire from the heavenly
altar, and throws it to the earth (8:3-5). What follows are "peals of
thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake" (8:5).
After the eighth angel has devastated the earth, the seven angels introduced
in verse 2 prepare to sound their trumpets (8:6).
Seven trumpets are sounded (Seen in Chapters 8, 9, and 12).
First Trumpet: Hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown to the earth
burning up a third of the trees and green grass. (8:6-7)
Second Trumpet: Something that resembles a great mountain, burning with
fire, falls from the sky and lands in the ocean. It kills a third of the sea
creatures and destroys a third of the ships at sea. (8:8-9)
Third Trumpet: A great star, named Wormwood, falls from heaven and poisons a
third of the rivers and springs of water. (8:10-11)
Fourth Trumpet: A third of the sun, the moon, and the stars are darkened
creating complete darkness for a third of the day and the night. (8:12-13)
Fifth Trumpet: The First Woe (9:1-12)
A "star" falls from the sky (9:1).
This "star" is given "the key to the bottomless pit" (9:1).
The "star" then opens the bottomless pit. When this happens, "smoke [rises]
from [the Abyss] like smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky [are]
darkened by the smoke form the Abyss" (9:2).
From out of the smoke, locusts who are "given power like that of scorpions
of the earth" (9:3), who are commanded not to harm anyone or anything except
for people who were not given the seal on their foreheads (from chapter 7)
The "locusts" are described as having a human appearance (faces and hair)
but with lion's teeth, and wearing "breastplates of iron"; the sound of
their wings resembles "the thunderings of many horses and chariots rushing
into battle" (9:7-9).
Sixth Trumpet: The Second Woe (9:13-21)
The four angels bound to the great river Euphrates are released to prepare
two hundred million horsemen.
These armies kill a third of mankind by use of three plagues: fire, smoke,
Interlude: The little book. (10:1-11)
An angel appears, with one foot on the sea and one foot on the land, having
an opened little book in his hand.
Upon the cry of the angel, seven thunders utter mysteries and secrets that
are not to be written down by John.
John is instructed to eat the little book that happens to be sweet in his
mouth, but bitter in his stomach, and to prophesy.
John is given a measuring rod to measure the temple of God, the altar, and
those who worship there.
Outside the temple, at the court of the holy city, it is treaded by the
nations for forty-two months.
Two witnesses prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed
in sackcloth. (11:1-14)
Seventh Trumpet: The Third Woe that leads into the Seven bowls (11:15-19)
The temple of God opens in heaven, where the ark of His covenant can be
seen. There are lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great
Act II: From the Second Woe to the fall of Babylon the Great
Events leading into the Second Woe
A woman "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head
a garland of twelve stars" is in labor with a male child. (12:1-2)
A great, fiery red, seven-headed dragon drags a third of the stars of heaven
with his tail, and throws them to the earth. (12:3-4)
The dragon waits for the birth of the child. However, when born, it is
caught up to God's throne while the woman flees into the wilderness for one
thousand two hundred and sixty days. (12:5-6)
War breaks out in heaven between Michael and the Dragon, identified as the
Devil, Satan.(12:9) After a great fight, the Dragon and his angels are cast
out of heaven for good, followed by praises of victory for God's kingdom.
The Dragon engages to persecute the Woman, but she is given aid to evade
him. Her evasiveness enrages the Dragon, prompting him to wage war against
the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the
testimony of Jesus Christ. (12:13-17)
A seven-headed leopard-like beast emerges from the sea, having one mortally
wounded head that is then healed. By the Dragon, he is granted power and
authority for forty-two months. (13:1-5)
The Beast of the sea blasphemes God's name, wages war against the Saints,
and overcomes them. (13:6-10)
Another beast appears, but from the earth, having two horns like a lamb and
speaking like a dragon. He directs people to make an image of the beast,
breathing life into it, and enforcing all people to bare "the mark of the
Events leading into the Third Woe
The Lamb stands on Mount Zion with the 144,000 "firstfruits" who are
redeemed from earth. (14:1-5)
The proclamations of three angels. (14:6-13)
One like the Son of Man reaps the earth. (14:14-16)
A second angel reaps "the vine of the earth" and throws it into "the great
winepress of the wrath of God... and blood came out of the winepress... up
to one thousand six hundred furlongs." (14:17-20)
The temple of the tabernacle, in heaven, is opened. (15:1-5)
Seven angels are given a golden bowl, from the Four Living Creatures, that
contains the wrath of God. (15:6-8)
Seven bowls are poured onto Earth:
First Bowl: A "foul and loathsome sore" afflicts the followers of the beast.
Second Bowl: The sea turns to blood and everything within it dies. (16:3)
Third Bowl: All fresh water turns to blood. (16:4-7)
Fourth Bowl: The sun scorches the Earth with intense heat. (16:8-9)
Fifth Bowl: There is total darkness and great pain in the Beast's kingdom.
Sixth Bowl: Preparations are made for the final battle between the forces of
good and evil. (16:12-16)
Seventh Bowl: A great earthquake: "every island fled away and the mountains
were not found." (16:17-21)
Aftermath of Babylon the Great
The great harlot who sits on many waters: Babylon the Great. (17:1-18)
Babylon is destroyed. (18:1-8)
The people of the earth mourn Babylon's destruction. (18:9-19)
The permanence of Babylon's destruction. (18:20-24)
Act III: God's Kingdom reigns
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
A great multitude praises God. (19:1-6)
The marriage supper of the Lamb. (19:7-10)
The beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire. (19:11-21)
Satan is imprisoned in the bottomless pit for a thousand years. (20:1-3)
The resurrected martyrs live and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
After the Thousand Years
Satan is released and makes war against the people of God, but is defeated.
Satan is cast into the lake of fire. (20:10)
The Last Judgment: the wicked, along with death and Hades, are cast into the
lake of fire. (20:11-15)
The New Heaven and Earth
A new heaven and new earth replace the old. There is no more suffering or
God comes to dwell with humanity in the New Jerusalem. (21:2-8)
Description of the New Jerusalem. (21:9-27)
The river and tree of life appear for the healing of the nations. The curse
is ended. (22:1-5)
Christ's reassurance that his coming is imminent. Final admonitions.
Postmillennialism [show] Premillenialism
The Olivet Discourse
The Sheep and the Goats
The Book of Revelation The Book of Daniel
Seventy Weeks Apocrypha
Abomination of Desolation
May 2011 Prediction
Two Witnesses Antichrist
Son of Perdition
Israel & the Church
New Covenant Theology
Olive Tree Theology
Dual Covenant Theology
Revelation has a wide variety of interpretations, ranging from the simple
message that we should have faith that God will prevail (symbolic
interpretation), to complex end time scenarios (futurist interpretation), to
the views of critics who deny any spiritual value to Revelation at all.
In the early Christian era, Christians generally understood the book to
predict future events, especially an upcoming millennium of paradise on
earth. In the late classical and medieval eras, the Church disavowed the
millennium as a literal thousand-year kingdom. With the Protestant
Reformation, opponents of Roman Catholicism adopted a historicist view, in
which the predicted apocalypse is believed to be playing out in church
history. A Jesuit scholar countered with preterism, the belief that
Revelation predicted events that actually occurred as predicted in the 1st
century. In the 19th century, futurism (belief that the predictions refer to
future events) largely replaced historicism among conservative Protestants.
Most of the interpretations fall into one or more of the following
Historicist, which sees in Revelation a broad view of history;
Preterist, in which Revelation mostly refers to the events of the apostolic
era (1st century);
Futurist, which believes that Revelation describes future events; and
Idealist, or Symbolic, which holds that Revelation does not refer to actual
people or events, but is an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing
struggle between good and evil.
Other interpretations are as follows:
Eastern Orthodox view:
Eastern Orthodoxy treats the text as simultaneously describing
contemporaneous events (events occurring at the same time) and as prophecy
of events to come, for which the contemporaneous events were a form of
foreshadow. It rejects attempts to determine, before the fact, if the events
of Revelation are occurring by mapping them onto present-day events, taking
to heart the Scriptural warning against those who proclaim "He is here!"
prematurely. Instead, the book is seen as a warning to be spiritually and
morally ready for the end times, whenever they may come ("as a thief in the
night"), but they will come at the time of God's choosing, not something
that can be precipitated nor trivially deduced by mortals. This view is also
held by many Catholics, although there is a diversity of opinion about the
nature of the Apocalypse within Catholicism.
Book of Revelation is the only book of the New Testament that is not read
during services by the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the Coptic Orthodox
Church (which is not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox church but is
liturgically similar), the whole Book of Revelation is read during
Apocalypse Night or Bright Saturday (6 days after Pascha).
Paschal liturgical view:
This view, which has found expression among both Catholic and Protestant
theologians, considers the liturgical worship, particularly the Easter
rites, of early Christianity as background and context for understanding the
Book of Revelation's structure and significance. This perspective is
explained in The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (new edition, 2004) by
Massey H. Shepherd, an Episcopal scholar, and in Scott Hahn's The Lamb's
Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999), in which he states that
Revelation in form is structured after creation, fall, judgment and
redemption. Those who hold this view say that the Temple's destruction (70
AD) had a profound effect on the Jewish people, not only in Jerusalem but
among the Greek-speaking Jews of the Mediterranean. They believe The Book of
Revelation provides insight into the early Eucharist, saying that it is the
new Temple worship in the New Heaven and Earth. The idea of the Eucharist as
a foretaste of the heavenly banquet is also explored by British Methodist
Geoffrey Wainwright in his book Eucharist and Eschatology (Oxford University
Press, 1980). According to Pope Benedict XVI some of the images of
Revelation should be understood in the context of the dramatic suffering and
persecution of the churches of Asia in the 1st century. Accordingly, the
Book of Revelation should not be read as an enigmatic warning, but as an
encouraging vision of Christ's definitive victory over evil.
Seventh-day Adventist view:
Adventists maintain a historicist interpretation of the Bible's predictions
of the apocalypse.
The esoterist views Revelation as bearing multiple levels of meaning, the
lowest being the literal or "dead-letter." Those who are instructed in
esoteric knowledge enter gradually into more subtle levels of understanding
of the text. They see the book as delivering both a series of warnings for
humanity and a detailed account of internal, spiritual processes of the
The Gnostic Kabbalist believes that Revelation (like Genesis) is a very
profound book of Kabbalistic symbolism. This view is held by teachers such
as H.P. Blavatsky, Eliphas Levi, Rudolf Steiner.
Christian Gnostics, however, are unlikely to be attracted to the teaching of
Revelation because the doctrine of salvation through the sacrificed Lamb,
which is central to Revelation, is repugnant to Gnostics. Christian Gnostics
"believed in the Forgiveness of Sins, but in no vicarious sacrifice for sin
... they accepted Christ in the full realisation of the word; his life, not
his death, was the keynote of their doctrine and their practice."
James Morgan Pryse was an esoteric gnostic who saw Revelation as a western
version of the Hindu theory of the Chakra. He began his work, "The purpose
of this book is to show that the Apocalypse is a manual of spiritual
development and not, as conventionally interpreted, a cryptic history or
prophecy". Such diverse theories have failed to command widespread
acceptance. But Christopher Rowland argues: "there are always going to be
loose threads which refuse to be woven into the fabric as a whole. The
presence of the threads which stubbornly refuse to be incorporated into the
neat tapestry of our world-view does not usually totally undermine that
Radical discipleship view:
The radical discipleship view asserts that the Book of Revelation is best
understood as a handbook for radical discipleship; i.e., how to remain
faithful to the spirit and teachings of Jesus and avoid simply assimilating
to surrounding society. In this view, the primary agenda of the book is to
expose as impostors the worldly powers that seek to oppose the ways of God
and God's Kingdom. The chief temptation for Christians in the 1st century,
and today, is to fail to hold fast to the non-violent teachings and example
of Jesus and instead be lured into unquestioning adoption and assimilation
of worldly, national or cultural values - imperialism, nationalism, and
civil religion being the most dangerous and insidious. This perspective
(closely related to liberation theology) draws on the approach of Bible
scholars such as Ched Myers, William Stringfellow, Richard Horsley, Daniel
Berrigan, Wes Howard-Brook, and Joerg Rieger. Various Christian anarchists,
such as Jacques Ellul, have identified the State and political power as the
Paschal spiritual view:
There is also a perspective that holds that the book of Revelation describes
a spiritual battle that took place while Jesus was on the cross and in the
grave. Some Primitive Baptists believe this to be the intended meaning.
Aesthetic and literary views:
Many literary writers and theorists have contributed to a wide range of
views about the origins and purpose of the Book of Revelation. Some of these
writers have no connection with established Christian faiths but,
nevertheless, found in Revelation a source of inspiration. Revelation has
been approached from Hindu philosophy and Jewish Midrash. Others have
pointed to aspects of composition which have been ignored such as the
similarities of prophetic inspiration to modern poetic inspiration, or the
parallels with Greek drama. In recent years theories have arisen which
concentrate upon how readers and texts interact to create meaning and are
less interested in what the original author intended.
Charles Cutler Torrey taught Semitic languages at Yale. His lasting
contribution has been to show how much more meaningful prophets, such as the
scribe of Revelation, are when treated as poets first and foremost. He felt
this was a point often lost sight of because most English bibles render
everything in prose. Poetry was also the reason John never directly quoted
the older prophets. Had he done so, he would have had to use their (Hebrew)
poetry whereas he wanted to write his own. Torrey insisted Revelation had
originally been written in Aramaic. This was why the surviving Greek
translation was written in such a strange idiom. It was a literal
translation that had to comply with the warning at Revelation 22:18 that the
text must not be corrupted in any way. According to Torrey, the story is
that "The Fourth Gospel was brought to Ephesus by a Christian fugitive from
Palestine soon after the middle of the first century. It was written in
Aramaic." Later, the Ephesians claimed this fugitive had actually been the
beloved disciple himself. Subsequently, this John was banished by Nero and
died on Patmos after writing Revelation. Torrey argued that until 80 AD,
when Christians were expelled from the synagogues, the Christian message was
always first heard in the synagogue and, for cultural reasons, the
evangelist would have spoken in Aramaic, else "he would have had no
hearing." Torrey showed how the three major songs in Revelation (the new
song, the song of Moses and the Lamb and the chorus at 19: 6-8) each fall
naturally into four regular metrical lines plus a coda. Other dramatic
moments in Revelation, such as 6: 16 where the terrified people cry out to
be hidden, behave in a similar way.
Christina Rossetti was a Victorian poet who believed the sensual excitement
of the natural world found its meaningful purpose in death and in God. Her
The Face of the Deep is a meditation upon the Apocalypse. In her view, what
Revelation has to teach is patience. Patience is the closest to perfection
the human condition allows. Her book, which is largely written in prose,
frequently breaks into poetry or jubilation, much like Revelation itself.
The relevance of John's visions belongs to Christians of all times as a
continuous present meditation. Such matters are eternal and outside of
normal human reckoning. "That winter which will be the death of Time has no
promise of termination. Winter that returns not to spring ... - who can bear
it?" She dealt deftly with the vengeful aspects of John's message. "A few
are charged to do judgment; everyone without exception is charged to show
mercy." Her conclusion is that Christians should see John as "representative
of all his brethren" so they should "hope as he hoped, love as he loved."
Recently, aesthetic and literary modes of interpretation have developed,
which focus on Revelation as a work of art and imagination, viewing the
imagery as symbolic depictions of timeless truths and the victory of good
over evil. Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza wrote Revelation: Vision of a just
world from the viewpoint of rhetoric. Accordingly, Revelation's meaning is
partially determined by the way John goes about saying things, partially by
the context in which readers receive the message and partially by its appeal
to something beyond logic. It is Professor Schuessler Fiorenza's view that
Revelation has particular relevance today as a liberating message to
disadvantaged groups. John's book is a vision of a just world, not a
vengeful threat of world-destruction. Her view that Revelation's message is
not gender-based has caused dissent. She says we are to look behind the
symbols rather than make a fetish out of them. Tina Pippin puts an opposing
view: that John writes "horror literature" and "the misogyny which underlies
the narrative is extreme". Professor Schuessler Fiorenza would seem to be
saying John's book is more like science fiction; it does not foretell the
future but uses present-day concepts to show how contemporary reality could
be very different.
D. H. Lawrence took an opposing, pessimistic view of Revelation in the final
book he wrote, Apocalypse. He saw the language which Revelation used as
being bleak and destructive; a 'death-product'. Instead, he wanted to
champion a public-spirited individualism (which he identified with the
historical Jesus supplemented by an ill-defined cosmic consciousness)
against its two natural enemies. One of these he called "the sovereignty of
the intellect" which he saw in a technology-based totalitarian society. The
other enemy he styled "vulgarity" and that was what he found in Revelation.
"It is very nice if you are poor and not humble ... to bring your enemies
down to utter destruction, while you yourself rise up to grandeur. And
nowhere does this happen so splendiferously than in Revelation." His
specific aesthetic objections to Revelation were that its imagery was
unnatural and that phrases like "the wrath of the Lamb" were "ridiculous".
He saw Revelation as comprising two discordant halves. In the first, there
was a scheme of cosmic renewal "great Chaldean sky-spaces" which he quite
liked. Then the book hinged around the birth of the baby messiah. After
that, "flamboyant hate and simple lust ... for the end of the world."
Lawrence coined the term "Patmossers" to describe those Christians who could
only be happy in paradise if they knew their enemies were suffering hell.
Modern biblical scholarship attempts to understand Revelation in its 1st
century historical context within the genre of Jewish and Christian
This approach considers the text as an address to seven historical
communities in Asia Minor. Under this view, assertions that "the time is
near" are to be taken literally by those communities. Consequently the work
is viewed as a warning not to conform to contemporary Greco-Roman society
which John "unveils" as beastly, demonic and subject to divine judgment.
There is further information on these topics in the entries on higher
criticism and apocalyptic literature.
The acceptance of Revelation into the canon is itself the result of a
historical process, essentially no different from the career of other texts.
The eventual exclusion of other contemporary apocalyptic literature from the
canon may throw light on the unfolding historical processes of what was
officially considered orthodox, what was heterodox, what was even heretical.
Interpretation of meanings and imagery are anchored in what the historical
author intended and what his contemporary audience inferred; a message to
Christians not to assimilate into the Roman imperial culture was John's
central message. Thus, his letter (written in the apocalyptic genre) is
pastoral in nature, and the symbolism of Revelation is to be understood
entirely within its historical, literary and social context. Critics study
the conventions of apocalyptic literature and events of the 1st century to
make sense of what the author may have intended.
During a discussion about Revelation on 23 August 2006, Pope Benedict XVI
remarked: "The seer of Patmos, identified with the apostle, is granted a
series of visions meant to reassure the Christians of Asia amid the
persecutions and trials of the end of the first century."
19th-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest
of all books". Thomas Jefferson omitted it, along with most of the Biblical
canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time he considered it
as "merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of
explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." Friedrich
Engels claimed that the Book of Revelation was primarily a political and
anti-Roman work. George Bernard Shaw described it as "a peculiar record of
the visions of a drug addict".
Martin Luther changed his perspective on Revelation over time. In the
preface to the German translation of Revelation that he composed in 1522, he
said that he did not consider the book prophetic or apostolic, since "Christ
is neither taught nor known in it." But in the completely new preface that
he composed in 1530, he reversed his position and concluded that Christ was
central to the book. He concluded, "As we see here in this book, that
through and beyond all plagues, beasts, and evil angels, Christ is
nonetheless with the saints and wins the final victory."
Old Testament origins:
There is much in Revelation which harnesses ancient sources. Although the
Old Testament provides the largest reservoir for such sources, it is not the
only one. For example, Howard-Brook and Gwyther regard the Book of Enoch (1
Enoch) as an equally significant but contextually different source. "Enoch's
journey has no close parallel in the Hebrew scriptures."
Until recently, academics showed little interest in this topic. But this was
not the case with popular writers from non-conforming backgrounds. They
liked to intersperse their text of Revelation with the prophecy they thought
was being promised fulfilment. For example, an anonymous Scottish commentary
of 1871 prefaces Revelation 4 with the Little Apocalypse of Mark 13, places
Malachi 4:5 (Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of
the great and dreadful day of the Lord) within Revelation 11, and writes
Revelation 12:7 side-by-side with the role of 'the satan' in the Book of
Job. The message is that everything in Revelation will happen in its
previously appointed time.
Steve Moyise uses the index of the United Bible Societies' Greek New
Testament to show that "Revelation contains more Old Testament allusions
than any other New Testament book, but it does not record a single
quotation." Perhaps significantly, Revelation chooses different sources than
other New Testament books. Revelation concentrates on Isaiah, the Psalms and
Ezekiel and neglects, comparatively speaking, the books of the Pentateuch
which are the dominant sources for other New Testament writers.
Methodological objections have been made to this way of proceeding. Each
allusion may not have an equal significance. To counter this, G. K. Beale
sought to develop a system that distinguished 'clear', 'probable' and
'possible' allusions. A clear allusion is one with almost the same wording
as its source, the same general meaning and which could not reasonably have
been drawn from elsewhere. A probable allusion contains an idea which is
uniquely traceable to its source. Possible allusions are described as mere
echoes of their putative sources.
Yet, with Revelation, the problems might be judged more fundamental than
this. John seems to be using his sources in a completely different way to
the originals. For example, John borrows the 'new temple' imagery of Ezekiel
40 to 48 but uses it to describe a New Jerusalem which, quite pointedly, no
longer needs any temple at all because the new city is now God's own
dwelling-place. Ian Boxall writes that Revelation "is no montage of biblical
quotations (that is not John's way) but a wealth of allusions and evocations
rewoven into something new and creative." In trying to identify this
something new, he argues that Ezekiel provides the 'backbone' for
Revelation. He sets out a comparative table listing the chapters of
Revelation in sequence then identifying against most of them the
structurally corresponding chapter in Ezekiel. The interesting point is that
the order is not the same. John, on this theory, rearranges Ezekiel to suit
his own purposes.
Some commentators argue that it is these purposes - and not the structure -
that really matters. It is the view of G. K. Beale that, however much use
John makes of Ezekiel, his ultimate purpose is to present Revelation as a
fulfilment of Daniel 7.