Introduction To Revelation

The accepted author of Revelation is John, the Apostle, disciple, and elder. The same John who wrote John’s Gospel and 1, 2, and 3 John. Some scholars date John’s Revelation to the 60s AD and some to the 90s AD. Arguments in favor of the latter date are more persuasive and generally more accepted. As we work through Revelation verse-by-verse, we will consider the implications of both an early and late date where appropriate.

The book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse, belongs in a genre called apocalyptic literature. It is filled with imagery and symbolism. Because of its symbolic nature, it is the most diversely interpreted book in the Bible. It is very easy for someone to impose external meaning upon symbols; many outlandish interpretations, unbiblical narratives, and predictions result. The book of Revelation is probably not as cryptic as we have made it out to be in the 20th and 21st Centuries. The symbols John employs are mostly derived from Daniel 7-10 even though John utilizes imagery from the rest of the Old Testament as well. These symbols should be understood not in light of modern experience but their Old Testament meanings.

Numerology in Revelation serves as an example. Numerological meanings are probably not as fantastic as some people have made them. Symbolic numbers in any apocalyptic work communicate specific ideas. Here are some examples:

2Valid testimony (Deuteronomy 19:15)
3Holiness or importance (Implied Throughout)
3 1/2Halfway there (Daniel 7:25)
4Totality (Only in Revelation, Implied from Temple Structure)
6Sin, imperfection, incompleteness—humanity (Genesis 1:26-31)
7Perfection, completeness, rest—God (Genesis 2:1-3)
8Circumcision, resurrection (Genesis 17:12)
10Fullness (Implied)
12Complete people of God—12 tribes, apostles
40Sufficiency (Implied)
14412×12; The completed complete people of God
100010x10x10; Far beyond fullness, way more than necessary

When interpreting any of John’s symbols, numerological and otherwise, we can look for John to explain what he means like in Revelation 1:20, where he explains what he meant by his previous symbolic description. We can also look for symbols to be explained in other parts of Scripture since John is employing images from throughout the Biblical canon. For instance, Revelation 1:15 employs the symbol in Daniel 10:6. So, we understand Revelation 1:15 to reference the meaning of the symbol in Daniel 10:6. There are a couple tendencies we should avoid as we read John’s Revelation. (1) We should avoid trying to figure out what modern day thing a symbol represents, and (2) we should avoid seeing what John intends to be symbolic as literal. In Revelation 5:5-6, Jesus is described as a lion, root, and lamb. To see the symbol as a literal description causes some bizarre interpretations. Furthermore, the symbol describes Christ authority, ancestry, crucifixion, and resurrection all at once. We cannot rightly look at the symbol and try to decide what modern day events line up with John’s prophetic vision because John describes many past events in one symbol. (3) We should not strive to piece together a prophetic chronology of end-times events. In the same symbol, John presents Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection at the same point. The actual events were chronological, but John’s symbol is not. achronology is apparent throughout John’s Revelation. Trying to order or place a timeline for the events described literalizes a symbolic work and drives people mad because they can piece Revelation together any way they desire. Misappropriation of the text for chronological inquiry is why so many disparate interpretations of John’s Revelation are present in our day. Revelation, though, is a picture not a puzzle.

Consider the Sistine Chapel.

No one would look at Michelangelo’s Chapel and try to piece together the images like a puzzle. It’s an awe-inspiring mural meant to be understood as such. Revelation is the Sistine Chapel of the New Testament. Through the awe-inspiring literary mural, we are meant to see Christ, not parse out some order of end-times events.

Since Revelation is a picture, we are accepting submissions from our readers! Paint of draw a scene from Revelation and submit a picture of it here. Make this a family activity while we are walking through the Book of Revelation. Your artwork will be displayed when we publish our notes on the scene your artwork depicts.

click to submit your family’s artwork!

John wrote Revelation to encourage Christians in the midst of government-sanctioned persecution (1:9). He wrote about things his contemporaries and he would experience (1:1, 3). He wrote to reveal Christ’s work during the current tribulation and to unveil Christ’s glory at the end of the age.

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