<< Previous | Index | Next >>
                        "THE BOOK OF REVELATION"


"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His
servants--things which must shortly take place." (Re 1:1)

So begins the book of Revelation, one of the most challenging books in
the Bible.  It is the first book that many new to the Bible want to
study, while it is often neglected by mature Christians.   It has been
used by false teachers and prophets to lead people into doomsday cults. 
Yet when properly handled, it can be a wonderful blessing to those who
read and meditate upon it.  

Who wrote this book?  How is it unique?   How should we interpret it?  
Why should we study it?  These are questions we will seek to answer in
this introduction.


Revelation is certainly different from other books of the New Testament. 
It is also very different from any kind of writing that is familiar to
most people today.  Unfortunately, this has caused some people to shy
away from the book; or on the other hand, to misuse it in propagating
wild and fanciful theories.  Most people conclude it is just too
mysterious to understand.  But it was actually written to make things
clearer!  The word "revelation" in the Greek is apokalupsis, which means
"an uncovering" or "unveiling."  It is therefore a book designed to
uncover or unveil, not conceal.

Part of the challenge in understanding the book is that it is written in
a style not familiar to modern man.  It is an example of what is called
"apocalyptic literature" which was quite popular from 200 B.C. to 200
A.D.  As such, it was a type of literature well known to the Jews and
Christians of the first century church.  Features of apocalyptic
literature include the use of highly symbolic or figurative language. It
was normally written in times of persecution, usually depicting the 
conflict between good and evil.

There are other examples of apocalyptic literature in the Bible.  In the
Old Testament, for example, the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah
each contain elements of this style of writing.  In the New Testament,
Matthew 24 contains apocalyptic elements.


The early church likely did not have the problem understanding the book
as we do today.  They were well acquainted with the style of apocalyptic
literature.  They were living at a time when the symbols of the book were
likely familiar to them (similar to how a picture of a donkey fighting an
elephant would be understood by us as depicting conflict between the
Democratic and Republican parties).  In fact, I believe the book was
originally intended to be understood by a casual hearing, as implied by
the opening beatitude:

"Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy,
and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near." (Re

This verse suggests a setting in which one is reading while others
listen.  The listeners were expected to understand enough to be blessed
by what they heard.

Our difficulty with this book is due to our unfamiliarity with
apocalyptic literature as a method of communicating a message.  We are
also far removed from the historical and cultural context of the times
which would make the symbolism easier to understand.  To properly
interpret the book, we must try to understand the historical context in
which it was written.  We must also interpret it in a manner that would
have been meaningful to those to whom it was first addressed.  It also
behooves us to pay close attention to those passages or statements which
are clear and easy to understand.


Different methods of interpreting the book generally fall into four

The "preterist" view - The book refers to events that were fulfilled in
the first century A.D., or shortly thereafter.  It was written primarily
to encourage the original readers.  Its value for today would therefore
be didactic (teaching the value of faithfulness to God).

The "historicist" view - The book provides a panoramic view of the
experience of the church as it proceeds throughout history.  This view
finds in the book such events as the rise of Catholicism, Islam, the
Protestant reformation, world wars, etc., ending with the return of
Christ.  As such it would encourage Christians no matter when they lived.

The "futurist" view - Apart from the first few chapters, the book depicts
events which immediately precede the second coming of Christ.  Therefore
most of the book has yet to be fulfilled (or is being fulfilled now), and
its value is primarily for Christians who will be living at the time
Jesus returns.

The "idealist" view - The book does not deal with any specific historical
situation.  Instead, it is simply enforcing the principle that good will
ultimately triumph over evil.  As such the book is applicable to any age.


I believe a proper interpretation of the book incorporates some of all
these views.  In my estimation, the "preterist" view has the most merit
for the following reasons:

*  The book was written specifically to seven churches in Asia (modern
   Turkey) - Re 1:4

*  Its purpose was to uncover or reveal "things which must shortly come
   to pass" - Re 1:1,3; 22:6,10

*  John was told, "Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book,
   for the time is at hand" - Re 22:10

Compare the last two points with Daniel 8:26, where Daniel was told to
"seal up" his vision, "for it refers to many days in the future".  We
know that his vision was fulfilled within several hundred years.  John,
however, was told "do not seal" what he had seen, "for the time is at
hand".  How could this be, if the bulk of Revelation refers to what has
yet to occur almost two thousands later?  This is a problem I see with
the "futurist" view, which places primary fulfillment of the book
thousands of years after its composition.

Place yourself in the position of those Christians in the churches of
Asia in the first century.  They were told that the things described in
the Revelation would "shortly come to pass", which should comfort them. 
But according to the "futurist" view, it has been nearly 2000 years and
much of the book has yet to be fulfilled!  That would be like someone
today writing that something is soon coming to pass, when in reality it
will be 4000 A.D. before it does!  How would a book depicting events to
occur thousands of years in the future comfort those who were suffering
in the first century A.D.?

This is not to say there are no "futurist" elements in the book.  I
understand chapters 20-22 to deal with the ultimate destiny of the
redeemed, which would have been of great interest and comfort to the
Christians suffering in the first century.

My approach to the book, therefore, will be primarily from the preterist
viewpoint, with occasional elements from other viewpoints.


John, identified as one "who bore witness to the word of God, and to the
testimony of Jesus Christ" (Re 1:1-2).  While debated by some, he was
most likely the apostle John, brother of James, and author of the gospel
of John and three epistles.  His authorship of this book is supported by
the testimony of Justin Martyr (165 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (220
A.D.), Hippolytus (236 A.D.), and Origen (254 A.D.).


Dating when the book was written is not without controversy.  When one
dates the book will certainly have a bearing upon one's interpretation of
the book, especially if one follows the "preterist" view.  Two dates are
usually proposed:

*  An "early date", around 64-68 A.D., during the reign of the Roman
   emperor, Nero

*  A "late date", around 95-96 A.D., during the reign of emperor

The external evidence (evidence outside the book itself) is inconclusive.
 In support for the late date, appeal is often made to a statement of
Iraneaus who lived in the late 2nd century A.D.  His statement is rather
ambiguous, however, and can be understood in several ways (see Redating
The New Testament, by John A. T. Robinson, for a detailed examination of
Iraneaus' quotation).

In support for the early date, the Syriac version of the New Testament
(dating back to the 2nd century A.D.) says the book was written during
the reign of Nero.  The Muratorian Fragment (170-190 A.D.) and the
Monarchian Prologues (250-350 A.D.) claim that Paul wrote to seven
churches following the pattern of John's example in Revelation, placing
the book of Revelation even before some of the Pauline epistles
(Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12; p. 406).

Because of the contradictory nature of the external evidence, I place
more weight on the internal evidence (evidence from within the book
itself).  I believe the book itself supports a date of 70 A.D., before
the destruction of Jerusalem and during the reign of Vespasian. 

This internal evidence includes the following:

*  In Re 11:1-14 the temple, which was demolished in August of 70 A.D.,
   is still standing.  Advocates of the "late date" naturally understand
   this passage in a strictly figurative sense.  While somewhat 
   figurative, the allusion to the crucifixion of our Lord (Re 11:8) 
   compel us to think of the historical Jerusalem (Philip Schaff).

*  In Re 17:9-11, we find mention of EIGHT "kings".  If these "kings"
   are emperors of Rome, then starting with Augustus the first FIVE were: 
   Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero (who died June 9, 68
   A.D.).  Nero's death left the empire in an uproar.  This may be the
   "deadly wound" in Re 13:3,12,14.  Three men (Galba, Otho, and 
   Vitellius) tried vainly to consolidate power over the empire, but it 
   was Vespasian who restored order in 70 A.D.  Thus, the "deadly wound"
   was healed, and Vespasian would be the SIXTH "king" (or the "one is" 
   in Re 17:10).  This would make Titus the SEVENTH emperor and Domitian
   the EIGHTH.

*  Notice carefully, that in Re 17:8,11 John was told that the beast "is
   not".  It "was", and "is about to come" (ASV), but at the time the
   Revelation was being given, the beast "IS NOT"!  If we understand (as 
   I do) that the "beast" represents imperial Rome as personified in its
   emperors Nero and Domitian, then Revelation could NOT have been 
   written during the reigns of either Nero or Domitian!

*  The condition of persecution that had been experienced already by
   those in the book are similar to that mentioned by Peter.  He wrote to
   the Christians in Asia Minor also, just a few years before (cf. 1Pe
   1:1). They were undergoing persecution similar to that described in 
   Re 2 & 3 (cf. 1Pe 1:6; 4:12; 5:9); i.e., persecution by the Jews with
   the help of Roman authorities, something that had been going on since
   the days of Paul's first missionary journey.

Therefore I suggest the internal evidence indicates that the Revelation
was given during the reign of VESPASIAN, the SIXTH emperor, while the
"beast is not".  This would place the date of the book around the spring
of 70 A.D. (as suggested by Philip Schaff, History Of The Church, Vol.
I).   A date between the death of Nero in 68 A.D. and the fall of
Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was also favored by F. J. A. Hort, J. B. Lightfoot,
and B. F. Westcott (John A. T. Robinson, Redating The New Testament, p.
224).  Another advocate of an early date is F. F. Bruce.

Referring to Philip Schaff, who at one time held the "late date", I find
his following quotation to be of interest:

   "The early date is best suited for the nature and object of the
   Apocalypse, and facilitates its historical understanding.  Christ
   pointed in his eschatological discourses to the destruction of 
   Jerusalem and the preceding tribulation as the great crisis in 
   the history of the theocracy and the type of the judgment of the
   world.  And there never was a more alarming state of society."

   "The horrors of the French Revolution were confined to one country,
   but the tribulation of the six years preceding the destruction of
   Jerusalem extended over the whole Roman empire and embraced wars
   and rebellions, frequent and unusual conflagrations, earthquakes
   and famines and plagues, and all sorts of public calamities and 
   miseries untold.  It seemed, indeed, that the world, shaken to its
   very center, was coming to a close, and every Christian must have
   felt that the prophecies of Christ were being fulfilled before his

   "It was at this unique juncture in the history of mankind that St.
   John, with the consuming fire in Rome and the infernal spectacle
   of the Neronian persecution behind him, the terrors of the Jewish
   war and the Roman interregnum around him, and the catastrophe of 
   Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy before him, received those 
   wonderful visions of the impending conflicts and final triumphs
   of the Christian church.  His was truly a book of the times and
   for the times, and administered to the persecuted brethren the one
   but all-sufficient consolation:  Maranatha! Maranatha!"  (History
   of The Christian Church, Vol. I, pp. 836-837)


Its purpose is clearly stated at the beginning and end of the book (cf.
Re 1:1,3; 22:6,10):

          To reveal "things which must shortly come to pass"

In particular, it is a revelation from Christ Himself of the judgment to
come upon those who were persecuting His people (cf. Re 6:9-11; 16:5-7). 
This judgment was directed especially toward those who had been deceived
by Satan to attack the Church of Christ.  As stated by Philip Schaff:

   "Undoubtedly he had in view primarily the overthrow of Jerusalem
   and heathen Rome, the two great foes of Christianity at that time."

Again, I would suggest that the purpose of the book is to reveal how
Christ was going to bring judgment on Jerusalem and Rome for rejecting
God and persecuting His people.  This judgment occurred with the
destruction of Jerusalem in the fall of 70 A.D., and with the final
cessation of persecution by Rome in 313 A.D. when Constantine became an
emperor supportive of Christianity.  

In fulfilling this purpose, the book is designed to warn and comfort. 
For erring disciples, it is a book of warning ("repent" or else, cf. Re
2:5,16).  For faithful disciples, it is a book of comfort ("blessed" are
those who "overcome", cf. Re 1:3; 2:7; 3:21; 14:13; 22:14).


If there is one verse that summarizes the theme of the book of
Revelation, it is this one: 

   "These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome
   them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who
   are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful." (Re 17:14)


   1. Introduction (Re 1:1-20)
      a. Prologue and blessings (Re 1:1-3)
      b. Greetings and doxology (Re 1:4-6)
      c. Prophecy and proclamation (Re 1:7-8)
      c. Vision of Christ among the lampstands (Re 1:9-20)
   2. Letters to the seven churches of Asia (Re 2:1-3:22)
      a. The church at Ephesus (Re 2:1-7)
      b. The church at Smyrna (Re 2:8-11)
      c. The church at Pergamos (Re 2:12-17)
      d. The church at Thyatira (Re 2:18-29)
      e. The church at Sardis (Re 3:1-6)
      f. The church at Philadelphia (Re 3:7-13)
      g. The church at Laodicea (Re 3:14-22)


   A. THE THRONE SCENE (Re 4:1-5:14)
      1. God on the throne (Re 4:1-11)
      2. The Lamb worthy to open the scroll (Re 5:1-14)

      1. First seal:  The white horse and its rider (Re 6:1-2)
      2. Second seal:  The red horse and its rider (Re 6:3-4)
      3. Third seal:  The black horse and its rider (Re 6:5-6)
      4. Fourth seal:  The pale horse and its riders (Re 6:7-8)
      5. Fifth seal:  The martyrs under the altar (Re 6:9-11)
      6. Sixth seal:  Cataclysmic disturbances (Re 6:12-17)
      7. Interlude (Re 7:1-17)
         a. Sealing of the 144,000 on earth (Re 7:1-8)
         b. The great multitude in heaven (Re 7:9-17)
      8. Seventh seal:  Silence in heaven (Re 8:1)

      1. Seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets (Re 8:2-6)
      2. First trumpet:  Third of vegetation destroyed (Re 8:7)
      3. Second trumpet:  Third of sea creatures and ships destroyed
         (Re 8:8-9)
      4. Third trumpet:  Third of rivers and springs become bitter,
         many die (Re 8:10-11)
      5. Fourth trumpet:  Third of sun, moon, and stars struck,
         affecting day and night (Re 8:12)
      6. Three-fold woe announced (Re 8:13)
      7. Fifth trumpet (first woe):  Locusts from the bottomless pit,
         sent to torment men (Re 9:1-12)
      8. Sixth trumpet (second woe):  Four angels with an army of two
         hundred million, killing a third of mankind (Re 9:13-21)
      9. Interlude (Re 10:1-11:14)
         a. The angel with the little book (Re 10:1-11)
         b. The two witnesses and destruction of Jerusalem (Re 11:1-13)
     10. Seventh trumpet (third woe):  The victory of Christ and His
         kingdom proclaimed (Re 11:14-19)


   A. THE GREAT CONFLICT (Re 12:1-14:20)
      1. The Woman, Child, Dragon, and rest of the Woman's offspring
         (Re 12:1-17)
      2. The beast from the sea (Re 13:1-10)
      3. The beast from the land (Re 13:11-18)
      4. The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion (Re 14:1-5)
      5. Proclamations of three angels (Re 14:6-13)
      6. Reaping the earth's harvest, and the grapes of wrath (Re
   B. THE SEVEN BOWLS OF WRATH (Re 15:1-16:21)
      1. Prelude to pouring out the seven bowls of wrath (Re 15:1-8)
      2. First bowl:  Sores on those who worshipped the beast and his
         image (Re 16:1-2)
      3. Second bowl:  Sea turns to blood, all sea creatures die (Re
      4. Third bowl:  Rivers and springs turn to blood (Re 16:4-7)
      5. Fourth bowl:  Men are scorched by the sun (Re 16:8-9)
      6. Fifth bowl:  Pain and darkness upon the beast and his kingdom
         (Re 16:10-11)
      7. Sixth bowl:  Euphrates dried up, three unclean spirits gather
         the kingdoms of the earth for the battle at Armageddon (Re 
      8. Seventh bowl:  Great earthquake, great city divided, Babylon
         is remembered, cataclysmic events (Re 16:17-21)

      1. The scarlet woman and the scarlet beast (Re 17:1-6)
      2. The mystery of the woman and beast explained (Re 17:7-18)
      3. The fall of Babylon the great proclaimed and mourned (Re
      4. The exaltation in heaven over the fall of the great harlot
         (Re 19:1-5)
      5. The announcement of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Re 19:6-10)

      1. Christ the victorious warrior and King of kings (Re 19:11-16)
      2. The beast, his armies and false prophet (land beast) are
         defeated (Re 19:17-21)


      1. Satan bound for a thousand years, unable to deceive nations
         (Re 20:1-3)
      2. Saints (martyrs and faithful) reign with Christ (Re 20:4-6)

      1. Satan released to deceive the nations once more (Re 20:7-8)
      2. Makes one last effort, but defeated once for all (Re 20:9-10) 

   C. THE FINAL JUDGMENT (Re 20:11-15)
      1. Great white throne judgment, with earth and heaven no more (Re
      2. Death and Hades cast into the lake of fire, along with those
         whose names were not in the Book of Life (Re 20:14-15)

      1. The new heaven and new earth, God dwelling with His people in
         the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven(Re 21:1-8)
      2. The New Jerusalem described (Re 21:9-27)
      3. The water of life, tree of life, throne of God and the Lamb
         (Re 22:1-5)

   1. The time is near, do not seal up the book (Re 22:6-11)
   2. The testimony of Jesus, the Spirit, and the bride (Re 22:12-17)
   3. Warning not to tamper with the book, and closing prayers (Re


1) What is this book called? (1:1)
   - The Revelation of Jesus Christ

2) What is the meaning of the Greek word (apokalupsis) translated
   - An uncovering, an unveiling

3) What style of literature is the book of Revelation?
   - Apocalyptic literature

4) What are some of the typical features of such literature?
   - Highly symbolic; depicting conflict between good and evil

5) What is important to know to properly interpret the book?
   - The historical context in which it was written

6) What are the four major views of interpreting the book?
   - Preterist, historicist, futurist, idealist

7) Which view is suggested in this introduction?
   - Preterist, with a little borrowed from the other views as well

8) Who is the author of this book?  (1:1-2)
   - John, who had born witness to the word of God and testimony of Jesus

9) What dates are usually suggested for the book?
   - An early date (64-68 A.D.), during the reign of Nero
   - A late date (95-96 A.D.), during the reign of Domitian

10) Which date is suggested in this study? (and by Schaff, McGuiggan,
    and others)
   - The spring of 70 A.D., during the reign of Vespasian

11) What is the purpose of the book? (1:13; 22:10,16)
   - To reveal things which must shortly come to pass

12) Who do I propose to be the two major enemies used by Satan?
   - Jerusalem & Rome

13) What is the key verse that summarizes the book?
   - Revelation 17:14

14) From the outline above, what are the three main divisions of the
   - Visions Of Judgment Against Jerusalem
   - Visions Of Judgment Against Rome
   - Visions Of The Future And Beyond


Back To The Future: A study in the book of Revelation, R. E. Bass (Living
Hope Press, 2004)

The Book Of Revelation, Jim McGuiggan (Montex, 1976)

The Book Of Revelation, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. (Wallace Publications, 1966)

Four Views On The Book Of Revelation, S.N. Gundry & C.M. Pate, Eds.
(Zondervan, 1998)

History Of The Christian Church, Vol. I, Philip Schaff (Eerdmans, 1910,

The Lamb And His Enemies, Rubel Shelly (20th Century, 1985)

More Than Conquerors, William Hendricksen (Baker Book House, 1971)

New International Bible commentary, F. F. Bruce (Zondervan Publishing
House, 1979)

Redating The New Testament, John A. T. Robertson (Westminster Press,

Revelation, Robert Harkrider (Truth Commentaries, Guardian Of Truth,

Revelation:  An Introduction And Commentary, Homer Hailey (Baker, 1979)

The Time Is At Hand, Jay Edward Adams (Timeless Texts, 2004)

Worthy Is The Lamb, Ray Summers (Broadman Press, 1951)
<< Previous | Index | Next >>

Home Page
Have A Bible Question? | Want A Free Bible Study Course? | Looking For A Church Near You?
Want To Talk With Someone By Phone? | Want To Discuss The Bible By Email?
Search The Outlines

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

eXTReMe Tracker