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published: 7/2/13

The Book of Revelation



Fast Facts on the Book of Revelation

Length: 22 chapters
Author: Apostle John or John the Presbyter
Date: c. 95 AD, probably during the persecution of Domitian
Place of Origin: Unknown; the vision John relates came to him on Patmos
Destination: "The seven churches in the province of Asia" (1:4)
Purpose: To relate a vision of the end times so that believers will be prepared
Characteristics: Apocalyptic, highly symbolic, frequent use of the number seven
Emphases: Eschatology, perseverance during persecution
Early opinion:    "There was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied by a revelation that was made to him. He prophesied that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 81, c. 160 AD)
   "In a still clearer light has John, in the Apocalypse, indicated to the Lord's disciples what will happen n the last times, and concerning the ten kings who will then arise, among whom the empire which now rules the earth shall be partitioned." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 26.1, c. 180)

Summary of Revelation

Authorship and authenticity

The writer calls himself John (Revelation 1:1,4,9; 22:8). Justin Martyr (Dial. 308, A.D. 139-161) quotes it as the apostle John's work, referring to the millennium and general resurrection and judgment. Justin held his controversy with the learned Jew Trypho at Ephesus, John's residence 35 years previously; he says "the Revelation was given to John, one of the twelve apostles of Christ." Melito, bishop of Sardis (A.D. 171), one of the seven churches whose angel was reproved (Rev. 3:1), is said by Eusebius (H.E. iv. 26) to have written on the Revelation of John.



So, Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 180) quoted from the Revelation of John (Eusebius iv. 26), also Apollonius of Asia Minor in the end of the second century. Irenaeus (A.D. 195), a hearer of Polycarp (John's disciple, probably the angel of the Smyrnean church, Usher), quotes repeatedly Revelation as the apostle John's writing (Haer. iv. 20, section 11; 21, section 3; 30, section 4; 5:26, section 1; 30, section 3; 35, section 2). In v. 30, section 1 he quotes the beast's number 666 (Rev. 13:18) as in all the old copies, and orally confirmed to him by persons who had seen John, adding "we do not hazard a confident theory as to Antichrist's name, for if it had been necessary that his name should be proclaimed openly at this present time it would have been declared by him who saw the apocalyptic vision, for it was seen not long ago, but almost in our generation, toward the end of Domitian's reign."

In writing "against heresies" ten years after Polycarp's martyrdom he quotes Rev. 20 times as inspired Scripture.

These are testimonies of those contemporary with John's immediate successors, and connected with the region of the seven churches to which Revelation is addressed. Tertullian of northern Africa (A.D. 220, Adv. Marcion iii. 14,24) quotes the apostle John's description of the sword proceeding out of Christ's mouth (Rev. 19:15), and the heavenly city (Rev. 21). See also De Resurr. 27; De Anima 8:9; De Praescr. Haeretic, 33. The Muratorian Canon (A.D. 170) refers to John, "Paul's predecessor," namely, in the apostleship, as writing to the seven churches. Hippolytus, bishop of Ostia, about A.D. 240 (De Antichristo 67) quotes Rev. 17:1-18 as the apostle John's writing.

The catalog on Hippolytus' statue specifies among his writings a treatise on the Revelation and Gospel according to John." Clemens Alex., A.D. 200 (Strom. 6:13), refers to the 24 elders' seats mentioned in Revelation (Rev. 4:5) by John, also (Quis Dives Salvus? section 42) John's return to Ephesus from Patmos on the Roman emperor's death. Origen (A.D. 233, commentary on Matthew in Eusebius H. E. vi. 25) names John as author of Revelation without any doubt, also (on Matthew, tom. 16:6) he quotes Rev. 1:9, and observes "John seems to have beheld the Apocalypse in the isle of Patmos." Victorinus, bishop of Petau in Pannonia, martyred under Diocletian (A.D. 303), wrote the oldest extant commentary on Revelation. Ephraem the Syrian (A.D. 378) quotes it as John's work and as Scripture, though the Syriac Peshito version omits it.

Papias, John's hearer and Polycarp's associate and bishop of Hierapolis near Laodicea (one of the seven churches), attests its canonicity and inspiration (according to a scholium of Andreas of Cappadocia). Revelation was omitted by the council of Laodicea from its list of books to be read publicly, doubtless because of its prophetic obscurity.

The epistle of the churches of Lyons and Vienne to those of Asia and Phrygia (in Eusebius, H. E. v. 1-3) in the Aurelian persecution, A.D. 177, quotes as Scripture Rev. 1:5; 3:14; 14:4; 22:11. Cyprian, A.D. 250 (Ep. 13), quotes Rev. 2:5 as Scripture, and Rev. 3:21 (Ep. 25) as of the same authority as the Gospel. Athanasius (Fest. Ep.) reckons Revelation among the canonical Scriptures to which none must add and from which none must take away. Jerome (Ep. ad Paulin.) enumerates Revelation as in the canon, saying: "it has as many mysteries as words. All praise falls short of its merits. In each word lie hid manifold senses." Thus a continuous chain of witnesses proves its authenticity and canonicity.

The Alogi (Epiphanius, Haer. 31) and Cains the Roman presbyter (Eusebius iii. 28), toward the end of the second and beginning of the third century, rejected Revelation on slight grounds. Caius (A.D. 210) according to Jerome (De Vir. Illustr.) ascribed Revelation to Cerinthus. Dionysius of Alexandria says many before his time rejected it because of its obscurity, or because it supported Cerinthus' view of an earthly kingdom.

Dionysius, Origen's scholar, bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 247), recognizes its inspiration (in Eusebius, H. E. vii. 10), but ascribes it to a different John from the evangelist, on the ground of its different style and its naming John, whereas his name is kept back in the Gospel, also as the epistle does not allude to Revelation nor Revelation to the epistle; moreover the style abounds in solecisms.

Eusebius (H. E. xxiv. 39) through antimillennial bias wavers as to whether to count Revelation canonical or not. Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 386; Catachesis iv. 35,36) omits Revelation in enumerating the New Testament Scriptures to be read privately as well as publicly, for he argues "whatever is not read in the churches read not even by thyself." Yet (Catechesis i. 4) he quotes Rev. 2:7,17, and (Catechesis i. 16, section 13) draws from Rev. 17:11 the conclusion that the king who should humble three kings (Dan. 7:8,20) is the eighth king. In Dan. 7:15,27 he quotes from Rev. 12:3,4. The 60th canon (if genuine) of the Laodicean council (fourth century A.D.) omits Revelation from the canon; but the council of Carthage (A.D. 397) recognizes its canonicity.

The eastern church in part doubted, the western church after the fifth century universally recognized, the Revelation. Cyril of Alexandria (De Adoratione, 146), while intimating the doubts of some, himself accepts it as John's work. Andreas of Caesarea in Cappadocia recognized its genuineness and canonicity, and wrote the first connected commentary on it. The most primitive testimony is decidedly for it; the only objections were subjective: (1) the opposition of many to the millennium in it; (2) its symbolism and obscurity prevented its being publicly read in churches and its being taught to the young.

The writer's addresses to the seven churches of proconsular Asia accord with the tradition that after John's return from Patmos at Domitian's death he lived for long in Nerva's reign, and died at Ephesus in Trajan's time (Eusebius, H. E. iii. 20,23). If Revelation were not his, it would certainly have been rejected in that region, whereas the earliest witnesses in the churches there are all in its favor. One alone could use such authoritative language to the seven churches, namely John, the last surviving apostle, who superintended all the churches. It is John's manner to asseverate the accuracy of his testimony at the beginning and end (Rev. 1:2,3; 22:8 with John 1:14; 19:35; 21:24; 1 Jn. 1:1,2).

Moreover, it accords with the writer's being an inspired apostle that he addresses the angels or presidents of the churches as a superior inferiors. Also he commends Ephesus for trying and convicting "them which say they are apostles, and are not"; implying his own claim to prophetic inspiration (Rev. 2:2) as declaring in the seven epistles Christ's will revealed through him. None but John could, without designing to deceive, have assumed the simple title "John" without addition. One alone, the apostle, would be understood by the designation at that time, and in Asia. "The fellow servant of angels and brother of prophets" (Rev. 22:9) is more likely to be the celebrated apostle John than any less known person bearing the name.

As to difference of style, as compared with the Gospel and epistle, the difference of subject accounts for it; the seer, rapt above the region of sense, appropriately expresses himself in a style abrupt and unbound by the grammatical laws which governed his calmer and more deliberate writings. Writing a revelation related to the Old Testament prophets (Daniel especially), John, himself a Galilean Hebrew, reverts to their Hebraistic style.

Besides there are resemblances of style between the Apocalypse and John's Gospel and epistle; e.g. (1) Christ's designation unique to John, "the Word of God" (Rev. 19:13; John 1:1; 1 Jn. 1:1). (2) "He that overcometh" (Rev. 2:7,11,17; 3:5,12,21; 12:11; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7; John 16:33; 1 Jn. 2:13,14; 4:4; 5:4,5). (3) "True," i.e. genuine, antitypical (aleethinos), as opposed to what is shadowy and unreal; only once in Luke (Luke 16:11); four times in Paul's epistles (1 Thes. 1:9; Heb. 8:2; 9:24; 10:22); but nine times in John's Gospel (John 1:9; 4:23,37; 6:32; 7:28; 8:16; 15:1; 17:3; 19:35); four times in 1 John (1 Jn. 2:8; 5:20); ten times in Revelation (Rev. 3:7,14; 6:10; 15:3; 16:7; 19:2,9,11; 21:5; 22:6). (4) The diminutive for lamb (arnion, "lambkin") occurs 29 times in Revelation; the only other place of its occurrence is John 21:15; by John alone is Christ called directly "the Lamb" (John 1:29,36), in 1 Pet. 1:19 "the blood of Christ as a lamb," etc., alluding to Isa. 53:7. (5) So "witness" or "testimony" (Rev. 1:2,9; 6:9; 11:7; John 1:7,8,15,19,32; 1 Jn. 1:2; 4:14; 5:6-11); "keep the word," "commandments" (Rev. 3:8,10; 12:17; John 8:51,55; 14:15). (6) The same thing asserted post. lively and negatively (Rev. 2:2,6,8,13; 3:8,17,18; John 1:3,6,7,20; 1 Jn. 2:27,28). (7) Spiritual "anointing" (Rev. 3:18; 1 Jn. 2:20,27).

The startling solecisms arrest attention to the deep truths beneath, they flow from the sublime elevation which raises the transported seer above mere grammatical rules. It is not due to ignorance of grammar, because he shows his knowledge of it in more difficult constructions. But in order to put his transcendent subject vividly before the eye, with graphic abruptness he passes from one grammatical construction to another. The connection of thought is more attended to than that of grammar. Two-fifths of the whole, moreover, is the recorded language of others, not John's own.

Tregelles (New Testament Historical Evidences) observes, "there is no book of the New Testament for which we have so clear, ample, and numerous testimonies in the second century as we have for the Apocalypse. The nearer the connection of the witnesses with the apostle John (as Irenaeus), the more explicit their testimony. That doubts should prevail in after ages must have originated either in ignorance of the earlier testimony, or else from some supposed intuition of what the apostle ought to have written. The objections on the ground of internal style can weigh nothing against the actual evidence. It is in vain to argue a priori that John could not have written the book, when we have the evidence of several competent witnesses that he did write it."

Relation of Revelation to the rest of the canon

Gregory of Nyssa (tom. iii. 601) calls Revelation "the last book of grace." It completes the volume of inspiration. No further revelation remains until Christ shall come, as is implied in Rev. 22:18-20. Appropriately, the last surviving apostle wrote it. The New Testament consists of the histories (the Gospels and Acts), the doctrinal epistles, and the one prophetic book, Revelation; the same apostle wrote the last of the Gospels and the last of the epistles and the only prophetic book of the New Testament All the New Testament books were written and read in the church assemblies some years before John's death.

Providence prolonged his life, that he might give Scripture its final attestation. The Asiatic bishops (A.D. 100) came to John at Ephesus, bringing him copies of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and requested his apostolic judgment concerning them; he pronounced them genuine, authentic, and inspired, and at their request added his Gospel to complete the fourfold aspect of Christ (Muratori Canon; Eusebius iii. 24; Jerome, Procem. in Matth.; Victorinus on the Apocalypse; Theodoret of Mopsuestia).

What he wrote they attested; John 21:24, "this is the disciple which testifieth of these things and wrote these things, and WE know that his testimony is true." Revelation is "the seal of the whole Bible" (a Greek divine in Allatius), the completion of the canon. Scripture is one organic whole, its books, though ranging over 1,500 years in their date of composition, being mutually connected. The end is the necessary sequence of the middle, the middle of the beginning. Genesis represents man in innocence and bliss, followed by man's fall through Satan's cunning, and man's consequent dooming to death and exclusion from paradise and its tree of life and delightful rivers.

Revelation represents in reverse order man first sinning and dying, then conquering sin and death through the blood of the Lamb; the first Adam and Eve represented by the second Adam, Christ, and the church His spotless bride in paradise, with access to the tree of life, and the crystal waters of life flowing from the throne of God. As Genesis foretold the bruising of the serpent's head by the woman's Seed, so Revelation declares the accomplishment of that prophecy (Rev. 19--20).

Place and time of writing

John was exiled under Domitian (Iren. 5:30; Clemens Alex.; Eusebius, H. E. iii. 20). Victorinus says he had to labor in the mines of PATMOS (which see). At Domitian's death (A.D. 95) he returned to Ephesus under Nerva. He probably wrote out the visions immediately after seeing them (Rev. 1:2,9; 10:4). "Forbidden to go beyond certain bounds of earth, he was permitted t heaven" (Bede on Rev. 1). Irenaeus writes, "Revelation was seen no long time ago, almost in our own generation, at the close of Domitian's reign."

Coincidences with the epistles of Paul and Peter (Rev. 1:4,8; 22:12; Heb. 10:37. Rev. 21:14; Heb. 11:10. Rev. 14:1; Heb. 12:22,23. Rev. 11:19; 15:5; 21:3; Heb. 8:1,2. Rev. 1:16; 2:12,16; 19:13,15; Heb. 4:12. Rev. 20; Heb. 4:9. Rev. 1:1 with 1 Pet. 1:7,13. Rev. 4:13; 5:10; with 1 Pet. 2:9. Rev. 2:26,27; 3:21; 11:18; with 2 Tim. 4:8. Rev. 12:7-12 with Eph. 6:12. Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; Phil. 4:3. Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:18. Rev. 10:7; 11:15-18, with 1 Cor. 15:52). The characteristic Pauline benediction (Rev. 1:4) John would scarcely have used in Paul's life; his adopting it must have been after Paul's death under Nero.

Readers addressed

The inscription makes Revelation addressed to the seven churches of Asia, i.e. proconsular Asia. There were more than that number, e.g. Magnesia and Tralles; but John fixes on the sacred number seven, implying totality and universality, to mark that his address under the Spirit is to the church of all places and ages; its various states of life or deadness the seven churches represent, and are accordingly encouraged or warned. Smyrna and Philadelphia alone receive unmixed praise, as faithful in tribulation and rich in works of love. Heresies had sprung up in Asia, and some had waxed lukewarm; while others increased in zeal, and one, ANTIPAS (which see), sealed his witness with his blood.

Object

Mainly, as the introduction states, to "show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1--3). The foundation of the whole is Rev. 1:5-9; Christ's person, offices as our Redeemer. second coming, and the intermediate tribulation of those who in patient perseverance wait for His kingdom. From Rev. 4 to Rev. 22 is mainly prophecy, with consolations and exhortations interspersed, similar to those addressed to the seven churches (who represent the universal church of all ages), so that the beginning forms an appropriate introduction to the body of the book.

Interpretation

Three schools exist: (1) The preterists hold that the whole has been fulfilled in the past. (2) The historical interpreters think that it comprises the history of the church from John's time to the end of the world, the seals being chronologically succeeded by the trumpets and the trumpets by the vials. The objection is, the prophecies, if fulfilled as is alleged, ought to supply an argument against infidelity; but its advocates differ widely among themselves as to the fulfillment, so that no such argument is derivable from them for the faith. (3) The futurists consider almost the whole as yet future, to be fulfilled immediately before Christ's second coming.

No early father held the first theory; few but rationalists hold it, who limit John's vision to his own age, pagan Rome's persecutions, and its consequently anticipated destruction. God has said "surely He will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). The Jews had a succession of prophets to guide them by the light of prophecy; He never would leave the New Testament church without similar guidance for the 1,700 or 1,800 years since John's age; what the prophets were to the Jews, that Revelation is to us. Its beginning and end (Rev. 1:3; 22:6,7,12,20) assert a speedy fulfillment. "Babylon," etc., cannot be interpreted literally.

The close of the seven seals is couched in language which must refer to Christ's second coming; so the close of the seven trumpets (Rev. 6:12-17; 8:1 ff; 11:15); so the vials (Rev. 16:17). All three run parallel toward their close, and end in the same point. "Catchwords" (Wordsworth) connect the three series; the subsequent series fills up in detail the same picture which the preceding drew in outline. So Victorinus on Rev. 7:2: "the order of things is not to be regarded, for the Holy Spirit, when He has run to the end of the last time, again returns to the same time, and supplies what lie has less fully expressed."

And Primasius, "in the crumpets he describes by a pleasing repetition. as is his custom." At the beginning John hastens, as is the tendency of all the prophets, to the grand consummation (Rev. 1:7): "Beheld he cometh with clouds," etc. (Rev. 1:8,17), "I am the beginning and ending ... the first and the last." The seven epistles exhibit the same anticipation of the end (Rev. 3:12, compare Rev. 21:2). Also Rev. 2:28, compare Rev. 22:16. Again the earthquake at the sixth seal's opening is a "catchword," i.e. a link chronologically connecting the sixth seal with the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:13; 11:13; compare the seventh seal, Rev. 16:17,18).

The concomitants of the sixth seal, in their full, final, and exhaustive sense, can only apply to the terrors which shall overwhelm unbelievers just before the Judge's advent. Again, "the beast out of the bottomless pit," between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Rev. 11:7), connects this series with the section Rev. 12--14; concerning the church and her adversaries the two beasts and the dragon. Again, the sealing of the 144,000 under the sixth seal (Rev. 7) connects this seal with the section Rev. 12--14. Again, the loosing of the four winds by the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, under the sixth seal (Rev. 7:1), answers to the loosing of the four angels at the Euphrates under the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:14).

Links also connect Revelation with the Old Testament The "mouth speaking great things" (Rev. 13:5) connects the "beast that blasphemes against God, and makes war against the saints," with the "little horn" who, arising after the ten kings, shall "speak against the Most High, and wear out the saints"; compare also the "42 months" (Rev. 13:5), or "a thousand two hundred and threescore days" with the "time, times, and the dividing of time" in Dan. 7:8,11,25. Moreover, the "42 months" in Rev. 11:2, answering to Rev. 12:6; 13:5, link together the period under the sixth trumpet to Rev. 12--14.

Number

"The history of salvation is mysteriously governed by holy numbers; they are the scaffolding of the organic edifice; they indicate not merely time but nature and essence; not only nature, but history, is based in numbers. Scripture and antiquity put numbers as the fundamental forms of things, where we put ideas" (Auberlen). As number regulates the relations and proportions of the natural world, so does it enter most frequently into revelation, which sets forth the harmonies of the immediately Divine.

Thus, the most supernatural revelation leads us the farthest into the natural, the God of nature and of revelation being one. Seven is the number for perfection (Rev. 1:4; 4:5; 5:6). The seven seals, trumpets, vials, are each a complete series, fulfilling perfectly the divine course of judgments. Three and a half is opposed to the divine seven, but is broken in itself, and in the moment of its highest triumph is overwhelmed by judgment. Four is the number of the world's extension; seven is that of God's revelation in the world.

In Daniel's four beasts a superior power is recognized, a mimicry of Ezekiel's four cherubs, which symbolize all creaturely life in its due subjection to God (Ezek. 4:6-8). So the four corners of the earth, the four winds, four angels loosed from Euphrates, and Jerusalem lying "four square" expressing world wide extension. The sevenfoldness of the Spirits (Rev. 1:4) on the part of God corresponds to the fourfold cherubim on the part of the created.

John, seeing more deeply into the essentially God-opposed character of the world, presents to us not the four beasts of Daniel, but the seven heads of the beast, whereby it arrogates to itself the sevenfold perfection of the Spirits of God, at the same time that with characteristic self contradiction it has ten horns, the number peculiar to the world power. Its unjust usurpation of the sacred seven is marked by the addition of an eighth to the seven heads, also by the beast's own number, 666, which in units, tens, and hundreds, verges upon, but falls short of, seven.

The judgments on the world are complete in six; after the sixth seal and the sixth trumpet there is a pause. When seven comes there comes "the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ." Six is the number of the world given to judgment, six is half of twelve; twelve is the church's number, as Israel's 12 tribes, the 12 stars on the woman's head (Rev. 12:1), the New Jerusalem's 12 gates (Rev. 21:12-16).

Six symbolizes the world broken and without solid foundation. Twice twelve is the number of the heavenly elders, 12 times 12,000 the number of the sealed elect. The tree of life yields twelve manner of fruits (Rev. 22:2). A chronological meaning also is in the numbers, but as yet it is not incontrovertibly ascertained. We are commanded to investigate them reverently, not for the gratification of curiosity. The event will show the wisdom of God, who ordered all things in minutely harmonious relations as to the times, ways, and events themselves.

Arguments for the year day theory: (1) Dan. 9:24, "seventy sevens (Hebrew) are determined upon." Mede says the Hebrew always means seven of days, never of years (Lev. 7:5; Deut. 16:9,10,16). (2) Israel's wandering in the wilderness was for 40 years to correspond to the 40 days of the spies' search of Canaan, "each day for a year" (Num. 14:33,34). (3) In Ezek. 4:5,6, "I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, 390 days ... 40 days: I have appointed thee each day for a year." (4) In Rev. 2:10 the prophecy "ye shall have tribulation ten days" seems fulfilled in the ten years of persecution recorded by Eusebius.

Even in the year-day theory patience and probation of faith have scope for exercise, for the precise beginning of the 1,260 years is uncertain to us, so that Christ's words would still hold good, "of that day and hour knoweth no man." But the theory is hardly probable in all places, e.g. the "thousand years" in Rev. 20:6,7, can scarcely mean 1,000 by 360 days, i.e. 360,000 years.

"The first resurrection" then must be literal, for Rev. 20:5 is so, "the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished"; 1 Cor. 15:23; Phil. 3:11; Luke 20:35,36 confirm it. The fathers between the apostolic age and Constantine held the premillennial (chiliastic, from the Greek chilioi a thousand) advent. Rome was then associated with antichrist. But when Christianity was established under Constantine professors looked at the church's temporal prosperity as fulfilling the prophecy, and ceased to look for Christ's promised reign on earth.

Popery beforehand usurps the earthly throne which Christ shall assume only at His appearing. A primary historical fulfillment of the symbols is likely, typical of the ultimate and exhaustive fulfillment which toward the close shall vindicate God's grand scheme, as a whole, before the universe. Hence language is used in part answering to the primary historical event, but awaiting the full realization in the close of this present age.

Also see:

Source: Fausett's Bible Dictionary

Bible Commentaries on Revelation

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Outlines of the Book of Revelation

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