The following introduction is based on material from The Return of the King by Dr. Vern Poythress and occasionally The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation by G. K. Beale.
Usually when I write a Bible study, I focus on the intrepretation and spend minimal time on application questions because I believe that American Christians are too self-centered when they study the Bible. Their focus is man-centered and not God-centered. When I teach the Bible, I ask, "What does this passage teach us about God? About Christ? About the church and about ourselves?" I'm not saying that application isn't important, I'm saying that we need to take the focus off ourselves to better understand the Bible and after we've done that, we should then think about how are lives should change now that we understand what God has revealed to us in His word.
But with this study, I've changed my focus and the reason is that we don't treat Revelation like we treat the other books of the New Testament. A lot of people treat this book as if it is meant for some future generation that will be going through the tribulation. It scares Christians and it's hard to read. It's not a book that people read and say, "How do I apply this to my life?" But it's meant to be applied:
Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.We can learn the following from this passage:
- It’s a revelation about Jesus Christ, it’s not meant to conceal but to reveal. The book wasn't meant to be a puzzle but a revelation.
- To show His servants, God wants Jesus to reveal to His servants “the things that must soon take place.” Here is why we need to read this book so that we understand what God wanted to reveal to us, the church.
- “Blessed is the one who read aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear” if we don’t read it we won’t be blessed.
- And "who keep what is written in it," how can we keep what’s in it if we don’t read it?
Who is the author of Revelation? According to Poythress, John the apostle of Jesus Christ (the author of the Gospel of John, and 1, 2, 3 John) was identified as author by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria in the second century (Poythress, pg. 49).
According to Beale there are three possibilities for authorship: "John the apostle, another John (sometimes referred to a John the Elder), and someone else using "John" as a pseudoym" (Beale, pg. 34). Around the time of the writing of Revelation, authors would write Apocalptic literature using a pseudonym of someone from the Bible. But Beale believes if it were a pseudonym, it would have been "John the apostle" (Beale, pg. 34) and Beale states that there is some dispute as to whether "pseudepigraphical writings were an accepted convention among Christians at this time" (Beale, pg. 34). So, it was probably a John known to the church. Since John identifies himself as a prophet (1:1-3; 10-19; 4:1-2; 17:1-3; 21:9-10; 22:6-7), Beale believes that he can probably be "identified with a group of early Christian itinerant prophets" (Beale, pg. 36).
According to Poythress, Dionysius, bishop of Alexandra compared the themes and style of writing with John’s other writing and declared that it wasn’t the same. But others have found many similar themes: "Jesus as Word, Lamb, and Son of man and as glorified even through death...Shepherd, manna, living water, and life and light" (pg. 35). As well has some similar Greek words and phrases. And it would make sense that different genres would not be too similar to each other.
Since John identifies himself as a prophet (1:1-3; 10-19; 4:1-2; 17:1-3; 21:9-10; 22:6-7), Beale believes that he is probably be "identified with a group of early Christian itinerant prophets" (pg. 36).
And I should point out that God identifies himself as the author of the book:
Revelation 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.Date
Arguments for an early date (from Beale, pp. 21-27):
The temple is mentioned in 11:1-2. It wouldn’t have been mentioned if it had been destroyed (it was destroyed in 70 AD), also “the holy city” in 11:2 and “the great city” in 11:18 refer to Jerusalem.
The “seven mountains” in 17:9 is believed to refer to Rome and the seven kings to the Roman emperors and an early dating would “identify the first of these ‘kings’ as Augustus, the first official Roman emperor, and the sixth as Galba, who reigned briefly after Nero’s death (68-69 AD). Or one might just as plausibly begin with Julius Caesar, who first claimed the rights of Roman emperor. In that case, Nero would be the sixth and Galba the seventh” (pg. 21).
The number "666" refers to Nero -- “Some contend that the numerical value of the name Nero(n) Caesar was intended to be caluculated according to Hebrew transcription, since it adds up to 666, the number of the beast’s name in 13:18” (pg. 24).
"Babylon" refers to Jerusalem.
Revelation 1:7 states that Jesus would be "coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him even those who piereced him; and all the tribe of the earth will mourn over him." This passage is believed by preterists to refer to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Jesus coming to Jerusalem in judgment through the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army. Obviously, that would mean that the book would have been written before the army destroyed Jerusalem.
Beale goes through each of these arguments and refutes them, if you are interested in them, buy his commentary :-)
Arguments for a later date:
Poythress believes that the dating of the book is during the reign of Domitian. It’s clear from the book that the churches, throughout the whole Asia-Minor region, are going through persecution or are about to go through persecution. If that’s the case, then it can’t be Nero because his persecution of the church was limited to Christians in Rome. The reason that Poythress believes that it was during Domitian’s reign is his enforcement of a tax on the Jews so that they would not have to declare their loyalty to the Empire. When this tax was collected, the problem of whether Christians were Jews was raised and this lead to the persecution of Christians who wouldn’t pledge loyalty to the Empire. The Jews denied that the Christians were Jews even though the Christians viewed themselves that way. This may be the reason for these passages:
Revelation 2:9 "'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.Plus, Beale states that the “testimony of the earliest patristic authors supports a date during the time of Domitian. The most important of these witnesses are Irenaeus, Victorinus of Pettau, Eusebius, and possibly Clement of Alexandra and Origen” (Beale, pg. 19).
Revelation 3:9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie- behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.
He also believes that the use of the term "Babylon" points to a date after 70 AD since its used to refer to "Rome in Jewish literature after 70 A.D. and roughly contemporary with the Apocalypse. Jewish commentators called Rome "Babylon" because the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., just as Babylon had done in the sixth century B.C." (Beale, pp 18-19).
Occasion and Purpose
Some in the church were going through persecution and for others it was coming and this letter was to be an encouragement and a rebuke. There was heretical teaching and some lost their zeal for the Lord. Some were beginning to compromise with the society. John wrote the letter to warn them to turn back to the Lord, and persevere in their faith.
“Revelation assures Christians that Christ knows their condition. He calls them to stand fast against all temptation. Their victory has been secured through the blood of the Lamb (5:9-10; 12:11). Christ will come soon to defeat Satan and all his agents (19:11-20:10), and his people will enjoy everlasting peace in his presence (7:15-17; 21:3-4)” (pg. 55).
“John’s purpose was to jot these Christians back into reality of their faith and the seriousness of their sin by telling them that they could not be loyal to two masters but only one.”
Poythress believes that the following are the themes of Revleation (Poythress, pp. 43-45):
God – “God rules history and will bring it to its consummation in Christ” (Poythress, The Book of Revelation: A Guide for Understanding, pg. 3)
Spiritual warfare – Satan and God are at war and humanity is caught in the middle. Revelation reveals this struggle and allows us to see that Christ is the ulitmate victor in this conflict.
Contrasts between good and evil – counterfeit by Satan of God’s work.
Witness and Martydom -- these themes run throughout the book.
Reward and punishment -- their are blessing for following Christ and their is punishment for those who are disobedient to God.
Apocalyptic -- it's similar to other types of apocalyptic literature at the time.
Beale believes that “the focus of the book is exhortation to the church community to witness to Christ in the midst of a compromising, idolatrous church world” (pg. 33).
Over the coming months I will be posting the notes and questions from my Revelation Bible study that I will be teaching at my church. I will be focusing my attention on how the book of Revelation impacts our lives today. I have posted the study questions here.
One bit of warning about my interpretation, I plan to let the Bible speak for itself and not impose an interpretation on it. I'm not interested in following popular trends. I'm interested in reading the Bible in the genre that it is written in and keep that in mind when I interpret the symbolism.
And just because I don't follow the trends, doesn't mean that I don't understand them. I've studied this book for years and I know the major types of interpretation, I come to my current position, not because I've embraced it but because I've rejected the others. It's the only one that makes any sense of the material found in Revelation and the rest of the Scriptures.