Introduction to Revelation

Jesus’ victory and glory

A call to overcome because our God reigns!

How to read Revelation

When the story gets so bleak and the bad guys are winning, it’s a relief to sneak a peek at the end of the book—the good guys DO win in the end! Revelation reminds us that in the end justice and mercy triumph over evil, and every sorrow is comforted. Because Jesus has won the victory over sin and death, we are exhorted to live lives consistent with God’s coming kingdom.

This great prophecy is the climactic book of the New Testament. The four gospels describe Jesus’ life on earth. The many letters describe the ministry of the resurrected Christ. Revelation presents Jesus Christ as the glorious coming King who deserves your love, worship, and total allegiance. The assurance of his ultimate victory gives each of us courage to persevere in the midst of life’s challenges. Our confidence lies in the hope that the world will “become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ. He will reign forever and ever!” (Rev 11:15).

Who wrote this book?

Probably John, the apostle who also wrote the gospel of John and the three letters that bear his name.

When was it written?

Several dates are suggested. The most favored is AD 90–96, near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, about the time his persecution of the church began. These dark days required the light of hope of a victorious future.

To whom was it written and why?

This book went to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (present-day Turkey) to warn them against falling away from their faith in Jesus Christ. It also offered them assurance of ultimate victory through the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who has the future firmly in hand.

SourceView Insights

Revelation certainly has an interesting speaking cast! John speaks through The Narrator (in black—61.6 percent) and as himself (in green—only 0.1 percent). God has much to say (in red—21.2 percent), but perhaps the most intriguing part is that comprised of the other 36 cast members (in blue—17.1 percent). Like Zechariah in the Old Testament we listen to the words of an extraordinary collection of out-of-this-world beings:

  • We hear the voices of a wide assortment of celestial creatures (24 Elders, One of the 24 Elders, Four Living Beings, First Living Being, Second Living Being, Third Living Being, Fourth Living Being, One of the Seven Angels, A Third Angel, A Seventh Angel, A First Angel Flying, A Second Angel Flying, A Third Angel Flying, A Guiding Angel, A Mighty Angel Standing, A Strong Angel, An Angel from the East, An Angel from the Temple, An Angel in the Sun, An Angel with a Boulder, An Angel with a Sickle, An Angel with Authority, Millions of Angels, All the Angels, and—interestingly—An Eagle).

  • We also hear the words of the many redeemed (All Who Hear, All the Redeemed, All the Martyrs, All People, Every Creature, and A Vast Heavenly Crowd).

  • And, sadly, we hear the voices of a few who refused to embrace the kingdom of God (The World’s Merchants, The World’s Shippers, and The World’s Rulers).

  • It is worthy of note that neither Satan nor his demonic hosts get a word in edgewise!

You might still be approaching this book with some apprehension. Perhaps you are thinking, “There are so many mysterious things in it, how can I possibly understand it?” While many of the images are indeed unusual, there is much that is easily comprehensible in Revelation. Some of the first words of The Narrator and some of the final words spoken by God point us in the direction of increased understanding. Note the similarity between these two:

  • “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it, for the time is at hand” (1:3).

  • “Behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7).

Apparently the author thought that the main ideas were clear enough that the reader could readily understand and apply them. What is there to obey in this book? Well, there are over 120 imperatives throughout the book. The Narrator gives some clear commands (like “come ... take the water of life freely” in Rev 22:17) as do a variety of angels, including A First Angel Flying (“Fear the Lord ... give him glory … Worship him ...” in Rev 14:7) and A Guiding Angel (“don’t do it! I am a fellow bondservant ... Worship God ...” in Rev 19:10 and again in 22:9).

But the greatest number of imperatives come directly from the mouth of God and are found in the red text. In fact 20 of the 28 red passages in Revelation contain clear commands for us to obey (Can you find them all?). The greatest number are concentrated in Rev 1:17b-3:22: “Don’t be afraid ... write … write … remember ... repent … do the first works … hear what the Spirit says ... write ... don’t be afraid ... be faithful ... hear what the Spirit says ... write ... repent ... hear what the Spirit says ... write ... hold that which you have ... hear what the Spirit says ... write ... wake up ... keep the things that remain ... remember ... keep it ... repent ... hear what the Spirit says ... write ... Hold firmly that which you have ... hear what the Spirit ... write ... buy from me gold ... white garments ... and eye salve to anoint your eyes ... Be zealous … repent ... hear what the Spirit says ...”

The repetition is purposeful. Are the key themes starting to emerge for you? Don’t be afraid ... wake up ... repent ... keep ... hear what the Spirit says ...

If we go back to (1:3) and (22:7), we realize that these two passages not only speak of obeying the message of this book, but also of the blessings that accompany that act of obedience. There are another five passages in Revelation that also speak of being blessed. They state:

  • “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them” (14:13)

  • “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his clothes, so that he doesn’t walk naked, and they see his shame” (16:15)

  • “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (19:9)

  • “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection” (20:6a)

  • “Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city” (22:14)

World English Bible (WEB)
a Public Domain Modern English translation
of the Holy Bible.

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