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Revelation

Background

The author is probably the Apostle John who had been a disciple of Jesus, author of John’s Gospel and the Letters of 1, 2 and 3 John. John was the closest to Jesus, and one of the few to die of old age, and not martyrdom.

We don’t know the date for sure. It seems very likely that the book is written to encourage Christians during a time of persecution. Although some argue for a date during the reign of Nero (around the late 60s AD), others including the Word@Work writer assumes a much later date (around 95AD) when persecution was more widespread and severe.

It is the most unique style of literature of all the books in the New Testament. Some of it is exhortation, some letter (to seven churches in chapters 1-3) some prophecy (1:3, 22:18) and some a style known as apocalyptic, which was like an ancient code used of some Old Testament books which flourished 200BC-AD100. The symbols and numbers and cartoon like images would have been well understood by its readers but have led to confusion and speculation.

We are told that it is a letter to seven churches in the province of Asia (1:5).  Perhaps the key to understanding the book is to know that although there is no direct quote from the Old Testament, there are over 600 times when an Old Testament event or story is in mind. For example Revelation 1:12-17 is based on Daniel 10:5-12. So when Revelation’s first readers came across thunder and lightning (4:5), they would think of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16); when they read trumpets (8.7), they would think of temple worship (Leviticus 23:24); and locusts (9.3), would bring to mind the judgment and restoration in Joel 2:25. The vast majority of references to the Old Testament are from seven books: Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah.

Revelation also uses stories known within that culture to make a point. Revelation 12 is based on a story used by Roman emperors.

All of the seven cities mentioned in Revelation had altars to the emperor and a system of imperial priesthoods, and at least three of them had imperial temples at the time. The empire did not pressure people to worship the emperor, but the cities did. There was great pressure to show their loyalty to Rome and to the emperor. The worship of the emperor and other gods was a part of political and civic events, the meetings of professional guilds and trade associations.  Christians who refused to do so would stand out.

Revelation makes use of numbers in a particular way. First, it includes significant words with special regularity - so ‘Jesus’, the faithful witness, occurs 14 times (= 2 x 7), which is the number of perfect witness (since you need two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6) and 7 is the number of completeness).

It uses a style known as numerology, where letters in Greek are given numbers. So the number of ‘the beast’ is the same as the number of a man’s name (in this case Nero Caesar) since both add up to 666 (see 13:18).

 

Purpose

The book of Revelation aims to help Christians going through Roman persecution that Jesus would be the ultimate victor, even if, for now, things were very tough. Hence throughout the book we are reminded that Jesus is victorious, and Rome (known as Babylon) will one day fall. The kingdom of God will reign supreme. Readers are wise therefore to keep the worship of Jesus first and not be bullied into following the Emperor.

 

Why read it?

The end of the book specifically promises a ‘blessing’ to everyone who reads the book.

You will see the majesty of Jesus and His power over all thrones. Revelation is full of Jesus. Someone found titles or allusions to Him appear 49 times in chapter 1; 39 times in chapter 2, 49 times in chapter 3. He is described as the Creator, the Eternal, the Almighty, the God of heaven, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb - both the sacrificial Lamb and the conquering Lamb, the Bright and Morning Star, the Holy One, the Key of David. Altogether, nineteen descriptive names of Him appear within the book.

Christians have been persecuted throughout history and have drawn comfort from the reminders that one day all will be well.  The wicked will be dealt with and God’s promises to His people fulfilled: no pain, mourning or dying. We await God’s solution and His return in glory.

Christians have interpreted the book very differently. Some see chapters 4-22 as describing the future, others as being most concerned with the Roman Empire of that day.  Some argue that both may be in mind. Whichever view is taken there is a clear picture of the very end of time when God comes to earth and brings in a new heaven and new earth. It is the most powerful picture of the future in the whole of the Bible, and provides peace and reassurance that the God who has been faithful in keeping His promises throughout history will once again prove that He can be trusted.

Structure 
ChaptersContent
1-3Letters to the Seven Churches
4-7Opening Seven Seals
7-9Blowing seven trumpets
10-13Viewing Seven Signs
14-16Experiencing Seven Bowls
17-19Crushing God’s Enemies
20-22All things become new
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