Thursday, February 01, 2024

A Bit About Revelation

[This is a document I created to which I refer in my first podcast. It introduces some basics about the New Testament book of Revelation.]

A Bit About Revelation

(Pastor Mark Daniels, January 31, 2024)
“No other book of the Bible has attracted so much attention and caused so much consternation as the Book of Revelation. No other book has been so widely read and wildly misread.” (Richard L. Jeske

1. The first thing to be understood about Revelation is to understand WHO and WHAT it is about. It’s NOT about the antichrist. It’s NOT about what’s called “the tribulation.” The closest thing we have for a title from the author comes at the very beginning of the book: Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. This literally means: “The unveiling or revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Revelation, Christ and the triumph of Christ for all who believe is revealed. That’s the revelation that it gives to Christians.

2. Bottom line: This book which is so often used to incite fear or a false sense of security placed in one’s own righteousness or right actions, is about Jesus Christ, the only place that hope is found for this life or the next.

3. Who wrote Revelation? The author identifies himself simply as John. There were several notable people among Jesus’ early followers named John:

John the Baptist, who died well before Jesus’ death and resurrection and exhibited a less than full understanding of Jesus’ office and ministry and is, therefore, unlikely to be the author of Revelation;

John Mark, part of the ministry team of Paul and Barnabas mentioned in the Book of Acts, is also traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of Mark; and

John, the son of Zebedee and probable younger brother of James. The earliest Church Fathers identified the author of Revelation as this John. The evidence suggests this John lived in Ephesus in what is today Turkey, where he was bishop. He was for a time exiled to the island of Patmos for his faith in Jesus, but returned to Ephesus. He lived through the first seven decades of the Church’s life, living to a ripe old age.

4. Was Revelation always widely accepted as canonical? Some will know that Revelation is often referred to as one of the “disputed books” we today have in the New Testament, along with 2 and 3 John and Jude and even Hebrews. In fact, the evidence suggests that when John first composed Revelation in the late first century, it was received, like other books now in our New Testament, as an apostolic Word from God, equal to both books in the Old Testament and other books accepted in the New Testament. A later-generation Church Father, Dionysus, and others who followed his lead, questioned whether John was the author of Revelation and whether it deserved equal treatment with other books of the Bible. But this was never the prevailing view, nor was it the earliest view, of the Church. We can, I think, safely regard Revelation as the last proclamation of the definitive apostolic Word about Jesus and therefore, part of the canon, the standard for the proclamation of God’s Word today.

Louis A. Brighton writes: “Revelation is…the culmination of the entire salvation contained in the Bible…it draws all of revelation, both prophetic and apostolic, to its final goal: the exalted reign of Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords (19:11-16) and the fulfillment of the promise of the new heaven and earth (21:1).”

He continues: “As the last book of the Bible and the completion of God’s revelation to his church, it is the lens through which the entire Scripture is to be viewed. Revelation reveals and  confirms the Christ was prophetically promised and that his incarnation, death, and resurrection happened sp that God’s creation could be restored to its original glory and righteousness.”

5. What kind of book is Revelation? John himself describes Revelation as prophecy. Most scholars, conservative or liberal, would say that Revelation represents a kind of prophecy or a separate genre related to prophecy, apocalyptic.

The term is from the Greek noun that actually begins Revelation, ἀποκάλυψις (apcalupsis). The word means uncovering or unveiling. Apocalyptic literature in the Bible uncovers the truth about God for the benefit of believers. Apocalyptic literature is highly visual. Understanding the visual signs God gives to the recipient of them is completely dependent on God’s Word. Usually, God sends angels to deliver apocalyptic visions to particular recipients, like John.

The most prominent Old Testament example of apocalyptic literature is Daniel. Some apocalyptic elements are seen in Ezekiel and in other Old Testament prophetic writings, including Isaiah and Haggai. There are some places in Jesus’ discourses in the gospels and in the writings of Paul where apocalyptic messages are given.

Revelation is the only book of the New Testament that is almost completely given over to the apocalyptic genre, although in a way, it starts out as an epistle, a letter. The entire book, in fact, is an apocalyptic letter written to the seven churches mentioned at its beginning.

Apocalyptic literature was meant to assure people in uncertain situations that God was still in control and that all who trust in Him have hope that cannot be taken from them. This is why, though Revelation was addressed to first-century people faced with particular circumstances, we too can be comforted by its message.

6. John is clear that in Revelation, the events he refers to are not all centuries removed from his time, but mostly in the lifetimes of his original audience. He tells them that they will be blessed in the reading and hearing of his words–just as he had been blessed in receiving the visions and the accompanying words from God–”for [or because] the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)

John wasn’t presenting some gnostic puzzle requiring specially trained guides to solve. And he wasn’t giving some obscure playbook for world history. John was sharing the conquering Lamb of God, Who consoled Christians of his own time and Who consoles us still. The events to which John refers in Revelation were imminent the people of his own time.

7. An important point to remember is this: Like John, like every human being who has lived since the resurrection of Jesus, we live in the end times. The “thousand years” referred to in Revelation is not an exact period of time; it’s not literally “one thousand years.” Apocalyptic language is figurative language. Just as we might say things like “a month of Sundays” or “as old as Methuselah” or “forever and a day,” the phrase “a thousand years” is a way of saying a long time.

8. Revelation tells believers, as Jesus did, to be prepared for Jesus’ return when He will judge the living and the dead, send unbelievers to condemnation, and when the new heaven and earth will descend to believers. Believers, who are part of the Church, need to hold fast to Christ (2:10) and complete our mission of sharing the gospel with others (10:11)

9. Revelation reveals two ongoing phenomena, Brighton says, “the terrifying sufferings and horrors on earth, and the reign of Jesus Christ as Lord in his heavenly exalted glory.” Revelation underscores the truth revealed by Saint Paul in Romans, that no matter how horrifying life in this world may be and no matter if death visits us before Jesus’ return to the world, nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

Helpful resources:
Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation.

Brighton, Louis A. Revelation-Concordia Commentary.

Revelation, Part 1

Here's the first episode of my new podcast, 'Route 66: A podcast journey through the Bible.' Naturally, we're starting with the last of the Bible's 66 books, Revelation. Please share the podcast with others!