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Revelation

Outline

Authorship & Date

In contrast to the gospel of John and his three epistles, John identifies himself within the book of Revelations. He does so five times (see Rev. 1:1,4,9; 21:2; 22:8)

External evidence also points to the apostle John son of Zebedee. As early as 135AD Justin Martyr claimed that the apostle John "prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him." (Dialogue with Trypho). So does Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, and Cypriot.

The question then becomes, when was John "on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:9)? The island, Patmos (see on Google Maps), is a rocky volcanic island which was used by the Romans during the 1st and 2nd century to banish exciles. The preposition "for" (dia in Greek) in "for the testimony of Jesus Christ" is accusative and therefore causal. In other words, John was on the island of Patmos because he bore testimony of Jesus Christ. This was probably done during the reign (81-96AD) of the Roman emperor, Domitian.

According to Eusebius , "After Domitian had ruled fifteen years, Nerva succeeded. By decree of the Roman senate, the honors of Domitian were annulled and those banished unjustly returned and had their property restored. At that time also, early Christian tradition relates, the apostle John, after his island exile, resumed residence at Ephesus." (Maier, L. Paul. Eusebius, The Church History (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999) 109.)

One popular view is that "the number of the beast" mentioned Rev. 13:18, which is "the number of a man, and his number is 666" is a reference to Nero. But in order to make the sum of the letters of Nero add up to 666 you must transliterate the letters from Latin into Greek and then from Greek into Hebrew. Also, there is no mention of such an identification of Nero until 1830, when it was proposed by German scholars.

With this in mind, Revelation was more likely written during the persecutions of Domitian than the that of Nero.

Audience

Within the first three chapters, Jesus addresses the seven churches of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Why are only seven churches mentioned? This could have been churches that recognized John's apostolic authority. Also, seven being a perfect number, these churches may have been chosen as types, by which churches throughout history can be associated with. Each church receives the following (taken from Kistemaker, J Simon. Revelation, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books: 2001) 108.):
  1. an address to the church
  2. an aspect of the Lord's appearance
  3. an evaluation of the spiritual health of the church
  4. words of praise or reproof
  5. words of exhortation
  6. promises to the overcomer
  7. a command to hear what the Spirit says to the churches
These exhortations are therefore universal in their application to churches of all times.

Interpretative Approaches

Preterist
Comes from the Latin word praeter, which means "past". According to full preterists, everything written in the book of Revelation was fulfilled in the first century (thus the past). They key off on the phrase "things which must shortly take place" in verse 1:1 and 22:6. While much of Revelation may be describing past events, it would seem a stretch to put such events as the resurrection and judgement described in chapter 20 in the past.

Historicist
According to this approach, the book of Revelation is a continuous outline of the history of the church. An example outline would assign the seven seals and six trumpets to the early church and the Middle Ages. Rev. 10-11 would be assigned to the Reformation. The two beasts in chapter 13 are the pope and papal power. The seven plagues are fulfilled by various modern upheavals since the Reformation. And finally, the destruction of Babylon would correlate to the fall of the papacy. Variations of such interpretations are numerous, with each generation applying a different spin.

Such approaches ignore the fact that the apocalyptic genre often describes events that are not sequential in time. Calculating epochs for Revlation is speculative at best.

Futurist
The futurist approach would place most of the events in Revelations (chapter 4 and on) into the future. Dispensationalist, with their sharp distinction between the church and Israel, fall squarely into this camp. While there is little doubt among believing Christians that Jesus second coming is in the future, this does not mean that all the prophecies of John must also be future.

Idealist
Views the book of Revelation as a book of themes or principles contrasting the victory of the King of God over Satan. William Hendriksen's book More Than Conquerers is a good example of taking this approach. He divides the book of Revelations into 7 parallel sections.

Most interpreters will use a combination of these approaches when interpreting Revelation.

Issues Concerning The Millenium

Rev. 20:1-10 describes a period called the millennium, or "thousand years". There are four major views on the millennium.
  1. Postmillennialism - Christ returns after the literal 1000 years.
  2. Classical Premillennialism - Christ returns before the literal 1000 years and reigns with the church during the millennium.
  3. Dispensational Premillennialism - Christ returns before the literal 1000 years and reigns with the nation of Israel (church is raptured before millennium).
  4. Amillenialism - millennium is not limited to a thousand years. The millennium refers to the reign of Christ in the hearts of believers. The Kingdom is a spiritual reality where Christ is seated on the thrown of David in heaven.

Another way of categorizing these views is describing them as optimistic (things will get better and better) vs. pessimistic (things will get worse and worse) regarding the time before Christ's return. Postmillennialism would be categorized as "optimistic" since it affirms that the church will "usher in" the return of Christ. The other three views would be pessimistic.

Discussion Questions

  • Read Rev. 1:9. What does John say about himself in relationship to the Kingdom? What does this say about Jesus' Kingship? What implications does this have on the interpretation of Revelation 20?
  • Read John 12:30-33. What did Jesus say would happen to Satan? When would this happen? How does this relate to Rev. 20:1?
  • Why is it so tempting for each generation to predict the return of Christ in their own time period? Read Matt. 24:36, Mark 13:32. Why is it unbiblical to set a date for Christ's return?
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The7ParallelSectionsOfRevelation.pdf
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David Stevens,
Jan 2, 2010, 2:11 PM
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