Revelation is the last book of the Bible. It concludes and crowns the canon of Scripture and has been called the capstone of divine revelation and inspiration. It is the summary of the entire Bible. Practically everything in it can be traced to other Scriptures. Revelation sends us into every part of the Bible. “In the Revelation,” writes Ellen G. White, “all the books of the Bible meet and end.”1
Genesis is the prologue, and the Apocalypse the epilogue, of divine revelation. The paradise that was lost through the failure of the first Adam pictured in the first two chapters of Genesis, and the paradise regained through the Calvary conquest of the second Adam is described in the last two chapters of Revelation. Between these bookends is the long, dark night of sin, the story of redemption, and its prophetic visions focus on and lead to the dawn of eternal day.
The importance of this book is clear from the promised blessing upon those who read, hear, and obey its teachings (Rev 1:1–3), and a threatened curse upon those who add to or take from its revealed truths (Rev 22:18–19). No other book of the Bible thus begins and ends. What do we know about this book?
I. THE AUTHORSHIP AND DATING OF THE APOCALYPSE
The writer evidently took it for granted that his readers would identify him as the only John among the disciples of Jesus. Four times he designates himself as “John,” or “His servant John,” and for another to use that name in such a manner would be akin to forgery. He also declares that he had previously borne witness concerning Christ and His life and teachings, which may refer to the Gospel and Epistles he wrote. Who besides John the apostle would dare assume that the mere mention of his name was sufficient identification of the author?
Opinions differ as to whether Revelation was written during the reign of Nero or Domitian, the latter being preferred. What is clear is that it was written in a time of persecution for which these tyrannical emperors were known. Since the persecutions by Nero were confined chiefly to the city of Rome, John’s banishment to the island of Patmos is believed to have occurred toward the end of Domitian’s reign. Both Eusebius and Jerome give the fourteenth year of his reign as the date of John’s exile, AD 96.
II. THE PURPOSE OF THE APOCALYPSE
The correct title of the book is given in the opening sentence, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” and not “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” which was a title given by translators. This correct title reveals the purpose of the book. “Revelation” is the English for “Apocalypse,” the Anglicized form of the Greek Apokalypsis. It is a revealing or unveiling of that which has been hidden or secret. Interestingly, the title “Apocalypse” was the only name used before the eleventh century
“The Unveiling of Jesus Christ” is the title according to the Concordant Version, which corresponds with the meaning of “Apocalypse.” The Apocalypse is more than a prophecy given by Christ; it is a revelation of Him. No other book of Scripture so completely reveals His personality, character, power, mediatorial ministry, and second advent.
The return of the conquering Christ is the ultimate goal of prophecy and is especially the focal point of all the visions of the book, which was written for the last generation. The Revelation opens with the exclamation, “Behold, He cometh” (Rev 1:7),2 and closes with the promise, “Surely I come quickly” (Rev 22:20). This theme of His conquests dominates the content of the book.
The name of Jesus or its equivalent is used 137 times in the first three chapters. The Old Testament reveals Christ in promise and prophecy, the Gospels reveal Him in earthly life and ministry, and the Acts and Epistles reveal Him in the triumphs of the early church through the ministry of His personal representative, the Holy Spirit, but it takes the Apocalypse to make the unveiling complete.
III. THE LANGUAGE OF THE APOCALYPSE
Symbolic and parabolic language is employed to conceal the predicted events from the enemies of Christ. Thus, the Apocalypse escaped the scrutiny of the Patmos prison officials and was permitted to reach its destination. Likewise, it never would have survived the period of pagan Roman persecutions, nor the centuries of papal domination through the Middle Ages without the concealment of names and events portrayed in figurative language. The divine promise concerning symbolic prophecy is that “none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan 12:10; see also Matt 13:10–13).
IV. A SYNOPSIS OF THE APOCALYPSE
Written in the age of Greek drama, the Apocalypse unfolds with a series of scenes that passed before John in seven visions. These seven visions are subdivided into sevens, fours, and threes. The number seven is understood to mean perfection or completeness. There are seven epistles addressed to the seven churches, each of which are divided into seven parts. The churches are symbolized by seven candlesticks, and their ministers by seven stars. The conquering Christ is pictured as a Lamb with seven horns, symbolic of fullness of power, and with seven eyes, representing infinite wisdom and vision. There are seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven plagues, seven thunders, seven heads, seven crowns, seven mountains, seven kings, and a sevenfold ascription of praise to God, and to the Lamb.
The seven epistles of Christ represent His own messages of love, reproof, and warning to His people during the Christian period. The seven seals emphasize the apostasies that would tarnish the church and incite persecution to the saints, and the seven trumpets symbolize great political and military movements among the nations, ending with the war of Armageddon. All three visions embrace the entire Christian era. Chapters 12 and 13 present a panoramic view of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, from its inception in heaven to the final crisis. This is followed by a symbolic representation of the last warning gospel message, called “the everlasting gospel,” followed by the two great “fully ripe” wheat and tares harvests.
Chapters 15 to 20 describe the wrath of God in the seven last plagues and the final doom of Satan and all his agencies, chief of which are the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, all of which share his fate in the lake of fire. The great prophetic drama closes with the most beautiful scene of all: a picture of the earth brought back to its original state as the eternal home of the faithful. All tears will be wiped away by the removal of the cause of all sorrow, crying, pain, and death. The conquering Christ makes all things new (Rev 21:1–5).
Revelation 22:6–21 is the epilogue or postscript of the book. The instruction is given to “seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (Rev 22:10). Daniel, by contrast, was told to seal his book to “the time of the end” (Dan 12:4), when its message would be understood. Daniel’s visions were to reach into the far-distant future, but those of the Apocalypse would begin to meet their fulfillment soon.
There is an urgency about Revelation’s three-timed repeated final message, “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev 3:11; 22:7, 12; cf. Rev 22:20). The conquering Christ and the Holy Spirit join in an invitation for all to come and “take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17), and to enter the celestial glory. Will you?
1 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 585.
2 All biblical quotations are from the KJV.
Rex D. Edwards, DMin, is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University