Many people shy away from it because it’s strange and scary…
So over the next several weeks we’re going to walk through this incredible book called the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Who Wrote It?
It is written by a man named John. This could be John the beloved disciple who wrote the gospel and letters of John or it could be another early Christian named John who was a messianic prophet traveling the world with a message for the churches. There is evidence to support both, but I lean toward John who was one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus.
So what kind of document has John left us and how do we understand it? John gives us three important clues right in the text to answer these questions.
In the very first paragraph John tells us what he has written. He calls it first of all a “revelation” or apocalypse. The Greek word is apocalupsis which simply means to uncover something.
It also refers to a type of literature very familiar to John’s readers from earlier Hebrew writings in books like Daniel, Ezekiel and intertestamental books (literature written between the time of the Old and New Testaments) like 4 Ezra and 1 Enoch. Apocalyptic literature recounted a prophet’s symbolic dreams and visions revealing or uncovering God’s heavenly perspective on history and current events so the present can be viewed in light of history’s final outcome.
John says this apocalypse is a prophecy. Which means it’s a word from God spoken through a prophet to God’s people. Prophetic literature is found throughout the Old Testament and its purpose is to warn or comfort God’s people in a time of crisis. By calling this book a prophecy John is saying it stands in a long tradition that includes the biblical prophets and that it brings their message to its intended fulfillment.
Now this apocalyptic prophecy was sent to real people, in real places facing very real circumstances. The book opens and closes as a letter that was sent to and circulated among seven churches in the ancient Roman province of Asia. Seven is an important number in the letter of Revelation. It’s a symbol of completeness based on the al- important seven day sabbath cycle in the Old Testament. As we’ll see, John has woven the number seven into every part of this book.
How do we understand this book?
In this opening John has given his readers clear instructions about how he wants them to understand this book. Jewish apocalypse is communicated through symbolic images and numbers.
Many people want this to be a secret predictive code about the timing of the end of the world, but John is using symbols drawn from the Old Testament and he wants his readers to go there to discover what the symbols mean by looking up the texts he is referencing.
Also, since it’s a letter it means that John is actually addressing the situation of these first century churches, and while this book has much to say to Christians of our generation, the books meaning must first be anchored in the historical context of John’s time, place and audience.
So Instead of looking for secret codes to the end of the world we need to realize his actual message is far more practical.
As we walk through this book we will see that John warns his readers that all human kingdoms serve their own selfish interests. He does this using an image these early Christians would have understood well, the image of Babylon. The only real choice the followers of Jesus have is to resist these kingdoms, but when they do they will pay a heavy price. This is History’s Pattern Failed.
However, the good news is that Jesus will return again in the fullness of the kingdom of God to remove evil from this world. This is God’s Promise Fulfilled.
Instead of a worrisome book for some day, what we find in the Revelation of Jesus is a powerful message for every generation of the church. I hope you’re looking forward to this series, The Revelation of Jesus - History’s Pattern and God’s Promise.
Steve Longley is the pastor of Turning Point and an adjunct professor of biblical literature and pastoral ministry.