Written towards the end of the first century. Traditionally thought to be by the same author as the fourth gospel, but this is now doubted, and the author is generally referred to as John of Patmos.
In terms of structure, the book is built around four successive groups of seven: the messages to the seven churches, the seven seal judgments, the seven trumpet judgments, and finally, the seven bowl judgments. There are also introductory and concluding passages.
Most of the interpretations fall into one or more of the following categories:
· Preterist, in which Revelation mostly refers to the events of the apostolic era (1st century)
· Historicist, which sees in Revelation a broad view of history; the events it described have happened in the past, and will also happen in the future.
· Futurist, which holds that Revelation describes future events
· Idealist or symbolic, which holds that Revelation does not refer to actual people or events, but is an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
These approaches are by no means mutually exclusive, and are often used in combination with each other to form a more complete and coherent interpretation.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, sent to the servant John, who bore witness to what he saw. The reader/hearer of the text are blessed; the time is near. Greetings of grace and peace to the seven churches in Asia. Praise to Him who washed us from out sins in His own blood. Behold, he is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him. All the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Jesus says he is the Alpha and Omega – who is and was and is to come. John is on the island of Patmos. While in the Spirit, he is commanded to write to the seven churches. John has a vision of seven lampstands, in the midst of which is one like the Son of Man. Parallels with Daniel:
Clothed in linen
Clothed with a garment
Waist girded with gold
Girded about the chest with a golden band
Body was like beryl
Face like . . . lightning
Head and hair were white like wool
Eyes like torches of fire
Eyes like a flame of fire
Feet like burnished bronze
Feet were like fine brass
Sound of his words like the voice of a multitude
Voice as the sound of many waters
He also has seven starts in his right hand, and a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. John falls on his feet. The man tells him not to be afraid: ‘I am the first and the last…and I have the keys of Hades and of death.’ Explanation: the seven lampstands are the seven churches, and the seven stars the angels of the seven churches.
The letters to the seven churches. They are share a similar structure, each featuring
· An address to a particular congregation
· An introduction of Jesus (generally ‘Thus says he who…’ followed by an attribute)
· A statement regarding the condition of the church
· A verdict from Jesus regarding the condition of the church
· A command from Jesus to the church
· A general exhortation to all Christians (‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’)
· A promise of reward for overcoming.
· Ephesus: you have perseverance and patience, labouring for My name’s sake. Nonetheless, you have left your first love. Repent, or the lampstand will be removed from its place. You are to be commended for hating the Nicolaitans, however.
· Smyrna: I know your works, tribulation and poverty (but you are rich). I know the blasphemy of the Jews who are a synagogue of Satan. Be faithful in your trials and imprisonment, and you will receive the crown of life.
· Pergamos: commended for holding fast to My name, even in the days when Antipas was made a martyr. However, you have also sacrificed to idols, and committed sexual immorality. Some hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Repent, or I will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
· Thyatira: commended for love, service, faith and patience. Nonetheless, the prophetess Jezebel is permitted to teach idolatry and sexual immorality. Jezebel will be cast into a sickbed, and her followers killed unless they repent.
· Sardis: you have a name for being alive, but you are dead. Hold fast and repent. I will come like a thief in the night. Few in Sardis have not defiled their garments.
· Philadephia: has been set before an open door, which no one can shut. You have not denied my name. Those persecuting (the synagogue of Satan) will come to worship before their feet. I will keep you from the trial which shall come upon the whole world. I am coming quickly. Overcomers will be a pillar in the temple, and have the name of My God and His city, the New Jerusalem, written on them.
· Laodicea: neither cold nor hot, and therefore to be vomited out of My mouth. You are rich, and actually wretchedly poor (the opposite of Smryna). Be zealous and repent. I stand at the door and knock.
John is called up into heaven. He was in the Spirit, and sees one sat on a throne, like jasper and sardius stone. There is a rainbow around the throne. Twenty-four crowned elders surround the throne, each on a throne of their own. Thunder, lightening and voices proceeded from the throne. Seven lamps burnt before it, which are the seven Spirits of God. The throne also has a sea of glass, like crystal, before it. Around the throne were four creatures, full of eyes at the front and back. One was like a lion, one like a calf, one like a man, and one like an eagle. They each had six wings, and constantly say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ The elders worship the throne.
In the right hand of the one on the throne, there is a scroll with seven seals. An angels asks who is worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals. Noone was able to open it, so John weeps. However, the elders tell John that the Lion of the tribe of Judag, the Root of David, will open it. John beholds a Lamb, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God. The Lamb takes the scroll, and is worshipped by the four creatures. Countless angels also worship: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’ All creation then worships the Father and the Lamb: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’
The Lamb opens the seals, whereupon John sees a sequence of visions:
· one – a white horse, whose rider has a bow and a crown, and is a conqueror
· two – a red horse, whose rider brings war and conflict, and wields a great sword
· three – a black horse, whose rider has a pair of scales. A voice says a denarius buys one quart of wheat, or three quarts of barley (apocalyptically expensive)
· four – a pale horse, whose rider is Death, with power to kill by the sword, hunger and the beasts of the earth.
· five – martyrs crying for vengeance. They are told to wait a while longer, until those destined for martyrdom complete their number.
· six – great earthquake; the sun becomes black, the moon red as blood. The stars fall to the earth. The rich and powerless flee, saying to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’
Four angels stand at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds. A voice commands them not to harm the earth and sea until the servants of God receive a protective seal on their foreheads. Twelve thousand from each of the tribes are sealed, making a hundred and forty four thousand in all. A great multitude in white robes with palm branches in their hands worship the Father and the Lamb. All heavenly creatures join in. The multitude are those rescued for God’s kingdom in the period of the great tribulation. They serve Him day and night in His temple. They shall hunger and thirst no more, nor shall the sun strike them, but the Lamb will shepherd them to the living fountain of waters. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
The seventh seal is opened, and there is silence in heaven. Seven angels are given seven trumpets. Another angel has a golden censer; the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascends before God. The censer is then filled with fire and thrown to earth, where it causes thunder, lightning and earthquakes. The seven trumpets are sounded, each with their own consequences:
· one – hail and fire mingled with blood; a third of trees and all grass are burned up
· two – a burning mountain was thrown into the sea; a third of the sea became blood, a third of sea creatures and a third of all ships are destroyed
· three – a star called Wormwood falls from heaven; a third of the waters become wormwood
· four – a third of the sun, moon and stars are darkened. Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabitants of earth for the remaining three trumpets! (This is the first ‘woe’)
· five – a star falls from heaven to earth, and is given the key to the bottomless pit. The pit is opened – smoke rises out, and locusts, who torment for five months those who do not have the seal upon their foreheads. Their torment is like that of a scorpion. Men will seek death, but be unable to find it. The scorpions have crows, men’s faces, women’s hair, lion’s teeth, iron breastplates, and tails like scorpions. The sound of their wings is like the sound of chariots. The king of the locusts is the angel of the bottom pit, called Abaddon in Hebrew, and Apollyon in Greek.
· six – four angels bound at the Euphrates are released to kill a third of mankind. They have an army two million strong, with the heads of lions – they kill by the fire, smoke and brimstone coming from their mouths. They also do harm with their serpents’ tails. Those not killed did not repent of their idolatry and sexual immorality.
A mighty angel appears, clothed with a cloud, with a rainbow on his head. His face is like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. He has a little book open in his hand. He sets his left foot on the land, and his right foot on the sea. Seven thunders utter their voices, but John is forbidden to write down what they say. The angel declares that there shall be no more delay. John is instructed to eat the little book – he is told that it will make his stomach bitter, but will be as sweet as honey in his mouth. John is told that he must prophesy about many people, nations, tongues and kings.
John is given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple, its altar and its worshippers. (Compare with measuring the temple in Ezekiel 40-43.) The outer court is not to be measured, however, because it has been given to the gentiles, who will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. Two witnesses will prophesy for 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth. (1260 = 3.5 years, according to the Hebrew year of 360 days – exactly half of seven.) They are the two olive trees and lampstands standing before the God of the earth (see Zechariah, chapter 4). If anyone wants to harm them, they will be destroyed by fire proceeding from their mouths. They have the power (like Elijah) to cause drought during the days of their prophecy. They also have the power to turn the waters to blood, and strike the earth with plagues. When they have finished prophesying, the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit will kill them. Their dead bodies will lie in a city that spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt; they will remain unburied for three and a half days (half of seven), and people will rejoice at their deaths. After that, they will revive, ascend to heaven, and then there will be an earthquake that kills seven thousand people, and destroys a tenth of the city. The survivors are afraid and give glory to God. The second woe is a past, but a third is coming quickly. The seventh trumpet sounds, and voices in heaven proclaim that the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. The elders worship God, saying the time has come for Him to reward His servants and destroy those who destroy the earth. The temple of God is opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant is seen in His temple, with lightning, noises, thunder, earthquakes and hail.
In heaven appears a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a garland on twelve stars on her head. The woman gives birth. A fiery red dragon appears, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. With its tail, it throws a third of stars to earth. The dragon prepares to devour to child who is about to be born. The child is to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and is caught up to God and his throne. The woman flees to the wilderness, to a place prepared by God, and is fed there for 1260 days. There is war in heaven between Michael and the dragon. Satan (another name for the dragon) and his angels are cast out of heaven. There is rejoicing in heaven, but woe is proclaimed for the inhabitants of the earth, because the devil has arrived in great wrath, knowing he only has a short time. (This is the third woe.) The devil/dragon/serpent persecutes the woman clothed in the sun, but she is given eagle’s wings to fly into the wilderness. The devil/dragon/serpent spews water at the woman, but the earth opens its mouth to receive the flood. Frustrated, the devil/dragon/serpent focus his wrath against God’s people.
A beast rises from the sea – it has seven heads and ten horns, and ten crowns on its horns, and a blasphemous name on its heads. The beast was like a leopard, with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion. (This recalls the beasts, representing earthly empires, that come from the sea in Daniel 7.) The dragon gives the beast a throne, and authority. One head seems mortally wounded, but when it is healed, all the world marvels and follows it. The beast is worshipped, and blasphemes God for forty-two months ( = three and a half years – half of seven). It was granted him to overcome the saints; all those whose names are not written in the Book of Life worship him. However, those who lead into captivity (presumably, the functionaries of the beast) will be led into captivity themselves. A second beast comes from the earth – he has two horns like a lamb and speaks like a dragon. He is a Satanic prophet, leading the earth in the worship of the beast. He performs great signs, making fire come from heaven. He commands those on earth to make an image of the beast, and is granted power to breathe life into the image, which kills all those who do not worship it. Only those with a mark may buy and sell. The number of the beast is 666.
The Lamb stands on Mount Zion with the 144,000. A new song is sung, which nobody could learn apart from the 144,000. The 144,000 are virgins, the firstfruits to God and the Lamb, without deceit or fault. An angel tells every nation, tribe, tongue and people to fear and worship God. Another angel announces the fall of Babylon. A third angel warns that those with the mark of the beast on them shall be tormented with fire and brimstone. A voice from heaven says that those who die in the Lord from now on are blessed. John sees a cloud with one like the Son of Man on it, with a sickle in his hand. He reaps the earth. An angel, also with a sickle, gathers the vine of the earth, and throws it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. The winepress is trampled outside of the city.
John sees seven angels with seven plagues. Those victorious over the beast stand on a sea on glass, holding harps. They worship with song. Out of the temple come seven angels, clothed in bright linen, with golden bands girding their chests. The four creatures give seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God to the angels, so the temple is filled with smoke from the glory of God and nobody can enter the temple until the seven plagues are completed.
A voice from the temple commands the seven angels to pour the bowls of wrath upon the earth. The pouring of each bowl has its own unique consequences:
· one – a loathsome sore comes on those who have the mark of the beast upon them
· two – the sea turns to blood, and all living creatures die
· three – all fresh water is turned to blood. An angel of the waters comments of the righteousness of the Lord, making those who have shed the blood of the saints and the prophets now drink blood.
· four – the sun scorches men; they blaspheme, and do not repent
· five – the beast’s kingdom becomes full of darkness. Men blaspheme, and do not repent.
· six – the Euphrates dries up. Unclean spirits like frogs come from the mouth of the dragon to gather an army at Armageddon.
· seven – a voice from heaven declares, ‘It is done!’ There is thunder, lightning and earthquakes. The great city is divided into three parts; God gives Babylon the cup of the wine of His fierceness. There is a plague of heavy hail. Men blaspheme.
One of the seven angels shows John the great harlot who committed fornication with the kings of the earth. John is carried in the Spirit into the wilderness, where he sees a woman on a scarlet beast which is full of names of blashphemy. It has seven heads and ten horns. The woman is dressed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with precious stones and gold. In her hand is a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. On her forehead is written, ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the of the abominations of the earth.’ The woman is drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs. The beast the whore rides on will ascend from the bottomless pit, and go to perdition, and those who dwell on earth, whose names are not written in the Book of Life, will marvel. The seven heads represent seven kings. Five have fallen, the other has not yet come. When he does come, he must continue for a short time. The beast is the eight king. The ten horns are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet – they are allies of the beast, and will war against the Lamb, but the Lamb shall overcome them. The ten kings will hate the harlot, making her desolate and naked, eating her flesh and burning her. The woman is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth (Rome? It is not stated explicitly.)
An angel comes from heaven, declaring, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen.’ It has become a prison for every foul spirit. Merchants have become rich through the abundance of Babylon’s luxury. God’s people are instructed to separate themselves from Babylon. Babylon will be utterly destroyed by the judgment of the Lord, repaid for her iniquities. The kings who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will lament at the swiftness of the judgment against her. The merchants will lament that nobody buys their merchandise anymore. The sea-captains who trade at sea will also lament. An angel throws a great millstone into the sea, and says that thus with violence shall Babylon be thrown down. Babylon will be left desolate and silent, bereft of musicians, craftsmen, bridegroom and bride. The blood of prophets and saints was found in her.
God is worshipped in heaven for the judgment against Babylon. The marriage of the Lamb has come. Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. John worships an angel, and is chastised for it. A white horse appears from heaven; the rider is called Faithful and True, who judges and makes war in righteousness. His eyes are like flame, and there are many crowns on his head. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood. The armies of heaven follow Him on white horses. A sharp sword goes out of His mouth. He will rule with a rod of iron, and tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. On his robe is written ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’. An angel standing in the sun invites the bird to gather for the supper of great God, where they can eat the flesh of God’s enemies, both small and great. There is a battle, and the beast and his false prophet are cast into the fiery lake. The rest were killed witrh a sword and devoured by the birds.
An angel descends from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. The beast/dragon/serpent/Satan is cast into the bottomless pit for a thousand years. After that time, he must be released for a little while. Christ and the saints rule for a thousand years. The rest of the dead (those who are not saints) will be resurrected after this thousand year period. After the thousand years, Satan will be released from prison, will deceive the nations, gather Gog and Magog to battle. The final battle ends before it begins – fire descends from heaven, devours the army, and the devil is cast into the fiery lake to be tormented forever. A great white throne descends. At the sight of the face of He who sits on it, earth and heaven flee. The Book of Life is opened, and the dead are judged according to their works. The sea, Death and Hades give up their dead. Those whose names were not written in the Book of Life are cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
John sees a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth pass away. There is no more sea. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband. A voice declares that God’s tabernacle will dwell with men. ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ All things are made new. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega...I will give the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.’ Those who overcome will be sons of God, and cowards, unbelievers and other sinners will be cast into the fiery lake. One of the seven angels shows the Lamb’s bride, the new city, descending from heaven. The city’s light is like a precious stone, with a great high wall, and twelve gates, with the names of the twelve tribes written on them. The angel measures the city – it is square, with its length, breadth and height equally 144 cubits. The walls are of jasper, and the city of pure gold. The foundation of the wall are adorned with twelve precious stones. The twelve gates are made from twelve pearls. There is no temple, for the Lord and the Lamb are the temple. There is no need for the sun or the moon, for the Lamb is its light. The nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light. Its gates shall not be shut. Only those whose names are written in the Book of Life shall enter.
A pure river of the water of life flows from the throne of God. (Compare with the river flowing from the temple at the end of Ezekiel.) The tree of life bears twelve fruits every month. The leaves of the tree have healing properties. There shall be no more curse. God’s servants shall serve Him with His name on their foreheads, there shall be no night, and God and the Lamb shall reign forever and ever. The words are verified are true. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. John falls down to worship the angel, and is chastised a second time. John is told not to seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. Let sinners be sinners, and the holy be holy (ie, sinners will confirm their sin in the way that they react to this available prophecy, and so will the holy.) Jesus declares he is coming quickly, to give to everyone according to his work. Jesus declares He is the alpha and the omega. Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Those outside the city are cursed. Jesus testifies the truth of the testimony, and declares Himself to be the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star. The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. If anyone adds anything to this books, God will add plagues to him; if anyone takes anything anyway, his name will be taken from the Book of Life. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Maranatha in Aramaic). The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.