The book of Revelation is the last writing in the New Testament and was most likely written during the last years of Emperor Domitian’s reign ca. 95-96 (Carson et al. 474). This date has the support of the traditional view which is based on the internal evidence (i.e. historical conditions in Revelation) and the external witness (i.e. the early Christian writers Ireneus, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen) (Carson et al. 474).
The book promises blessings for those who read it, hear it and take it to heart. Revelation 1:3 states, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” In view of this verse, Revelation is written in the genre of prophecy meaning that it uses the methods of forthtelling (announcements for the present readers concerning the present) and foretelling (messages presented as future predictions) (Klein et al. 371). Thus, the book has a specific historical context as well as an eschatological (end times) context.
Moreover, the first sentence of the book of Revelation uses the greek word ἀποκάλυψις (apokalypsis) which may be defined as “revelations of a particular kind, through visions, etc.” (Bauer et al. 91). Thus, the book of Revelation is apocalyptic in nature and uses symbolic and figurative language throughout. The book reveals Jesus Christ reigning as king in the future, heavenly, eternal kingdom of God (Kittel et al. 412). Pate et al. write, “The book of Revelation presents in colorful language and powerful imagery the final chapter in God’s story, where he reverses the curse of sin, restores his creation and lives among his people forever” (255).
The book of Revelation is written as an epistle to seven churches in Asia Minor (1:4) (i.e. the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea). Similar to other epistles in the New Testament, the book of Revelation identifies a particular people and addresses specific circumstances. Carson et al. summarize the genre of the book of Revelation by writing, “We may best view Revelation, then, as a prophecy cast in an apocalyptic mold and written down in a letter form” (479). The place of writing was at Patmos, a rocky and rugged island about six miles wide and ten miles long, some forty miles southwest of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea [and] the island was used by Roman authorities as a place of exile” (Carson et al. 473).
The traditional view of authorship is that the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. This is due to the internal evidence where the writer is named “John” (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8) without any further details about himself which may affirm that he was a well known “John” in the community. The apostle John was the most well known and combined with the apostolic and prophetic focus of the writing, he seems to be the most likely author. Moreover, there is strong external evidence from writers during the middle to late second century attributing the book of Revelation to the apostle John. These writers include: Justin Martyr, Melito, Bishop of Sardis, Ireneus, the Muratorian Canon and possibly Papias. Also, third century writers Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen confirm the apostle John as the author, and they do this without any hint of controversy during that time (Carson et al. 468-469).
John is writing to Christians who are being persecuted and facing martyrdom because Emperor Domitian was demanding divinity status and allegiance from Christians, but the Christians would not assent because they believed that the risen Jesus is God and King. Thus, the author writes in order to encourage the Christians in their faith and to prepare them for spiritual battle with the anti-christian forces. The author emboldens them to continue to bear witness to the true God and king in the world─Jesus Christ (Beasley-Murray 1422). Pate et al. write, “Revelation constitutes a transforming vision, empowering those who embrace its heavenly perspective to live faithfully in this fallen world until the Lord returns” (255).
The outline and contents of the book of Revelation begins with a prologue (1:1-20) followed by series of messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor (2:1-3:22). John has a vision of heaven (4:1-5:14) and then he describes what he sees which involves the number seven throughout, the seven seals (6:1-8:5), the seven trumpets (8:6-11:19), the seven significant signs (12:1-14:20) and the seven bowls (15:1-16:21). Then John describes his visions of the triumph of God over evil (17:1-20:15) and concludes with a vision of the new heaven and the new earth (21:1-22:5) (Carson et al. 466-467).
In summary, the book of Revelation is about Jesus and his ultimate victory over evil. There has been an age-old battle going on between God and evil spiritual beings and this battle has entered into the earthly realm where God’s creation has been affected. Humanity has experienced the devastating and destructive consequences of evil and sin in the world, but the message of the book of Revelation is that through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, God wins the final battle. He will establish his eternal kingdom and restore humanity.
Bauer, Walter et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Beasley-Murray, George R. Revelation in New Bible Commentary. eds. Carson et al. InterVarsity Press, 1994.
Carson, D. A, et al. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan, 1992.
Kittel, Gerhard and Gerald Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Abridged In One Volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Eerdmans, 1985.
Klein, William, Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Revised and Updated ed. Baker Academic, 2004.
Pate, C. Marvin et al. The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.