Background

AUTHOR AND WRITER. The content of the book comes from God the Father. He gave it to Jesus Christ to show His servants. The Apostle John wrote down what Christ revealed to him. John is identified as the writer four times (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8).

Unlike the apocalyptic writers who claim to reveal the mysteries of the cosmogony, of astronomy, and of the unfolding of ancient history since the beginning of the world, John directs the attention of his readers to the present and its eschatological conclusion. He does not use the artifice of pseudonymity by placing his book under the authority of a famous man of the past; he discloses his name.

In the plainest sense of a true prophet, John sees (1:2, 12) and hears (1:10, 12) the word of God, and is told to transmit it to his brethren as the command to write is repeated eleven times. In fact, John is told that his mission is similar to that of the ancient prophets (10:11). Hence, John and his book belong to the great prophetical tradition.

Besides belonging to the class of prophets, John calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ (1:1) and describes himself as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (1:9).

A mid-second century document, Apocryphon of John, from the library at Chenoboskion in Egypt, identifies its author as “John, the brother of James, these who are the sons of Zebedee.” The prevailing testimony of early Christian writers identifies John with the apostle of our Lord. Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and Hippolytus assumed the apostle’s authorship of Revelation without question.

RECIPIENTS. The book is addressed “to the seven churches that are in Asia” (1:4). These seven churches stand on the great circular road that bound together the most populous, wealthy, and influential part of the west- central region of the Province. The seven churches are historical churches, yet the number seven indicates the seven are representative of all churches from John’s day to the Day of the Lord.

The message of the Apocalypse, as a true book of prophecy, is not to be limited to the historical situation that prompted its production. The prophecy of this book goes far beyond any known historical situation in the first century.

There can be little doubt that the dark hour that was upon the Church prompted the writing of Revelation. The historical situation was ominous for the Church. Christians were living on the edge of a volcano of hostility that had erupted. John clearly recognized that a life-and-death struggle with the imperial power of Rome lay ahead.

PLACE AND DATE. The background of persecution reflected in the Apocalypse seems most consistent with Domitian dating. John received the visions of the Apocalypse while on “the island of Patmos” (1:9) in the Aegean Sea, twenty miles off the southwestern shore of Asia Minor. John was banished to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian but was released and returned to Ephesus after the emperor’s death. Historically, John identifies with those of the future, who will be persecuted for their faith and hold fast as overcomers.

It was the testimony of the early Church that the Apocalypse was written during the latter part of the reign of Domitian, who was emperor from A.D. 81 to 96. The Domitian dating is consistent with the condition of the Asian churches, as reflected in the seven letters to the churches. They already had a long history behind them. For instance, an earthquake had destroyed Laodicea in A.D. 62, and time must be allowed for full recovery. Polycarp implies that the believers in Smyrna did not yet know the Lord when Paul wrote Philippians.

Against the extant evidence, Historicists and Preterists attempt to date this book during the reign of Nero, around A.D. 68 or 69. In all probability, this book was written in the latter part of the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96), probably A.D. 95 or 96).

OCCASION AND PURPOSE. John wrote at the direct command of the Lord, who appeared to him (1:9-10, 19). This writing is the only NT book called a “prophecy” (1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19) and its message and predictions go far beyond any known historical situation of the first century. While assuredly its message provided the needed help to the original readers, its contents, in a large measure, deal with events subsequent to the time of its composition. It helped the original readers by enabling them to interpret their own time in light of the prophetic future, just as the OT prophetic books did for the people of Israel in the time they were written.

The purpose clause is found in the first verse: “to show his servants what must soon take place.” The events that called for the Revelation were a foretaste of things to come. What the readers were experiencing was a part of the age-long struggle between Christ and His followers and Satan and his followers.

Revelation fully acknowledges the many forms of evil that exist in the world, and the sin derived from Satan or his evil angels. The good news is that sin and the satanic forces will be defeated when Christ rules and the author of evil will be locked in the prison of the Abyss and eventually cast into the Lake of Fire forever.

Consequently, Revelation is a book of judgment and redemption from first to last. It tells how God ultimately will deal with evil in the world. The picture of Christ in the first three chapters is that of the Redeemer-Judge in the midst of His churches. Chapters 6-16 consist of a series of judgments upon a Christ-rejecting world. Judgment is meted out upon apostate Babylon in chapters 19-20, judgment falls upon the rebels against Christ at His return in glory, and final judgment is given to the dead at the Great White Throne (20:11-15). Thus, it is a book of judgment consummating in victory. “I AM” (1:8; Exodus 3:14) will make no compromise with evil; sinners must be punished and His kingdom on earth established.

Revelation is distinctly a Christ-centered book. It is rich in its Christology since it is not only a revelation from Him but of Him. His person is central to the book. Christ is unveiled as Redeemer, Judge and King. He is the Kinsman-Redeemer, who redeems both the land and His brethren as well as executes vengeance (Leviticus 25:25, 48; Numbers 35:27). He fulfills this role as the Lamb of God, who redeems, pours out wrath, and is worshiped because he is Lord of lords and King of kings (5:6, 8, 13; 6:3, 5, 7, 16; 7:9, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4, 10; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3).

Revelation in the final analysis is the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The present spiritual consistency of kingdom is stipulated in 1:6, along with the arrival of the Kingdom on earth, which announced in 12:10 and becomes a reality in 19:11-20:6. In the interim, the entire Church Age is previewed in chapters 2 and 3.

Revelation focuses on the sovereignty of God in Christ; the satanic nature of the revived Roman emperor, who would be ‘Lord and God’; the inescapable judgments of the Lamb upon those who submit to the pseudo-Christ rather than God’s Christ; and the conflict between the oppressive powers in the world and God’s people. The victory is sure since Satan is already a defeated foe in the death and resurrection of Jesus (12:9-12), which anticipates the ultimate completion of God’s purpose of good for the world He has created and redeemed (21:9-22:5).

Central to the book is the existence, power, sovereignty, justice, wisdom, and goodness of God. God is—He is the one who was and is and is to come, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Nothing and no one exists who can rival Him.

Therefore, Revelation is characterized by song, praise and worship of the Almighty. While portraying judgment upon sin, a note of joy and praise is heard repeatedly. Some twenty songs or outbursts of praise and worship are recorded. Both men and angels joyfully unite in their worship of the Lamb of God (5:6-14).

Revelation touches upon most aspects of early Christian thought; hence, careful study will pay rich dividends to the student. Revelation is the only book of the Bible that promises a blessing to the reader and hearer:

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 (Revelation 1:3).

Read, hear and take it to heart and you will be blessed!

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