Composition and setting
The title is taken from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokalypsis, meaning “unveiling” or “revelation”. The author names himself as “John”, but it is extremely unlikely that the author of Revelation was also the author of the Gospel of John. Some of the evidence for this was set out as early as the second half of the 3rd century by Dionysius, archbishop of Alexandria, who noted that the gospel and the epistles attributed to John, unlike Revelation, do not name their author, and that the Greek of the gospel is correct and elegant while that of Revelation is neither; later scholars noticed that the two books also have radical differences in theological perspective. Tradition links him to John the Apostle, but it is unlikely that the apostle could have lived into the most likely time for the book’s composition, the reign of Domitian, and the author never states that he knew Jesus. All that is known is that this John was a Jewish Christian prophet, probably belonging to a group of such prophets, and was accepted as such by the congregations to whom he addresses his letter. His precise identity remains unknown, and modern scholarship commonly refers to him as John of Patmos.
Early Church tradition dates the book to end of the emperor Domitian (reigned AD 81-96), and most modern scholars agree, although the author may have written a first version under Vespasian (AD 69-79) and updated it under Domitian. The beast with seven heads and the number 666 seem to allude directly to the emperor Nero, but this does not require that Revelation was written in the 60s, as there was a widespread belief in later decades that Nero would return.
Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a letter (epistle) addressed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. “Apocalypse” means the revealing of divine mysteries; John is to write down what is revealed (what he sees in his vision) and send it to the seven churches. The entire book constitutes the letter – the letters to the seven individual churches are introductions to the rest of the book, which is addressed to all seven. The book is also prophecy: Revelation uses the word in various forms twenty-one times, more than any other New Testament book.
Although Revelation rarely quotes directly from the Old Testament, it is permeated with allusions and echoes in almost every verse. Over half of the references are to Daniel, Ezekiel, Psalms, and Isaiah, with Daniel providing the largest number in proportion to length and Ezekiel standing out as the most influential. Because these references are allusions rather than quotes, it is difficult to know whether the author was using the Hebrew or the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, but he was clearly often influenced by the Greek. He very frequently combines multiple references, and again the allusional style makes it impossible to be certain to what extent he was doing so consciously.
The conventional understanding until recently was that Revelation was written to comfort beleaguered Christians as they underwent persecution at the hands of a megalomaniacal Roman emperor, but much of this has now been jettisoned: Domitian is no longer viewed as a despot imposing an imperial cult, and it is no longer believed that there was any systematic empire-wide persecution of Christians in his time. The current view is that Revelation was composed in the context of a conflict within the Christian community of Asia Minor over whether to engage with, or withdraw from, the far larger non-Christian community: Revelation rejects those Christians who wanted to reach an accommodation with society. This is not to say that Christians in Roman Asia were not suffering, for withdrawal from the wider Roman society imposed very real penalties; Revelation offered an escape from this reality by offering an apocalyptic hope: in the words of professor Adela Yarbro Collins, “What ought to be was experienced as a present reality.”
Revelation was the last book to be accepted into the Christian biblical canon, and even at the present day some Nestorian churches reject it. It was tainted because the heretical sect of the Montanists relied on it and doubts were raised over its Jewishness and authorship. It was not included in the canon until 419.
Doubts resurfaced during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther called it “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and it was the only New Testament book on which John Calvin did not write a commentary. Even today, it is the only New Testament work not read in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, though it is included in Catholic and Protestant liturgies.
Texts and manuscripts
There are approximately 230 Greek manuscripts of Revelation. The major manuscripts are the Codex Sinaiticus (4th century), Codex Alexandrinus (5th century), and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th century). In addition, there are numerous papyri, especially that of p47 (3rd century); the minuscules (8th to 10th century), plus fragmentary quotations in the Church fathers of the 2nd to 5th centuries and the 6th century Greek commentary on Revelation by Andreas.
Structure and content
Divisions in the book seem to be marked by the repetition of key phrases, by the arrangement of subject matter into blocks, and around its Christological passages, and much use is made of significant numbers, especially the number seven, which represented perfection according to ancient numerology. Nevertheless, there is a “complete lack of consensus” among scholars about the structure of Revelation. The following is therefore an outline of the book’s contents rather than of its structure.
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ is communicated to John of Patmos through prophetic visions. (1:1–9)
- John is instructed by the “one like a son of man” to write all that he hears and sees, from the prophetic visions, to Seven churches of Asia. (1:10–13)
- The appearance of the “one like a son of man” is given, and he reveals what the seven stars and seven lampstands represent. (1:14–20)
- Messages for seven churches of Asia
- Ephesus: From this church, those “who overcome are granted to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (2:1–7)
- Praised for not bearing those who are evil, testing those who say they are apostles and are not, and finding them to be liars; hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans; having persevered and possessing patience.
- Admonished to “do the first works” and to repent for having left their “first love.”
- Smyrna: From this church, those who are faithful until death, will be given “the crown of life.” Those who overcome shall not be hurt by the second death. (2:8–11)
- Praised for being “rich” while impoverished and in tribulation.
- Admonished not to fear the “synagogue of Satan,” nor fear a ten-day tribulation of being thrown into prison.
- Pergamum: From this church, those who overcome will be given the hidden manna to eat and a white stone with a secret name on it.” (2:12–17)
- Praised for holding “fast to My name,” not denying “My faith” even in the days of Antipas, “My faithful martyr.”
- Admonished to repent for having held the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel; eating things sacrificed to idols, committing sexual immorality, and holding the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans.”
- Thyatira: From this church, those who overcome until the end, will be given power over the nations in order to dash them to pieces with the rule of a rod of iron; they will also be given the “morning star.” (2:18–29)
- Praised for their works, love, service, faith, and patience.
- Admonished to repent for allowing a “prophetess” to promote sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols.
- Sardis: From this church, those who overcome will be clothed in white garments, and their names will not be blotted out from the Book of Life; their names will also be confessed before the Father and His angels. (3:1–6)
- Admonished to be watchful and to strengthen since their works have not been perfect before God.
- Philadelphia: From this church, those who overcome will be made a pillar in the temple of God having the name of God, the name of the city of God, “New Jerusalem,” and the Son of God‘s new name. (3:7–13)
- Praised for having some strength, keeping “My word,” and having not denied “My name.”
- Admonished to hold fast what they have, that no one may take their crown.
- Laodicea: From this church, those who overcome will be granted the opportunity to sit with the Son of God on His throne. (3:14–22)
- Admonished to be zealous and repent from being “lukewarm”; they are instructed to buy the “gold refined in the fire,” that they may be rich; to buy “white garments,” that they may be clothed, so that the shame of their nakedness would not be revealed; to anoint their eyes with eye salve, that they may see.
- Ephesus: From this church, those “who overcome are granted to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (2:1–7)
- Before the Throne of God
- The Throne of God appears, surrounded by twenty four thrones with Twenty-four elders seated in them. (4:1–5)
- The four Living creatures (Bible) are introduced. (4:6–11)
- A scroll, with seven seals, is presented and it is declared that the Lion of the tribe of Judah, from the “Root of David,” is the only one worthy to open this scroll. (5:1–5)
- When the “Lamb having seven horns and seven eyes” took the scroll, the creatures of heaven fell down before the Lamb to give him praise, joined by myriads of angels and the creatures of the earth. (5:6–14)
- Seven Seals are opened
- First Seal: A white horse appears, whose crowned rider has a bow with which to conquer. (6:1–2)
- Second Seal: A red horse appears, whose rider is granted a “great sword” to take peace from the earth. (6:3–4)
- Third Seal: A black horse appears, whose rider has “a pair of balances in his hand,” where a voice then says, “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and [see] thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (6:5–6)
- Fourth Seal: A pale horse appears, whose rider is Death, and Hades follows him. Death is granted a fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (6:7–8)
- Fifth Seal: “Under the altar,” appeared the souls of martyrs for the “word of God,” who cry out for vengeance. They are given white robes and told to rest until the martyrdom of their brothers is completed. (6:9-11)
- Sixth Seal: (6:12–17)
- There occurs a great earthquake where “the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon like blood” (6:12).
- The stars of heaven fall to the earth and the sky recedes like a scroll being rolled up (6:13–14).
- Every mountain and island is moved out of place (6:14).
- The people of earth retreat to caves in the mountains (6:15).
- The survivors call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall on them, so as to hide them from the “wrath of the Lamb” (6:16).
- Interlude: The 144,000 Hebrews are sealed.
- Seventh Seal: Introduces the seven trumpets (8:1–5)
- “Silence in heaven for about half an hour” (8:1).
- Seven angels are each given trumpets (8:2).
- An eighth angel takes a “golden censer,” filled with fire from the heavenly altar, and throws it to the earth (8:3–5). What follows are “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (8:5).
- After the eighth angel has devastated the earth, the seven angels introduced in verse 2 prepare to sound their trumpets (8:6).
- Seven trumpets are sounded (Seen in Chapters 8, 9, and 12).
- First Trumpet: Hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown to the earth burning up a third of the trees and green grass. (8:6–7)
- Second Trumpet: Something that resembles a great mountain, burning with fire, falls from the sky and lands in the ocean. It kills a third of the sea creatures and destroys a third of the ships at sea. (8:8–9)
- Third Trumpet: A great star, named Wormwood, falls from heaven and poisons a third of the rivers and springs of water. (8:10–11)
- Fourth Trumpet: A third of the sun, the moon, and the stars are darkened creating complete darkness for a third of the day and the night. (8:12–13)
- Fifth Trumpet: The First Woe (9:1–12)
- A “star” falls from the sky (9:1).
- This “star” is given “the key to the bottomless pit” (9:1).
- The “star” then opens the bottomless pit. When this happens, “smoke [rises] from [the Abyss] like smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky [are] darkened by the smoke from the Abyss” (9:2).
- From out of the smoke, locusts who are “given power like that of scorpions of the earth” (9:3), who are commanded not to harm anyone or anything except for people who were not given the “seal of God” on their foreheads (from chapter 7) (9:4).
- The “locusts” are described as having a human appearance (faces and hair) but with lion’s teeth, and wearing “breastplates of iron”; the sound of their wings resembles “the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle” (9:7–9).
- Sixth Trumpet: The Second Woe (9:13–21)
- The four angels bound to the great river Euphrates are released to prepare two hundred million horsemen.
- These armies kill a third of mankind by plagues of fire, smoke, and brimstone.
- Interlude: The little scroll. (10:1–11)
- An angel appears, with one foot on the sea and one foot on the land, having an opened little book in his hand.
- Upon the cry of the angel, seven thunders utter mysteries and secrets that are not to be written down by John.
- John is instructed to eat the little scroll that happens to be sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach, and to prophesy.
- John is given a measuring rod to measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.
- Outside the temple, at the court of the holy city, it is trod by the nations for forty-two months (3 1/2 years).
- Two witnesses prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. (11:1–14)
- Seventh Trumpet: The Third Woe that leads into the seven bowls (11:15–19)
- The temple of God opens in heaven, where the ark of His covenant can be seen. There are lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.
- The Seven Spiritual Figures. (Events leading into the Third Woe)
- A woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars” is in labor with a male child. (12:1–2)
- A great, fiery red, seven-headed dragon drags a third of the stars of heaven with his tail, and throws them to the earth. (12:3–4). The dragon waits for the birth of
- The child. However, sometime after the child is born, he is caught up to God’s throne while the woman flees into the wilderness for 1,260 days (3½ years). (12:5–6). War breaks out in heaven between Michael and the Dragon, identified as the Devil, Satan (12:9). After a great fight, the Dragon and his angels are cast out of heaven for good, followed by praises of victory for God’s kingdom. (12:7–12). The Dragon engages to persecute the Woman, but she is given aid to evade him. Her evasiveness enrages the Dragon, prompting him to wage war against the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (12:13–17)
- A seven-headed leopard-like beast emerges from the sea, having one mortally wounded head that is then healed. The Dragon grants him power and authority for forty-two months. (13:1–5)
- The Beast of the sea blasphemes God’s name, wages war against the Saints, and overcomes them. (13:6–10)
- Another beast appears, but from the earth, having two horns like a lamb and speaking like a dragon. He directs people to make an image of the beast, breathing life into it, and forcing all people to bear “the mark of the Beast,” “666” or in one source “616.” Events leading into the Third Woe:
- The Lamb stands on Mount Zion with the 144,000 “first fruits” who are redeemed from earth. (14:1–5)
- The proclamations of three angels. (14:6–13)
- One like the Son of Man reaps the earth. (14:14–16)
- A second angel reaps “the vine of the earth” and throws it into “the great winepress of the wrath of God… and blood came out of the winepress… up to one thousand six hundred furlongs.” (14:17–20)
- The temple of the tabernacle, in heaven, is opened(15:1–5), beginning the “Seven Bowls” revelation.
- Seven angels are given a golden bowl, from the Four Living Creatures, that contains the wrath of God. (15:6–8)
- Seven bowls are poured onto Earth:
- First Bowl: A “foul and loathsome sore” afflicts the followers of the beast. (16:1–2)
- Second Bowl: The sea turns to blood and everything within it dies. (16:3)
- Third Bowl: All fresh water turns to blood. (16:4–7)
- Fourth Bowl: The sun scorches the Earth with intense heat. (16:8–9)
- Fifth Bowl: There is total darkness and great pain in the Beast’s kingdom. (16:10–11)
- Sixth Bowl: Preparations are made for the final battle at Armageddon between the forces of good and evil. (16:12–16)
- Seventh Bowl: A great earthquake: “every island fled away and the mountains were not found.” (16:17–21)
- Aftermath of Babylon the Great
- The great harlot who sits on many waters: Babylon the Great. (17:1–18)
- Babylon is destroyed. (18:1–8)
- The people of the earth mourn Babylon’s destruction. (18:9–19)
- The permanence of Babylon’s destruction. (18:20–24)
- The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
- A great multitude praises God. (19:1–6)
- The marriage supper of the Lamb. (19:7–10)
- The Judgement of the Beast, Devil and Dead (19:11–20:15)
- The beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire. (19:11–21)
- Satan is imprisoned in the bottomless pit for a thousand years. (20:1–3)
- The resurrected martyrs live and reign with Christ for a thousand years. (20:4–6)
- After the Thousand Years
- Satan is released and makes war against the people of God, but is defeated. (20:7–9)
- Satan is cast into the lake of burning sulfur. (20:10)
- The Last Judgment: the wicked, along with death and Hades, are cast into the lake of fire. (20:11–15)
- The New Heaven and Earth, and New Jerusalem
- A new heaven and new earth replace the old. There is no more suffering or death. (21:1–8)
- God comes to dwell with humanity in the New Jerusalem. (21:2–8)
- Description of the New Jerusalem. (21:9–27)
- The river and tree of life appear for the healing of the nations. The curse is ended. (22:1–5)
- Christ’s reassurance that his coming is imminent. Final admonitions. (22:6–21)
Revelation has a wide variety of interpretations, ranging from the simple message that we should have faith that God will prevail (“symbolic interpretation”), to complex end time scenarios (“futurist interpretation”), to the views of critics who deny any spiritual value to Revelation at all.
Most of the interpretations fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Historicism, which sees in Revelation a broad view of history;
- Preterism, in which Revelation mostly refers to the events of the apostolic era (1st century) or, at the latest, the fall of the Roman Empire;
- Amillennialism, which contends that the millennium has already begun and is identical with the current church age;
- Futurism, which believes that Revelation describes future events (modern believers in this interpretation are often called “millennialists“); and
- Idealism, 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.
Eastern Orthodoxy treats the text as simultaneously describing contemporaneous events (events occurring at the same time) and as prophecy of events to come, for which the contemporaneous events were a form of foreshadow. It rejects attempts to determine, before the fact, if the events of Revelation are occurring by mapping them onto present-day events, taking to heart the Scriptural warning against those who proclaim “He is here!” prematurely. Instead, the book is seen as a warning to be spiritually and morally ready for the end times, whenever they may come (“as a thief in the night”), but they will come at the time of God’s choosing, not something that can be precipitated nor trivially deduced by mortals. This view is also held by many Catholics, although there is a diversity of opinion about the nature of the Apocalypse within Catholicism.
Book of Revelation is the only book of the New Testament that is not read during services by the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the Coptic Orthodox Church (which is not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox church but is liturgically similar), the whole Book of Revelation is read during Apocalypse Night or Bright Saturday (6 days after Pascha).
This interpretation, which has found expression among both Catholic and Protestant theologians, considers the liturgical worship, particularly the Easter rites, of early Christianity as background and context for understanding the Book of Revelation’s structure and significance. This perspective is explained in The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (new edition, 2004) by Massey H. Shepherd, an Episcopal scholar, and in Scott Hahn‘s The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999), in which he states that Revelation in form is structured after creation, fall, judgment and redemption. Those who hold this view say that the Temple’s destruction (AD 70) had a profound effect on the Jewish people, not only in Jerusalem but among the Greek-speaking Jews of the Mediterranean. They believe The Book of Revelation provides insight into the early Eucharist, saying that it is the new Temple worship in the New Heaven and Earth. The idea of the Eucharist as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet is also explored by British Methodist Geoffrey Wainwright in his book Eucharist and Eschatology (Oxford University Press, 1980). According to Pope Benedict XVI some of the images of Revelation should be understood in the context of the dramatic suffering and persecution of the churches of Asia in the 1st century.
Accordingly, the Book of Revelation should not be read as an enigmatic warning, but as an encouraging vision of Christ’s definitive victory over evil.
“Also known as the Apocalypse, a Greek word meaning revealed or uncovered. The message of Revelation is the same as that of all scripture: there will be an eventual triumph on this earth of God over the devil; a permanent victory of good over evil, of the Saints over their persecutors, of the kingdom of God over the kingdoms of men and of Satan. This is the subject on which Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, Peter, and all the prophets have written. They spoke of a day of victory that would come, and that the end would be better (more glorious) than the beginning. The victory would be achieved through Jesus Christ.”
“Such is the theme of the Revelation. The details about the beasts, the wars, the angels, the men, etc., contribute to the development of this theme. By a little study, the theme can be perceived even if the details are not completely identified. It may be in this sense that the Prophet Joseph Smith said that Revelation was ‘one of the plainest books God ever caused to be written’ (History of the Church 5:342). However, the more fully the details are understood, the greater will be the appreciation of the theme. If we fail to catch a glimpse of the theme, we fail in our comprehension, no matter how many details we are able to understand.”
Latter-day revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 77, provides answers to specific questions regarding the symbolism contained in the Book of Revelation. Topics include: the sea of glass, the four beasts and their appearance, the 24 elders, the book with seven seals, certain angels, the sealing of the 144,000, the little book eaten by John, and the two witnesses in Chapter 11.
Latter-day Saints believe that the warning contained in Revelation 22:18-19 does not refer to the biblical canon as a whole. Rather, an open and ongoing dialogue between God and the modern-day Prophet and Apostles of the LDS faith constitute an open canon of scripture.
Adventists maintain a historicist interpretation of the Bible’s predictions of the apocalypse.
‘Abdu’l-Baha has given some interpretations about the 11th and 12th chapters of Revelation in Some Answered Questions. The 1260 days spoken of in different forms refers to the 1260 years of Islam that lasted until the beginning of the Revelation of the Báb in 1260 AH or AD 1844. The “two witnesses” spoken of are Muhammad and ‘Ali. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” The seven heads and seven crowns are the seven countries and dominions that the Umayyads had control over, while the ten horns were the ten names of the Umayyad leaders. A more detailed explanation can be found in the references.
The esoterist views Revelation as bearing multiple levels of meaning, the lowest being the literal or “dead-letter.” Those who are instructed in esoteric knowledge enter gradually into more subtle levels of understanding of the text. They see the book as delivering both a series of warnings for humanity and a detailed account of internal, spiritual processes of the individual soul.
The Gnostic Kabbalist believes that Revelation (like Genesis) is a very profound book of Kabbalistic symbolism.
Christian Gnostics, however, are unlikely to be attracted to the teaching of Revelation because the doctrine of salvation through the sacrificed Lamb, which is central to Revelation, is repugnant to Gnostics. Christian Gnostics “believed in the Forgiveness of Sins, but in no vicarious sacrifice for sin … they accepted Christ in the full realisation of the word; his life, not his death, was the keynote of their doctrine and their practice.”
James Morgan Pryse was an esoteric gnostic who saw Revelation as a western version of the Hindu theory of the Chakra. He began his work, “The purpose of this book is to show that the Apocalypse is a manual of spiritual development and not, as conventionally interpreted, a cryptic history or prophecy.” Such diverse theories have failed to command widespread acceptance. But Christopher Rowland argues: “there are always going to be loose threads which refuse to be woven into the fabric as a whole. The presence of the threads which stubbornly refuse to be incorporated into the neat tapestry of our world-view does not usually totally undermine that view.”
The radical discipleship interpretation asserts that the Book of Revelation is best understood as a handbook for radical discipleship; i. e., how to remain faithful to the spirit and teachings of Jesus and avoid simply assimilating to surrounding society. In this interpretation the primary agenda of the book is to expose as impostors the worldly powers that seek to oppose the ways of God and God’s Kingdom. The chief temptation for Christians in the 1st century, and today, is to fail to hold fast to the non-violent teachings and example of Jesus and instead be lured into unquestioning adoption and assimilation of worldly, national or cultural values – imperialism, nationalism, and civil religion being the most dangerous and insidious.
This perspective (closely related to liberation theology) draws on the approach of Bible scholars such as Ched Myers, William Stringfellow, Richard Horsley, Daniel Berrigan, Wes Howard-Brook, and Joerg Rieger. Various Christian anarchists, such as Jacques Ellul, have identified the State and political power as the Beast.
Aesthetic and literary
Many literary writers and theorists have contributed to a wide range of theories about the origins and purpose of the Book of Revelation. Some of these writers have no connection with established Christian faiths but, nevertheless, found in Revelation a source of inspiration. Revelation has been approached from Hindu philosophy and Jewish Midrash. Others have pointed to aspects of composition which have been ignored such as the similarities of prophetic inspiration to modern poetic inspiration, or the parallels with Greek drama. In recent years, theories have arisen which concentrate upon how readers and texts interact to create meaning and which are less interested in what the original author intended.
Charles Cutler Torrey taught Semitic languages at Yale. His lasting contribution has been to show how much more meaningful prophets, such as the scribe of Revelation, are when treated as poets first and foremost. He thought this was a point often lost sight of because most English bibles render everything in prose. Poetry was also the reason John never directly quoted the older prophets. Had he done so, he would have had to use their (Hebrew) poetry whereas he wanted to write his own. Torrey insisted Revelation had originally been written in Aramaic. This was why the surviving Greek translation was written in such a strange idiom. It was a literal translation that had to comply with the warning at Revelation 22:18 that the text must not be corrupted in any way. According to Torrey, the story is that “The Fourth Gospel was brought to Ephesus by a Christian fugitive from Palestine soon after the middle of the first century. It was written in Aramaic.” Later, the Ephesians claimed this fugitive had actually been the beloved disciple himself. Subsequently, this John was banished by Nero and died on Patmos after writing Revelation. Torrey argued that until AD 80, when Christians were expelled from the synagogues, the Christian message was always first heard in the synagogue and, for cultural reasons, the evangelist would have spoken in Aramaic, else “he would have had no hearing.” Torrey showed how the three major songs in Revelation (the new song, the song of Moses and the Lamb and the chorus at 19: 6–8) each fall naturally into four regular metrical lines plus a coda. Other dramatic moments in Revelation, such as 6: 16 where the terrified people cry out to be hidden, behave in a similar way.
Christina Rossetti was a Victorian poet who believed the sensual excitement of the natural world found its meaningful purpose in death and in God. Her The Face of the Deep is a meditation upon the Apocalypse. In her view, what Revelation has to teach is patience. Patience is the closest to perfection the human condition allows. Her book, which is largely written in prose, frequently breaks into poetry or jubilation, much like Revelation itself. The relevance of John’s visions belongs to Christians of all times as a continuous present meditation. Such matters are eternal and outside of normal human reckoning. “That winter which will be the death of Time has no promise of termination. Winter that returns not to spring … – who can bear it?” She dealt deftly with the vengeful aspects of John’s message. “A few are charged to do judgment; everyone without exception is charged to show mercy.” Her conclusion is that Christians should see John as “representative of all his brethren” so they should “hope as he hoped, love as he loved.”
Recently, aesthetic and literary modes of interpretation have developed, which focus on Revelation as a work of art and imagination, viewing the imagery as symbolic depictions of timeless truths and the victory of good over evil. Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza wrote Revelation: Vision of a Just World from the viewpoint of rhetoric. Accordingly, Revelation’s meaning is partially determined by the way John goes about saying things, partially by the context in which readers receive the message and partially by its appeal to something beyond logic. Professor Schuessler Fiorenza believes that Revelation has particular relevance today as a liberating message to disadvantaged groups. John’s book is a vision of a just world, not a vengeful threat of world-destruction. Her view that Revelation’s message is not gender-based has caused dissent. She says we are to look behind the symbols rather than make a fetish out of them. In contrast, Tina Pippin states that John writes “horror literature” and “the misogyny which underlies the narrative is extreme.” Professor Schuessler Fiorenza would seem to be saying John’s book is more like science fiction; it does not foretell the future but uses present-day concepts to show how contemporary reality could be very different.
D. H. Lawrence took an opposing, pessimistic view of Revelation in the final book he wrote, Apocalypse. He saw the language which Revelation used as being bleak and destructive; a ‘death-product’. Instead, he wanted to champion a public-spirited individualism (which he identified with the historical Jesus supplemented by an ill-defined cosmic consciousness) against its two natural enemies. One of these he called “the sovereignty of the intellect” which he saw in a technology-based totalitarian society. The other enemy he styled “vulgarity” and that was what he found in Revelation. “It is very nice if you are poor and not humble … to bring your enemies down to utter destruction, while you yourself rise up to grandeur. And nowhere does this happen so splendiferously than in Revelation.” His specific aesthetic objections to Revelation were that its imagery was unnatural and that phrases like “the wrath of the Lamb” were “ridiculous.” He saw Revelation as comprising two discordant halves. In the first, there was a scheme of cosmic renewal in “great Chaldean sky-spaces”, which he quite liked. After that, Lawrence thought, the book became preoccupied with the birth of the baby messiah and “flamboyant hate and simple lust … for the end of the world.” Lawrence coined the term “Patmossers” to describe those Christians who could only be happy in paradise if they knew their enemies were suffering in hell.
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Modern biblical scholarship attempts to understand Revelation in its 1st century historical context within the genre of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature. This approach considers the text as an address to seven historical communities in Asia Minor. Under this interpretation, assertions that “the time is near” are to be taken literally by those communities. Consequently, the work is viewed as a warning to not conform to contemporary Greco-Roman society which John “unveils” as beastly, demonic, and subject to divine judgment. There is further information on these topics in the entries on higher criticism and apocalyptic literature.
Although the acceptance of Revelation into the canon has from the beginning been controversial, it has been essentially similar to the career of other texts. The eventual exclusion of other contemporary apocalyptic literature from the canon may throw light on the unfolding historical processes of what was officially considered orthodox, what was heterodox, and what was even heretical. Interpretation of meanings and imagery are anchored in what the historical author intended and what his contemporary audience inferred; a message to Christians not to assimilate into the Roman imperial culture was John’s central message. Thus, his letter (written in the apocalyptic genre) is pastoral in nature, and the symbolism of Revelation is to be understood entirely within its historical, literary, and social context. Critics study the conventions of apocalyptic literature and events of the 1st century to make sense of what the author may have intended.
Old Testament origins
Much of Revelation employs ancient sources, primarily but not exclusively the Old Testament. For example, Howard-Brook and Gwyther regard the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) as an equally significant but contextually different source. “Enoch’s journey has no close parallel in the Hebrew scriptures.”
Academics showed little interest in this topic until recently. This was not, however, the case with popular writers from non-conforming backgrounds, who interspersed the text of Revelation with the prophecy they thought was being promised. For example, an anonymous Scottish commentary of 1871 prefaces Revelation 4 with the Little Apocalypse of Mark 13, places Malachi 4:5 (“Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”) within Revelation 11 and writes Revelation 12:7 side-by-side with the role of “the Satan” in the Book of Job. The message is that everything in Revelation will happen in its previously appointed time.
Steve Moyise uses the index of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament to show that “Revelation contains more Old Testament allusions than any other New Testament book, but it does not record a single quotation.” Perhaps significantly, Revelation chooses different sources than other New Testament books. Revelation concentrates on Isaiah, Psalms, and Ezekiel, while neglecting, comparatively speaking, the books of the Pentateuch that are the dominant sources for other New Testament writers. Methodological objections have been made to this course as each allusion may not have an equal significance. To counter this, G. K. Beale sought to develop a system that distinguished ‘clear’, ‘probable’, and ‘possible’ allusions. A clear allusion is one with almost the same wording as its source, the same general meaning, and which could not reasonably have been drawn from elsewhere. A probable allusion contains an idea which is uniquely traceable to its source. Possible allusions are described as mere echoes of their putative sources.
Yet, with Revelation, the problems might be judged more fundamental. The author seems to be using his sources in a completely different way to the originals. For example, he borrows the ‘new temple’ imagery of Ezekiel 40–48 but uses it to describe a New Jerusalem which, quite pointedly, no longer needs a temple because it is God’s dwelling. Ian Boxall writes that Revelation “is no montage of biblical quotations (that is not John’s way) but a wealth of allusions and evocations rewoven into something new and creative.” In trying to identify this “something new”, Boxall argues that Ezekiel provides the ‘backbone’ for Revelation. He sets out a comparative table listing the chapters of Revelation in sequence and linking most of them to the structurally corresponding chapter in Ezekiel. The interesting point is that the order is not the same. John, on this theory, rearranges Ezekiel to suit his own purposes.
Some commentators argue that it is these purposes – and not the structure – that really matter. G. K. Beale believes that, however much John makes use of Ezekiel, his ultimate purpose is to present Revelation as a fulfillment of Daniel 7.
Figures in Revelation
In order of appearance:
- John of Patmos
- The angel who reveals the Revelation of Jesus Christ
- The One who sits on the Throne
- Twenty-four crowned elders
- Four living creatures
- The Lion of Judah who is the seven horned Lamb with seven eyes
- Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
- Four angels holding the four winds of the Earth
- The seal-bearer angel
- Seven angelic trumpeters
- The star called Wormwood
- Angel of Woe
- Scorpion-tailed Locusts
- Four angels bound to the great river Euphrates
- Two hundred million lion-headed cavalry
- The mighty angel of Seven thunders
- The Two witnesses
- Beast of the Sea having seven heads and ten horns
- The woman and her child
- The Dragon, fiery red with seven heads
- Michael the Archangel
- Lamb-horned Beast of the Earth
- Image of the Beast of the sea
- The False Prophet
- Whore of Babylon
- Death and Hades
- Alpha and Omega
- Apocalypse of John – dated astronomically
- Apocalypse of Peter
- The Apocalypse (2000 film)
- Arethas of Caesarea
- Biblical numerology
- Christian eschatological differences
- Horae Apocalypticae
- New Earth
- Number of the Beast
- Textual variants in the Book of Revelation
- Woman of the Apocalypse
- English Apocalypse manuscripts
- Carson, Don (2005). An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. p. 465ff. ISBN 0-310-51940-3.
- Collins 1984, p. 28.
- Baukham 1992, p. 2.
- Stuckenbruck 2003, p. 1535-1536.
- Stuckenbruck 2003, p. 1536.
- Collins 1984, p. 28-29.
- Collins 1984, p. 26-27.
- Baukham 1992, p. 2, 24-25.
- Stuckenbruck 2003, p. 1535.
- Burkett 2002, p. 503-504.
- Collins 2002, p. 100.
- Bauckham 1993, p. 2.
- McKim 2014, p. 16.
- Couch 2001, p. 81.
- Beale & McDonough 2007, p. 1081-1084.
- Stephens, p. 143-145.
- Stephens, p. 152.
- Collins 1984, p. 154.
- Wall 2011, p. no page number.
- Stonehouse 1929, p. 138–142.
- Pattemore 2004, p. 1.
- McDonald Sanders, p. append.D-2,note 19.
- Hoekema 1979, p. 297.
- Pate 2010, p. no page number.
- Tenney 1988, p. 32-41.
- Senior & Getty 1990, p. 398-399.
- Mounce 1998, p. 32.
- Robert J. Karris (ed.) The Collegeville Bible Commentary Liturgical Press, 1992 p. 1296.
- Ken Bowers, Hiding in plain sight, Cedar Fort, 2000 p. 175.
- Carl Gustav Jung in his autobiography Memories Dream Reflections said “I will not discuss the transparent prophecies of the Book of Revelation because no one believes in them and the whole subject is felt to be an embarrassing one.”
- Averky (Taushev), Archbishop (1996). Eng. tr. Fr. Seraphim Rose, ed. The Apocalypse: In the Teachings of Ancient Christianity. Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. ISBN 978-0-938635-67-3.
- Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, ISBN 0-385-49659-1. New York City: Doubleday, 1999.
- Catholic Online (23 August 2006). “Pope Benedict: Read Book of Revelation as Christ’s victory over evil – International – Catholic Online”. Catholic.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- R. Frances Swiney (Rosa Frances Emily Biggs) The Esoteric Teaching of the Gnostics London: Yellon, Williams & Co (1909) p.3 & 4
- James M. Pryse Apocalypse Unsealed London: Watkins (1910). The theory behind the book is given in Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe) The Serpent Power Madras (Chennai): Ganesh & Co (1913). One version of how these beliefs might have travelled from India to the Middle East, Greece and Rome is given in the opening chapters of Rudolf Otto The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man London: Lutterworth (1938)
- Christopher Rowland Revelation London:Epworth (1993) p.5
- Howard-Brook, Wes; Gwyther, Anthony (1999). Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now. Orbis Books. ISBN 978-1-57075-287-2.
- Rieger, Joerg (2007). Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times. Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0-8006-2038-7.
- Christoyannopoulos, Alexandre (2010). Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel. Exeter: Imprint Academic. pp. 123–126.
- Charles C. Torrey The Apocalypse of John New Haven: Yale University Press (1958). Christopher R. North in his The Second Isaiah London: OUP (1964) p. 23 says of Torrey’s earlier Isaiah theory, “Few scholars of any standing have accepted his theory.” This is the general view of Torrey’s theories. However, Christopher North goes on to cite Torrey on 20 major occasions and many more minor ones in the course of his book. So, Torrey must have had some influence and poetry is the key.
- Apocalypse of John p. 7
- Apocalypse of John p. 37
- Apocalypse of John p. 8
- Apocalypse of John p. 137
- Apocalypse of John p. 140
- “Flowers preach to us if we will hear,” begins her poem ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ Goblin Market London: Oxford University Press (1913) p. 87
- Ms Rossetti remarks that patience is a word which does not occur in the Bible until the New Testament, as if the usage first came from Christ’s own lips. Christina Rossetti The Face of the Deep London: SPCK (1892) p. 115
- “Christians should resemble fire-flies, not glow-worms; their brightness drawing eyes upward, not downward.” The Face of the Deep p. 26
- ‘vision’ lends the wrong emphasis as Ms Rossetti sought to minimise the distinction between John’s experience and that of others. She quoted 1 John 3:24 “He abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” to show that when John says, “I was in the Spirit” it is not exceptional.
- The Face of the Deep p. 301
- The Face of the Deep p. 292
- The Face of the Deep p. 495
- Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza Revelation: Vision of a Just World Edinburgh: T&T Clark (1993). The book seems to have started life as Invitation to the Book of Revelation Garden City: Doubleday (1981)
- Tina Pippin Death & Desire: The rhetoric of gender in the Apocalypse of John Louisville: Westminster-John Knox (1993) p. 105
- D. H. Lawrence Apocalypse London: Martin Secker (1932) published posthumously with an introduction (p. v – xli) by Richard Aldington which is an integral part of the text.
- Apocalypse p. xxiii
- Apocalypse p. 6
- Apocalypse p. 11 Lawrence did not consider how these two types of Christianity (good and bad in his view) might be related other than as opposites. He noted the difference meant that the John who wrote a gospel could not be the same John that wrote Revelation.
- Wes Howard-Brook & Anthony Gwyther Unveiling Empire New York: Orbis (1999) p. 76
- S Moyise p.13 reports no work whatsoever done between 1912 and 1984
- Anon An exposition of the Apocalypse on a new principle of literal interpretation Aberdeen: Brown (1871)
- S. Moyise The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press (1995) p. 31
- Ian Boxall The Revelation of St John London: Continuum & Peabody MA: Hendrickson (2006) p. 254
- G. K. Beale John’s use of the Old Testament in Revelation Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press (1998) p. 109
- Ammannati, Renato (2010). Rivelazione e Storia. Ermeneutica dell’Apocalisse. Transeuropa.
- Baukham, Richard (1993). The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge University Press.
- Beale, G.K.; McDonough, Sean M. (2007). “Revelation”. In Beale, G. K.; Carson, D. A. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Baker Academic.
- Burkett, Delbert (2000). An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. Cambridge University Press.
- Collins, Adela Yarbro (1984). Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse. Westminster John Knox Press.
- Crutchfield, Larry V. (2001). “Revelation in the New Testament Canon”. In Couch, Mal. A Bible Handbook to Revelation. Kregel Academic.
- Hoekema, Anthony A (1979). The Bible and the future. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0-8028-3516-1.
- McDonald, Lee Martin; Sanders, James A. (2002). The Canon Debate. Hendrickson Publishers.
- McKim, Donald K. (2014). The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition. Westminster John Knox Press,.
- Senior, Donald; Getty, Mary Ann (1990). The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford University Press.
- Mounce, Robert H. (1998). The Book of Revelation. Eerdmans.
- Pattemore, Stephen (2004). The People of God in the Apocalypse. Cambridge University Press.
- Schnelle, Udo (2007). Theology of the New Testament [tr.2009]. Baker Academic.
- Stuckenbruck, Loren T. (2003). “Revelation”. In Dunn, James D. G.; Rogerson, John William. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Eerdmans.
- Stephens, Mark B. (2011). Annihilation Or Renewal?: The Meaning and Function of New Creation in the Book of Revelation. Mohr Siebeck.
- Wall, Robert W. (2011). Revelation. Baker Books.
- Bass, Ralph E., Jr. (2004) Back to the Future: A Study in the Book of Revelation, Greenville, South Carolina: Living Hope Press, ISBN 0-9759547-0-9.
- Beale G.K., The Book of Revelation, NIGTC, Grand Rapids – Cambridge 1999. ISBN 0-8028-2174-X
- Bousset W., Die Offenbarung Johannis, Göttingen 18965, 19066.
- Boxall, Ian, (2006) The Revelation of Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary) London: Continuum, and Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson. ISBN 0-8264-7135-8 U.S. edition: ISBN 1-56563-202-8
- Boxall, Ian (2002) Revelation: Vision and Insight – An Introduction to the Apocalypse, London: SPCK ISBN 0-281-05362-6
- Brown, Raymond E. (3 October 1997). Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible. ISBN 0-385-24767-2.
- Ehrman, Bart D. (2004). The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford. ISBN 0-19-515462-2.
- Forbes, Andrew ; Henley, David (2012). Apocalypse: The Illustrated Book of Revelation. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B008WAK9SS
- Ford, J. Massyngberde (1975) Revelation, The Anchor Bible, New York: Doubleday ISBN 0-385-00895-3.
- Gentry, Kenneth L., Jr. (1998) Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, ISBN 0-915815-43-5.
- Gentry, Kenneth L., Jr. (2002) The Beast of Revelation, Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, ISBN 0-915815-41-9.
- Hahn, Scott (1999) The Lamb’s Supper: Mass as Heaven on Earth, Darton, Longman, Todd, ISBN 0814658180
- Harrington Wilfrid J. (1993) Sacra Pagina: Revelation, Michael Glazier, ISBN 978-0814658185
- Hernández, Juan, Scribal habits and theological influences in the Apocalypse, Tübingen 2006
- Hudson, Gary W. (2006) Revelation: Awakening The Christ Within, Vesica Press, ISBN 0-9778517-2-9
- Jennings, Charles A. (2001) The Book of Revelation From An Israelite and Historicist Interpretation, Truth in History Publications. ISBN 978-0979256585.
- Kiddle M., The Revelation of St. John (The Moffat New Testament Commentary), New York – London 1941.
- Kirsch, Thomas. A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization. New York: HarperOne, 2006.
- Lohmeyer, Ernst, Die Offenbarung des Johannes, Tübingen 1953.
- Muggleton, Lodowicke Works on the Book of Revelation London 2010 ISBN 978-1-907466-04-5
- Müller U.B., Die Offenbarung des Johannes, Güttersloh 1995.
- Pate, C. Marvin (2010). Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Zondervan.
- Prigent P., L’Apocalypse, Paris 1981.
- Samael Aun Weor (2004) . The Aquarian Message: Gnostic Kabbalah and Tarot in the Apocalypse of St. John. Thelema Press. ISBN 0-9745916-5-3.
- Roloff J., Die Offenbarung des Johannes, Zürich 19872.
- Shepherd, Massey H. (2004) The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse, James Clarke, ISBN 0-227-17005-9
- Stonehouse, Ned B., (c. 1929) The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church. A Study in the History of the New Testament Canon, n.d., Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre. [Major discussion of the controversy surrounding the acceptance/rejection of Revelation into the New Testament canon.]
- Sweet, J. P. M., (1979, Updated 1990) Revelation, London: SCM Press, and Philadelphia: Trinity Press International. ISBN 0-334-02311-4.
- Tenney, Merrill C. (1988). Interpreting Revelation. Eerdmans.
- Wikenhauser A., Offenbarung des Johannes, Regensburg 1947, 1959.
- Witherington III, Ben, (2003) Revelation, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary, New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-00068-0.
- Zahn Th., Die Offenbarung des Johannes, t. 1–2, Leipzig 1924–1926.
- Francesco Vitali, Piccolo Dizionario dell’Apocalisse, TAU Editrice, Todi 2008
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- Early Christian Writings: Apocalypse of John: text, introduction, context
- “Revelation to John.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- Apocalypse, Book of – Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia
- Understanding the Book of Revelation – Article by L. Michael White from PBS Frontline program “Apocalypse!”
- The Marvelous Address: The Revelation of the Beloved (Disciple) is an 18th-century manuscript about the book of Revelation in Arabic
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Texts on Wikisource:
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