Living Hope Ministries Logo

NEW TESTAMENT SURVEY NewTestament Survey


STUDY 22 - THE BOOK OF REVELATION


For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.381-397; R.H.Gundry, pp.457-476. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.465-486.

M.C.Tenney says:

"The book of Revelation closes the canon and the history of the NT.  Irrespective of whether or not it was the last in order to be written, it is final in its thought, for it embodies the expectation of a church that had been launched in the world as an institution, and that was eagerly awaiting the consummation of its mission". [1]

1. BACKGROUND TO THE APOCALYPSE

The experience of the apostle John
It is commonly held that the apostle John was exiled on the Island of Patmos (1:4,9) during the reign of emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). Persecution was not widespread at the time, but the emperor's claim to worship anticipated it.

The units of the Apocalypse
John's spiritual experience on Patmos was visionary. So, Tenney comments:

"The book consists of a series of visions, each of which is a unit in itself.  While there are many small units introduced by the phrase 'and I saw' (5:1,11; 6:1,9, etc.), the four main divisions are introduced by the phrase 'in the Spirit' (1:10; 4:2; 17:1-3; 21:9-10).  These divisions are of varied content and unequal length, but they give a unitary organisation to the book". [2]

Apocalyptic literature
We need to understand what is meant by apocalyptic literature.  M.C.Tenney explains the genre this way:

"Revelation belongs to the category of apocalyptic literature.  Apocalyptic literature was usually produced in times of persecution and oppression as a means of encouraging those who were suffering for their faith.  It was characterised (1) by an intense despair of present circumstances and an equally intense hope of divine intervention in the future; (2) by the use of symbolic language, dreams, and visions; (3) by the introduction of celestial and demonic powers as messengers and agents in the progress of God's purpose; (4) by the prediction of a catastrophic judgment of the wicked and supernatural deliverance for the righteous; and (5) frequently by the pseudonymous ascription of the writing to a prominent character of biblical history, such as Ezra (2 Esdras) or Enoch (Book of Enoch).  The book of Revelation possess most of these characteristics except that the author declares his name, and assumes that he is known, not as a past celebrity, but as a present participant in the affairs of those whom he addressed". [3]

The seven churches
In chapter one Christ is the Lord of the church. He walks in the midst of the lampstands (churches), observing and judging their life and witness. The leaders of the churches are in his hands, promoted and protected by him. Chapters 2 and 3 contain the contents of seven letters to the seven churches - of Asian Ephesus (2:1-7), Smyrna (2:8-11), Pergamum (2:19-17), Thyatira (2:18-29), Sardis (3:1-6), Philadelphia (3:7-13), and Laodicea (3:14-92). They contain the Lord's words of commendation, complaint, and counsel.  They also supply a background to the period (e.g., 2:10,13; 3:10).

2. INTERPRETATIONS OF THE APOCALYPSE

There are four main schools of interpretation represented by modern scholars:

  1. The preterist school (prophecy for the time) holds that the symbolism of the book relates only to the events of the day in which it was written.  Many liberal scholars rule out predictive prophecy (e.g., the Antichrist is not taken to be a future dictator, but a Roman Caesar of the time).

  2. The idealist school (prophecy being fulfilled all the time) sees the principles of prophecy being fulfilled all the time, e.g., the four horsemen of Rev.6:1-8 will always be in the same order - conquest, war, famine and death.  This interpretation often takes Revelation picturing the spiritual struggle between good and evil.

  3. The historicist school (prophecy through time) holds that Revelation outlines in symbolic form the entire course of the church's history from Pentecost to the parousia. The old evangelicals A.J.Gordon and A.B.Simpson held this view.

  4. The futurist school (prophecy before time) holds that the first three chapters of Revelation apply either to the day in which the book was written, or else that the seven churches of Asia represent seven periods of church history (as do the historicists), but contend that from chapter four the remainder of the book deals with the period of the 'Great Tribulation' which takes place just before Christ's return.  Bible expositors such as C.I.Scofield and H.A.Ironside are futurists.

Millennialist views based on Rev.20
See Rev.20:1-7, which speaks of Christ reigning on the earth for a thousand years. A number of views are held with this passage in mind:

  1. The amillennial view holds that the millennium does not (or will not) exist as a literal period. Christ may appear at any time, but his coming will mark the end of the age, with the final judgment, and the making of everything new.

  2. The premillennial view holds that Christ will return personally to rule over the kingdoms of the earth; that the dead will be raised and will reign with him for 1000 years; that at the end of this time there will be a rebellion; then will come the final judgment and the eternal state.

  3. The postmillennial view takes the 1000 years to be figurative of a long interval that precedes the coming of Christ.  In this period the gospel triumphs over the nations, introducing the reign of peace that will endure until Christ returns in final judgment.


3. CONTENT OF THE APOCALYPSE

As mentioned, the writer's visions give the book a unity. But it is important to see the Revelation as a Christocentric book.

The central person of Revelation
"The real key to the interpretation of Revelation does not lie in any one of those theories. however great its merits, but in the structure of the book itself as it presents the person of Christ. The very title of the book, 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass...' indicates that the central theme is the person of Christ as he reveals the future" (M.C.Tenney). [4]

In Rev.4 the throne of Almighty God, the creator of the universe, occupies a central place in the universe - and in Rev.5 the Lion-Lamb, the Son of God, is seen in the midst of the throne. He is the cosmic Christ.

Revelation - a book of numbers
Numbers feature greatly in the Apocalypse, giving a sense of planned design.  There are four living creatures, four horsemen, four angels.  There are seven churches, seven spirits of God, seven seals, seven thunders, seven bowls, seven major personages, seven beatitudes.  There are twelve gates to the city of God, twelve foundations, twelve kinds of fruit in the tree of life. There twenty-four elders.  There are 144,000 in companies.

4. OUTLINE OF THE APOCALYPSE

This is M.C.Tenney's general outline using 'the clues provided by the book itself':

  • The Revelation of Jesus Christ - in 'the things shortly to come to pass'

  • Prologue: Christ communicating (1:1-8)

  • Vision 1: Christ in the church: the living One (1:9-3:22)

  • Vision 2: Christ in the cosmos: the Redeemer (4:1-16:21)

  • Vision 3: Christ in conquest: the Warrior (17:1-21:8)

  • Vision 4: Christ in consummation: the Lamb (21:9-22:5)

  • Epilogue: Christ challenging (22:6-21).


5. EVALUATION OF THE APOCALYPSE

The book of Revelation gives a revelation of Christ. Christ dominates the book.  From chapter one his holiness, authority and power can be felt.  He is the Lion-Lamb in the midst of the throne, able to open the seals of the scroll (5:l-14).  He is a powerful Saviour, who redeems his people on earth, and keeps them safe to his bridal feast (19:7; 21:9).  He is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords (19:9), who rides the war-horse as a conqueror (19:11).  Revelation states very forcibly that time and history are in Christ's hands.

This vision would give to John, and the Christians suffering under the rule of emperor Domitian, tremendous support and strength. The appreciation of the Lord's omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence has given the church endurance in persecution down the years. Without a doubt the book of Revelation will give fortitude to the church at the end of the age.

Note the last promise, prayer and benediction of the book, which also provides a fitting conclusion to the NT and the Bible as a whole.

He who testifies to these things says,
"Yes, I am coming soon".
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people.
Amen"
(Rev.22:20-21).


ENDNOTES

1. M.C.Tenney, p.371.

2. M.C.Tenney, p.390.

3. M.C.Tenney, p.381-383.

4. M.C.Tenney, p.390.



Page Top

Copyright 2007 Vernon Ralphs

Website design: Copyright 2010 Living Hope Christian Ministries.