The title means “to open up, take the lid off” – Gk, “Apokalupsis”, where we get our English word, Apocalyptic. Contrary to popular usage, it has nothing to do with catastrophic wars and the end of the world as we see the media purport. It is singular, not plural. It has many visions, but one message: Christians win in Christ no matter how big & evil our enemy is, Jesus Christ is our victorious King. Revelation is the only letter written to 7 exclusive congregations. So we need to keep our understanding in the context of the original readers and not ourselves. The historical background is important, if we are going to make any personal application for today. History remains a great teacher for the future. John gave them assurance that they could understand it as fulfilled prophecy, see 1:1,3, 22:6, 10. Our interpretation is defined by scripture, see Dan. 8:26, 12:4. So fulfillment of Revelation can be seen within a few centuries. Some passages do have an obvious two-fold fulfillment, akin to the way Isaiah 7:14 can refer both to Jesus (God Saves) in Mt. 1:23 and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (quick to plunder, swift to spoil) in Isa. 8:1-3.
Authorship & Outline: John the Apostle and disciple whom Jesus ‘loved’, Jn.13:23, was banished to the isle of Patmos, while suffering this persecution, he received many visions and was told to write them down in a book, 1:9-10. The last we see of John in the New Testament is Acts 15:4 & Gal. 2:9 in Jerusalem, it is only secular history from Irenaeus and Justin that we learn about John going to Ephesus. Irenaeus claimed to be a student of Polycarp, who sat at the feet of John. The timing of his writing was somewhere between 81-96AD under the reign of Emperor Domitian. Revelation can be outlined as simple as this:
- Introduction & Vision of Christ, Chapter 1
- Specific Visions for The Angel of the 7 Churches, Chapters 2-3
- General Visions of Prophecy for the 7 Churches, Chapters 4-22
- Seven Seals, Trumpets & Bowls, Chapters 4-16
- Winners & Losers, Chapters 17-20
- More Than Conquerors in Christ, Chapters 21-22
Historical Background: The culture and political scenario of the first Christians is important, getting a meaningful understanding of Revelation is possible if we know how the world looked upon Christians in the 1st century. The first persecution we suffered was from Jews, when James and Stephen were killed, it sent shock-waves of both fear and boldness throughout the new church. But Jews couldn’t continue their persecution of us, because of 2 major reasons: Firstly they had too big an enemy being Rome and were preoccupied with revolts and oppression, secondly we had God’s miraculous power proving to the Jews that their debate and persecution was fighting against God, which Gamaliel warned them of in Acts 5:39. In 66AD the Jews revolted against the Romans throughout most of Israel. The Emperor Nero sent his General Vespasian to Israel to quell the rebellion in Palestine. After almost 2 years of fighting in 68AD, Vespasian accomplished subduing most of Israel and prepared to overtake Jerusalem itself, when amazingly, Nero committed suicide, which motivated Vespasian to leave Israel and take the Throne in Rome in 69AD. He left his son Titus in charge of besieging and finishing off Jerusalem. Titus erected the Romans Eagle in the Temple on 10 August 70AD (a fulfillment of Dan. 9:27, 11:31 & 12:11, as well as Mat. 24:15). They destroyed and burnt the Temple to the ground, looting the gold and it’s best treasures. There were still pockets of Jews trying to rebel but the main element gathered at Masada and held out till 73AD, after knowing all was lost to the Romans, they organized a mass suicide, so the revolt of 66AD lasted till 73AD. Now Titus was victorious, Christians were busy spreading the gospel of Christ. Many Romans ignorantly believed that Christianity was a revamped renewal of Judaism, trying to establish itself again, so they fell under immediate persecution. The trumped up charge of Christ being the “King of the Jews” served as a prefaced purpose that would haunt Christians for decades, Mark 15:2. Christians were constantly confused by the Romans with Jews as a new breed to be stamped out. But after 117AD when Hadrian became Emperor, one of his decrees helped identify Christians as separate from Jews. The Jews revolted again in 132AD giving Hadrian a defeat in losing over 570,000 Roman soldiers, so Hadrian eventually burnt Jerusalem to the ground and built a shrine to Jupiter on the ruins of the Temple. Hadrian also banned circumcision, over time, this actually helped Romans identify who was a Christian and who was a Jew, in the humiliating gender identification Romans gave their enemies. God knew circumcision would be an issue and prepared for it to be abolished since the Apostolic letter of Acts 15. So Christians found themselves escaping persecution for a while until they came into Roman towns with marketplaces that demanded allegiance to Caesar upon entry. This lull in persecution gave them an opportunity for escape, but in Asia Minor where the seven churches are located, they were targeted because they wouldn’t publicly acknowledge Caesar as King, only Jesus as Lord Christ (Kurios Christi). This made Christians look like a threat to the government and reign of Caesar and caused them to be persecuted again. However as the love of God and His Spirit was shown by Christians, their own persecution became a great advertisement for Jesus and Christianity. The Gospel was used by His Spirit and faithful Christians, we eventually grew and overturned the Empire, making Christ the King of kings.
Do you know your family’s future? In Christ, it is fantastically famous and eternally rich, for we are citizens of Heaven, Philippians 3:20. The Theme and/or summary of Revelation can be summed up in one verse, Revelation 17:14. Every Christian should commit this verse to memory and ask God to write it on your heart!