Hello & Welcome! Today we’re talking about Revelation, the Christian apocalyptic narrative. The one that’s dominated the western world for two thousand years and still holds sway in the faith today. If your new to the blog allow me to explain, I’m the pocket theologian and here we like to take a theological or philosophical topic and talk about it in as much time as it takes to do it justice.
So here today we’re just going to be discussing Revelation, examining it’s background, the date it was written, it’s author and structure, some key terms and themes, before discussing some different interpretations and examining it with the criteria we’ve establish in previous parts of the apocalyptic series. With all that out of the way let’s talk some Revelation.
So to set the cultural background for Revelation, it’s first century Christianity. The Roman empire, the current superpower of the world, has discovered Christianity to not be a new radical sect of Judaism, but instead a religion of its own. Meaning that they must worship the emperor, naturally when Christians refuse they begin to be killed in droves. But this causes the church to grow and expand but as the church grows, its leaders and its founders begin to die. First is Stephen, then James, before long even Peter and Paul have given their lives for the cross of Christ. John, the son of Zebedee is the last of his generation, the last of the 12 who sat with Jesus. But he has been exiled to the island of Patmos, in the Mediterranean. And it is there that he is visited by his Lord to give a warning and a vision.
So that’s the time that Revelation was written in, where Christianity was when it was written, and why it was written. Before we go on there are some quick facts that I want to say: First, Revelation was definitely one of the last if not the last book of the bible written, we’ll discuss some dates for it’s writing in a minute but just to let my readers know, that’s not why Revelation is put at the end of the bible, it’s put there because it’s the end of history, thus it goes at the end of our Holy Text. Secondly, the book itself is pronounced the Revelation (singular) of Jesus Christ, given to the Saint John, which may or may not have been John the son of Zebedee. It’s not John’s revelation it’s Jesus. With all that out of way let’s discuss Revelation.
Scholars largely hold two possible dates for the writing of Revelation, each playing a significant role in how one interprets Revelation as a whole. The two dates are during the reign of emperor Nero (Ad 54-68) or during the reign of emperor Domitian (AD 81-96). I personally support a hybrid date, but i’ll explain that at the end. The reason Revelation couldn’t have been written anytime after AD 96 is because John, the son of Zebedee, is confirmed to have passed away in AD 96 in Ephesus. Domitian’s is considered the more likely for many reasons. Most important church figures said so including Irenaeus, Eusebius, Victorinus, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr. Revelation has several references to time, including chapter 11:2, 17:10 and 1:7, while these CAN support a Nero date, they fit much better in a Domitian case. Domitian’s reign was especially known for emperor worship which is a major problem in Revelation, Nero’s had it too but only in Rome not across the entire empire like Domitian. Christian persecution was the same, picking up speed under Domitian. Lastly, the condition and setting of the seven churches fits better in an after AD 80 date. For example, Laodicea had a terrible earthquake that devastated the city, and it was rebuilt in AD 80. Some of the language in Revelation 3 could be referencing this event.
In regards to Nero’s reign most of the evidence that supports this works just as well for Domitian besides this evidence though Revelation 11 appears to be speaking of the Jerusalem temple as still standing, it was destroyed in AD 70, while John could’ve been mocking, as someone who’s studied John I can tell you this is exceptionally out of character for him. Another piece of evidence is found in Revelation 17:10, which talks about seven kings, “five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come” this lines up well IF this is applied to the numbering of Roman emperor’s starting with Augustus the first technical emperor, and Galba Nero’s successor being the sixth. Or Julius Caesar being the first and Nero being the sixth.
Another piece of evidence is the 666 mentioned in Revelation 13:18, this is Gematria a Jewish cryptogram that John could be using. It roughly translates to Neron Kaiser, which is Nero Rules in latin. This could also be a reference to a popular myth that Nero, after his suicide fled to the east of Rome. And was gonna come back and sack Rome with an army. This is one possible interpretation of the “Anti-Christ” in Revelation as well.
The last piece of Pro Nero dating is the common Christian idea that “Babylon” in Revelation refers to Jerusalem, since it killed the Christ, killed countless Christians, was not expected to worship the emperor, and that the temple being destroyed was God avenging Christians against Judaism. This idea of God’s chosen people being Christians and no longer the Jews is common to the interpretation.
Christian traditional largely holds that John the son of Zebedee is the author of Revelation, many notable church fathers agreed with this idea including Papias, Justin Martyr, the Muratorian Fragment, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, and Methodius. However, two notable exceptions do exist, those being Dionysus and Eusibus, who wrote the first ever church history text outside the book of acts. These two disagreed with John, the son of zebedee, being the author for four reasons. Firstly, Revelation outright says “John wrote it” while the Gospel and the Epistles do not. This seems out of character for John, as he didn’t do it in the past. However, this argument lacks weight because of Revelation’s apocalyptic content and scathing chastisement of somewhat large churches. John could’ve seen the need to identify himself in this case. Secondly, Revelation lacks a lot of key Johanine characteristics, those being identifying Jesus as the word, or Logos, and explaining his vantage point, or why he knows what he’s talking about. These ignore Revelation chapter 1 verse 2. Furthermore Johanine literature has a characteristic of “witness” and witnessing which comes through in Revelation. Thirdly, they think that much of John’s very specific theological language is absent. When in fact it isn’t. Fourthly, Revelation is written in terrible Greek, while the letters and gospel are in good greek. This however doesn’t account for that fact that John could’ve used an aneunsis or a scribe to write for him for the epistles and gospel, while on an island in exile John would not have had access to this. I personally interpret that John himself wrote terribly, and that the original manuscript of Revelation was written in this terrible form before being transcribed later.
With all this being said it can be pretty clearly said that John is the writer of Revelation.
Revelation is structured uniquely among Apocalyptic literature, and even among biblical literature, since the first three chapters come in the form of an epistle, which is common in biblical literature, but then becomes John describing a vision he is given by Jesus, or a Revelation, hence the name, which proceeds in these parts. Chapter 1 is the introduction; chapter 2-3 are the letters to the seven churches; chapters 4-7 are the seven seals binding the scroll; chapter 8-11:18 are the seven trumpets; chapter 11:19-15:4 are the seven signs; chapter 15:4-16:21 are the seven bowls; chapter 17-20:3 the Seven spectacles; chapter 20:4-22:5 are the seven sights of consummation; and the last few verses 22:6-21 are the epilogue.
Terms and Themes:
So I want to discuss some key terms that are used in Revelation that some outside the faith or even inside the faith may not know what they mean.
Tribulation- So tribulation means “a prolonged and intense conflict” basically whenever this word is used it usually invokes the idea of a siege. Of an individual or group being heavily assaulted from multiple angles and enemies. So this is what tribulation means, and within Christianity and within Revelation it carries multiple meanings. Depending on which interpretation is used. Mostly though it refers to two possibly periods, which I’m calling “daily tribulation” and the “Great Tribulation”.
Millennium- Now a persons understanding and view of the millennium will often decide their interpretation of Revelation. The Millennium refers to the thousand year reign of Christ, where either Jesus will rule literally or figuratively. The different interpretations of the millennium are as follows.The church reigns and Jesus commands the church spiritually. Jesus literally rules until the devil escapes and triggers the final battle.
Rapture- Now in the larger scheme of Revelation the rapture is relatively insignificant, it mostly only matters to the Christians it supposedly effects.
So to summarize the rapture is the idea that Christians will be taken from this world either before, during, or after the Great Tribulation. This is immortalized in the popular Christian book series “Left Behind”.
Now dear reader I’m afraid I have to take a moment and tell you something that I feel much of Christianity is unaware of. That being that the Biblical basis for the rapture is incredibly flimsy, more so than any other doctrine I have ever seen in my years of studying theology. So the rapture is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and to quote one source “All of Scripture had to be configured in such a way as to support his reading of these few passages.” Speaking of the doctrine of the rapture was only just made in 1833 by John Nelson Derby.
So basically the Rapture isn’t even 200 years old, which makes it a little child in terms of theology, and that one passage Paul is comforting Christians who miss their loved one’s who’ve died. He’s comforting people not stating a theological truth, so this passage shouldn’t be taken this strongly. So this misunderstanding of context, plus the lack of evidence to support it, I personally have issues with it. The main one being that the church exists for one reason, to go and make disciples of all nations. So why, at the end of the world, when things are their most dire would God take the church, his hands and feet away? To me it doesn’t make sense.
Major Themes of Revelation:
God’s Preeminence- Revelation really hits hard the idea of God’s power and his rulership, not Caesar God is supreme. God decides when the end will be, God decides who is saved and who is not. John in his Revelation is continually showing the reader how God is in control and how not a thing happens until he wills, the judgement heaped upon the earth is by the command of God, he is in control.
Persecution- Revelation from beginning to end brings in the idea of Christianity being the under dog, being hated and disposed by a world that surrounds them. Christians are depicted as being killed only to then be glorified, Revelation makes the point of the faith being a life or death commitment, with out middle way being present.
The Role of the Church- The church is seen as central to the conflict, God is in control, but Christians are the front line, constantly being told to go and wait. It is no coincidence that God has John correct the church first before revealing the Revelation to him.
So now that we’ve examined some key terms in Revelation, let’s examine the interpretations that these terms decide.
Historicist- This view was taken by the Protestant Reformation and attributed the Papacy as the anti-christ, and the newly minted Protestants as the persecuted Christians. This view has fallen universally out of favor ever since the Reformation. This approach stinks of a lot of victim mentality. But my thoughts on the Reformation are well documented in previous episodes so let’s move on.
Preterist- This interpretation focuses on the historical settings and meanings of Revelation. This approach believes that Revelation was written to churches struggling in the first century, and that it was meant to steel them in times of trouble. And that this should be the lens through which Revelation is viewed and understood. The Tribulation therefore happened in the first century against Christianity by Rome, and then after Christianity was accepted by Constantine the millennium began. And will continue until Jesus returns, there is no rapture in any of the sources I can find.
Idealist- This approach believes that everything in Revelation is spiritual and symbolic, rather than literal. It’s symbolic for the eternal battle between God and the devil. It doesn’t try to make Revelation fit into any specific time period of idea. It let’s Revelation be anything that it can be.
Futurist- This interpretation believes that the first three chapters of Revelation have happened and are done. But chapters 4 onwards have yet to happen. This is the most common of the 4 interpretations, most modern denominations hold this view, including modern Evangelicals.
Now that we’ve discussed Revelation as a work of literature it’s time to look at it in terms of an apocalypse, in terms of our series. If you haven’t read our other blog posts in this series, I highly recommend going back to look at those as there will be some things that’ll be confusing to you, if you haven’t heard them.
So our three Characteristics of Apocalyptic Narratives are: A general depravity, Prophecy, and Redemption are these in Revelation? Well let’s see.
Is there general depravity in Revelation? Well yes, and John puts it right at the forefront of the book. However it is unique how in ALL other apocalyptic narratives the pious are righteous and the world turns against them. But in Revelation the pious are the one’s who are corrected, the churches in Asia are challenged and corrected for their sins, and the world goes unmentioned.
I find this interesting because it shows a clear focus on the part of the judge, God. He doesn’t blame the world for it’s sinful behavior, they don’t know any better. He blames the church for the sins of the world. He corrects those who are under his authority. Which is a unique and fascinating difference to any other apocalyptic narratives.
Does Revelation have any prophecy? Well yes, the entire book is filled with it. And really this provides perhaps the biggest question in regards to Revelation, that is how do we interpret this prophecy? To tie this back in with our interpretation section, are they predicting the general battle between good and evil? Are they literal, symbolic? All these questions can only be asked because of Revelation’s prophecy.
Lastly, is there any redemption in Revelation? Yes, there definitely is in Revelation 20:11-15 reads like this.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them; and they were judged, each one of them according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. ~NASB
So God brings back everyone, both in heaven and in hell, for one last chance, one big chance to be with Him forever. This is unique among apocalyptic narratives. Most apocalyptic narratives end with the righteous being rewarded and the evil being punished. But Revelation is unique in that everyone is held to God’s standard. Everyone stands before Him one last time. And I believe that anyone can choose to be with God at this point. So really, Revelation offers to the truest sense of redemption. More so than any other apocalypse.
And that’s all I have for now, go in peace!