Background of Revelation
Author and Date
Jesus Christ is the divine author of this “revelation” (Revelation 1:1). He describes coming events to his servant John. John, son of Zebedee, was the “beloved disciple” who also wrote the Fourth Gospel and 1, 2, and 3 John. Most scholars believe John recorded these visions while imprisoned on the island of Patmos in the mid-90s AD. Revelation is addressed specifically to seven first-century churches in the Roman province of Asia (now western Turkey), but the message is for all churches everywhere.
The word “Revelation” translates the Greek word apokalypsis, which means “disclosure” or “unveiling.” Revelation unveils the unseen spiritual war in which the church is engaged: the cosmic conflict between God and his Christ on the one hand, and Satan and his evil allies (both demonic and human) on the other. In this conflict, Jesus the Lamb has already won the decisive victory through his sacrificial death, but his church continues to be assaulted by the dragon, in its death-throes, through persecution (the beast), deceptive heresy (the false prophet), and the allure of material affluence and cultural approval (the prostitute). By revealing the spiritual realities behind the church’s trials and temptations, and by affirming the certainty of Christ’s triumph in the new heaven and earth, the visions of Revelation fortify believers to endure suffering. The reader of Revelation is encouraged to stay pure from the defiling enticements of the present world order.
1. Through his sacrificial death, Jesus Christ has conquered Satan, the accuser. Jesus has redeemed people from every nation to become a kingdom of priests, gladly serving in God’s presence (Revelation 1:5, 18; 5:5–10; 12:1–11).
2. Jesus Christ is present among his churches through his Holy Spirit. He knows their trials, triumphs, and failures (Revelation 1:12–3:22).
3. World history, including its disasters, is under the control of Jesus, the victorious Lamb (Revelation 5:1–8:1).
4. God is presently holding back his wrath and preventing his enemies’ efforts to destroy the church. He patiently gathers his redeemed people through their witness for Jesus (Revelation 6:5–11; 7:1–3; 8:6–12; 9:4–6, 18; 11:3–7; 12:6, 13–17).
5. Present disasters are warnings of increasing judgments to come (Revelation 6:3–17; 8:6–13; 11:13; 16:1–21; 20:11–15).
6. Believers will continue their faithful testimony to the death. They will conquer both the dragon and the beast. The martyrs’ victory is now hidden, but it will be obvious when Christ returns (Revelation 2:10–11, 26–29; 3:11–13; 6:9–11; 7:9–17; 11:7–12, 17–18; 12:10–11; 14:1–5; 15:2–4; 20:4–6).
7. Satan attacks the church’s perseverance and purity through persecution, deceptive teaching, and the temptations of wealth and sensual pleasure (Revelation 2:1–3:22; 13:1–18; 17:1–18:24).
8. At the end of the age, the church’s opponents will increase their persecution. Jesus, the triumphant Word of God, will defeat and destroy all his enemies. The old heaven and earth, marked by sin and suffering, will be replaced by the new heaven and earth. The church will be presented as a pure bride to her husband, the Lamb (Revelation 16:12–16; 19:11–21; 20:7–22:5).
Revelation contains four series of seven messages or visions. These include letters to churches (Revelation 2–3), seals on a scroll (Revelation 4:1–8:1), trumpets (Revelation 8:2–11:19), and bowls of wrath (Revelation 15–16). There is a general movement from “the things that are” to “the things that are to take place after this.” Yet the visions sometimes return to subjects from the previous sections. The order in which John received the visions does not necessarily indicate the order of the events they symbolize.
I. Prologue (1:1–8)
II. Body (1:9–22:5)
A. “Things that are”: Christ’s presence with and knowledge of his churches (1:9–3:22)
B. “Things that shall take place after this”: Christ’s defense of his church and destruction of its enemies (4:1–22:5)
III. Epilogue (22:6–21)
The Setting of Revelation
The Global Message of Revelation
The last book of the Bible explodes with a cosmic celebration of the triumph of God’s global purposes in the world.
This triumph takes place amid much suffering, suffering that is intensified as the final end draws near. Yet the resounding note of Revelation is hope, as God’s promises come to full completion and the multi-ethnic family of God enters into the new heavens and the new earth.
Revelation and Redemptive History
From Genesis to Revelation
Revelation brings to a final conclusion the entire sweep of redemptive history that began in Eden. The last three chapters of Revelation sum up the history that began in the first three chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created the heavens and the earth; Revelation 21:1 speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. Genesis 3:8 speaks of God dwelling with humanity, and Revelation 21:3 speaks of a restoration of God’s dwelling presence. More connections occur—a flowing river, a tree of life, the presence of cosmic light, and more—in both the first three and the last three chapters of the Bible. Eden is being restored. The world is finally being brought to what it was intended to be.
All through Christ
In all this, Christ himself is the one who restores this world to the way it was meant to be. The history of redemption that starts in Genesis passes through Christ to get to Revelation. Indeed, just as God created a bride for the man in Genesis, so Christ himself is the true Bridegroom (Mark 2:19). The marriage of Christ to his people is the reality to which every human marriage points (Ephesians 5:31–32). And in Revelation 21, John sees the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).
God’s International Family
Most pertinent of all as we consider the global message of Revelation is the emphasis it gives to the multinational people of God. Jesus Christ is worshiped in Revelation because he “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Mankind’s pride at Babel caused them to be scattered and given different languages and cultures, yet in his great grace God redeems this diversity and saves a people for himself from all the peoples of the world.
Universal Themes in Revelation
God’s Control of World Events
Revelation recounts vividly the woes and disasters that will befall the world, both throughout history as well as in an intensified way toward the end of time. Much of the anguish described is directed at God’s people, who are persecuted for their loyalty to Christ. Reading all this in Revelation would produce deep discouragement were it not for the clear teaching that the sovereign hand of God extends to every detail of history. He is the “Sovereign Lord, holy and true,” who one day will “judge and avenge” all injustice toward his people (Revelation 6:10; note also Revelation 1:7; 2:1).
God’s Defeat of Satan
Through his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, Jesus Christ has triumphed over Satan, the accuser of God’s people. Though he was slain like a helpless lamb, it was through this suffering that Jesus conquered Satan and wiped away the sins of his people (Revelation 1:5; 5:5–10). Jesus now has “the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). The accuser has been silenced (Revelation 12:1–11).
God’s Restoration of the Cosmos
At the end of Revelation, God’s people do not escape this earth and fly away to heaven. Rather, heaven comes down to earth. The new Jerusalem descends, and God’s people take up residence on the earth with God and the Lamb (Revelation 21:1–22:5). Sin and Satan have been vanquished. Every inch of the globe— all that was touched by the curse—will be restored to its true design and intent (Revelation 22:3). “Behold, I am making all things new,” says Jesus (Revelation 21:5).
God’s Creation of a Global People
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Revelation 7:9; see also Revelation 5:9). At the end of Revelation we are told that “the kings of the earth” will bring into the new Jerusalem “the glory and the honor of the nations” (Revelation 21:24, 26). And just as God’s saving grace reaches to every people group on earth, so his righteous judgment and punishment will extend to “all tribes of the earth” who have rejected Jesus (Revelation 1:7). An integral part of the beauty of the new earth will be the rich diversity of those redeemed by the Lamb from all around the world.
The Global Message of Revelation for Today
The central message of Revelation for the global church today is that, in the cosmic war currently being waged between the forces of good and evil, the outcome is secure. Because Jesus has paid with his life for the sins of his people, Satan’s accusations are emptied of their power. The shed blood of the Lamb means that the sovereign Lord of the universe is now fully able to act on behalf of his people while at the same time upholding his perfect justice.
Ever since his resurrection and ascension, Christ has reigned. Yet Satan’s influence still exists. Revelation depicts the day when Christ’s reign will be made visible as he once and for all conquers Satan and his evil allies. On that day Christ will descend to earth a second time, this time openly as the triumphant Son of God, with the armies of heaven at his side (Revelation 19:11–16). Injustice and misery will be permanently defeated. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4). The Lord’s righteous reign will be established and will extend to every corner of the globe.
In all the challenges that face the global church, this certain truth of Christ’s return and the exacting of perfect justice is the rock on which we stand. Especially in times of adversity, we remember his tender care for his saints. As the church faces internal squabbles, difficult cases of church discipline, or afflicted consciences due to sin, we remember that we are under the Lordship of the one who shed his blood for us. When we are ridiculed, maligned, insulted, or excluded by the world because of our loyalty to Christ, we remember that we are guaranteed that one day we will reign on the earth and will forever share in the resplendent glory of God himself.
From every corner of the globe God’s redeemed people will sing:
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3–4)