At a Glance
Author: The apostle John
Audience: Every church and believer in every age
Date: AD 64–68 or 92–95
Type of Literature: Prophetic apocalyptic literature
Major Themes: spiritual symbols, Jesus Christ, the church, perseverance, judgment and destruction, rescue and re-creation
Introduction — 1:1–20
Christ’s Letters to the Churches — 2:1–3:22
John’s Vision of God’s Throne Room — 4:1–5:14
The Lamb Opens the Sealed Scrolls — 6:1–8:5
Seven Angels Sound the Trumpets — 8:6–11:19
God Fights the Forces of Evil — 12:1–15:4
Seven Angels Bring the Seven Last Plagues — 15:5–16:21
Judgment and Destruction, Rejoicing and Reign — 17:1–20:15
A New Heaven, a New Earth, the New Jerusalem — 21:1–22:5
Conclusion — 22:6–21
Do you long for the fullness of Christ and desire to know him intimately as a friend? Do you want more than anything else to be consumed with the glory of Jesus Christ? All this and more is waiting for you to discover in the pages of the book of Revelation!
The most deeply spiritual book of the New Testament is before you now. Revelation is a book written to satisfy your craving to be one with Jesus Christ. It is something that must be “eaten” (Rev. 10:9) if it is to be understood. It has the power to profoundly change a generation who gives heed to what has been written.
Of all the sixty-six books that comprise our Bible, the last book is meant to thrill and exhilarate the believer. A beautiful Christ is unveiled, and an overcoming company of saints is seen rising into his fullness. The book of Revelation is exciting, powerful, dynamic, and more than meets the eye. It can be more to us than merely an unveiling of events to come; it can be an experience of encountering Christ. Revelation is a glory book and requires a glory heart to receive it.
God is ready to unveil this book to those who are ready to embrace it, eat it, and live fully in the splendor of Christ. This is more than a vision given to John; it is meant to be an inward discovery, a delightful unveiling within us. This is not a drama of Satan’s worst, but a supernatural drama of God’s best, pouring through his beautiful Son, Jesus Christ.
Revelation is the unique deposit of the fullness of every truth in the Scriptures wrapped up in the person and glory of Jesus Christ. Genesis is the book of beginnings. Revelation is the book of consummation. All things are made new as we are given a new name (nature), a new song (message), a New Jerusalem (a realm of union with God), a new heaven (government), and a new earth (order, expression). The Bible ends with the passing away of all that is old and the establishment of all that is new. These symbols of deeper realities require ears to hear and hearts to discern.
When Jesus unveiled the deep spiritual truths of the heart of God, he spoke in parables (Matt. 13:34), using symbols to teach us. In fact, when Jesus spoke clearly, his disciples were amazed (John 16:29). Today, he continues to teach us through the language of the heart—through pictures, parables, and allegories.
We must allow the Lord to transform our natural ears into spiritual ones if the truths of this book are to be heard and received in our spirits. Without a deep and abiding desire to see Christ, and not just have a preview of what’s coming, we are all in the dark. The key that unlocks the book of Revelation is a passion to know Jesus Christ. To those who have this passion to know him, more will be given. Jesus is the only one worthy to open the seals of the book. And his Spirit is present today to break open those seals and bring deep understanding to our hearts.
God’s glory is found when truth touches the heart and strikes us with light. Understanding comes when humility and revelation meet. As our hearts are touched by truth, our minds are filled with light. This revelation enabled Daniel to interpret dreams, Paul to teach heavenly truths, and John to write the Revelation. With unveiled faces we come to the well of the Word and drink deeply, not merely to seek answers, but to discover him.
May the Lord himself, who inspired John to write the Revelation, inspire your heart as you read it to love Jesus more. And may this book be more than a manual of coming events, but also an unveiling of the coming King!
Why was the book of Revelation written? This is an important question given there have been multiple views on the book’s purpose over the ages. Some view it as a fascinating piece of first-century writing with little or no relevance for us today. Others see Revelation as a code book describing a specific outline of history written in advance. Many have tried to decode the book from a historical perspective to find the major world events of the past two thousand years, or to prove that most of the book has already been fulfilled. Others interpret it as a handbook that predicts the cataclysmic events that will bring the nations to Armageddon and the end of the world.
But perhaps there is yet another viewpoint to guide us through this incredible book of mysteries. We must stop and allow the Holy Spirit to unveil its treasures to us. Only the Holy Spirit can unveil Christ to the unbeliever, and only the Holy Spirit can unveil the glory of Christ to those who know him. The purpose of the Revelation is to unveil Christ to our hearts like no other book in the Bible.
This is the book of Revelation, not the book of revelations (plural). It emphasizes one revelation alone: Christ unveiled to his people. To read this book with any other focus is to miss the center of its meaning. There are other truths waiting for us to discover, but only after centering our gaze on this one—our Magnificent Obsession.
Author and Audience
It was to the “beloved” disciple, John, that this revelation was first imparted. John was the apostle of love. In his later years he taught us the importance of love, “for God is love” (1 John 4:8). John wrote for us an incredible book full of symbols and intriguing insights into the heart of God. It takes us behind the veil into the holy of holies. It spills forth with puzzling information about the mark of the beast, Armageddon, the four horsemen, Babylon the great, and a woman clothed with the sun. Through the ages the images found in this book—images of terror and catastrophe—have significantly influenced the thinking of millions of Christians. Yet despite nearly two thousand years of fascination with this book, the meaning of John’s masterpiece continues to be debated.
It is generally believed that this book was written during two possible periods: between AD 64–68 under the reign of Emperor Nero, and during his persecution and terror; or between AD 92–95 under the reign of Emperor Domitian, who similarly launched a campaign of persecution to destroy the church. Regardless of when it was written, what’s more important is to whom this letter was written: Revelation was written for every church, every lover of God in every generation. It is for today! It is for you to understand and embrace as much as it was for the early churches who received John’s letter of Christ’s unveiling.
Interpreting the Book of Revelation
There are levels to understanding God’s Word. When the transcendent, glorious God gives us an inspired book, it compels us to dig deeper and look beyond the cursory meaning of words. Yes, there is a plain and literal surface meaning to all that God has given us, but we know there is yet more to discover. The Bible is full of symbols, poetry, metaphors, and figurative language that engages our spirits, not merely our minds.
The prophetic writings of the Bible, including the book of Revelation, require that we look at them like gazing upon the finest piece of art. They beg us to ponder, to inquire, to study further until they yield their beauty and meaning. With eyes opened by the Holy Spirit we find a spiritual application to all that is written, for that is where we touch the reality of God through his Word.
As we grow up into more of Christ in all things, the Word of God will become richer and more delightful to our hearts. It will speak to us out of our relationship with Christ, for intimacy is always where revelation begins to come into our spirit.
Every commentator on the book of Revelation agrees that it is rooted in the symbolism of the Old Testament, as it is full of allusions to the prophetic writings of Scripture. Without understanding the other sixty-five books of the Bible, the last book becomes too mysterious and unknowable to the heart of man. Indeed, the mind of man is incapable of receiving the mysteries and ways of God. Revelation must come to our spirits before we can crack open the Revelation (unveiling) of Jesus Christ. The same Spirit who inspired the book will unveil the meaning of the book to those who trust him.
Several views have dominated how Christians have interpreted and understood the symbols of this divine unveiling over the generations, known in these ways: preterist, futurist, historicist, and idealist.
Preterist Re-viewing of History. This view insists that we look at most of the book (chs. 1–18) as having been already fulfilled early in the church’s history. This means many of the symbols of this unveiling relate to the events of the first century instead of a future one. Those who hold this view believe Revelation addresses faithfulness to God in the face of pagan persecution, and offers hope for God’s ultimate, eventual victory.
Futurist Pre-viewing of History. This view goes in the other direction: it interprets the events as largely happening in the future. The symbols are prophetic pointers to the end of the world, previewing what will take place leading up to the return of Christ. Rather than having relevance strictly to first-century believers, it offers believers in every age assurance of evil’s destruction and ultimate rescue.
Historicist Identifying of History. This approach sees John’s Revelation as identifying the major movements of church history, and then reading them back into the symbols and prophecies of the book. Some also consider how current events fulfill New Testament apocalyptic symbolism. A prime example is identifying the Beast with various dictators through history, like Napoleon or Hitler or Saddam Hussein. The seals, trumpets, bowls, and plagues are identified as being a series of successive events, with the hope of Christ’s return being very near.
Idealist Symbolizing of History. This model of interpretation finds significance in the symbols of deeper meaning embedded throughout Revelation for the church between Christ’s first and second comings. These symbols offer every church and believer in every age timeless spiritual truths unrelated to specific historical events. It is concerned with the battle between good and evil, and between the church and the world at all periods in Christian history, depicting the continuous victory of believers and Christ.
This translation of Revelation agrees with many interpreters that all of these models have validity; measures of truth get unlocked by each one. Yet as you read through the Bible, you will find time after time that symbols, parables, and pictures are the true language of God, imparting revelation-truth regardless of historical periods of circumstances. The same is true for Revelation. In it we must look for the prophetic images and ask for an understanding of the spiritual viewpoints that help believers be overcomers today.
We can read the book of Revelation as a preterist re-viewing of human history, as a futurist pre-viewing of what is to come, and also as a dynamic super-viewing of the unveiling of Christ in his people. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is something that is unveiled in us, not just to us. Christ in us is our hope of glory. We must see the indwelling Christ within us as the hope that moves us into fullness and expectancy. Christ is the hope of God expressing himself through us to all his creation, which is groaning and waiting for the “unveiling” of the sons of God. (The same Greek word used in Rom. 8:19–20 is also found in the title of the last book of Scripture, the “Unveiling of Jesus Christ.”)
The Spiritual Language of Symbols. To discover all of God within his written Word is to learn the language of symbols. How much we miss when we ignore the poetic symbolism of the Bible! The Scriptures are full of symbols, such as wheat, tares, pearls, doors, veils, along with numbers, dimensions, and colors. God’s language includes pictures and symbols, which point us to a greater reality. God will hide levels of truth from superficial seekers until we become those who hunger and thirst for true treasure—the revelation of God.
Revelation is not something that can be described; it must be discovered. God delights when he sees us seeking with all our hearts. We become like kings in his eyes, for “God conceals the revelation of his Word in the hiding place of his glory. But the honor of kings is revealed by how they thoroughly search out the deeper meaning of all that God says” (Prov. 25:2). God’s glory is found in how he hides the treasure of his Word. Our glory is seen in how we seek it out.
Those who did not love our Lord Jesus when he walked the earth were blinded to who he was and to what he taught. They consistently misinterpreted his words. When he said, “After you’ve destroyed this temple, I will raise it up again in three days” (John 2:19), he caused a major controversy, all because they thought he was speaking literally. Yet we know he was speaking of the temple of his physical body. This controversy remained with him throughout the rest of his life and ministry. In fact, one of the issues that led to his crucifixion was his spiritualizing the meaning of the temple (see Mark 14:58). This misunderstanding was hurled at Jesus by the jeering crowd who watched his torturous death on the cross (see Matt. 27:39–40). It would be a mistake to miss truth because of a refusal to interpret some Scripture symbolically.
Another instance of this would be when Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (see John 6:53). No one today would consider these words to be literal. We know the spiritual meaning of the text is to feast upon the sacrifice of Christ and commune with him through his Word, his blood, and his Spirit. Indeed, if we view the Bible as a spiritual book, yet refuse to look for the deep spiritual meaning in the text, we are closing our eyes to reality. The Word of God is a spiritual book that will feed our spirits, for the words he speaks into our hearts are truly spirit and life (see John 6:63)!
Jesus Christ Unveiled. We have in the Gospels the glorious story of our Lord Jesus as he walked this earth. We see his marvelous ministry of teaching, healing, delivering, and loving all. He was veiled in weak flesh, humiliated by others, and rejected. The last view we have of him in the Gospels is the resurrected Jesus ascending to heaven surrounded with clouds. But what happened after that? What is he like now? We need our eyes unveiled to see him as he now is. What you read in this book will present him in his present glory.
Some have described the book of Revelation as “the sixth gospel.” We have the four Gospels in the beginning of our New Testament, and with the book of Acts we find the “fifth gospel,” which demonstrates the power of the resurrected Jesus working through those who follow him. And in the last book of the Bible we discover the “sixth gospel,” with yet another view of Jesus as the ascended, glorified God-Man who is unveiled before our eyes as Prophet, Priest, and King of kings.
As the Prophet, Jesus is the Faithful Witness who only speaks the Father’s words. As the High Priest, Jesus is the Firstborn from the dead, who intercedes for us and releases mighty power to us. And as the King, Jesus is the Ruler of the kings of the earth. Each of these clues into his identity show forth his authority. Through the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection he now holds the keys of death and the unseen world. There is nothing to fear, for he holds all authority (the keys). He rides forth to conquer everything within us that hinders the life of Christ emerging in our transformation. All the universe will one day be conquered by the One riding this white horse!
Jesus’ Church Unveiled. The unveiling of Jesus Christ will also be our “unveiling” as those who believe in him, for we are his body on the earth. To receive a revelation of Christ, the head of the body, is to receive the revelation of the members of his body, the radiant ones who follow him. Christ is unveiled in heaven, and he is unveiled in his body. When he is unveiled, we are unveiled, for we are one with him in his glory (see Eph. 1:23; Col. 3:4).
Christ’s letter to the churches imparts especially important revelation-truths to every believer, for he calls us to burn with light as his lampstands—a powerful metaphor for bringing illumination to the world as witnesses for God. This revelation also shows forth the church as God’s temple, his dwelling place. And as Jesus’ lovely bride, our co-reign with him has already begun where we are commissioned to do greater works of Jesus and spread the brilliance of his glory throughout the earth. Though the powers of the Abyss may come against us, we can be sure Jesus cares for both his church and its leaders, who are intimately bound to him.
The Judgment and Destruction of Old Order. From the opening of the first of the seven seals, many have understood the revelation-truth unveiled in this book as showing forth the earth’s destruction. And yet, while traditionally this destruction has been taken literally, we understand it must also be taken symbolically. The old order of the natural realm is passing away and a new order is being established. Progressively, the superior light of the kingdom of God will make dim the light of the old.
The judgment of John’s Revelation, another major theme alongside destruction, is also often misunderstood. For the anger and wrath of the Lamb is corrective and redemptive—not beastly rage, but fiery passion to judge whatever gets in the way between the Lamb and his bride. Further, we find the winds of judgment are being held back until the sons of God have the thoughts and mind of Christ. We are “sealed,” which means we are protected from judgment. In Revelation, an angel carries the seal of the living God, speaking powerfully of God’s grace and mercy, which will always triumph over judgment.
And yet, in the end, the world will experience a final judgment—where everything and everyone destructive to God’s wonderful world will be cast into the lake of fire. Until then, we now enforce the judgment that took place on Calvary, where Satan was bound through Christ’s death and resurrection. During the “thousand years” in which we live (since the death and resurrection of Jesus; see Rev. 20:2 and footnote) we are given the authority to bind the strongman (Satan) and plunder his goods until evil is eventually and decisively destroyed.
The Rescue and Renewal of the Lamb. The end of the world as we know it isn’t ultimately about judgment and destruction. It’s about rescue and renewal, for the Lamb of God has won, and so have we! Though we have to pass through tribulation to enter the kingdom of God, we do so through the blood of Christ, knowing that our victory is sure. This unveiling shows the ultimate vindication of the people of God: we experience salvation from sin and death; we inherit the Holy City and its fount of living water.
One of the primary characteristics of prophetic apocalyptic writing is the exhortation to persevere. Endurance and faithfulness, conquering and obedience are all hallmarks of John’s Revelation. It is the one who is victorious over the “beast” of the self-life who finds ultimate rescue and renewal. This isn’t salvation by works. Rather, as we overcome by the power of the cross and take on the life of Christ for ourselves, we qualify as overcomers who sing the sacred song of Moses (15:3–4), sung as our final victory song.
Ultimately, as the Lord of Glory, Jesus is the bright Morning Star who signals the end of night and the beginning of God’s perfect day, the end of the old order dominated by our self-life and the beginning of God’s brand new order of righteousness, peace, and pure love. And he is coming quickly to finally make everything new and fresh!