The Book of Revelation! I am ready now to start a new thread on my thoughts on the book, as I get serious about writing about it for a general audience. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago (see blog for June 20) that I had changed my mind rather radically about what my book was going to cover. I’ll explain the current plan (hopefully the *final* plan) in later posts. For now it would be important to start at the beginning so we are all on the same page.
And so in this post I want to review – or introduce, in case you’re not familiar with it – the contents of the book of Revelation itself, more or less free of interpretation. It’s not a long book, and can be read in one sitting. (Twenty-one chapters, but most are very short.) If you’re interested, go ahead and read it (for the first time or again!). You’ll pick up something new every time. Or at least I do, now in my 50th year of reading it!
Here is how
Want to see what Revelation is all about? Members of the blog can read posts like this five times a week. It’s easy and inexpensive to join. So what’s the hold up?? Click here for membership options I summarize the contents in my college-level textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, edited slightly.
The title of the book of Revelation comes from its opening words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev 1:1). The revelation, or apocalypse (from the Greek word for “unveiling” or “revealing”) concerns the end of time; it is given by God through Jesus and his angel to “his servant John” (1:1). The author appears to be known to his readers, who are identified as Christians of seven churches in Asia Minor (1:11). He begins to narrate his visionary experiences by describing his extraordinary encounter with the exalted Christ, the “one like a Son of Man” who walks in the midst of seven golden lampstands (1:12–20).
Christ instructs John to “write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this” (1:19). In other words, he is to (a) narrate the vision of Christ that he has just had (“what you have seen”), (b) describe the present situation of the churches in his day (“what is”), and (c) record his visions of the end of time (“what is to take place after this”). The first task is accomplished in chapter 1. The second is undertaken in chapters 2–3. Christ dictates brief letters to each of the seven churches of Asia Minor, describing their situations and urging certain courses of action. These churches are experiencing difficulties: persecutions, false teachings, and apathy. Christ praises those who have done what is right, promising them a reward, but upbraids those who have fallen away, threatening them with judgment.
The third task is accomplished in chapters 4–22, which record John’s heavenly vision of the future course of history, down to the end of time. Briefly, the narrative unfolds as follows. The prophet is taken up into heaven through a window in the sky. There he beholds the throne of God, who is eternally worshiped and praised by twenty-four human “elders” and four “living creatures” (angelic beings in the shapes of animals; chap. 4). In the hand of the figure on the throne is a scroll sealed with seven seals, which cannot be broken except by one who is found worthy. This scroll records the future of the earth, and the prophet weeps when he sees that no one can break its seals; however, one of the elders informs him that there is one who is worthy, the Lion from the tribe of Judah. He then sees next to the throne not a lion but a “Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered” (5:6). The Lamb, of course, is Christ.
The Lamb takes the scroll from the hand of God, amidst much praise and adoration from the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, and he begins to break its seals (chap. 5). With each broken seal, a major catastrophe strikes the earth: war, famine, death. The sixth seal marks the climax, a disaster of cosmic proportions: the sun turns black, the moon turns red as blood, the stars fall from the sky, and the sky itself disappears. One might think that we have come to the end of all things, the destruction of the universe. But we are only in chapter 6.
The breaking of the seventh seal leads not to a solitary disaster but to a period of silence that is followed by an entirely new set of seven more disasters. Seven angels appear, each with a trumpet. As each one blows his trumpet, further devastations strike the earth: natural disasters on the land and sea and in the sky, the appearance of dread beasts who torture and maim, widespread calamity and unspeakable suffering (chaps. 8–9). The seventh trumpet marks the beginning of the end (11:15), the coming of the “Beast” (often called by readers “the Antichrist”) and his false prophet on earth (chaps. 12–13), and the appearance of seven more angels, each with a bowl filled with God’s wrath. As the angels each pour out their bowls upon the earth, further destruction and agony ensue: loathsome diseases, widespread misery, and death (chaps. 15–16).
The end comes with the destruction of the great “whore of Babylon,” the city ultimately responsible for the persecution of the saints (chap. 17). The city is overthrown, to much weeping and wailing on earth but to much rejoicing in heaven (chaps. 18–19). The defeat of the city is followed by a final cosmic battle in which Christ, with his heavenly armies, engages the forces of the Beast aligned against him (19:11–21). Christ wins a resounding victory. The enemies of God are completely crushed, and the Beast and his false prophet are thrown into a lake of burning sulfur to be tormented forever.
Satan himself is then imprisoned in a bottomless pit, while Christ and his saints rule on earth for a thousand years. Afterward, the Devil emerges for a brief time to lead some of the nations astray. Then comes a final judgment, in which all persons are raised from the dead and rewarded for their deeds. Those who have sided with Christ are brought into the eternal Kingdom; those who have aligned themselves with the Devil and the Beast are taken away for eternal torment in the lake of fire. The Devil himself is thrown into the lake, as are finally Hades and Death itself (chap. 20).
The prophet then has a vision of the new heaven and the new earth that God creates for his people. A new Jerusalem descends from heaven, with gates made of pearl and streets paved with gold. This is a beautiful and utopian place where Christ reigns eternal, where there is no fear or darkness, no pain or suffering or evil or death, a place where the good and righteous will dwell forever (chaps. 21–22). The prophet ends his book by emphasizing that his vision is true, and that it will come to fulfillment very soon.
What are we to make of this book, and how interpret it? More on that in posts to come.