God used the apostle John to write five books of the Bible. The book of Revelation contains 22 chapters, 404 verses, and 11,995 words. Many say that it is impossible to understand, which is ironic in light of its title. It is the Apocalypse (i.e., unveiling), not the Apocrypha (i.e., hidden). The purpose of the book is to reveal, not to conceal. The problem is not that men cannot understand it, but that they will not believe it. Like the rest of the Bible, this book is to be taken literally. When symbols and figures are used, we must rely on the word of God to interpret itself (2 Pet 1:20).
There are four main schools of thought concerning the book of Revelation:
- Preterism – This false view teaches that the events recorded in the book of Revelation describe the problems and persecutions of the Church during the first century and that the prophecies contained within were all fulfilled in 70 AD.
- Historicism – This false view teaches that the events recorded in Revelation describe the history of the Church, the body of Christ. It teaches that the book of Revelation is prophecy about Church history from the time of John to the end of the world. This view claims that prophetic books like the book of Revelation are symbolic descriptions of historical events throughout Church history.
- Idealism – This view teaches that the book of Revelation is a non-historical and non-prophetic drama about spiritual realities – a symbolic portrayal of the eternal conflict of good and evil. This view takes an allegorical approach that spiritualizes all prophetic Scripture.
- Futurism – This is the correct view of the book of Revelation. It teaches that the book of Revelation is what it claims to be, a “prophecy” (Rev 1:3). It is the consummation of the kingdom program of Israel. The book of Revelation is prophecy primarily about the future end of the world. This view claims that Revelation is prophecy that describes the end of time and the years leading immediately to the end.
The traditional view that this book was written in about 95 AD cannot be proven by the word of God. The apostle Paul wrote the last book of the Bible (Col 1:25), not the apostle John.
The theme of this book is clearly set forth in the first chapter.
The Introduction (Rev 1:1-3):
This book was given to “shew” (“signified” = show by signs, 1 Cor 1:22) God’s servants “things which must shortly come to pass.” For those to whom the apostle John is writing, the fulfillment of all that is written in this book is “at hand” (Rev 1:3; 22:6-10, 20). The reason that it has yet to be fulfilled is that we are living in a parenthetic dispensation in which prophecy concerning Israel is not being fulfilled.
Revelation is called a “prophecy” five times (Rev 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18-19). Therefore, John could not have written this book to the Body of Christ which was a mystery hid from the prophets. This book opens with a promise of blessing upon those who read, hear, and keep (i.e., obey) the words of this prophecy and it closes with a warning of cursing on those who do not (Rev 22:18-19). Since the bulk of this book concerns the tribulation period, it must be written to those who will live during that time. How else could one obey the instruction in this book or be under the plagues that it describes?
The Salutation (Rev 1:4-6):
This brief salutation is full of doctrinal truth. This book is sent by John from the Godhead to the seven churches in Asia. The “us” in verses 5 and 6 refers to John and his brothers (Jews) and companions in tribulation (v.9). Christ also loves us and has washed us from our sins in His own blood, but nowhere in Paul’s epistles do we learn that He has made the Body of Christ to be kings and priests to reign on earth. John is referring to what Christ will do for Israel, whom He has loved with an “everlasting love” (Jer 31:3), upon His revelation (v.7). They will be washed from their sins as a nation (Acts 3:19; Rom 11:26-27; Zech 12:9-10; 13:1; 1 Pet 1:1-21) and made to be kings and priests on the earth (Rev 2:26-27; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4; Ex 19:5-6; Isa 61:6; 1 Pet 2:5, 9).
The Theme of the Book (Rev 1:7-8):
The main theme of the book is the revelation of Jesus Christ:
- “Behold, he cometh” — He is presently hidden away as it were in the third heaven at the right hand of the Father. He will be revealed with great power and glory from heaven and come back to earth after the 70th week of Daniel.
- “with clouds;” — Clouds were associated with God’s presence in the Old Testament (Ex 40:33-34). He ascended in a cloud and is coming in like manner (Acts 1:9-12; Zech 14:4).
- “and every eye shall see him,” — This will be a public and visible return to the earth (Matt 24:29-30).
- “and they also which pierced him:” — Israel (Zech 12:10).
- “and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him” — He will come to judge and make war (Rev 19:11).
Jesus Christ is the eternal and Almighty God (v.8).
The Opening Vision (Rev 1:9-20):
John saw the glorified Son of Man as the coming King and Judge. This vision is the major theme of the book. Here is the One that is going to be revealed from Heaven (Rev 19:11-16).
How could John be a companion to the tribulation saints? He witnessed the whole tribulation and will be resurrected to enter the kingdom with those that endure it. They must patiently endure the tribulation before the kingdom comes (Lk 21:19; Jam 5:7-11; Rev 14:12).
Why was John in the isle of Patmos? Tradition says he was banished there by the Roman Emperor in 95 AD and that while there, God gave him this book. Everything we need to understand the Bible is contained in the Bible. The Bible interprets itself. John plainly stated why he was there (v.2, 9). God sent him there to receive this revelation (probably during Acts period) just like He sent Paul into Arabia to receive revelations for this present age.
If we do not understand verse 10 it will greatly hinder our understanding of the whole book. What did John mean by, “I was in the Spirit?” Every believer is in the Spirit (Rom 8:9), but that is not what is being referred to here. John was in the Spirit in the same sense that this phrase is used throughout the book of Revelation (Rev 4:2; 21:10). The Holy Spirit transported him to the future day of the Lord to be a witness and write what he saw. God did this for other prophets (Ezek 37:1, in chapters 40-48 Ezekiel saw the future temple).
Many refer to Sunday as the Lord’s day, but the Bible never does. The “Lord’s day” is the same thing as the “day of the Lord” which is mentioned 29 times in the Bible. It is the day that the Lord judges the earth in great wrath (Isa 13:6-13).
The Lord’s day is a prophetic period of time which includes the 70th Week of Daniel, the Second Coming of Christ, His millennial reign, the last battle with Satan, the renovation of the heavens and earth with fire, and the great white throne judgment. The book of Revelation reveals this day in great detail. It stands in contrast with this present age in which man is having his day.
It is important to understand that the whole book of Revelation was sent to the seven churches for their instruction, and not just the seven letters in chapters 2-3. That is why the content of the seven letters lines up with the whole book. Why seven churches? They are representative churches of all the tribulation saints. Why churches in Asia and not Israel? They are scattered outside the land in the tribulation period (Jam 1:1).
A church is a called-out assembly of God’s people. The Body of Christ is a church, but it is not the only church in the Bible. For example, Israel was a church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38). There will be churches of tribulation saints on the earth after this age ends with the rapture of the Body of Christ.
The letters to the seven churches contain problems that tribulation saints will have to overcome, solutions to those problems, and promises to the overcomers. What Christ says to these seven churches He says to all of the tribulation saints (‘hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”). The instruction in these letters will help the tribulation saints endure the awful things described in chapters 6-19. The commendations, rebukes, corrections, instructions, and promises that the Lord gives to the seven churches directly correspond with the material that is found throughout the rest of Revelation.
Seven is God’s number of completion and is an important number in His dealings with Israel (e.g., 7 feasts, 70 weeks in Dan 9). This book is the completion of the prophetic kingdom program of Israel.
The words “seven” and “seventh” are used 59 times in Revelation and there are many sets of seven:
- Churches (Rev 1:4)
- Spirits (Rev 1:4)
- Golden candlesticks (Rev 1:12)
- Stars (Rev 1:16)
- Lamps of fire (Rev 4:5)
- Seals (Rev 5:1)
- Angels (Rev 8:2)
- Trumpets (Rev 8:2)
- Thunders (Rev 10:3)
- Plagues (Rev 15:1)
- Vials (Rev 17:1)
- Kings (Rev 17:10)
Outline (Rev 1:19):
I. The things which thou hast seen (Ch 1) — The vision of Christ
II. The things which are (Ch 2-20) — The Lord’s day
III. The things which shall be hereafter (Ch 21-22) — The eternal state