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by Manly Luscombe
Those who have been in my Bible Classes through the years have heard me say, “When I write my commentary on Revelation, then you will know the answers.” While it was said in jest, there was behind the humor a seed planted in my mind.
I have taught Revelation in adult Bible classes on several occasions. I noticed that each time I would teach the material, I would see things that I had not noticed before, things that I had taught differently. As I studied more, read more commentaries, and taught more classes, I realized that my views were beginning to “gel” into a more logical form.
In the fall of 2000, I was asked if I would be willing to teach an adult Bible class on the book of Revelation. I started out just reviewing my notes and making comments to prepare for this class. Soon, I realized that I had written more than just some notes. I was writing a commentary. At that point I decided to chase the dream of writing a commentary and putting it into the hands of the church.
This book is the result of many hours of reading commentaries of all kinds (see the Bibliography for a complete list) and trying to find a consistent view toward the book of Revelation. This book is the result of this attempt.
As I wrote this commentary I tried to establish the fundamental truths taught in this book of the Bible. I sought to determine the meaning of the symbols for those first century Christians who received and read this inspired book. I also endeavored to make applications from the principles of Revelation that would help Christians today. And, I made every effort to be consistent
As you read, study, understand the book and make application to your life, you will be blessed. ( Rev_1:3 )
As you read the text you will notice the following format:
All Scripture references within Revelation are give with just chapter and verse, for example, a reference to Rev_1:3 would be given as (1:3).
The bold text of this commentary is the New King James Version. This is the version from which I preach and study.
All quotations are cited with a “works cited” number followed by a comma and the page number. For example a quotation from Ray Summer’s book, Worthy is the Lamb, would be given as (2, 153). On the top of the Bibliography page is the Works Cited section. The number of each work is the first number used, followed by the page number.
It is my prayer that your study of Revelation will be deepened by this study.
Yours for the Truth,
Manly R. Luscombe
1.“Neglected, misunderstood, and grossly perverted, the book of Revelation stands quite alone in the New Testament. Most readers have been content to pass it by with the attitude, “No one understands it anyway.”
2. Shall we abandon this book? Since it is an accepted part of the book we call the Bible, we cannot just dismiss the book. God has given by inspiration this literature to us. We must study it.
3. Since we do not see fit to abandon it, is it not our duty before God and a confused world to seek earnestly to find the true meaning of the book? It is a mystery book. We do not always know the meaning of the symbols used. For example, imagine a political cartoon about the last presidential election. The cartoon shows a donkey and an elephant both pulling on a ballot. We understand the meaning of the donkey (Democrat) and elephant (Republican) but will it have any meaning 2,000 years from now?
4.“Revelation is difficult to study verse by verse because many times the meaning of a symbol used in one passage may have to be derived from a passage not yet studied. There are also symbols which may be best understood by collectively studying all passages dealing with them.” (1, 5)
Purpose of our study
1. To establish the fundamental truths in this book of the Bible.
2. To determine the meaning of the book for those who first received and read it.
3. To unearth applications for our situation today.
4. To present consistent interpretation to the entire book.
Principles we will use in this study
1. The book is filled with symbols. It must have a symbolic meaning.
2. It must have had meaning to the 1 st century Christians who read it.
3. The message of the book must have application to all eras of Christians.
4. This book must harmonize with all other teaching in the Bible.
5. This book teaches that God and Christ will triumph over evil and Satan.
Purpose of the book being written
1. God sees their tears, pain and persecution. ( Rev_7:17 , Rev_21:4 )
2. Their prayers rule the world. ( Rev_8:3-4 )
3. Their death is precious in His sight. ( Rev_14:13 , Rev_20:4 )
4. Their final victory is assured. ( Rev_15:2 )
5. Their blood will be avenged. ( Rev_6:9 , Rev_8:3 )
6. Christ rules forever. ( Rev_5:7-8 )
7. Christ is coming again to receive His own. (21, 22)
O. T. Example N. T. Parallel Symbolism Physical bondage Spiritual bondage Great Tribulation Crossing Red Sea Blood of Christ First Resurrection Mt. Sinai Mt. Zion Lamb on Mt. Zion Wilderness Church in world 1000 Year Reign Jerusalem Church (Holy City) New Jerusalem (1, xiv)
Nature of Apocalyptic Literature
Background of Apocalyptic literature .
When the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon they were very strongly monotheistic (loyal to the One True Living God). All the people around them were heathen polytheistic (believed in many gods). During the Greek period there was little attempt to molest the Jews. However, with the Romans in power the attitude shifted. The feelings of animosity toward the Jews (and later the Christians) intensified into hatred. Political events added to the tension. The result was a time of severe persecution. Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BC) was a very dark time for the Jewish nation. He saw that the best way to destroy the nation was to destroy their religion. The next political event to cause conditions to call for apocalyptic literature was the iron fist of Nero and Domitian (the time of Revelation being written). [More about this later.]
Conditions which prompt this type of literature.
Troublous times give birth to this type of literature. Trial, suffering, sorrow, near-despair and death are the soil in which this literature grows. Why is this literature written is such a cryptic manner? The times are dangerous. Plain language would be considered treason. The personal safety of the writer and the reader was in danger. So, the message was written to reveal and conceal at the same time - Conceal from the outsider and Reveal to the initiated. Jesus spoke in parables for these same reasons. See Mat_13:11-17 .
Comparisons of Prophecy and Apocalyptic
In Content - The predictive element is present in apocalyptic literature as well as prophecy . But, in apocalypses the predictions are wider in scope and fulfilled over longer periods of time. They differ in their view of “eschatology” (end of time). Prophecy dealt with the end of Israel as a nation. Apocalypses deal with the end of the world.
In Form - Both make use of visions. In prophecy the vision is described. Then, with the explanation of the vision comes the predictive element. In apocalyptic literature, the vision is the prediction. In prophecy the symbols are natural (bones represent death). In apocalypses the symbols have no natural connection with what they represent. This is the reason many try to explain symbols in Revelation and result in inconsistencies along the way.
Enoch (also called 1 st Enoch) - 2 nd century BC
Assumption of Moses - 1 st century AD
Secrets of Enoch (also called 2 nd Enoch) - early 1 st century AD
Book of Baruch - (scribe of Jeremiah) - late 1 st century AD
Ezra IV - late 1 st century AD
Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature
Since this type of literature comes out of the stress and persecution of the time, it important to know the historical setting of that time. Knowledge of the situation greatly aids in understanding the work.
REMEMBER: The main purpose in apocalyptic literature was to bring comfort, assurance, and courage in difficult days. To know the day’s concerns is to know the courage needed and to understand the message. To ignore the historical setting is to ignore the main piece in the jigsaw of interpretation.
Generally these books were written in the name of some great person of the past - Adam, Abraham, Enoch, Moses, rather than their own names. Safety is certainly one reason for this.
Another reason is that the Jews believed that the revelation (Old Testament) was the complete revelation of God. Anyone who claimed inspiration was rejected. Also the typical Hebrew author was almost wholly devoid of the pride of authorship. The work was more important to them than pride of being the author.
Message through Visions
While many books of prophecy use visions, it became the chief method of delivering the message. There has been much discussion as to whether they actually saw the vision or just use this means to describe events.
In the book of Revelation (as well as Daniel and Ezekiel) the visions seem to be real. Not only are the scenes described but John’s feelings as the vision unfolds.
In such times of dark despair, the people needed to hear words of encouragement, to know that times would get better. You can see the present turmoil, persecution, upheaval and distress. Then there is the future of vindication, triumph and freedom from the handicaps they now experience.
Use of Symbols
Ray Summers wrote, “The writer was faced with the task of seeing the invisible, painting the unpaintable, and expressing the inexpressible. The writing is therefore full of imagery and symbolism, which are hard to understand, and which make the task of the modern interpreter far removed from those conditions exceedingly difficult. Symbolism is a system in which qualities, ideas, principles, etc., are represented by things concrete.” (Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb , page 20)
The writer uses symbols to communicate his thoughts to those who are familiar with the process and at the same time concealing his ideas from those outside this circle.
The symbols are often arbitrary rather than natural. The meaning of the greater part of the symbols is clear, but there are some for which there are many varied opinions.
Chart of Symbols
Symbol Passage Definition Definition Passage Rev_18:2 Rev_13:1 ; Rev_17:8 ; Rev_17:11 Civil persecuting governments which rule this world Dan_7:1-28 Bride Rev_21:9 The Church Rom_7:4 False prophet Rev_16:13 Religiou Rev_19:20 ractice false teachings 2Pe_2:1 First resurrection Rev_20:5 Spiritual resurrection; Baptism Eph_2:5-6 Great city Rev_11:8 Those p Rev_17:18 p God but not according to the teachings of the Bible; The apostate church Revelation_17:28 Holy city, Holy Jerusalem, New Jerusalem Rev_21:2 ; Rev_21:10 The church Heb_12:22-23 Lamb Revelation_5:62 Christ Joh_1:29 Mountains Rev_6:14 Great go Rev_8:8 ers which rule this world Amo_4:1 Second death Rev_20:14 Spiritual death; Destruction in hell Rev_21:8 Sun, moon, and stars Rev_6:12-13 Lights of th Rev_8:12 forces which direct the physical and spiritual lives of people Rev_6:12 Rev_11:1 ; Rev_11:19 Rev_15:8 The physical part of man Rev_6:8 1/3 part of man Rev_8:9 The spiritual part of man Rev_8:6 1000 years Rev_20:4 The Christian dispensation; The gospel age Rev_20:4 Numerology
There are three factors that we must understand about numbers and their use in apocalyptic literature.
Letter / number relationships
Think with me for a minute. Go back to those first “ABC” books in your childhood. “A (1) is for Apple, B (2) is for ball, C (3) is for cat, D (4) is for dog, E (5) is for elephant. In this simple illustration an apple could represent the number one. The number one could represent an apple. The apple (or number one) could represent the letter A. There is a three-way connection.
In early language development and alphabet development letters were used for numbers. Here was the usual process. The first nine letters are single digit numbers (1-9). Then you begin 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. up to 90. Then you have 100, 200, 300, etc.
Here are our alphabet and the numerical equivalents:
A B C D E F G H I J K
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20
L M N O P Q R S T U V
30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 200 300 400
W X Y Z
500 600 700 800
Addition of letter equivalents
The next step in the process was to find the sum of the letter values. Using the chart above notice that “CAT” would be the Numbers, 3, 1, 200 . Add those three numbers and cat = 204. “Manly” has a numerical equivalence of 821. Superstitious people would determine destiny, tell fortunes, and encrypt signatures on a document using these numbers. Jesus would be J=10, E=5, S=100, U=300, S=100 - Thus, Jesus = 515. By the use of such “code” numbers they could discuss Jesus without using his name. They could say, “We met at 515 and had a good discussion.” Translated, this meant that the church met and learned more about Jesus.
Numbers came to represent concepts and ideas. I will give you just a brief introduction to this concept.
1 = Unity, independence, alone
2 = Courage, strength, energy
3 = God (trinity), triangle, divine power
4 = World (4 directions, 4 corners), human world, work, live and die in this world
5 = Completeness, full, well-rounded man, all members intact (5 fingers, 5 toes)
6 = Imperfect, just short of perfection, defeat, failure
7 = Combine 4 (man) and 3 (God) and you get 7, a perfect number.
10, 70 = multiples of numbers were used to emphasize the single digit.
Jesus was asked about forgiving 7 times. He responded until 70 times 7. He was saying perfection multiplied by perfection times perfection.
4 X 3 = 12
7 divided by 2 = 3 ½ - 3 ½ years, 42 months, 1260 days are the same length of time
Chart of Numerology
Number Definition 1 Unity of the ability to stand alone. God is one Lord. 2 Strength or courage. 2 are stronger than 1. The disciples of Jesus went out by 2’s. 3 Deity. The divine or spiritual number. The Godhead is a 3-fold in nature, God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. 4 The physical world in which we live. The 4 winds and 4 corners of earth are frequently used. There are also 4 directions of the earth: north, south, east, and west. 7 Perfection. A sacred number, the perfect divine number, “3”, plus the perfect number of this physical world, “4”, equals “7” or total perfection. 10 Completeness. If a person has all 10 fingers and toes, he is humanly complete. The number “5” is used in connection with this to mean half complete or more specifically, incomplete or short of persecution. 1000; 10 X 10 X 10 Ultimate completeness 12 Organized religion. There were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles. They represent the two laws which God gave man to follow. 6 Evil. This number falls short of the perfect number “7”. It carries with it the idea of impending doom or destruction. 3 ½ A time of despair or confusion. This number is expressed several ways such as time, times, and half a time, 1260 days, and 42 months. 144,000 The entire redeemed from the earth; all God’s people of all ages.
One of the most striking elements of apocalyptic literature is the graphic, forceful and vivid drama. There is tension and suspense. What will happen? The symbols add to the drama. Blood, dragons, war, grotesque creatures and Death riding a horse make the scene come alive and you feel the trepidation.
Methods of interpreting the book of Revelation
The interpretation of the book of Revelation depends entirely upon the method of approach. There are as many interpretations and explanations as there are men to write them. I have 25 commentaries on the book of Revelation. No two of them agree on various parts. (See Bibliography for a list of these.)
“But the views of the writers (Expositors of Revelation) are so utterly conflicting … that the student of them soon finds himself driven to take from each whatever of useful suggestions he may find there, and then proceed independently in his search for the meaning and lesson of the book.” (2, 27)
With the many diverse views, all the commentaries fall into five major categories.
1. Futurist Method
The futurist method is so called because they interpret the entire book from chapter 4 to the end of the book as unfulfilled prophecy. The futurists hold that the events from chapters 4 to 19 are to take place in a 7-year period. This is called the period of tribulation, called the 70 th week of Dan_9:1-27 .
“To some the book becomes largely a problem of celestial mathematics; and they are more concerned with calculating of time charts than they are of securing social and economic and political righteousness for their immediate neighbors.” (2, 28)
Most of the futurists are millenarians in their theology. Some of the major branches of this theory include Pre-tribulation, Post-tribulation, Mid-tribulation, Dispensational, Darbyite, and a dozen more varieties.
“They hold that Jesus came to establish a visible rule on earth and that John the Baptist had this in mind when he preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Jesus set out his standards for this kingdom, but the Jews rejected him and his plans. The offer was then withdrawn, and the kingdom was postponed until the second coming.” (2, 30)
1. Shortly - It is inconsistent with the statement made by John that the events were in the main to come to pass soon. The word “must” is from a Greek word that means, “it is a moral necessity.” Paul told Timothy to come “quickly” or “shortly”. In the context it meant, come before this winter.
2. No relation to 1 st century - This view does nothing for the suffering Christian in the first century. There is not any encouragement that thousands of years from now some event will take place. One of the basic principles of understanding any scripture is to start with what it meant to the generation which first received it.
3. Inconsistent - Chapter 12 is a problem for the futurist. The book is taken as literal until they arrive at chapter 12. Then they become believers in symbolism.
4. Materialistic - The futurist method is a materialistic philosophy of the kingdom of God.
1. Literal - They take the Bible at its word. There is a firm belief in not adding or taking from the Word of God.
2. Hope - Their view places the strongest emphasis on the return of Christ.
3. Evangelism - This view is the most evangelistic method of interpretation.
2. Continuous - Historical Method
This method has several different names attached to it. All of them come down to one central principle. This method looks on the book of Revelation as a forecast, in symbols, of the history of the church (and for some, a history of the world) from the first century until the second coming.
For example - the following is a sample of this method.
1 st seal - Domitian death (180 AD)
2 nd seal - Death of Commodus (193 AD)
3 rd seal -Caracalla (211 AD)
4 th seal - Gallienus (243-268 AD)
5 th seal - Diocletian persecution (284-304 AD)
6 th seal - Invasion of barbarians (365 AD)
They interpret every section as a sequence of events in history. Some can see world wars, Hitler, Russia, Kennedy assassination and other events. Of course as history continues, the final events must be adjusted. In the 1930’s Hitler was seen as the antichrist and the end of the world was near.
John T. Hinds, Gospel Advocate Commentary Series and Albert Barnes Notes are familiar commentaries with this view. Hinds’ focus was more on the rise of the Catholic Church and the papacy. Barnes places greater emphasis on the civil and world history.
1. Out of touch - This view is entirely out of touch with the Christians to whom the book was written. They are being killed, threatened, and persecuted. How does learning about the rise of Russia or Hitler starting WWII help them?
2. Catholic emphasis - This view places undue importance on the Roman Catholic Church and ignores the other major branches. What about the Orthodox Church, which is larger than the Roman branch?
3. Narrow - The ability to interpret each passage is limited to your view of the passage on each side of it. If all the events are in sequence then you must find an event that fits the description and fits between the preceding and the following sections.
4. Sometimes absurd - In this search to make everything fit in its place, some passages are explained away to the point of being absurd.
5. Calculations - Like the futurists, it is necessary to do a lot of calculation of times, and periods to make everything fit. They must decide that a day = a year. That each year Isaiah 360 days. That each month Isa_30:1-33 days long. That 42 months = 3.5 years = 1260 days = 1,260 years. Then they must decide when to begin counting and when to end counting. Finally they must find a significant event to mark each end of the period.
There are no strong points for this method. It gained popularity as a means to oppose the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. There is no reason to accept this view except that some just want to believe this method is correct.
3. Philosophy of History Method
This method completely removes the book from the historical setting of the first century. The belief is that the book of Revelation sets out the principles on the basis of which God deals with men in all ages. Symbols are understood to refer to forces or tendencies and may thus be fulfilled over and over as these forces or tendencies are repeated in history.
For example, the wild beast rising out of the sea ( Rev_13:1-18 ) is seen as the secular powers antagonistic to the church whenever and wherever that power arises. The second beast represents corrupt religious power.
All the various visions, seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath, are seen as showing the same thing from different viewpoints. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors , is one of the more familiar commentaries holding this view.
1. Removed - This view also removes the intent of the book from those to whom it was written.
2. Narrow - It holds that symbols refer to forces or tendencies and that there are no specific prophecies of specific events in the book.
1. Recognizes the book of Revelation has some meaning to those who first received it.
2. Realizes the hand of God in history. He has not left the world to evil men. God is still in charge and He is still dealing with men in a consistent manner.
3. Comprehends the goal of all history is moving toward a complete triumph. His purpose and His plan will not fail.
4. Preterist Method
This method is the opposite of the futurist view. The futurists claim all the book of Revelation is yet to be fulfilled. The preterist believes that the entire book was fulfilled in the first century.
The word “preterist” is from a Latin word meaning “past or beyond.” This method of interpretation believes that all things in the book are in the past, not future. They were “soon to come to pass” and they did.
1. This view has few solid objections. It does require an early date for the book. For most of this book to be fulfilled in the first century, it is necessary to have to book written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
2. I will deal with the arguments for an early or late date later on in this study.
1. It is true to the background of the work. It keeps the historical situation in view.
2. It is the best method that gives meaning to those who first read this work.
3. The preterist view gives room for a universal application of the message of the book.
4. It is the most consistent view as it relates to the entire New Testament.
5. Historical - Background Method
The final method of interpretation is, thought by some, to be a part of the preterist view. It is separate from the preterist method because the preterist views the entire book as belonging to the first century and that it has nothing to offer for us today.
The approach that I am using suggests:
1. You should keep in mind that the writer wrote his message primarily for the encouragement and edification of the Christians of his own time.
2. This book is written in symbolic language. As we have ability, we can seek to understand the symbols and their meaning.
3. Revelation uses Old Testament terminology with New Testament meanings. Many of the expressions are found in the Old Testament. However, in the book of Revelation, the symbol, phrase, imagery is given a new meaning. Some have thought that a symbol must mean the same every place it is used, Old or New Testament. Not true. The same symbol may have a different meaning in different places in the same book.
4. You must see the book as a whole - one moving picture - without pressing the details of the symbolism. Many of the details are there for dramatic effect. If you spend all your time trying to figure out every symbol in the vision, you will get bogged down in the details and you will lose the big picture of the vision.
5. Revelation is addressed to the imagination. It must be seen in mind’s eye as the various scenes are described with intense drama.
Historical Background of Revelation
I have already stated that, in order to understand the book of Revelation, one must understand the world situation at that time. What was going on in the world? What was the danger that they faced? How would reading this book offer them any encouragement, hope or courage?
There are four matters that remain to be discussed before we can begin to study the text itself.
Was it written pseudonymously?
Most apocalyptic literature was written with a false name, usually some person from Biblical history. The literature would be signed as if written by Moses, Enoch, Abraham or some other figure from ancient history. Was Revelation signed by a pseudonym?
1. Because the Jews believed inspiration had ended, no work was accepted unless it claimed to have been written during the time of inspiration. This was not true for the church. In the first century all the New Testament works were being written and well accepted as inspired.
2. The author claimed a current name, not one from another century.
3. The author also identified his location and the location of his audience.
4. These facts tell us that the author is not writing under a false identity.
John is the author
There are several questions to be discussed here. Which John is this?
There are some clues to help us with the identity.
1. He was Jewish. He knew the Old Testament. He knew the books of prophecy like Daniel and Ezekiel.
2. He was familiar with Asia Minor. He knew the cities and their situation.
3. He had settled in Ephesus until his exile to Patmos.
4. He was recognized as an authority, had power, in the churches of Asia Minor.
5. He is a sensitive man with deep spiritual insights.
6. He has a deep faith in God and is not afraid to speak the truth.
The traditional position is that this is John the son of Zebedee. Some object to this but they have been in the minority since the 2 nd century. From Justin Martyr on, most of the early church fathers taught that John was the author of this work. This would include Aurelius in 166, Irenaeus in 190, and Polycarp in 120.
NOTE: Polycarp was a student of John in Ephesus. Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp. These two have a direct link to John and their claims must be considered seriously.
Later church fathers also credit John with this book. These would include Clement of Alexandria in 323, Tertullian in 220, Origen in 223, and Hippolytus in 240.
The internal evidence is clear. John claims to be the author ( Rev_1:1 ; Rev_1:4 ; Rev_1:9 ; Rev_22:8 ). Other factors of the internal evidence include:
1. Chain of authority. He gives the direct link of how the message came from God, through Christ to an angel who delivered it to John.
2. Terminology . The gospel of John uses the Greek work “logos” (Word) to describe Jesus ( Joh_1:1 ; Joh_1:14 ). He also uses this term in 1Jn_1:1 . The same term is used in Rev_19:13 .
3. Spear . John is the only one of the gospels that tells of the spear in the side of Christ. ( Joh_19:34 ) It is also mentioned in Rev_1:7 .
4. Lamb of God. The gospel of John uses the phrase “lamb of God” to describe Jesus. ( Joh_1:29 ; Joh_1:36 ) This phrase is also used in Rev_22:1-21 times.
There are some who object to John’s authorship. Dionysius, a student of Origen, did not agree with his teacher. He rejected John as the author based on syntax and vocabulary. However, the differences in vocabulary and sentence structure are apparent because this is not an epistle, it is apocalyptic in nature. The style and vocabulary are different.
The same author could write a novel and a school textbook. The vocabulary would be different because of the disparity in purpose.
Other names suggested
With brief comments (if any) here is a list of other names some have offered as the author of Revelation.
1. John Mark - primary argument is with his age, younger, more active late in 1 st century
2. John the Elder - Papias mentions another John as an elder at Ephesus. Some have supposed that he is the author of Revelation. He was at Ephesus. We do not know if he wrote anything.
It seems that honesty and fairness demands that we accept John the son of Zebedee as the author of Revelation. The evidence from those who were his students and students of his students give the weightiest evidence in his favor. The internal evidence demonstrates a link with the author of the gospel of John and the book of 1 John.
When the book of Revelation was written has been in much dispute. Here is what we do know. We know it was written during a time of severe persecution. There are two major views - Early date (65) and Late date (95-96). What follows is a discussion of the arguments for each.
The early date, also called the Neroian date, is claimed primarily by the preterists. There are three main arguments for the early date.
1. Temple - There is reference in Rev_11:1 . It is argued that the temple had to remain at the writing of this book. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD.
2. Persecution - Since the book was written at a time of persecution, the early date fits the time of Nero, who persecuted Christians around 65 AD. It was under the reign of Nero that Paul was in prison in Rome and died under Nero’s command.
3. 666 - It is argued that the number of the beast is discovered if you take the name “Nron Ksr” (translated Nero Kaisar in Greek). If you take the name of the Roman Emperor, translate his name and title into Greek, give the letters their Hebrew number equivalent, the total Isaiah 666 . How logical is that?
Objections to these arguments - It is not necessary for the temple to be left standing for Rev_11:1 . It was necessary that John be familiar with the temple. The measuring of the temple was not literal because John is in exile on an island far removed from Jerusalem. Temple or no temple, the measuring was not literal.
The internal condition of the church forbids an early date. Here are the arguments for a later date, probably around 95 or 96 AD.
1. Christians were being persecuted for not worshipping the emperor . This did not occur during the reign of Nero. It did take place in the reign of Domitian.
2. Some of these churches had only been organized a few years when the persecution of Nero came.
3. The persecution of Nero was primarily in and around Rome. Domitian’s persecution was over the entire empire.
4. Early church fathers give the date as the time of Domitian . Origen says that John wrote near the end of the reign of Domitian. Victorious, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, and Jerome - all state it was during the time of Domitian’s reign that John wrote.
5. Domitian was emperor from 81 to 96 AD . He is known as the one who bathed the empire in the blood of Christians. His persecution was for the purpose of enforcing emperor worship. Domitian and Christianity were in a struggle of life and death.
I believe that the later date better fits the situation, the crisis for the writing and the account of 1 st century witnesses. This means the book was written around 95 or 96 AD.
Who first read this letter? The simple answer is found in the text of Rev_1:4 and Rev_1:11 . The seven churches of Asia are named. They are also addressed separately in chapters 2 and 3. The condition of the Christians who first received Revelation was very critical.
1. Christianity was an illegal religion . Christianity was “religio illicita” in the Roman Empire. Christianity was seen as a run away truck going down hill with no brakes. Somehow, someway the emperor had to stop this religious fervor from sweeping the world.
2. Christianity was quickly becoming universal . They were going everywhere preaching the word. They were making converts faster than anyone could get organized to stop them.
3. Christianity was an exclusive religion . Members of the 1 st century church refused to mingle freely with the customs and social life of the pagan world around them. They refused to enter pagan temples. Christians rejected pagan rituals and customs.
4. Christians were accused of all manner of evils . Because of misunderstanding, hatred and derision, the Christians were indicted with:
Eating flesh and drinking blood (reference to the Lord’s Supper)
Cannibalism - eating the body of Christ
Incest - loving each other, hugging, kissing, fellowships, love feasts, calling each other brother and sister
5. Christians refused to go to war . There was a real fear that they would kill a brother in Christ.
6. Christianity grew most among the poor and outcast. They were not “respectable.”
7. Among Christians was contempt for the evil Roman government.
8. They were accused of being fanatics because of their wild enthusiasm.
9. Christians refused to worship the emperor. They refused to call him “Lord” when they believed that Jesus was their one and only Lord.
10. Christians were blamed for all the calamities that came - fire, drought, flood, famine, earthquake, and military losses. Christians had offended the Roman deities.
4. Conditions in Roman Empire
As we seek to understand the book of Revelation, we must understand the conditions of the Roman Empire as the 1 st century came to a close. Here are some observations about the Roman world.
1. Conquests and Commerce . The Greek world was built on education, art, writing, philosophy, and other branches of the fine arts. In contrast the Roman world was built by war, conquest, forceful takeover of territory and was established by international trade, shipping, and commerce. The Romans built the first interstate (international) road system, with mile markers, maps and road signs. Shipping was expanded so one could purchase goods from Rome, Spain, Egypt, Arabia and the Orient.
2. Wealthy rich . The upper class was very wealthy. Some would have literally hundreds of slaves, each with only one specific task. It is said that some wealthy women would have a slave for each shade or type of makeup (eyes, cheeks, lips). They wore expensive jewelry. Seneca, a friend of Nero, wrote that some wealthy ladies wore two or three estates suspended from their ears.
3. Impoverished. There was no middle class. The rich were very rich and the poor were very poor. There was little difference in slaves and free working people. Little work was done for hire. The rich had slaves to do everything. Even if you were free from slavery, you had no means to earn a living. Many would beg to become a slave in order to survive.
4. Moral decline . One only needs to read Rom_1:18-32 to understand the very immoral world of the Romans. Their moral decline was blatant and bold. Paul ended this long list of wicked deeds by including those who took pleasure that such was being done. Evil made no attempt to hide in the darkness. Marriage was a commercial transaction that could be cancelled anytime. When children became a burden to a family, the children were sold into slavery. The parents justified this by saying, they will eat for the rest of their lives, and we will eat for a while longer.
5. Religious debauchery . The penetration of evil had defiled even ceremonies of religions. The women at these pagan festivals had become prostitutes. By the time of Domitian, the Emperor had declared himself to be God, Lord of the Empire. All were commanded to bow before his statue, drop a pinch of incense in the fire and say, “Caesar is Lord.” Anyone who refused was guilty of treason against the state and was to be executed. The Christians of the 1 st century saw their faith about to be crushed by the Roman government and wondered about the outcome. Revelation was badly needed to assure them of victory.
Ray Summers concludes, “This message is peculiarly relevant today - the call to choose the eternal rather than the temporal; to resist temptation, to refuse to compromise with pagan secularism, to place the claim of conscience above all demands against it; to cherish the confidence of ultimate victory for the kingdom of God, not only in the reign of Domitian but also in every other chaotic period of world history, including the twentieth century.” (2, 93)
Here is an outline of the book of Revelation in some material written by Steve Flatt.
A. The purpose of the book is related and the original readers identified (1:1-8)
B. John tells of his call to write the book and recalls his vision of the glorified Christ (1:9-20)
The letters to the seven churches of Asia (2 - 3)
A. Ephesus (2:1-7)
B. Smyrna (2:8-11)
C. Pergamos (2:12-17)
D. Thyatira (2:18-29)
E. Sardis (3:1-6)
F. Philadelphia (3:7-13)
G. Laodicea (3:14-22)
The vision of God enthroned and the scroll with the seven seals (4 - 7)
A. Almighty God is surrounded by a heavenly host (4:1-11)
B. John saw a book containing the destiny of mankind in the Father’s hand (5:1-5)
C. The book was taken by the Lamb as all heaven praised him (5:6-14)
D. As the seals of the book were opened, four forces are unleashed against the church:
1. Conquest (6:1-2)
2. War (6:3-4)
3. Famine (6:7-8)
4. Death (6:7-8)
E. As the sixth seal is opened, the martyrs cry out for vindication (6:9-11)
F. The opening of the sixth seal begins the judgment of the church’s enemies (6:12-17)
G. Prior to that judgment there is a sealing of God’s saints (7:1-17)
Sounding of the seven trumpets (8:1 - 11:19)
A. Seven trumpets are sounded (8:1-6)
B. The first four are blown in rapid succession and the environment is affected (8:7-12)
C. The fifth trumpet begins the torment against Rome (9:1-12)
D. The sixth trumpet envisions external invasions on the empire (9:13-21)
E. John sees an angel holding a scroll which he is told to eat (10:1-10)
F. The “temple of God” (His church) is measured as an assurance of her divine protection (11:1-14), and the seventh trumpet sounds to signify the overthrow of her enemies (11:15-19)
Vision of the church and her foes (12 - 14)
A. New set of figures are introduced
1. A woman, a child, and a dragon are the central characters (12:1-6)
2. They represent Israel, Christ, and Satan, respectively
B. Satan tries to destroy Christ and his people (12:7-17)
C. He calls two allies:
1. Beast from the sea (13:1-10)
2. Beast from the earth (13:11-18)
D. Triumph of the saints is secured as the “144,000” are safe at home with the Lamb (14:1-5)
E. A series of angels announce divine judgment against God’s enemies (14:6-20)
The seven bowls of wrath (15 - 16)
A. Seven more angels unleash the last and most devastating plagues against the Roman Empire (15:1-8)
B. The bowls of wrath are poured on:
1. Earth (16:1-2)
2. Sea (16:3)
3. Fresh waters (16:4-7)
4. Sun (16:8-9)
5. Throne of the beast (16:10-11)
6. Euphrates River (16:12-16)
7. Air (16:17-21)
The judgment and fall of “Babylon” (17:1 - 19:21)
A. Rome is pictures as a harlot (17:1-6)
B. The mystery of the beast and harlot are explained (17:7-18)
C. Rome (symbolically, Babylon) is overthrown (18:1-24)
D. Heaven praises! (19:1-10)
E. The beast and false prophet are destroyed (19:11-21)
The judgment of Satan and Humankind (20)
A. The devil is bound for “1000 years” (20:1-3)
B. The martyrs reign with Christ (20:4-6)
C. Final overthrow of Satan is pictured (20:7-10)
D. Judgment of humanity is described (20:11-15)
The eternal home (21 - 22)
A. John is allowed a glimpse of heaven (21:1 - 22:15)
B. Conclusion (22:6-21)
Method of Study
As we approach the study of the text itself, there are several final observations that must be made.
1. Select a method of interpretation. Before you can begin to study the book you must decide which approach you will use. Review the five methods of interpretation discussed earlier and decide which one makes more sense to you.
2. Be very careful about trying to explain EVERY symbol, term, or expression . Some are inserted for drama and visual effect. If you get bogged down in trying to figure out every symbol you will lose the main story of this book.
3. Keep the objectives of the writing in mind.
a. Comfort to persecuted Christians
b. Prophesy to the church about its immediate future (take cover)
c. Prophesy to apostates and those denying the truth of the gospel (a warning)
d. Build faith in the church and its future
e. Great Victory is coming (it will be worth the persecution)
f. Glorify God
4. Try to look at the book through “1 st century glasses”.
“Revelation is possibly the most fascinating book in the Bible. It was written in the form of apocalyptic literature, which makes use of symbols and figures to express spiritual concepts. Sometimes the figures described are almost beyond our ability to visualize. Yet, God gave these symbols to the apostle John to be written down for our study and understanding. We know these symbols are understandable because Rev_22:9 says that we can “keep the saying of this book” and Rev_22:14 says that those who “do his commandments” will be blessed. Certainly God will not promise to bless us with sayings which cannot be understood.” (1, 1)
Eve of Ascension