Revelation: Introduction

by Joseph Franks

John was the son of Zebedee and one of the original twelve apostles.  He, along with the other disciples, were privileged to learn from Jesus’ walk and words. Additionally, John, along with James and Peter, was included in Jesus’ inner circle. These three were privileged to spend special time with Jesus and see things others did not. (i.e.. Transfiguration)  However, John may have been the closest friend Jesus had on this earth.  He was seated closest to Jesus at the last Passover, and it was to him that the crucified Jesus entrusted the care of Mother Mary. Jesus had other brothers and sisters, but John was preferred above them all.

Following Christ’s resurrection and ascension, John faithfully served the Master.  The Gospel was preached, converts were made, churches were built, and elders were established. However, as of late, John had experienced better days. Like the rest of the Twelve, he had been slandered, arrested, interrogated, and tortured.  Many had been martyred, but not John.  He was exiled on an abandoned island.  Can you sense his heartbreak and confusion?  John was sure he had found the truth and was on the right side.  He was convinced that he served a risen Savior.  He was confident the kingdom of heaven was at hand; Jesus had said so.  But oh how he suffered, and oh how the gates of hell seemed to prevail. What was to become of the church? Where was justice? Where was victory? Where was Jesus?

One can only imagine John’s excitement when he found himself receiving a fresh visitation from his beloved friend.  Jesus appeared to encourage John by his presence and his message.  And what was the overarching message of Jesus’ revelation to John?  Jesus was not primarily concerned with giving some cloaked end-times code to be deciphered.  Jesus was not primarily concerned with giving John some end-time information that would have no relevance to his current situation.  Jesus was not focusing John on some reality that would take place after the year 2013.  No, Jesus was interested in feeding and encouraging the souls of John and his readers.

Therefore, instead of looking at the distant future, modern readers ought to apply Revelation to their present experience.  The church ought to read and be more encouraged than frightened.  The church should read and focus more on the Christ’s victory than Lucifer’s tribulation.  The church should find immense comfort in the love of Jesus for his bride.  He watches over her and will not let her go.  Over and over again Satan looks as if he will win the day.  Christianity’s future looks dismal.  However, when God decides to yank Satan’s chain, victory is dramtically assured for Christ and his church.

Friend, Christ, the groom, understands our anxiety and pain.  He sympathizes and sorrows with us.  However, in the midst of conflict and tribulation we must look to him and hold on.  We can take all that hell can dish out, and all the while stand tall, serve well, and look forward to the consumation.  Friend, the Second Coming is assured.  Victory is assured.  Satan’s humiliation is assured, and so too is the final day of feasting and celebration in paradise. The day may be dark, but the Son will shine.

We are then led to the question, “How should the book of Revelation be interpreted?”  Revelation is a piece of apocalyptic literary art.  It is to be viewed as inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative Scripture, but also as literary art to be interpreted in the manner or genre in which it is written.  In teaching his disciples, Jesus utilized numerous literary forms or genres.  He used historical narrative, didactic teaching, poetry, proverb, and parable.  Additionally, Jesus read from the apocalyptic genre of Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah, preached using apocalyptic genre in the Sermon on the Mount, and here he uses it again.  Within Jesus’ vision is vivid imagery, numerology, symbolism and typology.  He uses light, fire, clouds, stars, thunder, lightening, rainbows, cities, seas, and mountains.  Angels, demons, beasts, prophets, dragons, horsemen, locusts and harlots are also utilized.  Cosmic chaos is described by water, storms, earthquakes, plagues, scavengers, swords, armies; blood and carnage is everywhere.  And all this alongside jewels, gold, crowns, thrones, trumpets, hymns, choirs and a dramatic wedding celebration.  It really does not matter whether one is a Dispensationalist or a Covenant Theologian, wooden literalism is impossible, and it is not intended.  So, as one reads and interprets the Revelation given to John, one is to believe it to be literal truth without believing all will literally happen in the literal manner in which it is presented.  Such a manner of interpretation is consistent with all apocalyptic literature, whether it be secular or sacred.  Such a manner of interpretation is consistent with this Scriptural book. After all, the English title is The Revelation, but the Greek title is The Apocalypses.

Finally, we must treat the question of timing.  Specifically, “To what era is Revelation referring?”  Preterists believe Revelation refers to happenings that have already taken place.  They believe John is talking about his future but our past.  Futurists believe Revelation speaks of the end times — days which have not yet come, or perhaps are just upon us.  I would encourage us to be Progressionists. [This is a term I concocted.] I would encourage us to interpret Revelation as we do other prophecies: Abraham’s Seed, Abraham’s Land, Judah’s Lion, Hannah’s Prayer, David’s Son, Israel’s Restoration, Olivet Discourse, etc….  All of these had short-term and long-term fulfillments.  Therefore, I would encourage us to see Revelation as a prophetic piece of art that has multiple fulfillments, some in the past, some in the present, and some yet to come.  Therefore, Revelation foretells and forth-tells.  It teaches us about the ancient church in all ages.  It taught John and his first-century readers about that which was “soon to take place.” (vs. 1)  It taught them about that which was “near,” (vs. 3) and it continues to instruct us today.  (Also look at 1:19; 2:16; 3:10-11; 22:6-7; 22:10; 22:12; 22:20)

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Regarding the Genre: Other apocalyptic portions of Scripture are found in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew and Mark.  Outside of scripture, many examples exist from 200 BC through 200 AD.

Regarding the Date: Some believe this was written before the Fall of Jerusalem.  They prefer a date of AD 54-68.  However, I prefer a later date of writing. (AD 81-96)  Such a time period would be consistent with persecution, a wealthy Laodicea which had been lavishly rebuilt by Nero, apostate churches in Turkey, and quotes from first-century church fathers.

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