Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Introduction to the Book of Revelation

TITLE: "The Revelation of Saint John the Divine." Other titles include "The Revelation of John the Apostle" and "The Revelation of Jesus Christ."

AUTHOR: John, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Liberal views: The author is another man named John or an unknown man writing in the apostle John's name. Arguments include the lack of apostolic claims, supposed theological differences between the Gospel of John and Revelation (this argument relies on the belief that the apostle John wrote the fourth Gospel), and stylistic differences between the two books (strongest argument). Evidence: (1) Church tradition ascribes the book to the apostle John (with the exception of Dionysius and a few others). (2) The books claims to be written by "John" (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). (3) The fact that the author refers to himself as simply "John" suggests that he was well known to his readers. No John would have been better known to them than the apostle John since early church tradition places him in Ephesus at the end of his life (see "readership" below). This explains why John did not need to claim to be an apostle in Revelation. (4) The fourth Gospel and Revelation are actually quite similar in their theology despite their different settings and purposes. For example, the two books teach that God is both loving and judging and identify Jesus as the Lamb of God. The difference in Greek style between the two books, though difficult to explain, does not make it impossible for John the apostle to be the author of both.

DATE: Early Christian writers date the book in the reign of one of four different Roman emperors: Claudius (A.D. 41-54), Nero (54-68), Domitian (81-96), and Trajan (98-117). The reigns of Nero and Domitian are the most likely time periods for the book's writing. A possible date for Revelation is between A.D. 94-96. Evidence: Several elements in the letters to the seven churches seem to be more compatible with a date in the nineties than one in the sixties: (1) the spiritual stagnation in several of the churches; (2) the wealth of the Laodicean church (the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 60-61); (3) the existence of the church at Smyrna (the church may not have existed until 60-64); (3) the lack of any mention of the apostle Paul, who may have labored in Ephesus as late as 64.

PROVENANCE: The island of Patmos. John was exiled there by the Romans "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (1:9).

READERSHIP: Seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (1:4): Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (see chapters 2-3). These churches were probably personally known to John from years of ministry in the area.

PURPOSE: To provide a message of hope to struggling Christians. God is in control of all events of human history, and though evil often seems pervasive and wicked men all-powerful, their ultimate defeat is certain. Christ will come in glory to judge and reign.

GENRE: The opening verses appear to suggest three different genre identifications: apocalypse (1:1), prophecy (1:3), and epistle (1:4). It might be best to view the book as a prophecy cast in an apocalyptic mold and written down in the form of a letter.