Reading Revelation

As I mentioned the other week, I’m just starting to delve into the book of Revelation. We are hoping to run a preaching series on this amazing book at some point in 2017 and I wanted to carve out some time to do some preparatory work on this.  Because we team teach at Bearwood, it means I can create space to do some forward thinking. It also means that as preachers and teacher we then try to look ahead together and have a common understanding of what God’s Word is saying to us (so this prep work is both necessary and possible).

Here’s an invitation to join me in my study as we explore the topic together. So let’s kick off with some introductory background.

What is the book of Revelation?

It is self-identified as “prophecy”[1] in other words, it reveals what God has to say to his people. We may also expect it to include predictions about the future as well as a verdict on what God’s people are doing at a specific time.

The genre is usually described as “apocalyptic literature.”[2] This is a particular genre, a strand of prophetic literature often associated with the inter-testament period (2nd Temple Judaism).  Much of this type of literature, especially the extra-biblical material is usually regarded as pseudepigrapha (written under a pseudonym).[3] Though as we will see later on Revelation differs in this regard.[4]

Fee says:

“We begin then with the Revelation as an apocalypse, a word used to describe a kind of literature that flourished among Jews and then Christians for roughly the 400-year period between 20BCE and 200 CE, although its roots lie much earlier. The taproot of apocalyptic was deeply embedded in the Old Testament Prophets, which means that whatever else, these writers including John were concerned about judgement and salvation.”[5]

Apocalyptic literature employs vivid symbolic imagery usually associated with dreams and visions.[6] It expresses concern about rising evil and suffering that overwhelms God’s people[7] It focus on a faithful or “righteous” remnant of God’s people who will remain faithful through trials and testing[8] It often takes place in the absence recognised Biblical prophecy (so as we’ve mentioned it was at its peak during the inter-testament period.[9] It gives the sense that the future will break into and influence the present.[10]

One OT book that stands out and is seen as the precursor of Revelation is the book of Daniel.[11] I guess we could regard the two books as siblings and it may well be worth reading both books together to get a sense of how they relate.

So Revelation is a prophetic book employing a particular literary style but it is also written as a  letter to real people who were part of churches in what is now modern day Turkey.[12]  Fee comments

“What one must understand before reading John’s Revelation is that he has purposely set out to write something that has not been done before, something that he sets up his readers to understand at the very beginning. Thus ion 1:1 he identifies what he is about to write as an apocalypse, translated ‘revelation’ in the NIV, which in 1:3 he refers to as a prophecy. But in the next two verses he begins again with all the formal aspects of an ancient letter. So the reader is given these three different pieces of information at the outset.” What is uniue about John’s Apocalypse is the fine blending of each of these three kinds of literature – apocalypse, prophecy, letter- into a single whole piece.”[13]

The Author

He introduces himself as “John.” Who was this John?  Possibilities suggested include

–          John the Apostle

–          A separate “John the Elder” who lived and served in Ephesus

There is good external evidence for assuming it is John the Apostle author of the Gospel as this was the assumption of many in the early church.[14]

Arguments against John being the apostle include differences in vocabulary, grammar and syntax style, though explanations for this may include the difference of genre, different scribes and editing processes, John’s age and situation when writing.[15]

I believe that the author was the apostle John. The same disciple who was an eye witness to Jesus’s life, death and resurrection receives a vision from this same Jesus later on in life.


Option 1  -late option abut 95AD -consensus view[16]

Option 2 – early -pre AD 70 during reign of Nero.[17]

We’ll probably go into this in more detail later. The key thing at this stage is that both contexts would fit a situation of great turmoil and persecution.  Both options would fit with John being the Apostle. John was a young man when Jesus was on earth so these options would allow for him to be somewhere between middle age and a ripe old age.

[1] Revelation 1:3.

[2] Robert T Mounce, The book of Revelation (NICNT. Revised 1997. Grand Rapids MI.: Eerdmans, 1977), 1.

[3] Mounce, Revelation, 5

[4] I also believe that the book of Daniel which is part of the same genre was written by the historical Daniel who lived in Babylon and served Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. I will probably pick up on this in a lter article.

[5] Gordon Fee, Revelation, A New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. Kindle Edition), Location 217.

[6] Mounce, Revelation,4-5.

[7] Mounce, Revelation, 2-3.

[8] Mounce, Revelation, 2-3.

[9] Mounce, Revelation, 2-3.

[10] Mounce, Revelation, 2-3.

[11]Mounce, Revelation, 5.

[12] Revelation 1:4.

[13] Gordon Fee, Revelation, A New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. Kindle Edition), Location 217.

[14] Mounce, Revelation, 11.

[15] Mounce, Revelation, 12-13.

[16]  Mounce, Revelation,15.

[17] Mounce, Revelation, 15.