Revelation overview

Prologue – A vision of the risen Jesus (ch 1)

Revelation 1 The Lord of the church

Prologue and Greeting to the churches

From “John” -see introductory notes on authorship -he is a partner in suffering – not removed from it. An exile.  Strong NT theme -exiles, strangers in this world (literal and many cases) but citizens of Heaven.

Greetings from

“the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit[d] before his throne; and from Jesus Christ.”[1]

A Trinitarian formula – Father, Son and Holy Spirit

“Is, was…still to come” – echoes of the covenant name “Yahweh” “I am who I am”

Also contrast with the Beast – one of the “Kings” or Emperors who was but is no longer (Rev 17 [2]) – the identification of the true God is contrasted in Revelation with pretenders to His throne.

The Holy Spirit – sevenfold . 7 a number representing completeness. The 7 churches are real churches but also a representative of the wholeness too.  The Spirit is the spirit of the church.

Jesus Christ

Jesus is “Alpha and Omega”  -first/beginning and last/end – picked up again in Revelation 22:12.  Reflects eternal nature. Jesus is God The Son – the one who was there at the beginning when Creation was made -and the End -the final judge. The goal of Creation is his glory (Ephesians 1:10).  Everything was made through him and for him.

Links to John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word” – focus on the fullness of God’s revelation (Apha and Omega as first and last letters of the alphabet

These things point to Christ’s divine nature -shared with the Father.

Echoes from Daniel

Look he comes with the clouds

Someone like the Son of Man – remember the title Jesus takes on himself

Hair white as wool and snow

-The imagery signposts us -we are in prophecy – God’s Word is unchanging, God is faithful and keeps his promises.

Seven Churches -a series of letters to the churches of Asia Minor (ch 2 -3)

Revelation 2-3 – Health Check

We can split up this section and look at each church and its issues individually but it’s also helpful to see a holistic picture of the Church. Here is a vision of the Bride of Christ. By the end of Revelation, we will see the bride ready, beautifully dressed

Here we

“…see her sore oppressed, By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed:”[3]

Seven churches are in Turkey (Asia Minor)

Context – suffering. Persecution (2:9, 3:8) -note Satan’s Synagogue – oponents who pretend to be part of God’s people (“Jews”) but are not really. The idea may be linked to Romans 11 here – that true Spiritual Israel is not about physical descent but response to the Messiah -opposition to Him and his people marks people out as not truly belonging to Him.


Endurance even in suffering (2:2, 9, 19; 3:8)

A refusal by some  to tolerate evil people (2:4, 6, 9, 13; 3:4)

Loving and faithful service (2:2; 19)



Losing first love/growing lukewarm (2:4)


Overcomers -a theme of victory and conquest -which we will see later on in the vision is wrapped up in (2: 7, 11,17,26 3: 5. 12, 21

Christ as the victorious conqueror

The promise to martyrs experiencing extreme persecution even to death that they we be raised to life again.

Note Biblical themes like the fruit of the tree of li e- picked up later in Revelation authority to rule (Beatitudes) and the pre-warning of “the second death” “the book of Life” which is expanded on later.

But also a warning of corporate judgement -removal of lampstands (2:5) -Christ will fight against (2:15) just deserts (2:23) sudden and unexpected judgement (3:3), spat out (3:16)

NB -these churches disappeared.

Seven seals – The lamb is the only one worthy to open the scroll and read it (ch 4:1 -8:5

Revelation 4 The Chorus of Creation

A glimpse into the throne room of heaven.  Radiant beauty and glory

We see the “seven spirits” or “sevenfold spirit” again

24 thrones surrounding. 12 Tribes and 12 apostles -Israel and the Church – the completeness of God’s people.

4 living beasts -echoes imagery from Ezekiel and Daniel here

We are in Isaiah 6 – the Seraphim calling out to God who is “Holy, Holy, Holy” – triple repetition is another Hebraic way of describing completeness “Most Holy”

The 24 elders lay down their crowns – human rule must submit to God’s rule. God’s people do this willingly whilst the Kings of the earth resist and rage against Him *cf Psalm 2)

Revelation 5-6 & 8:1–5 “Worthy is the Lamb

The first vision cycle has a scroll with 7 seals no-one can open them.  However, we are told that the Lion of Judah is able and worthy. John looks to see the Lion, it is a lamb that has been sacrificed.

The sacrificial Lamb – OT sacrifices and Passover, Isaiah 53 – the one led like a lamb to the slaughter. John in his Gospel points to Jesus as the lamb who takes away the sins of the world

Jesus is the Lion of Judah and the lamb who is worthy

The lamb opens the scroll, breaking each seal in turn – this takes us through to chapter 8. Each seal is associated with a vision

Horsemen representing conquest. War, economic crisis, famine and plague (cf Zechariah 6:2). Nb the white horse representing conquerors probably here is about conquering kings in General but the image will focus on Christ in ch 19 as the ultimate conqueror.

Martyrs -witnesses who have given their lives -under the altar.  The altar as the place of sacrificial worship. The altar representing safety through Christ’s sacrifice. They plead for vindication.

Then earthquakes, eclipses and blood mons -the shaking of the Universe/earth shatterin events – the final judgement will see physical universal upheaval but cosmic language about the final end here is probably more focused on political upheaval in the present time.

The final seal is broken in ch 8 following a vision of God’s people. Silence  – then giving of trumpets -overlapping the visions.

Incense offered -worship

Key things –

  1. The revelation of the solution needs truth to be told about the reality of life on earth caused by the problem of sin and evil[4]
  2. The seals are not the revelation itself -the revelation is the scroll. War, famine, trouble etc may seem to hinder us from seeing God’s goodness and plan but the Lamb is sovereign and so these things cannot hinder his word. The Gospel will succeed
  3. Our focus in the midst of chaos should be on the Lamb.

Revelation 7 The people of God

Two sights

144,000 – 12000 from each tribe of Israel.

A great multitude.

144,000 a symbolic number 12x12x1000 – a large number representing the fullness of God’s people Israel.[5]

Two possibilities

  1. The 144000 = Jews who are saved and belong to God, coupled with the great multitude representing the Gentiles
  2. The 144000 and the Great multitude are the same people but from two perspectives. The second sight emphasises that the number is symbolic but the great number sealed and saved are practically uncountable. [6]

Romans 11 links in here – All Israel will be saved both in that true Israel is really those who believe in the promise with Gentiles who believe in Jesus grafted in and that the full number will be saved.

Seven Trumpets – Warning sounds that announce judgement and terror (Ch 8:6-14:20)

Revelation 8:5 -9:21 – Terror

The next cycle has a series of trumpet calls. The trumpeters act as heralds of what is to come. There are further vivid pictures of frightening cosmic and political events.

The enduring sense is of woe, calamity, distress, terror.

Yet despite the fearful chaos -people do not repent or turn.  Human hearts are hard

The final trumpet call comes in ch 11 -the Messiah is revealed and God’s true temple.  Human hearts may be hard but the coming King will still triumph

Revelation 10-11 Witnesses

Thunders that sound and speak -but their message is not to be recorded.  The full mystery will be revealed later. We may not and will not understand everything now but God is still sovereign and reveals what we need to know, when we need to know it.

A scroll which is eaten -bitter/sweet – echoes of Ezekiel 2:3; 3:1-3.  God’s word has both a sweetness -the good news of the Gospel but there is bitterness because of rejection too. God’s word is good but will also cause discomfort.[7]

Measuring the Temple -again echoes of Ezekiel -this is symbolic of marking out God’s space and the place of protection[8] -a physical temple or think about how God’s people are now his temple.

Witnesses – olive trees – this is symbolic of Israel.

2 witnesses -suggestions have included Israel and the Church, Spirit and Word etc

However, the point of having two witnesses is that this was the legal requirement for reliability. So maybe the emphasis is not on having 2 witnesses but on how God has not left the world without a witness – focus probably on God’s people as his witness here. May be crushed and beaten down by the World but cannot be destroyed.

Also Wright notes that John has two great OT heroes in mind Moses and Elijah. The idea is

“That the prophetic witness of the church, in the great tradition of Moses and Elijah, will perform powerful signs and thereby torment the surrounding unbelievers, but that the climax of their work will be their martyr-death at the hands of ‘the monster that comes up from the Abyss.” [9]

Think also of Jesus as the ultimate witness who is killed but is raised to life again.

Revelation 12-13 Beasts and Dragons

A woman with  a crown of 12 stars -representative of Israel and giving birth to a child.  Focus on the Messiah who must come from Israel

Opposed by dragons and beasts. Beasts represent human systems and empires -permission to buy and sell etc.

The Dragon – or serpent -a clue. Our battle is not with flesh and blood but the powers of this world when opposing Christ, The Gospel and God’s people serve Satan.

Revelation 14 – Harvest Time

Further reference to 144,000 with Jesus who have his seal/mark on them in contrast to those who have received the Beast’s mark.  Kept themselves pure like virgins -not that they are virgins but that like we associate virginity with purity -so too them.

Purchased – or redeemed

Those who have received te beast’s mark face eternal judgement -and so this is a reminder for believers that they should endure patiently through persecution

The Good news goes out (Gospel) -here it’s focus is on the fall of Babylon.

Babylon – The Empire that stands in opposition to God’s people -going back to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  The place where God’s people went into captivity (cf Daniel).  But back in Daniel 2 we saw that all human empires must one day fall to God’s kingdom Babylon as head of the statue in Daniel 2 can be seen as representative of all empires.  Here in Revelation we will see its close association with Rome.

There is a harvest of God’s people -an offering to him -first fruits

However, there’s also a further harvest and the focus is not on the harvest being to redemption but the earth is harvest for judgement.

Seven bowls -God’s wrath is poured out (ch 15-16)

Revelation 15-16 Plagues

The next vision cycle has seven bowls representing God’s wrath being poured out on the earth.  Seven angels hold them. They are described as “the last.”  They bring God’s wrath to completion. So we cannot ignore a sense of progression in Revelation towards the end.

Those who have overcome and endured are singing and praising. Perhaps there’s a sense of cheerleading here. This is not gross triumphalism but that sense of justice and vindication leading to rejoicing

A tale of two cities – the fall of Babylon and the rise of the New Jerusalem. New Creation -a New heavens and a new earth (ch 17:1-22:6)

Revelation 17-18 The Enemy of God’s People

The focus is now on Babylon -the enemy of God’s people

A harlot/prostitute – prostitution/sexual immorality in the Bible represents spiritual unfaithfulness. The book of Proverbs distinguishes wisdom as a faithful, modest wife and folly as unfaithful. Israel herself is often portrayed as acting like a harlot by being unfaithful to God (see e,g, Hosea)

Babylon is described as sitting on 7 hills and having 7 kings.  The imagery here provides clues as to her true identity -we have the geography and history to locate it as Rome towards the end of the 1st Century AD.

Rome will one-day fall. Those who benefit from her will turn against her.  Christians are not to invest their trust in herm (come out from her).

NB -Some people note 24:18 with its reference to the city where the prophets were killed and think that there may be a further representation. Rome has persecuted the church but also Jerusalem has been the city where the prophets died.  Was Jerusalem really acting like Babylon and Rome rather than being God’s city. Will Jerusalem one day fall (especially if this is written pre AD70). Note this is a plausible interpretation but given it’s a minority report I wouldn’t spend too much time on it.

The important thing is that God’s enemies will be defeated. Human empires will fall and we should not put our trust in them.

Revelation 19 Victory

God’s people celebrate the defeat of the enemy with joyful song.

Victory is portrayed with the image of Christ as the one on the white horse. He is the conqueror who defeats the kings of this world (Psalm 2).

Christ defeated sin on the Cross and will be the final victor over evil and human rebellion.

The beast and the dragon are captured and thrown into the lake of fire. Their pride comes to nothing.

Satan has lost and will lose

Revelation 20-22:6 Tomorrows World

Babylon/Rome/The false Jerusalem v The New Jerusalem which is the Bride of Christ -i.e. The Church.  There’s a promise of God’s people reigning in the New Creation and of safety and peace -a city where evil is banished. A world with no sea (not a lack of water but the metaphor here was of chaos, fear and disorder).

The devil will meet his final defeat.

In the meantime -Christ will reign for a 1000 years (symbolic) and his people -those who have already died with him -the first resurrection is spiritual

The dead will be raised to life for the final judgement and then those who have sided with Satan and fought against God will be judged to eternity in the lake of fire

Revelation 22 tells us that in the city is the River of Life and the tree of life. The image is of a Gardne City with Eden restored (cf Genesis 2, Psalm 1, Ezekiel 40)

Epilogue – Jesus is coming (ch 22:7-21).

Revelation 22:7-21 The Wedding Day

The final message is that Jesus is coming back soon. The Bride will be ready.





[1] Revelation 1:4.

[2] Cf Revelation 13  -the Beast who recovers forma fatal wound. There were rumours around that Nero would return to life and some think this is a reference to him. C.f. Mounce, Revelation, 19.

[3] Samuel J Stone, The Church’s One Foundation.

[4] NT Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Kindle version: location 1042).

[5] Mounce, Revelation, 158.

[6] Mounce, Revelation, 158.

[7] Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Kindle: location 1560)

[8] Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Kindle: location 1626)

[9] Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Kindle: location 1642)