Of all the books in the New Testament, I suspect that none have generated the variety of interpretations that Revelation has.
This book is filled with symbolism, with multi-headed dragons and other strange creatures, a lion that looks like a slain lamb, bowls of wrath, an enormous golden city, and many other scenes that seem to come from a very fertile imagination.
Many people read Revelation, find it confusing, and never go back to it. Others adopt a popular perspective on the book and search it looking for “signs of the times.” But I believe Revelation is not just a book about the End Times.
Rather it was relevant for the time and culture in which it was originally written, as well as all persecuted believers throughout history. This article will briefly explore this way of understanding this revelation of Jesus to his church.
Apocalyptic Literature of Revelation
Revelation falls into the literary genre of apocalyptic literature. The dictionary defines apocalyptic as “describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world.”
This has led many to view Revelation as describing the end of the world as we know it. But apocalyptic has an entirely different meaning in the Scripture.
The first sentence in Revelation reads, “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1).
The word translated “revelation” in this passage is the Greek word apokalypsis. It is defined as “revelation, what is revealed, disclosure, to make the information known with an implication that the information can be understood.”
This word is also used elsewhere in Scripture and is generally translated as “revealed.” Matthew 11:27 is an example where we find Jesus saying, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed (apokalypsis) them to little children.”
So, the visions of Revelation are essentially pulling back the covers and helping John, and his readers, to see what would normally be hidden. It is a glimpse into what is happening from a heavenly perspective.
These visions are filled with symbolism and Old Testament references. And they can be confusing to the modern reader. But knowing the culture and audience this was originally written to can help in understanding the message of this book.
The Audience of Revelation
Revelation is addressed as a letter from John, the author, to seven churches in the province of Asia. These seven churches are each mentioned by name in chapters two and three, along with a personalized message from Jesus.
It is quite likely that there were more than seven churches at the time in what is today the country of Turkey. But seven is a significant number in Revelation: seven seals, seven plagues, seven bowls of wrath, seven-fold Spirit, seven candlesticks, seven churches. So, it is likely that these seven were chosen as representative churches.
The province of Asia was a part of the Roman empire. And, as such, there would have been a lot of pressure to conform to Roman culture, including emperor worship.
There was also pressure from Jewish groups and temptations from other cults with some Christian window dressing. All in all, it was a challenging time for these seven churches.
The temptation to compromise with the culture around them was great. A couple of these churches had refused to do so and were suffering because of it.
Others were struggling with compromise or infection from local cults. And for at least one, the struggle seemed to be over, giving in to the culture and becoming like them.
The Purpose of Revelation
The purpose statement for Revelation is found in that first sentence quoted above. The intent of this revelation was “to show his servants what must soon take place.” It was to look into the near future.
It must be admitted that our time scales do not always align with God’s, but there does seem to be an expectation that what is revealed would be something they would see happening.
Given the condition of these seven churches as described in chapters two and three, a description of the distant end of the world would not be overly helpful.
These were churches that were suffering because of their stand for Christ, or in danger of compromise with a culture in order to prevent that suffering.
They were in need of a message that would enable them to remain faithful and to resist the temptation to compromise in order to get along.
And that is what Revelation does for them. After their personalized messages, the scene shifts to heaven’s throne room. And we find out who is actually on the throne. And it is not Caesar and the imperial cult.
God is on the real throne, attended by the hosts of heaven. And Jesus is introduced as the Lion, the root of David, and a lamb that was slain. He is the Lord that they are serving. And to him was given authority to rule.
As the visions unfold, we see a conflict between Satan, described as a dragon, and his followers, against the servants of the Lamb. This conflict parallels what these churches were experiencing in the physical realm.
Revelation makes clear that, in the end, the Lamb is victorious over the Dragon. And those who have remained faithful to the Lamb will inherit a renewed creation.
This message would serve two purposes. It would encourage those who were faithfully suffering as believers to continue in the struggle. It would not be in vain. Their reward for faithfulness was sure and waiting for them.
On the other hand, those who had given in to compromise, or were tempted to do so, were in grave danger.
When they aligned themselves with the imperial cult or any of the other cults circulating in that day, they were aligning themselves against the Lamb. And nothing good awaited those who were not following the Lamb.
For the one, the future included a renewed heaven and earth and a part in the New Jerusalem. For the other, judgment and the Lake of Fire. This is a message designed to encourage the one and cause the other to take stock and turn away from compromise and to faithfulness.
The Message for Believers Today
I believe that when we use Revelation as a tool to map out the End Times, that we have missed the point of this book that we are encouraged to read.
In Revelation 1:3, Jesus tells us, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
In the Bible, prophecy is a message from God. Sometimes about the future. But more commonly addressing current events.
So, the message from Jesus to those seven churches in the first century is the same as it is for us today. Be faithful in the face of opposition to the gospel. Do not compromise with the culture. Babylon, our culture, will fall and be destroyed.
So come out from her (Revelation 18:4) and be the distinct people that God has called us to be. A people that will inherit the renewed creation.
General Revelation vs Special Revelation
Read the transcript of this video by Dan Darling discussing the distinctions of revelations in the Bible:
There are two ways that God reveals himself in the world, general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is, as the Bible says, the heavens declare the glory of God, that you can't help but look around and say, there's got to be a designer here. There's got to be a God here. This is how remote tribes, for instance, can come to faith in Christ. They just look around and say, there's got to be something here. A special revelation is Jesus himself being revealed through the scriptures, someone teaching somebody the scriptures and the gospel. And God uses both.
I think he uses general revelation to stir in man's heart the sort of quest for, there's something more out there. And then he searches that and God brings to him a missionary or a pastor or a gospel film, or a website that explains and breaks down the scriptures. And it says in Romans, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" We can't all just sit back and say, well, they're going to see in nature. It's up to us to take that to the ends of the earth and share it. But God uses both. And at the end of time, no man's going to be without excuse. You say, well, what about all those that are heathen in other countries? Well, their heart should have been stirred by the revelation of God and nature and general revelation. And if they were earnest in seeking that out, God would have found them to a place where they can hear the truth.
For further reading:
What Are the Different End Times Opinions Amongst Denominations?
What Are the Seven Seals and Trumpets in Revelation?
Book of Revelation Summary
Is the Apocalypse Mentioned in the Bible?
What Is the Biblical Significance of the Number 7?
Does the Bible Contain Allegory?
Does God Have a Throne in Heaven?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Design Pics
Ed Jarrettis a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs atA Clay Jar. You can also follow him onTwitterorFacebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.
What is the real meaning of revelation? ›
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing of some form of truth or knowledge through communication with a deity or other supernatural entity or entities.What is the main message of God's revelation? ›
Writing to the people of his own day about events that would happen while they were still living, he states that Christ will return while those who put him to death on the cross are still living. The permanent significance of Revelation lies in the author's conviction that right will ultimately triumph over evil.What is the meaning of revelation according to the Bible? ›
: an act of revealing or communicating divine truth. : something that is revealed by God to humans. : an act of revealing to view or making known. : something that is revealed.Why is revelation important? ›
Revelation is an essential factor in knowing the things of God. The things of God cannot be learned solely by study and reason. Note also that study and reason precede revelation, and the intellect will confirm the revelation.What are the stages of revelation? ›
Understanding the Scripture of John 20:9
At this point, three stages of revelation in John 2:13–22 have been identified: The OT scripture, Jesus' revelatory message, and the Spirit-prompted revelatory remembrance of the disciples.
He has also revealed himself in and through his Word (Psalm 19:7-9; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21), through which he works salvation and sanctification in us through the Holy Spirit (Psalms 10-14; 1 Corinthians 2:9-16). Further, God has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).What are the three main purposes of God's revelation? ›
The purpose of Special Revelation is to impart the knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ, salvation and the atonement.What are the 5 ways God reveals himself to us? ›
- General Revelation (vv. 1-6) “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” All of creation reveals the glory of its Creator. ...
- Special Revelation (vv. 7-11) ...
- Personal Revelation (vv. 12-14)
Plagues from the Temple. Revelation 15:1 provides the good news that frames all the destructiveness of the plagues. “seven angels, with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.”What is the final revelation in the Bible? ›
Revelation 22 is the twenty-second (and the last) chapter of the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse of John, and the final chapter of the New Testament and of the Christian Bible. The book is traditionally attributed to John the Apostle.
How do you receive revelation? ›
- Pray for guidance. ...
- Be reverent. ...
- Be humble. ...
- Keep the commandments. ...
- Partake of the sacrament worthily. ...
- Study the scriptures every day. ...
- Take time to ponder. ...
- Patiently seek God's will.
Revelation is the condition for being granted insight into the dynamic and faithfulness of God's actions in the world through which the creator actualizes the divine purpose for creation as it is grounded in God's own being.What is the purpose of God revealing himself to us? ›
God completely revealed himself to us in Jesus, and he inspires his Church and her Sacred Tradition to help us remember who God is and what he has done for us. God wants to know you personally, to know your family deeply.What does God sees in us? ›
We Are Precious and Honored in His Eyes
In Isaiah 43:4, it says, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.” In God's eyes, we are precious and honored.
They are to call the people of God to come out of Babylon, that is to say, to join the historical, faithful and visible end-time remnant of God. ' The third angel's message is a solemn warning against observance of Sunday as a sacred day, which Adventists have historically interpreted as the mark of the beast.What is the most important source of revelation? ›
One of the most important elements of general revelation in Christianity, the Bible, is interpreted in many different ways by different people. This gives different Christians contradictory ideas about what God wants from them.Who does God reveal his secret to? ›
Prayerfully study the following scriptures: Amos 3:6–7. Amos teaches that the Lord reveals his secrets to his servants the prophets.How does God see us through his eyes? ›
God sees each of us through eyes of unconditional love, and He loves everyone—it doesn't matter what they do, where they work, how much money they have, how educated they are or what they look like. We need to do the same. We need to learn to see others as God sees them.Does God reveal himself to everyone? ›
a. Although God reveals Himself to all people through their reason and built-in desires, He revealed Himself in a special and powerful way directly to the Hebrews (Jews). --God chose a small, weak, sinful people to teach them about Himself, and to prepare them for the coming of Christ.What are the major themes in the Book of Revelation? ›
General revelation: the role of nature
The failure of some nations to acknowledge the one true God is attributed not to God's failure to disclose himself but rather to the debilitating effects of sin on the perceptive powers of human beings.
What is the main message of revelation quizlet? ›
Its main purpose was to provide spiritual insight that is meaningful for every time and place." futurist: "The book is understood with reference to times and places after its composition. Its main purpose was to predict what would come to pass in generations yet to come."What are the two main types of revelation? ›
Manifestational revelation happens when somebody “shows” or in some other way makes some reality manifest, while non-manifestational revelation takes place when something is revealed without being shown or manifested—for example, by means of verbal communication.What are the seven churches addressed in the Book of Revelation? ›
According to Revelation 1:11, on the Greek island of Patmos, Jesus Christ instructs John of Patmos to: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven Churches: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." The churches in this context refers ...