The book of Revelation was written in order to encourage Christians in the first century that were enduring persecution and for the encouragement of all the saints in all places after them. This book is a gift from God to encourage us and give us hope, not fear and anxiety!
As we begin this journey together into the epic imagery, symbolism, prophecy, and majesty of the book of Revelation we wanted to lay out some helpful guidelines. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand this book since apocalyptic literature is not something we deal with every day. We also need the help of faithful men and women who have worked hard to uncover the historical contexts of the original recipients of this letter and have spent years refining the proper approach to literature of this genre.
As pastors who deeply love this church, we have worked hard combing through some of the best resources available to give you this study guide so that you can be blessed by the encouragement and wonder that is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It was never intended to be confusing and we hope that you are deeply impacted and enriched by this series.
There will inevitably be different opinions about parts of this text, but we want to remind you that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We must treat each other with respect and kindness and be willing to question our own presuppositions. Discussion about this book should not lead to division in our church. Be humble, be patient, be ready and willing to learn, and be thankful that Jesus Christ, the one who walks among the golden lampstands, encourages His weary bride to take heart because the Lamb is triumphant!
“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.” Revelation 1:3
The book of Revelation probably sparks feelings of intrigue and excitement in some and feelings of fear and anxiety in others. Many of us were raised in churches that used the book of Revelation in ways that Jesus and the Apostle John never intended.
Revelation was written by the Apostle John around the year AD 95 to the seven churches in the province of Asia. This book came to John while in exile on the island of Patmos and is the testimony of Jesus to show His servants what must soon take place.
The genre of Revelation is letter, prophecy, and apocalypse and it is necessary to interpret the book in light of these genres. Employing heavy symbolism, the Apostle John pens the message that Jesus has to real historical churches, in real historical situations, encouraging them with the fact that the Lamb is triumphant, and things are not what they seem.
“Revelation employs much symbolism. Although one should read most narratives in the Bible literally, prophetic and apocalyptic texts are different, as anyone who has spent much time with them will recognize. They contain considerable symbolism, and often were fulfilled in unexpected ways. Various texts both in the Old Testament and among John’s contemporaries could employ the language of cosmic catastrophe to describe events taking place in their own or recent times. Many such texts review history, and some such texts even blend clearly past events with images of the end time.
Revelation’s symbols may appear obscure to us, but they were mostly fathomable (or at least evocative) to the believers in the seven churches, at least after some reflection. One commentator notes that “John used symbols in order to communicate that which cannot be expressed in any other way, not to conceal something that could be said more straightforwardly.”1
“Some writers have tried to make Revelation a continuous chronological account from beginning to ending, but this view is not widely held today. The dominant view, proposed by Victorinus in the late third century, is that the various series of judgments parallel one another rather than following successively. Since each of these series of judgments seem to conclude with the end of the age, this line of interpretation is almost certainly correct. The sort of events closing the seals, trumpets, and bowls cannot repeat unless the world as we know it can come to an end several times.”2
“But Revelation’s most distinctive contribution to the New Testament is one that many of us find uncomfortable, especially when we find full satisfaction in this world. Revelation provides a better hope for a church enamored with this age or despairing of the next: “It is only in that interval of the already and the not yet that hope is situated, in what can be experienced as the silence of God, or dryness, when it seems difficult to continue to believe.” Revelation reminds us that we do not belong to this world and must not be seduced by what it values. John’s Revelation calls for persecuted churches to remain vigilant (2:10; 3:11) and other churches to resist compromise with the spirit of their age (2:16, 25; 3:3, 18-20).”3
“Revelation is (primarily) good news about Christ, the Lamb of God – who shares God’s throne and who is the key to the past, present, and future – and therefore also about uncompromising faithfulness leading to undying hope, even in the midst of unrelenting evil and oppressive empire.”4
“The theme is the victory of Christ and of His Church over the dragon (Satan) and his helpers. The Apocalypse is meant to show us that things are not what they seem.”5
- What have been your experiences, whether positive, negative, or neutral, with the book of Revelation?
- Why do you think that some people seem to have an obsession with Revelation?
- What do you hope to gain from the study of Revelation?
- How do you think the original recipients of the letter would have understood phrases in Revelation like: “what must soon take place” and “the time is near?”
- How does your knowledge of each of the genres of Revelation (letter, prophecy, apocalypse) affect how you approach the book? Can you name a modern example of how knowing a work’s genre affects how that work (like a book, movie, or painting) is understood and interpreted?6
Commit to faithfully attending on Sunday morning, reading outside of Sunday morning, and participating in a community group in order to more fully understand the book of Revelation and its importance in your life and the life of the church.
Pray for a clearer picture of Jesus and for the Holy Spirit to guide your reading and understanding.
1, 2, 3 Keener, Craig S. Revelation
4 Gorman, Michael J. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.
5 Hendriksen, William. More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
6 Emerson, Matthew Y. Between the Cross and the Throne: The Book of Revelation