Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

A Brief Overview of Revelation

book-and-glasses

The book of Revelation is perhaps the most controversial document within the New Testament. It has received many different interpretations dating back to the early church until present. The interpretations have grown more wild and extravagant over the years. Due to the controversies, multiple interpretations, and difficulties posed by the book some Christians have ignored it altogether, while others seem to revel in its vivid imagery. Luke Timothy Johnson suggests that in order to avoid “misinterpretation” one must properly understand the book’s “literary form and purpose” (Johnson, 573).

Revelation resembles both Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature. It makes use of symbols and numbers to convey important messages (Johnson, 575). Because it is understood to be apocalyptic it is sometimes compared and studied alongside Daniel 7-12. However, Revelation contains hints of other genres as well. At both the beginning and ending of the book it purports to be a book of prophecy (1:3; 22:6, 10, 18-19). In this regard, it has several things in common with the book of Ezekiel. Both authors receive multiple visions. These visions include reports of glorious “thrones” and “four living creatures” that resemble a lion, ox, human, and eagle (Ezek. 1; Rev. 4). In both accounts the authors describe their visions in similar ways. They make use of the word “like” throughout their descriptions (Ezek. 1:4-5, 7, 13-14, 16, 22, 24, 26-28; Rev. 4:1, 3, 6-7). Revelation also contains elements of a letter. It begins and ends like a letter (1:3-6; 22:21). Chapters 2 and 3 contain seven letters to seven churches and although they are brief, they share similarities with other letters found in the New Testament. Revelation is a book that fits within the apocalyptic genre, but it would be a mistake to ignore the other genres also found within this book.

Revelation is written to churches and Christians who are being persecuted. The persecution is taking place at the time the letter is written, but it is also something the author believes will get worse (2:3. 9-10, 13; 3:10; 6:9-11). The author’s concern is not that these Christians escape persecution, but that they remain faithful even if it means death (2:10; 6:9-11; 12:11; 13:10). Although modern readers may not find much comfort in passages that speak of remaining faithful to the point of death, this was good news to early Christians living in the Roman Empire.

The Christians are encouraged to remain faithful while a battle takes place between Satan and God. Satan has his own “throne” (2:13; 13:2) and “kingdom” (11:15). God and Jesus are reigning from heaven (Rev. 4 & 5), but they are in control of all things. God sits on his “throne” (4:10; 5:13; 7:10), and Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5). Christians who faithfully serve Jesus are priests within his kingdom (1:6). God is aware of the events on earth and the persecution that is taking place (6:9-11; 7:14-17). Although he allows the persecution to continue for a period of time in the hope that more people will repent, he will ultimately judge those who are on the side of evil. In the end the evil “kingdom of the world” will become the “kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (7:15). Those Christians who remain faithful will be “victorious” (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 11, 21).

Throughout the book there is a clear distinction made between those who are serving Satan and those who are serving God. This is often described as having some sort of marking on the body. The faithful followers of God are given seals on their foreheads (7:3; 9:4; 14:1). Even after evil has been defeated and God is dwelling with his people, the name of God will still be on their foreheads (20:4). In contrast, those who worship the beast are given a mark on their forehead (14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). The book of Revelation is full of symbolic language. The marks are probably not literal, but are a way of describing where one’s allegiance lies. Those who have the “mark of the beast” have devoted their lives to worldly things and following Satan, and those with the “seal of God” are those who are faithfully following God.

Evil is presented in several forms throughout the book. In chapter 12 readers are introduced to the “dragon” which is Satan (12:9). The main characters in chapter 13 are two beasts. The first beast is given Satan’s throne and authority (13:2). The second beast “made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast” (13:12). In chapter 17 a prostitute is introduced into the story. This prostitute is called “Babylon” and is identified as “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18). In the following chapters God judges each evil. First, the prostitute is judged (Rev. 18), then the beasts are defeated (19:11-21), and finally Satan is first bound (20:1-3) and then thrown into the lake of fire (20:10). Evil in the form of the dragon, the two beasts, and the prostitute is allowed to do much damage upon the earth, but evil is not allowed the final word. Evil will ultimately face God’s judgment.

The final two chapters of the book of Revelation are not only important to Revelation itself, but they are also important to the entire Biblical narrative. Genesis 1 and 2 tell of God’s creation and Revelation 21 and 22 tell of his new creation. The followers of God who have remained faithful will live with God in the “new heaven and new earth” (21:1). “The New Jerusalem” will come down out of heaven and God will make his home with man (21:2-3). The tree of life which appeared in the Garden of Eden reappears in the New Jerusalem and the “curse” of sin that held creation and humanity hostage is done away with (22:1-3).

The book of Revelation is a powerful and moving book full of vivid imagery. It is a reminder to all Christians that God is in control and that victory is available to all who remain faithful. No matter how bad things look in the world it is possible to overcome.

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11).

Bibliography

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999)

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