New Testament Survey
The last book of the Bible is Revelation. It is a book of prophecy. No other book of the Bible has been as misunderstood and misapplied as the book of Revelation. False teachers have wrested passages from it in efforts to support their errors. Because it has been so widely misused, many Christians are afraid to study Revelation. Some Christians even believe it is not possible to understand it.
God gave us the book of Revelation. It is a part of His will to mankind. Therefore, it is important that we study it and do our best to understand it. The word "revelation" is a translation of a Greek word which means "an unveiling, an uncovering, or a revealing." The very name of the book indicates we can understand it. The Holy Spirit pronounces a blessing upon those who read and hear the message of Revelation: Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand (Revelation 1:3).
The key to understanding Revelation is in the first verse: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him unto show his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John. Two things are mentioned in this verse which will help us understand the book. First, it deals with things which must shortly take place. John was writing to churches in the first century. They were being persecuted because of their faith in Christ. The things revealed in Revelation were meant to encourage them. They did not pertain to things which would happen hundreds of years later. They pertained to things which would happen shortly. Second, Jesus sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John. To signify means "to give in signs or symbols." Revelation was given in figurative language. If we take Revelation literally, we will misunderstand it.
Revelation shows the completion of God's plan of redemption. In the first book of the Bible, we read of man's fall into sin. Because of sin, man was no longer allowed to eat of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). In Revelation, we learn the tree of life is now in Paradise. Whoever overcomes the temptations of this world will be given the privilege of eating of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7). The first book of the Bible has been called "Paradise Lost." The last book of the Bible has been called "Paradise Regained."
The message of Revelation was given to us by Jesus Christ. It came from God to His servants. It was sent by His angel to John who wrote it in a book (Revelation 1:1). Again and again, the angel told John to write down the things which were revealed to him (Revelation 2:1; 2:8; 2:12; 2:18; 3:1; 3:7; 3:14; 14:13; 19:9).
The human writer of Revelation was the apostle John. John also wrote the Gospel of John and the books of First, Second and Third John. He was the brother of James and one of the original twelve apostles (Matthew 10:1-4). According to early Christian writers, John was the only apostle who died a natural death. He lived to be very old. After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, John lived in Ephesus. During a time of persecution, John was arrested and taken to Patmos, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea seventy miles from Ephesus. It was here that the vision of Revelation was given to him (Revelation 1:9- 11).
Some Bible students believe Revelation was written before Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. They place the date of writing between A.D. 64 and A.D. 69. They argue that John was commanded to measure the temple (Revelation 11:1). Therefore, the temple had not yet been destroyed. However, they forget that Revelation is written in figurative language. Thus, the temple is not to be understood in a literal sense. It likely refers to the church. Those who hold the early date also believe the Roman emperor behind the persecution in Revelation is Nero. Nero ruled from A.D. 54 to A.D. 68. He blamed Christians for burning the city of Rome in 64. He had many Christians cruelly tortured and killed. However, Nero's persecution did not extend to the Roman provinces. The persecution in Revelation affected the churches in places beyond Rome such as in Asia.
Most Bible students believe that Revelation was written during the time of the emperor Domitian who ruled from A. D. 81 to A.D. 96. The evidence for this date is very strong. An early Christian writer, lrenaeus, was a disciple of Polycarp. Polycarp had been a student of the apostle John. lrenaeus wrote of Revelation: "For that was seen not very long since, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian's reign." This would place the date of Revelation about A.D. 95.
Domitian was the first Roman emperor to begin a persecution of the church throughout the whole Roman Empire. He required everyone to offer sacrifices to his image to show they were loyal to him and to the empire. Christians could not do this for it would be idolatry (Galatians 5:19-21). Therefore, Christians were persecuted. Many had their property taken from them. Thousands were killed.
Revelation indicates a time when the churches had lost their early zeal. Ephesus had left its first love (Revelation 2:4). Sardis was "dead" (Revelation 3:1, 2). Laodicea, which had been destroyed by an earthquake in Nero's reign, had been rebuilt. The church had become "lukewarm" (Revelation 3:14-16). All of these things point to a later date as the time of writing. The time when Revelation was written is very important for understanding the book.
Revelation was addressed to the seven churches that are in Asia (Revelation 1:4; chapters 2 and 3). These churches had been established as a result of the work of the apostle Paul (Acts 19, 20). Since seven is a number which stands for perfection or completeness, it is likely these seven churches were meant to represent all churches everywhere.
Christians were facing severe persecution and needed encouragement. Revelation provided this. It shows that even though things look bad on earth, God is still in control. Christians may suffer for a time, but they will overcome. Satan and his allies on earth cannot prevail against the Lord. Christians are more than conquerors through him that loved us (Romans 8:37).
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