With winged and wild creatures, locust plagues, and a crazed woman riding a seven-headed beast, you might think, “Hooray! Season four of Stranger Things is finally being released!” Sorry Netflix bingers. It’s just the book of Revelation. Why is this book so difficult to interpret? Usually people jump right to “what does it mean?” without considering “what is Revelation?” Revelation is an apocalyptic-prophecy-epistle. What’s that?
Revelation is an epistle. John wrote this letter to seven real churches from the island of Patmos at the end of Domitian’s reign (AD 95). Domitian was demanding that everyone worship his statue as if he were a god. He terrorized anyone that refused to bow to him. John was on Patmos due to imperial banishment.
Revelation is a prophecy (Rev 1:3; 22:18–19). Biblical prophecy “speaks” to the time of the author and into the future. This form of communication is like poetic impressionist paintings. They present God’s message through vivid images, colorful metaphors, and symbols that often parallel one another.
Revelation is apocalyptic. Apocalyptic literature arranges its material in numbered sets. When these sets are put together, the events they describe parallel and intensify as God exonerates the righteous and brings an end to history. Thus, when John says, “then I saw” countless times in Revelation, he’s simply indicating the sequence in which he received the visions.
The purpose of Revelation is to reveal the victorious, glorious reign of King Jesus. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ–not the revelation of the antichrist (Rev 1:1)! Christ’s ascension proved that he has “the keys of Death and Hades” (1:18). He alone is “seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20-23; cf. Matt 28:18). “In putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb 2:8). But make no mistake about it, Jesus is alive, and he is Lord.
Why is it important to know that the rule of Jesus Christ is not something that is going to happen only at the end of history? Revelation reveals how Jesus, “the ruler of the kings on earth,” actively reigns through his Spirit-filled people—a people whom Jesus made “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Rev 1:5-6; 5:10). Jesus’ kingdom power operates through and becomes evident in our proclamation of the gospel and acts of selfless love. Even our worship and prayers for mercy and justice influence world affairs (5:8; 8:3-4). So, when Jesus says, “I am the Alpha,” the one who began it all, “and the Omega,” the one who completes on earth what he started, he is essentially saying that he has a plan that will progressively intensify the spiritual conflict between God’s kingdom of priests and the forces of evil until he returns to usher in the eternal Age to Come (1:8).
What timeframe in history does Revelation focus on? Jesus explains this, too. Revelation concerns things “that are” (John’s day), and “things that must soon take place” (after John’s day), and things “that are to take place after this” (long after John’s day; 1:1, 19). Revelation pertains to every generation since John’s generation.
Although it’s easy to get caught up in the details, it’s important to remember that Jesus begins and ends his Revelation with a blessing for those who not only read and hear the words of this book, but for those “who keep what is written in it” (1:3; 22:7, 9). How can you “keep” what is written in this book? Stay tuned!