Book of Revelation
The book of Revelation or The Apocalypse of John from Greek ποκάλυψιςπο or apo- ["away from"] and κάλυψις or kalupsis ["a covering"]—meaning literally "pulling the cover away from") is the last canonical book of the New Testament in the Bible. It is the only biblical book that is wholly composed of apocalyptic literature. The book is frequently called by the incorrect name Book of Revelations. However, the actual title of the book is The Revelation of Jesus Christ ... unto his servant John, as it is rendered in the first verse. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John..."
After a short introduction (ch. 1:1–10), it contains an account of the author, who identifies himself as John, and of two visions that he received on the isle of Patmos. The first vision (chs. 1:11–3:22), related by "one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle", speaking with "a great voice, as of a trumpet", are statements addressed to the seven churches of Asia. The second vision comprising the rest of the book (chs. 4–22) begins with "a door … opened in heaven" and describes the end of the world—involving the final rebellion by Satan at Armageddon, God's final defeat of Satan, and the restoration of peace to the world.
Revelation is considered one of the most controversial and difficult books of the Bible, with many diverse interpretations of the meanings of the various names and events in the account. Protestant founder Martin Luther considered Revelation to be "neither apostolic nor prophetic" and stated that "Christ is neither taught nor known in it" .
In the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom and other bishops argued against including this book in the New Testament canon, chiefly because of the difficulties of interpreting it and the danger for abuse. Christians in Syria also reject it because of the Montanists' heavy reliance on it. In the 9th century, it was included with the Apocalypse of Peter among "disputed" books in the Stichometry of St. Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople. In the end it was included in the accepted canon, although it remains the only book of the New Testament that is not read within the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Authorship discussed in the text
The author of Revelation identifies himself several times as "John" (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). The author also states that he was in exile on the island of Patmos when he received his first vision (1:9; 4:1–2). As a result the author of Revelation is referred to as John of Patmos. John explicitly addresses Revelation to seven churches of Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (1:4, 11). All of these sites are located in what is now Turkey.
Traditional views held that John the Apostle — considered to have written the Gospel and epistles by the same name — was exiled on Patmos off the coast of southwest Turkey during the reign of Emperor Domitian, and that he wrote the Revelation there. Those in favor of a single common author point to similarities between the Gospel and Revelation. For example, both works are soteriological (e.g. referring to Jesus as a lamb) and possess a high christology (e.g. Jesus as "Lord of lords", God's son, etc.). What is most telling, however, is that only in the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse is Jesus referred to as "the Word of God" (Ő λογος του θεου).
Authorship - early views
A number of Church Fathers weighed in on the authorship of Revelation. Justin Martyr avows his belief in its apostolical origin. Irenaeus (A.D. 178) assumes it as a conceded point. At the end of the 2nd century, we find it accepted at Antioch, by Theophilus, and in Africa by Tertullian. At the beginning of the 3rd century, it is adopted by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen, later by Methodius, Cyprian, and Lactantius. Dionysius of Alexandria (A.D. 247) rejected it, upon doctrinal rather than critical grounds. Eusebius (A.D. 315) suspended his judgement, hesitating between the external and internal evidence. Some canons, especially in the Eastern Church, rejected the book, while most others included it.
Authorship - modern views
Although the traditional view still has many adherences, many modern scholars believe that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patmos refer to three separate individuals. Certain lines of evidence suggest that John of Patmos wrote only Revelation, not the Gospel of John or the Epistles of John. For one, the author of Revelation identifies himself as "John" several times, but the author of the Gospel of John never identifies himself directly. While both works liken Jesus to a lamb, they consistently use different words for lamb — the Gospel uses amno, Revelation uses arnion. Lastly, the Gospel is written in nearly flawless Greek, but Revelation contains grammatical errors and stylistic abnormalities which indicate its author may not have been as familiar with the Greek language as the Gospel's author. Proponents of the single-author view explain these differences in various ways, including but not limited to factoring in underlying motifs and purposes, authorial target audience and the author's collaboration with and/or utilization of different scribes. A natural reading of the text would reveal that John is writing literally as he sees the vision (Rev 1:11; 10:4; 14:3; 19:9; 21:5) and that he is warned by an angel not to alter the text through a subsequent edit (Rev 22:18-19), in order to maintain the textual integrity of the book.
According to early tradition, the writing of this book took place near the very end of Domitian's reign, around the AD 95 or 96. Others contend for an earlier date, AD 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero or shortly thereafter. Those who are in favour of the later date appeal to the external testimony of the Christian father Irenaeus (d. AD 185), who received information relative to this book from those who had seen John face to face. He says that the Apocalypse "was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign" (A.H. 5.30.3), who according to Eusebius had started the persecution referred to in the book. However, recent scholars dispute that the book is situated in a time of ongoing persecution and have also doubted the reality of a large-scale Domitian persecution, as there is no reference to such a persecution before Eusebius.
Realized vs future
Some theologians argue that the Gospel of John contains a realized eschatology which contradicts the futurist eschatology contained in Revelation (e.g., chs. 21–22). Against this view, however, stands the proposition that, properly interpreted, even realized eschatology is not fully-realized eschatology: God's kingdom has been initiated but is not entirely implemented.
Chronology of Revelation
Revelation is divided into seven chapters, with the number seven also appearing frequently as a metaphor within the Book of Revelation. The chapters of Revelation present a series of events, full of imagery and metaphor, which detail the chronology of God's judgement on the world.
Exact interpretations of the Chronology of Revelation vary extensively. Literal biblical scholars often see the events portrayed as a "laundry list", to be checked off one by one as the time of Revelation grows near. Others feel that the many images in Revelation are figurative or perhaps even commentaries on the world during the time when Revelation was written.
Major schools of interpretation
There are several schools of thought concerned with how the symbolism, imagery, and contents of the book of Revelation should be interpreted.
These schools of thought are not mutually exclusive, and many Christians adopt a combination of these approaches in the manner they find most meaningful. However, certain tendencies may be observed. The Biblical Prophecy school of thought is popular among Protestant fundamentalists, other evangelicals (many of whom also find value in the other approaches), and amongst Rastafarians, who interpret the book very differently from fundamentalist Christians but definitely belong to the Biblical Prophecy school. (Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie I to be the Messiah and God incarnate.) Members of more mainline and liberal churches tend to prefer the historical-critical and aesthetic approaches. Moreover, Roman and Orthodox churches have delimited their own specific positions on Revelation.
Interpretative views of Revelation as biblical prophecy
The Preterist view
The view of Preterism holds that the contents of Revelation constitute a prophecy of events that were fulfilled in the 1st century. This view depends critically on an early date of Revelation, circa AD 68, since any later date makes the "prophecy" postdate the events prophesied. Even accepting that date leaves a narrow margin of one to two years before the fulfillment occurs. Preterist interpretations generally identify Jerusalem as the persecutor of the Church, "Babylon", the "Mother of Harlots", etc. They see Armageddon as God's judgment on the Jews, carried out by the Roman army, which is identified as "the beast". Some preterists see the second half of Revelation as changing focus to Rome, its persecution of Christians, and the fall of the Roman Empire. It sees the Revelation being fulfilled in AD 70, thereby bringing the full presence of God to dwell with all humanity.
The futurist view
The futurist view assigns all of the prophecy to some future time, shortly before the second coming. Futurist interpretations generally predict a Great Tribulation, a seven year period of time when believers will experience worldwide persecution and be purified and strengthened by it, and a Rapture, whereby all true Christians are taken from the earth to be spared the "time of wrath" before finally returning to Earth for God's kingdom. Pretribulationists believe that all Christians then alive will be taken bodily up to meet Christ before the Tribulation begins. One or two variants of this interpretation portray Israeli Jews as collaborators with the Antichrist; well-known futurist Pat Robertson was sharply criticized for actually saying that "The Antichrist is probably a Jew alive in Israel today." Midtribulationists believe that the rapture of the faithful will occur halfway through the tribulation, after it begins but before the worst part of it occurs. Posttribulationists believe that Christians will not be taken up into Heaven until Christ returns at the end of the Tribulation.
The futurist view was first proposed by two Catholic writers, Lacunza and Ribera. Lacunza wrote under the pen name "Ben Ezra", and his work was banned by the Catholic Church. It has grown in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, so that today it is probably most readily recognized. Books about the "rapture]" by authors like Hal Lindsey, and the more recent Left Behind novels (by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye) and movies, have done much to popularize this school of thought.
The Rastafarians hold a futurist view of the book of Revelation, relating it both to 20th-century events such as the crowning of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, and also to future events such as the second coming of Selassie on the day of judgment.
The historicist view
The historicist view regards the prophecy as spanning the time from the end of the first century through the second coming of Christ.
Politically, historicist interpretations apply the symbols of Revelation to the gradual division and collapse of the Roman Empire], the emergence of a divided Europe in the West and a Muslim empire in the East, and the collapse of the Eastern Empire while Europe attempts to reunite and recreate the Roman Empire.
Ecclesiastically, historicist interpretations see Revelation as teaching that the Church would expand, despite persecution, until it "conquered" the whole world—but in the process, would gradually evolve into an apostate system within which true Christians would be a persecuted minority. The apostate Church is associated with the symbols of the "Mother of Harlots" and with "Babylon". It is seen as an "Antichrist system" which exists for much of history rather than expecting a single "Antichrist" in the last days, as futurist interpretations do.
According to historicist interpretations, the second coming of Christ occurs about the time that a partly reunited Europe starts to wage war against Israel. This view is held mainly by Fundamentalist Protestant Christians. The exact constitution of this confederacy differs between interpretations: in some it is mainly composed of Eastern European countries, notably Russia; in others, Western European; some include Britain, while others suggest that Britain and former Commonwealth nations will oppose the confederacy. In all historicist interpretations, Christ defeats this confederacy, rescues Israel from certain destruction, judges apostate Christianity and vindicates the true believers, and sets up a kingdom on earth.
The earliest Christian writers adopted a historicist viewpoint, though at such an early date, the distinction between historicist and futurist views was less pronounced. Historicist interpretations tend to be millenarian, emphasizing the literal reign of Christ on earth, and as that doctrine receded in importance, so too did the historicist focus in interpretation. Today, historicist interpretations are favored in the most ardently millenarian sects.
Many Protestant writers today use this school of interpretation as the foundation for an anti-Catholic polemic, but it should be noted that such is not an inherent property of historical interpretations. Many Catholic writers in the fourth and fifth centuries applied the notion of future apostasy to their own church, in various ways. Some argued that an apostasy would arise within the church. Others argued that this had already happened, and cited one or another sect which arose over some theological dispute. What differs between interpretations is the identity of the apostasy.
The spiritual or idealist view
The Spiritual view (also called Idealist by some writers) does not see the book of Revelation as predicting specific events in history. Rather it sees the visions as expressing eternal spiritual truths that find expression throughout history. Only in the last few chapters are specifically predictive eschatological issues taken up.
The Catholic & Eastern Orthodox view
Eastern Orthodoxy has an interpretation that does not fit well into any of the above classifications. It treats the text as simultaneously describing contemporaneous events and as prophecy of events to come, for which the contemporaneous events were a form of foreshadow. It rejects attempts to determine, before the fact, if the events of Revelation are occurring by mapping them onto present-day events, taking to heart the Scriptural warning against those who proclaim "He is here!" prematurely. Instead, the book is seen as a warning to be spiritually and morally ready for the end times, whenever they may come ("as a thief in the night"), but they will come at the time of God's choosing, not something that can be precipitated nor trivially deduced by mortals.
The Church of England view
The Protestant view is that this book should be seen as a book of hope and also a book of warning. It gives hope to those Christians who are being persecuted, assuring them that their suffering is not in vain. It also warns those non-Christians of the coming events and what will happen to them. Revelation is an example of typical Jewish Apocalyptic literature. It uses symbolic imagery to communicate hope to those in the midst of persecution. The events which occur in Revelation are ordered according to literary, rather than strictly chronological, patterns.
The Esoteric view
The esoterist views the Book as delivering both a series of warnings for humanity and a detailed account of internal, spiritual processes of the individual soul.
Alternative schools of interpretation
The Zodiacal Interpretation of the Book of Revelations contends that the language of the Zodiac is a key to understanding the vision of John. In this interpretive view, John's vision is seen to refer to Cosmological events in time that can be understood through an understanding of astrological knowledge.
The historical-critical interpretation takes as axiomatic some qualities that would be considered commonplace in a non-Christian or non-Rastafarian context, first of all that Revelation is a text, which is embodied and transmitted in manuscripts, which have their own histories. Such texts are subject to changes, such as miscopying, repetition of lines already entered, excision, interpolation or emendation. Motivations for such changes run the whole gamut of human motivations, and need also to be assessed in their historical context.
The acceptance of Revelation into the canon is itself the result of a historical process, essentially no different from the career of other texts. The eventual exclusion of other contemporary apocalyptic literature from the canon may throw light on the unfolding historical processes of what was officially considered orthodox, what was heterodox, what was even heretical.
The historical-critical interpretation also ellucidates a central, pastoral message from Revelation relevant to the modern world. While interpretation of meanings and imagery is limited to what the historical author intended and what his contemporary audience inferred, a message to Christians not to assimilate into the Roman Imperial Culture was John's central message. Thus, his letter (written in the apocalyptic genre) is pastoral in nature; though the symbolism of Revelation is to be understood entirely within its historical literary and social context. Critics study the conventions of apocalyptic literature and events of the 1st century to make sense of what the author may have intended.
Nevertheless, many interpretative questions remain: Is the structure of the book linear, resumptive, or thematic? How does the imagery relate to historical events? Did the author intend one or multiple meanings in the text? The plurality of answers to these (and other) questions is plain to see both from the text of this article and scholarly opinion. Historical-criticism does not sit well within this plurality, but contemporary approaches to biblical texts, notably the literary-critical method, revel in this uncertainty. Different questions are asked, and as a result, the focus shifts from author to reader. What does it matter who wrote Revelation? Why can't the structure be linear, resumptive and thematic simultaneously? What stops the imagery relating to just 1st-century events and not 21st-century events as well? Fundamentally, what stops Revelation having more than one valid meaning?
Online translations of the Book of Revelation: