Unger's Bible Dictionary: Revelation



REVELATION, BOOK OF THE. The last book of the NT and the consummation of biblical prophecy disclosing the future of the Jew, the Gentile, and the church of Christ. This great prophetic unfolding deals mainly with the events preceding the second coming of Christ, the establishment of the millennial kingdom, and, finally, the eternal state.


Name. The name of the book comes from Lat. revelatio, "an unveiling"; Grk. apokalypsis, "the removing of a veil." It is thus a book written to be understood. The book is not correctly called the Revelation of the apostle John. It is precisely "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:1). That is, it is an unveiling of His future plan for the earth and for His redeemed saints both for time and eternity. It is necessary to view the book as in no sense sealed (22:10; cf. Dan 12:9). A distinct blessing is vouchsafed to the person that reads and to those who hear the words of this prophecy (Rev 1:3). It is mere pious chatter to say that God does not intend this book to be understood or that the symbolism and figures of the prophecy are incomprehensible. The figures and symbols of the book, which furnish the basis of its interpretation, are found elsewhere in divine revelation and can only be understood in the light of coherent and connected comparative study of all other lines of prophecy and prophetic type and symbolism. Interpretation of the book demands a thorough acquaintance with all the other great prophecies that merge in this book, which is "like a great Union Station where the trunk lines of prophecy come in from other portions of Scripture" (J. Vernon McGee, Briefing the Bible [1949], p. 122).


Great Themes. About a dozen great prophetic themes find their consummation in the book of the Revelation: (1) The Lord Jesus Christ (Gen 3:15), whose present session (Rev 3:21), future triumph over evil, redemption of the earth, destruction of the ungodly, and establishment of His earthly kingdom are consummated at His second advent (4:1-19:16). Christ's kingdom rule and His ministry in the eternal state (chaps. 21-22) constitute the grand fulfillment of all prophecy. (2) The church, the Body of Christ (Matt 16:18; 1 Cor 12:13; Rev 2:1-3:22). (3) The resurrection and translation of saints (4:1-2). (4) The Great Tribulation (Deut 4:29-30; Jer 30:5-8; Rev 4:1-19:21). (5) Satan and demon power (Isa 14:12-14; Ezek 28:11-18; Rev 12:7-12; 16:13; 20:1; etc.). (6) The man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2:1-8; Rev 13:1-10). (7) The false prophet (Rev 13:11-18). (8) Destruction of Gentile world power (Dan 2:31-45; Rev 5:1-19:21). (9) The redemption of the earth (Rev 5) with the loosing of the seals, trumpets, and bowls (chaps. 6-19). (10) The second advent of Christ (Rev 19:1-10). (11) The judgment of sinners (Rev 20:11-15). (12) The first resurrection and the Kingdom age (Rev 20:4-6). (13) The new heaven and the new earth (Rev 21). (14) The eternal state (chap. 22).


Methods of Interpretation. Various interpretations of the book prevail.


The Preterist Interpretation. This views the book as referring chiefly to events contemporary to that day, to comfort the then-persecuted church, written in symbols in a general sense intelligible to the saints of that period.


Continuous Historical Interpretation. This considers the book as forecasting the entire period of church history from the revelator's time to the present, in which the chief phases of the church's struggle to final victory are set forth. This has been a commonly accepted view.


The Spiritualist Interpretation. This separates the symbolism of the book from any historical revelation and regards the book as a pictorial representation of the great principles of divine government for all-time application.


The Futuristic Interpretation. This construes the bulk of the book as future in John's day. It accepts the divinely given key of interpretation in Rev 1:19 and interprets the "things which you have seen" as embracing 1:9-20; the "things which are," chaps. 2-3, referring to the church period; and the "things which shall be after these things" as referring to the yet future period after the glorification of the church and its removal from the earthly scene, with chaps. 4 to the end concerning chiefly Israel and the Gentile nations in the still-future period preceding the second coming of Christ.


Background and Destination. The author is John the beloved (Rev 1:1). The apostle came to Ephesus around A.D. 70 AD. He seems to have been a circuit minister at Ephesus, Pergamum, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. He was put in prison on Patmos Isle in the Aegean in the fifteenth year of Domitian, according to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.18). The Apocalypse was doubtless intended especially for the seven churches of Asia (cf. 1:4 and 10-11 and chaps. 2-3). The book was also evidently intended for other churches in Asia Minor.


Occasion and Date. John wrote by express command of Christ (Rev 1:10-20). The "angels" of the seven churches of chaps. 2-3 are apparently the "ministers" of those churches, and the apostle wrote to comfort them and their congregations. Quite a few scholars date the book about A.D. 68 AD or 69 (Westcott, Lightfoot, Hort, and Salmon). The reasons for this, however, are not convincing. The best date seems to be A.D. 95 AD or 96 (cf. Swete, Milligan, Moffatt, and Zahn). This date accords with evidence from Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius to the effect that the banishment to Patmos was in the later reign of Domitian, A.D. 81-96. This view is in agreement with the fact that the Domitian persecution, unlike the Neronic, was the result of the Christians' refusal to worship the emperor (cf. 1:9; 13:9-10,12).


Authenticity. External witness to the book is sufficiently strong. Traces of the book are found in literature immediately after the apostolic age. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, the Muratorian Fragment, etc., lend their support to its genuineness. The internal evidence is also adequate. The writer calls himself John four times (Rev 1:1,4,9; 22:8). He calls himself the "bond-servant" of Christ (1:1) and "brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus" (1:9). The fact that he does not call himself an apostle has been urged against authorship by John the apostle, but this argument is invalid to one who believes that the apostle is the author of the fourth gospel where the author's humility is reflected. The early church accepted the fact that it was John who was in exile, and the witness to the fact by Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and Irenaeus give this claim good support. The claim that grammatical irregularities of the Apocalypse rule out Johannine authorship are not sustained. Many factors, including the apocalyptic and highly figurative and symbolic meaning of the book, offer sufficient explanation of this phenomenon.



BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. Kelly, Lectures on the Book of Revelation (n.d.); R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 2 vols., International Critical Commentary (1922); G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1945); W. Barclay, The Revelation of John, 2 vols. (1961); A. C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (1961); J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ (1961); G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Harper's New Testament Commentaries (1966); J. F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1966); F. C. Ottman, The Unfolding of the Ages in the Revelation of John (1967); F. A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (1969); G. E. Ladd, Commentary on the Revelation of John (1972); G. R. Beasley-Murray, G. Raymond, H. H. Hobbs, and R. F. Robbins, Revelation: Three Viewpoints (1977); R. H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the New Testament (1977); H. B. Swete, Commentary on Revelation (1977); W. M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches (1978); R. C. Trench, Commentary on the Epistle to the Seven Churches (1978); R. Govett, Govett on Revelation, 4 vols. in 2 (1981); F. A. Tatford, The Revelation (1985).

(from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)

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