Study on the Book of Revelation

Our Goal

My goal for tonight is to for you to leave this session with a greater familiarity with Revelation as well as its interpretive approaches. I want you to be equipped to do your own research and ask your own questions and seek answers to them.



Who wrote Revelation?

John (Rev 1:1).

Who is this John?

When did John compose Revelation?

Revelation may have been composed between AD 68–69, during the religious upheaval following the reign of the emperor Nero, or around AD 95 during the reign of the emperor Domitian. The latter date has the support of Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses 5.30.3) and Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.18.1; 3.20.9; 3.23.1). The earlier date was widely held in the 19th century, while the latter date gained appeal in the 20th century.

Seal, D. (2016). Revelation, Book of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

So, Consensus = 95 AD. Alternative view: prior to 70 AD but is the hardest to defend.

Genre of Revelation

Can be determined from the first few verses:

“The revelation (apokalypsis) of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia:...” (Revelation 1:1–4a, ESV; comments and emphasis mine)

Revelation is an epistle from John to the churches of Asia Minor containing prophetic words for them in the mold of apocalyptic literature. In other words, Revelation is apocalypse, prophecy and epistle.


The word apokalypsis simply means "uncovering" or "unconcealing" or...."revealing", i.e. revelation. So something that is mysterious or hidden is being revealed.

Essential elements


The same formula of the word of God coming to a prophet "in the Spirit" is fulfilled by John. (Aside: More beautiful is the fact that the very Word of God, Jesus, came to John!)

Apocalypses were focused on what was to come in the distant future, no less than the end of the age. However, the Book of Revelation speaks of both the end of the age as well as what was imminent in John's generation which is characteristic of certain prophecies. This is referred to as already/not yet.


The Book of Revelation is clearly enclosed in the form of a letter that John wrote to the churches of Asia Minor. It follows the well-understood form of epistles.

Being an epistle, Revelation was written for an occasion to address something relevant to the context of his audience. This makes understanding the original historical context all the more crucial.

Why was Revelation Written?

Here's why John did NOT write Revelation: to confuse his audience with esoteric sayings.

The churches of Asia Minor were under varying levels of persecution. John wanted to encourage them to press on in their faith in Christ even if that led to death. That is how they will conquer the devil and inherit the blessings of the Millennium and the New Age to come.

Narrative Structure of Revelation

Introduction to John's Letter (Rev 1-3)

John introduces himself as an authoritative bearer of the revelation (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ, Who has revealed it to him.

The prophetic revelation concerns things that "must soon take place" and so the reader is exhorted to understand and obey these words.

Christ and the Church are introduced. Jesus is the "Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty", the "ruler of kings on earth". The Church is a kingdom of priests to God by virtue of Jesus's salvific blood.

John sees in a vision Jesus appearing in an otherworldly manner that is a fusion of a bunch of imagery in Daniel 7. (Note that the imagery of the Ancient of Days from Daniel 7 is fused with Jesus here!).

Jesus asks John to write letters to the 7 churches in Asia Minor. (These could be representative of all churches given the symbolism of the number 7 as "whole" or "complete".) In summary, Jesus is reminding the churches that:
  • persecution is real and was promised by Him;
  • more persecution is to come;
  • various churches have various positives that they should keep up as well as various faults that they must overcome;
  • only those who persevere till the very end (death) in faithfulness to Him will be the "conquerors" and the beneficiaries of His rewards.

Setting the Stage: Vision of God and the Lamb (Rev 4-5)

God's throne room is introduced. God is seated on His throne and is surrounded by 4 cherubim (cf. Ezekiel 1). It's all an awesome sight and alludes to many OT prophetic visions of Him.

Special note: His council now includes 24 "elders". Some theorize that these might actually be HUMAN, and not heavenly beings! Those who theorize as such postulate that these are symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles.

God presents a scroll with seven seals and the challenge is posed, "is there anyone worthy to open the scroll?" Nobody was found worthy except for Jesus, the conquering Lion of Judah who is the Lamb who was slain. His blood has ransomed God's people from all over the world to be God's kingdom of priests. They will reign on the earth with Him.

The entire heavenly and earthly realm worship God and the Lamb in utter awe at this proclamation.

First Set of Seven: Seals (Rev 6-8:5)

The first four seals are opened in sequence, and these correspond to what is popularly known as the four horsemen of the apocalypse (cf. Zechariah 1, 6:1-8)
  • White = Conquest
  • Red = War
  • Black = Famine
  • Pale = Death

The fifth seal is opened. Those who were martyred for their witness to the gospel of Jesus are under an altar and they cry out to God asking Him when He will avenge their blood and judge those on the earth that are against Him and His people.

God replies that they need to rest some more until the full number of the martyrs is achieved, i.e. until the rest of the Christians who are to die for their witness have died.

The sixth seal is opened. The cosmos is disrupted, for God is finally pouring out His righteous wrath on the earth. This is the Day of the Lord.

Some commentators note a relation between Jesus's Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:1-35).

The only ones who can withstand the wrath of God are His chosen people who are "sealed" or marked/set apart from the world. (This should evoke Passover memories as well cf. the destroyer omitting houses which have blood on the doorposts). These are 144000 people from the tribes of Israel (12000 per tribe).

But then an innumerable crowd composed of people from all over the world are praising God and the Lamb and ascribing to them their salvation. These are identified as martyrs "coming out of the great tribulation".

Thus, the full number of the martyrs is accomplished and judgement can continue on the earth. The entire heavenly realm worships God for this awesome occurrence.

The seventh seal is opened. The prayers of the martyrs are gathered up and judgement on earth ensues.

Second Set of Seven: Trumpets (Rev 8:6-11:19)

The four trumpets are blown in sequence, and they bear strong resemblances to the Exodus plagues that God afflicted upon Egypt in order to "let My people go!"
  • Hail + Fire = Hailfire. (Mixed with blood too, actually)
  • Sea turned into blood.
  • Poisoned rivers and springs.
  • Extended darkness.

The fifth trumpet is blown. A bottomless pit is opened and a host of humanoid locusts swarm out and are assigned to torture those who are against God on the earth, i.e. those who do not have "the seal of God on their foreheads", for a set period of time.
  • Some interpret these locusts due to the description of their appearance to be barbarian hordes that were a threat to Rome.
  • Others interpret these to be demons.

The sixth trumpet is blown. More torment is inflicted on the rebellious earth. Four angels (probably demons, since they were "bound" at the Euphrates) are released and they lead hordes of apparently demonic armies to afflict the earth.
  • Some think that the four angels are actually the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

But despite all of this, the survivors of the above 6 plagues did not repent of their evil (idolatory, violent injustice, sexual immorality, divination).
The vision interludes into another one involving a mighty angel performing some mighty signs and commanding John not to write these specific ones but to seal them up, which is a departure from the rest of the visions. This sealed mystery will be fulfilled by God when the seventh trumpet sounds.

Two prophets who are witnesses of God are introduced. They are assigned to prophesy for a period of 1260 days. (Some commentators see this as an an allusion to the 1290 days from Daniel 12). They will successfully witness for this duration.

Then the two witnesses are killed by a beast that arises from the aforementioned bottomless pit. The rebellious unbelievers of the earth rejoice at this for a period.

But then the witnesses are resurrected and are vindicated. They are also ascended up to heaven. (This is very reminiscent of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension).

A great earthquake shakes the earth and thousands are killed. The survivors give glory to God, perhaps alluding to true repentance among the survivors.

Finally, the seventh trumpet is blown. The entire heavenly realm proclaims the final triumph of God and Christ over the world and the final establishment of His kingdom on earth.

The theme is the kingdom of God and Christ—a dual kingdom, eternal in its duration. The image suggests the transference of the world empire that, once dominated by a usurping power, has now at length passed into the hands of its true Owner and King. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Revelation, Book Of. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1852). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

God's heavenly temple is revealed to hold the  ark of His covenant.

Excursus: The Seven Signs (Rev 12-14)

Genesis 3:15-16 is masterfully fused into the next few "signs" or "symbols".

A pregnant woman (presumably representing Eve) is introduced, and she is laboring for her child to be born in great agony. This child is the Messiah.

The great dragon - the Devil/Satan - shows up and awaits anxiously beside the woman ready to pounce on the child once he comes out of her womb. His mission fails. The child is protected and the woman is preserved for a time.

A heavenly war breaks out and the dragon is defeated and is thrown down to the earth. His defeat is linked to the blood of the Lamb (Christus Victor) and the perseverance of the martyrs.

The dragon is furious and spends his short allotted time on earth persecuting the offspring of the woman, i.e. those who are faithful to God and Christ.

The dragon brings forth the two infamous beasts. The beast from the sea and the beast from the earth, the latter being referred to as the false prophet. They exercise authority over all in the earth who are not of Christ  and deceive them with signs and wonders. (This is why the false prophet is colloquially referred to as the anti-christ, which is a concept from 2 Thess 2:3-4 and 1 John 2:18, 4:3).

Those who bear the infamous "mark of the beast" are contrasted with those who wear the Shema on their forehead, i.e. those who are sealed by God. You either worship God, or you worship the dragon and his beasts.

The people of God are called to endure the oppression from the dragon's beasts until the very end, because in the end they will overcome and inherit the New Jerusalem.

On the other hand, those who collude with the beasts will join the beasts in God's judgement.

A clear allusion is made to Matthew 13:41-42 where Jesus says that He will come with His angels to reap the harvest.

This transitions to the "last plagues". After them, the wrath of God against evil will be complete.

Final Set of Seven: Bowls of Judgement (Rev 15-16)

One of the 4 cherubim hands over seven bowls filled with the wrath of God. Chaos ensues!

The first five bowls are poured out on the earth in sequence and they are yet another allusion to the Exodus plagues.
  • Sores come upon people
  • Sea turns to blood
  • Rivers and springs turn to blood (basically all bodies of water are now blood)
  • Fierce heat from the sun
  • Darkness

And yet again, the people do not repent!

The sixth bowl is poured out and the Euphrates river dries up. This is significant given the Babylon imagery. This river was fundamental to Babylonian existence, similar to what the Nile was to the Egyptians.

The beasts assemble the whole army of the rebellious world to wage war against God on the Day of the Lord.
  • While Armageddon may refer to the plain of Megiddo, there is good reason to believe that it is actually Jerusalem (cf. chapter 41 of Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael Heiser).

The seventh bowl is poured and the whole earth endures God's wrath once again.

The Fall of Babylon (Rev 17-19:5)

Babylon is represented as a prostitute that feasts on the blood of the people of God with whom the prominent rulers of the earth have colluded. She also wields great economic power among the nations and lives an indulgent, lavish life. She is haughty and immoral.

But she will be judged one day and all those who colluded with her will be so stunned at her state that they will feel sorry for her.

Babylon is referred to as the great city. Many commentator are convinced that Babylon refers to ancient Rome, the context of persecution against the early Christians.

The Millennium (Rev 19:6-20:6)

After the judgement against Babylon is proclaimed, a myriad of loud voices proclaim with jubilance that the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) and the Bridge (Church) has arrived.

Then Jesus comes on a white horse in glorious array with a robe dipped in blood accompanied by the armies of heaven and overcomes the deceived nations. This leaves behind a bloodbath of an aftermath. The two beasts are thrown into the infamous lake of fire where they will be tormented forever.

Jesus has achieved rulership over the earth!
An angel with the key to the bottomless pit  grabs the dragon and throws him into it, shutting it and sealing it for "a thousand years". This is known as the millennium and is arguably the most fascinating and controversial part of Revelation. The dragon will not be allowed to deceive the nations until the end of this period.

John sees thrones upon which the resurrected martyrs - those who faithfully resisted the dragon + beasts even to death - are seated. This is called the first resurrection, and they are slated to reign with Christ during this millennium.

At this point, the universal resurrection of the dead has not occurred - just the martyrs.

Final Judgement of the Cosmos (Rev 20:7-15)

After the millennium, Satan (the dragon) IS released from the bottomless pit and he deceives the nations and assembles them for a final battle against Jerusalem, the city of God's people.

Fire from heaven decisively destroys this attempt and the dragon is thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented forever.
God enters the scene (presumably with His heavenly council) and the entire cosmos is disrupted. He is ready to judge

The dead across all times and places are judged by God according to their deeds. Those whose names are not written in the book of Life, are thrown into the lake of fire.

Death (and Hades) itself is thrown into the lake of fire!

New Heaven, New Earth, The Bride of Christ (Rev 21-22:5)

Finally, the new heaven and the new earth arrive! Strong allusions to Isaiah's concluding vision are made. "for the former things have passed away.

God will finally dwell wholly with His people. In the complete presence of God, there is no death, tears, afflictions, whatsoever.

The New Jerusalem is presented with sheer beauty. The description of lavish amounts of precious stones and precious metals makes it clear that heaven is imbued into the New Jerusalem. (Precious stones are used to describe the appearance of heavenly/otherworldly beings throughout the OT).

We see a return to Eden! The Tree of Life is back and is bigger than ever. Immortality is granted to God's people.

This awesome ultimate reality with humans dwelling with God is only reserved for those whose names are written in the book of Life.

Epilogue (Rev 22:6-21)

Along with an amazing, hopeful ending, it is clarified whose names will and won't be written in the book of Life and thus will have access to the Tree of Life.

How to Interpret Revelation?

There are four major interpretive approaches to understanding Revelation.

Preliminary Note
The above narrative structure of Revelation is not significantly disputed among scholars. However, the pattern of the "seven sets of seven" can be looked at in two ways:
  1. the seals, trumpets and bowls are parallel to each other, in that they are referring to the same themes and turn of events but increasingly reveal more details; OR
  2. they are distinct, sequential events that will occur (or have already occurred) in the given order.

Which of the above two approaches you make will play a huge role in your interpretation of Revelation.

(My $0.02: As you might have inferred from my overview of the narrative structure, I lean towards approach #1. In fact, I believe that the main themes of Revelation have already been covered in chapters 1-5, the subsequent chapters only expanding on this with ever-increasing detail.)


There are two forms of Preterism: the first sees Babylon as apostate Israel, the second sees Babylon as ancient Rome.

Babylon as Apostate Israel

Babylon as Ancient Rome


Historicist interpreters generally see Revelation as predicting the major movements of Christian history, most of which have been fulfilled up to the time of the commentator.

There are many variants of this form because of the vast number of (wrong) possibilities to connect events in history to the seals, trumpets and bowls in Revelation. Some examples:

Aside from being way too focused on Western history, this view suffers from the fact that proponents across different generates won't agree with each other because the future could possible have an event that better fits the data than existing events in history.

Finally, these predictions would have been irrelevant to the original audience of Revelation.

(My $0.02: This is the weakest of all the views.)


Futurists hold that, with the exception of chapters 1–3, all the visions in Revelation relate to a period immediately preceding and following the second advent of Christ at the end of the age. More precisely, futurists would claim that all of the events from chapters 4 onwards are yet to come.

The most popular form is dispensational futurism.  It is the most "plain" interpretation and sees the visions as predicting a sequence of future events as follows:
  1. the restoration of ethnic Israel to its land;
  2. the church’s rapture into heaven;
  3. a seven-year tribulation;
  4. the antichrist’s reign;
  5. the assembly of evil nations to fight over Jerusalem;
  6. Christ’s second coming, when he defeats the evil nations;
  7. Christ's millennial reign;
  8. Satan’s final rebellion at the end of the millennium, when he gathers together unbelievers from throughout the world to fight against Christ and the saints;
  9. lastly, Christ’s eternal reign together with the saints in a new heaven and a new earth.

Another variant of futurism is called modified futurism. It essentially pulls back on any combination of the points above in terms of actual future events. A significant point is that such futurists do not accept a pretribulation rapture.

The primary weakness of the futurist position is shared with the historicist view in that the relevance of Revelation from chapters 4 onwards to the original audience is strongly diminished. Furthermore, they face difficulty in balancing a pre-tribulation rapture with that of the clear notion of the saints of God being oppressed by Satan in Revelation.


The Idealist method of interpreting Revelation sees it as being basically poetic, symbolic, and "spiritual" in nature. Thus Revelation does not predict any specific historical events at all; on the contrary, it sets forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, God and Satan, that continues throughout the church age.

The most extreme variant espouses that there is zero historical basis to the prophecies, that they are totally meant to be timeless. Sort of like a parable. This exhibits the opposite problem of the Historicist view, since it identifies none of the symbols and prophecies with particular historical events.

Other variants prefer to ground certain prophecies in the first century AD context of the Christians persecuted under Rome while relegating other prophecies to being timeless parabolic truths. These balanced variants can prove to be more promising than the extreme one.

Mix and Match

There are some who espouse a combination of the above views. So long as the hermeneutical methodology is consistent, these could be viable options.

(My $0.02: I don't know if there's a formal name to it but my view is a combination of Idealist, Futurist and Historicist in that the visions and images are conveying a narrative that points to historical realities and events. It is thus first important to develop a robust understanding of all the visions, the symbology, and how they all interlock with each other; following this, we can put ourselves in the shoes of the original audience and make good sense of what John was getting at. For example, in the middle of the book where the dragon and the woman representing Eve and her Messianic offspring are introduced, the fact that the dragon fails to consume the Messiah and and also loses the heavenly battle against the Messiah's angels BY VIRTUE of the blood spilled by the Messiah for His people; this is in my mind a clear allusion to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, which is an event that has already taken place by the time the book of Revelation was written. On the other hand, continuing with that vision we see the dragon having been expelled from heaven to earth raising up beasts to deceive the world into following him instead of God and goes an extra step and oppresses the people of God to death; this is clearly indicative of the context of persecution among the churches in Asia Minor, which was an on-going event. Note how I ground the "ideal" imagery of the dragon, the slain lamb, and the beasts with the historical event of the cross+resurrection as well as the on-going persecution of the Asian Christians. Furthermore, if the rest of the imagery allows for this, there is no reason why the persecution of Christians can't continue be addressed by this image even today. You see how the "timeless" idealism is married with specific historical events?)

What about the Millennium?

(Didn't have time to expand on this😞 Time-permitting, we can look at a commentary together)

There are three views, aptly named:

Where to Go from Here

  1. Read Revelation again fairly quickly in 1 sitting; absorb all of the imagery without diving too deep.
  2. Repeat step 1 two more times. You want to properly understand the structure and become familiar with all of the scenes in John's vision.
  3. Separate the book into its scenes and study the imagery.
  4. Make connections with the OT.
    1. Commentaries will be helpful.
    2. It will also be super helpful to read Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah and Jeremiah once or twice so that the connections to the OT arise naturally.
  5. After obtaining a decent understanding of each scene, put them all together and see if you better understand what John is trying to communicate. Discuss your findings with your friends.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 until you fully understand Revelation. If both you and I are still alive at that point, please do not hesitate to share with me your wisdom :)

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