{1}         Introduction to Revelation

The Book

The Biblical books of Revelation and Daniel are often called the Apocalypses. The term “apocalypse” is a literary genre (derived from Rev 1:1) that describes the supernatural unveiling of future events. This type of literature was widely used in Judaism from in 200BC-AD100. It contains God’s promises to intervene human history to destroy all wickedness.

One definition of apocalyticism is “the eschatological belief that the power of evil (Satan), who is now in control of this temporal and hopelessly evil age of human history in which the righteous are afflicted by his demonic and human agents, is soon to be overcome and his evil rule ended by the direct intervention of God, who is the power of good, and who thereupon will create an entirely new, perfect, and eternal age under His immediate control for the everlasting enjoyment of His righteous followers from among the living and the resurrected dead.”

For the people today, a major role of the apocalypse was to explain why the righteous suffered and why the kingdom of God delayed. Apocalyptic focused on the future when God would intervene to judge the world and establish righteousness.


The author is John, as appearing 4 times in the book (1:1,4,9; 22:8). He wrote as a person of authority to Christian communities. Early tradition is unanimous in its opinion that the author was John the apostle, including almost all early Church Fathers.

Place and Date

Most Biblical scholars agree with Iranaeus who believes the book was written near the end of Domitian’s reign (AD 81-96). The date is probably around AD 95.

The place is named as the island of Patmos where the author was banished for his faith. It is a small, rocky island (15 km long, 8 km wide) in the Aegean Sea. The banishment indicated that the storm of persecution of Christians has begun.

Approaches to Interpretation

Early Fathers held that Revelation foretold a literal millennial kingdom on earth to be followed by a general resurrection, judgment, and a renewal of heaven and earth (both premillennialism and postmillennialism agree to this). Late in the third century, the idea of recapitulation was introduced in which the bowls parallel the trumpets instead of following in a continuous series. Origen and Augustine used a spiritualizing approach called the allegorical method of exegesis. The widespread belief was that the millennial reign had begun with the historic Christ (amillennialism). There is a complete lack of consensus on which approach is best.

In modern times, different approaches or views to interpretation can be summed up into 4 categories.

[1] Preterist or contemporary-historical interpretation understands Revelation from the standpoint of its first-century historical setting. The book describes the persecution at that point in time, following the growing demands of emperor worship. Encouragements and warnings are taken with immediate seriousness. Major prophecies of the book were fulfilled either in the fall of Jerusalem (AD70) or the fall of Rome (AD476). Its major weakness is that the decisive victory portrayed in the last chapters of Revelation was never achieved.

[2] Historicist interpretation regards the book as a forecast of the course of history in the last two millennia. Its major weaknesses are that the explanation of the book is done subjectively and that there is no essential agreement between different proponents of the system.

[3] Futurist or eschatological interpretation regards everything from Rev 4:1 on as belonging to a period of time in the future. The letters to the 7 churches are often held to represent the successive ages of church history that lead up to the rapture of the church in Rev 4:1 (pre-tribulationism). This is a literal approach and is commonly used by dispensationalists. Its major weakness is that it leaves the book without any significance for those to whom it is addressed. However, if post-tribulationism is adopted, this weakness will be solved.

[4] Idealist or timeless symbolic interpretation holds that the book is not to be taken in reference to any specific events but as an expression of those basic principles on which God acts throughout history. Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil. This is the continuation of the allegorical interpretation. Its major weakness is that it denies the book any specific historical fulfilment and there is no necessary consummation of the historical process.

Each approach has some important contribution to a full understanding of Revelation. [1] Based on the preterist view, the book must be interpreted in light of the immediate historical crisis in which the first-century church found itself. [2] Based on the historicist view, it is important to notice that the philosophy of history revealed in Revelation has found specific fulfilment in all the major crisis of human history up to the present day. [3] Based on the futurist view, the central message of the book is eschatological. It yet remains as the one great climactic point toward which all history moves. The age will come to an end and Satan and his hosts will be destroyed and the righteous will be vindicated. These are in the future. [4] Based on the idealist view, the events of history demonstrate the basic underlying principles that God is at work behind the scenes to bring to pass His sovereign intention for the human race.

John himself could without contradiction be preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist. He wrote out of his own immediate situation [1], his prophecies would have a historical fulfilment [2], he anticipated a future consummation [3], and he revealed principles that operated beneath the course of history [4].

While we need to trust that John’s prophecy will have final and complete fulfilment in the last days of history, it is also dangerous to make definitive predictions about a literal fulfilment which is often shaped by the facts and conditions of a transient period of history.

Many Christians tried to link the signs to contemporary events. Others have claimed new insights (such as the recent predictions about the second coming at the turn of the millennium). This kind of predictionism (sign-seeking and date-setting) has become institutionalized in publications and public media. Christians should use extreme caution in such activities because: [a] they may lead believers into false expectations, and [b] they may lose credibility when such predictions did not come true and subsequently their claims need recurrent revisions.


        The main objective of Revelation is to strengthen our faith of eternal hope. God’s designed end will certainly come. In despair, we can always look to the future. This blessed hope will provide vitality to our Christian walk. The revelation of future events calls for our watchfulness (Mt 24:4,42), not speculations.