This great final book of the Word of God may well be called the capstone of the entire Bible. A pyramid becomes a pyramid by the great capstone, and the Bible becomes the full and complete revelation of God through this document. If the Revelation were not in the Bible, the Bible would be an unfinished book; the issues raised in the preceding documents would be forever unsolved.
The title as we find it in the King James version is “The Revelation of St. John the Divine”; it would be better to take the opening words of the book and call it “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” But the title in the King James version tells us that John is the author. This is confirmed by the book itself, for the writer said so twice in the first chapter: in verse 4, “John to the seven churches”; and in verse 9, “I John, who also am your brother.” At the close of the book he named himself again: “I John saw these things” (22:8).
There is also unquestionable historical evidence that the author is the apostle John, the beloved disciple, the son of Zebedee. The author of the Gospel of John and the Epistles is also the author of the book of Revelation.
The Date of the Book
The traditional view is that the date of the book is a.d. 96. This is correct. Irenaeus, the friend of Polycarp, who knew John, stated that “the Revelation was seen at Patmos at the end of Domitian’s reign.” Domitian reigned from a.d. 81 to 96. Clement of Alexandria left the testimony that John returned from his exile on the death of the emperor, who was Domitian, in the year 96.
The Message and Interpretation
The Revelation is marked out in the beginning as a book of prophecy (1:3). Furthermore the book is in greater part written in symbolic language, which is a very important fact to be remembered in the interpretation. The message is prophetic, and this message is clothed in symbols, which are not difficult to interpret. Like all the other books of the Word of God, it has a perfect arrangement.
Among the various methods of interpretation, that of the futurist school is the only one that is satisfying and in full harmony with the entire prophetic Word. The futurists claim that nothing beyond the third chapter of Revelation has been fulfilled; the fulfillment of the remaining chapters is still future. The word church is found in Revelation only in chapters 2 and 3, which contain the prophecy concerning the church on earth. This divinely given history of the church is about finished, and the predicted events from chapter 4 to the end of Revelation are yet to happen.
John began, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him.” According to this opening statement, our Lord—as the Son of man—received a revelation from God. As the only begotten Son of God, Christ had no need of a revelation; in His deity He is acquainted with all the eternal purposes; One with God, our Lord knows the end from the beginning. But He who is very God took on in incarnation “the form of a servant…and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself” (Philippians 2:7-8); and as this man he received the revelation concerning the judgment of the earth and His own glory.
“God… raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory” (1 Peter 1:21). This glory that He received from God is fully and blessedly revealed in John’s prophetic book. It is the revelation of the Son of man’s acquired glory and how this glory is to be manifested in connection with the earth. And this revelation He makes known to His servants because His own are sharers with Him in all He received from God.
The book of Revelation is pre-eminently Christ’s revelation: the revelation of His person and His glory. “In the volume of the book it is written of me” (Hebrews 10:7). The whole Word of God bears witness of Him who is the living Word. He is the center, the sum total, and the substance of the Holy Scriptures. Inasmuch as the last book of the Bible is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, an unveiling of Himself, we find in it the most complete revelation of His person and His glory.
It is here where many expositions of Revelation have missed the mark. Occupied chiefly with the symbols of the book, the mysteries, the judgments, and the promised consummation, they have neglected to emphasize sufficiently Him who throughout this book is the center of everything.
A Book of Prophecy
Knowledge of the chief content of the Old Testament prophetic word is an absolute necessity for the study of the book of Revelation. For instance the Christian who does not have a fair grasp of Daniel’s prophecies or who is ignorant of the place that the people Israel hold in the purposes of God, finds the book of Revelation to be a sealed book, without any possible meaning. This is one of the chief reasons that this book has suffered so much both from the critics and from the hands of commentators.
We read in 2 Peter 1:20-21 that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” A better translation than “private interpretation” would be “its own interpretation.” Peter meant that prophecy must be interpreted by comparing Scripture with Scripture. The “holy men of God,” the prophets, were the instruments of the Holy Spirit and made known God’s purposes in a progressive way. To understand any prophecy we must take the entire prophetic Word into consideration. There is a wonderful harmony in the great body of prophetic dispensational truths.
John the beloved disciple was in banishment in the isle of Patmos, just as Daniel the man greatly beloved had been in captivity in Babylon. The Lord called these two great servants to behold the panorama of the future. Both wrote down their visions. While in the book of Daniel we find no direct command to write, we find such a command in Revelation 1:19. The correct translation is, “Write therefore what thou hast seen, and the things that are, and the things that are about to be after these.” John, guided by the Holy Spirit, then wrote according to the divine direction.
In examining this command to write, we find that three things are mentioned: the past, the present, and the future. John was to write first about the past; when he received these instructions, he had already seen something and he was instructed to write the vision down. Then he was to write about the present, “the things that are”; and finally he was to write about the future, “the things that are about to be.”
The Promised Blessing
“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:3). A blessing is promised to him who reads, hears, and keeps—not to him who understands and knows everything that is in the book. If such were the condition, the writer and reader would have no claim on the promised blessing. The Bible teacher or any other man who says he knows and understands everything found in this great finale of God’s Word is very much misaken. We cannot be sure about everything in some of these visions, and the full meaning of some may not be understood till the world sees the fulfillment.
What is the blessing we can expect through the reading and prayerful study of the words of this prophecy? First of all we receive through this book a wonderful vision of our Savior and Lord. This is what we as His people need above everything else and it is this that brings blessing into our lives.
But we also receive another blessing, for in reading through this book we see what is in store for this age, what judgments will overtake the world, and how Satan’s power will be manifested to the full on those who reject God’s grace. Judgment, tribulation, and wrath are swiftly coming upon this age, but out of all this our gracious Lord has delivered us. There is no judgment, no wrath for us who know Him as our sin-bearer and hiding-place. Praise must fill our hearts when we read the words of this prophecy and remember the grace that has saved us from all that is coming upon this age.
Another blessing is the assurance of ultimate victory and glory. Dark is the age and it is becoming darker, but in the book of Revelation we behold the glory that is coming for His saints first of all and, after the judgment clouds are gone, for Jerusalem, the nations, and the earth. Reading Revelation fills the heart with the certainty of the outcome of it all. If we continue to read the book and continue to breathe its heavenly and solemn atmosphere, the result will be a closer walk with God, a more spiritual worship, and a greater and more unselfish service for Him who “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father” (1:5-6).